Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
Proper 17, B
How often of late do you find yourself cringing at yet another TV show, sighing at the news or muttering at the paper's editorials? How often do you find yourself having to think twice before you say something overtly Christian, weighing in your mind if you have the time and the strength of will to deal with all the backlash you know you are going to get. How often do you find yourself ready to disengage from society just for a moment's peace? I don't need to list for you all of the unpleasant realities of being a conscientious Christian our modern world. We are all faced with the same spiritual enemies, large and small, day after day.
Our text from the concluding chapter of Ephesians warns us about the reality of our dreadful enemies but also informs us about what God gives us to combat satan and all the evil forces. Christians are anything but an idle, easy-going people. We are aware of the grim battle with satan. Even when those battles don't look like much to the watching world around us. But we are equipped for the battle and are assured of victory before the battle begins.
Therefore we are not allowed to withdraw or disengage. We are called to Stand Firm even in the face of terrible opposition. 10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
This is the Lord's great call to arms. We don't rely on our own strength, for we don't have enough. We are in a fight with one who doesn't play by the rules. It is a fight characterized by trickery, cunningness and strategy. Our match is not with mere humans. It may look like it but the real enemy lurks behind the human opponents. How, then, can we hope to stand firm? "In communion with the Lord and in communion with the power of His might." The power of the Lord's might comes to us only through the means of grace. “Put on” is Baptismal language through and through. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “The church doesn't fight with earthly tools but with God's tools. All our shelter and protection rest in prayer alone” (LC III 30)
The only way we can Stand Firm is inside the full armour of God. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
The evil day is any occasion when satan strikes with fury in his attempt to overcome us with evil. This day differs from Christian to Christian. Some have more, some less. For some the attack is more severe or more subtle than for others. Physical, mental, emotional problems. Some suffer innocently because of unexpected diseases and calamities. The question is not whether these things will come. The question is "Am I prepared to withstand the evil day?"
Fully equipped and defended by God our mandate is to trust what He has given us for the battle. And what is our battle ready, God-given equipment? They are a seven-fold blessing: truth, righteousness, Gospel of peace, the faith, salvation, the Word of God, prayer. They are the very gifts of Christ, put on when we put on Christ Himself in our Baptism. It is not just armour from Him. It is His very own armour given to us to keep us safe and strong.
The Truth is God's Word. Our righteousness is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. That Gospel also contains the very peace of God. Peace between God and man in the innocent blood of Jesus, crucified, died and raised to new and everlasting life. Saving faith in Christ is the shield that renders the believer secure against all the fiery darts of the devil, the doubts, lusts, temptations, fears, etc. which satan deceitfully uses against us. The helmet of salvation is the hope and expectation of everlasting life in heaven above, for the sake of which we believe in Christ and are willing to stand and suffer all things.
Last comes the sword, the only offensive weapon in the list. What is it? The full Word of God. Living and active, sharper than any man-made sword. The Word preached, read, sung, spoken, meditated upon. Where you have the Word, there you have Christ. Where you have Christ, there you have life and victory. But victory doesn't mean idleness.
Because, Standing Firm means being in constant prayer. 18praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
Prayer is not part of the armour, it is the work by which we fight the good fight of faith. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (Ja. 5:16) On every occasion the Christian is to use every kind of general and particular prayer, doing so in the Holy Spirit. Praying together, praying alone. Praying for family and friends, for enemies and our persecutors. It is a task that takes alertness, engagement and all kinds of perseverance! It is not easy to do. It is a true warrior's work. Consider Paul himself asked the Ephesians to pray for all saints and he asks for a particular prayer, for himself, and yet not for himself only. Here Paul asked for courage to make the mystery of the Gospel known. To fight the good fight of faith. To stand firm in Christ just as we are to do!
This famous picture sums up the whole of the letter to the Ephesians. Armour represents both a promise of protection and an exhortation to battle. Yet the victory is certain because Christ has already won the war. Further, Christ has made us well-prepared to stand with Him and face any last-ditch assaults. Our armour is not just from God – it is God's own armour, what He himself wore into battle. Dressed in Christ's armour we look remarkably like Christ, for in Baptism we are clothed with Him.
Some take this even further and argue the armour is put on in and through corporate worship. As Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “If you could see how many knives, darts and arrows are every moment aimed at you you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as possible.” (LC V 82) Where better for the people of God to put on Christ's armour and stand together than in His presence, at His table, and as we receive each of His gifts in turn? In the church service we are covered with the word of truth, the righteousness of Christ, presented with the gospel of peace, and pray as one body in the Spirit. In the Divine Service we are truly granted all that we need to Stand Firm in Christ Jesus our Lord and Saviour!