Ephesians 6.10-20: ‘Stand firm…’

The story of the letter to the Ephesians so far.

Chapter 1 – the amazing love and grace of God

Chapter 3 – inner strength

Chapters 2 and 4 – the church – a temple and a body with gifts leading to maturity

Chapter 4 – living a life of love – be imitators of God

Chapter 5 – be filled with the spirit – be ‘intoxicated’ with the spirit

 

Then in 6.10 we have the word ‘finally’. Having absorbed all that has gone before we are now in a position to hear the final words from St Paul to his congregation. He tells the Ephesians to ‘be strong’ and ‘stand firm’. This is especially significant for them because they inhabited a difficult and challenging world where persecution and opposition and temptations of so many kinds were the norm. But the encouragement to be strong comes to us too.

 

But notice one very important thing. We are not expected to do this alone or in our own strength and resources. If that were the case we might be successful now and again but mostly we would fail. Paul says be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Once again we have this phrase which is a favourite of St Paul’s – ‘in the Lord, in Christ’. As we saw a few weeks ago we can see things from two perspectives – both of which are entirely biblical. Jesus Christ comes and dwells in our hearts and makes his permanent home with us there. But we also make our home in him. As one of the prayers from our communion liturgy says and we will pray it later: ‘that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us’.

 

In other words, whichever way you look at it, we don’t have to do it on our own. We don’t have to ‘be strong’ on our own. We don’t have to ‘stand firm’ using our own wherewithal. We have the resources of Jesus Christ to help us. And as Paul has already told the Ephesians, we have support from each other. And as we saw last week we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. If Christ is in us and we are in him then we have nothing to fear from anything that is thrown at us by the world or the devil.

 

So why this exhortation to be strong and to stand firm? Well in Paul’s day, exciting new things were happening which must have sent fear through the ranks of evil –those evil forces that had tried to get rid of Jesus once and for all by nailing him to the cross. But their plans were seriously upset by the victory of the resurrection and all that meant. All over the place, this new faith was spreading. Groups of Christians were springing up committed to Jesus Christ and seeing his kingdom built in their communities. There was a new unity. A new distinctive humanity – suffused with the divine, through he action of the Spirit. The forces of evil were therefore doing their best to oppose all that was happening and to blow this new movement off course before it had even begun. But they weren’t being allowed to do so. The new Christians were standing firm.

 

We live in a different world with different issues and problems. But we know that all kinds of opposition will come our way. Difficult circumstances that try to prevent us from walking with God. Temptations often seem to come between us and God. There are all types of evil in the world against which we will need to stand – injustice, oppression, corruption, abuse, dishonesty, cruelty, violence. We can’t always stand by and let these things happen around us. Sometimes it seems like we too are in a battle – just as those Ephesian Christians were.

 

What, I wonder, is God asking you and me to ‘stand firm’ against today? What is he asking us to ‘be strong’ against today?

 

It’s important to remember that as Paul explains, there is a force at work behind these things that oppose us. We are not always resisting human powers but we stand against the spiritual powers that lie behind them. How else can we explain some of the terrible things that have happened in the world over the years, without reference to some force of evil – call it whatever you will? The Bible calls it the Devil or Satan or the evil one. And here to help us with this, Paul gives us another vivid image. We’ve already seen the living stones being built into a temple and the parts of the body held together by the supporting ligaments. This time the picture is of a Roman soldier in his armour, ready for battle.

 

I have this picture in my mind of Paul in a prison cell maybe with a Roman soldier outside the barred door and as Paul thinks about this need to be strong he suddenly sees the soldier with his armour and weaponry – and sees what a helpful illustration this is of spiritual warfare: the breastplate, the helmet, the sword, the shield, the belt and the shoes. All indispensable parts of the soldier’s armoury. Only one is offensive – the sword. All the others are defensive. Then he describes each one.

 

·      The belt of truth. We may sometimes doubt but our faith is real. It’s true. We can rely on it. And that gives us confidence to stand firm when the going gets tough.

·      The breastplate of righteousness. We know that in Jesus Christ we can know forgiveness of sins and cleansing from all unrighteousness. So we know that we stand before him in holiness.

·      The shoes of the gospel of peace. The message of the gospel brings peace. Peace between us and God. Peace between different groups like Jews and Gentiles. Inner peace in our hearts. The message of the gospel is not anxiety and fear but peace.

·      The shield of faith. Faith in Jesus Christ will shield us from anything that the enemy may hurl at us (fiery darts as they are described here). Fear, doubt, temptation, personal difficulties, whatever. The shield can be used to repel them all.

·      The helmet of salvation. The knowledge that we belong to Jesus Christ, that we are his adopted children and safe in his hands.

·      The sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God. The Bible is an effective weapon against all that comes across us. ‘Sharper than any two edged sword’ says the writer to the Hebrews. The promises of God in the Bible can be used to ward off attack.

 

Some people find this picture of the soldier’s armour very helpful so that in their mind, they put on each piece of armour at the start of the day. I wonder what illustrations Paul would use if he were writing this letter today? I doubt if he would use the image of the Roman soldier. A modern soldier maybe? The bullet proof vest of righteousness? The crash helmet of salvation? Our political correctness may cause us to want to shy away from military imagery – but that’s what we are presented with here. It’s quite clear that like it or not we are in a battle.

 

Then last but by no means least, St Paul encourages us to pray – pray at all times in the Spirit with all prayer and supplication. Remembering that as we have said so many times, prayer is all about a relationship with God. Its not just about talking or asking but it’s just as much about listening and being in the presence of God. It’s as much about silence as about shouting our requests. A close relationship with God is only possible if we spend time with him in prayer. Time carved out from a hectic and busy lifestyle. And a close personal relationship sustained by prayer, will help us to be strong and to stand firm.

 

Do you need to be strong today? Do you need to stand firm? Remember these things: we are ‘in Christ’ and he is dwelling in us – permanently. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit – filling us. We have others around us here in the church and further away who will support and encourage us. And we have spiritual armour at our disposal. And we can pray with the help of the Spirit. With all this, whatever life throws at us, we can survive. We will ‘be strong in the Lord’. We will ‘stand firm’.
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