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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Key Ingredient for Christians - Ephesians 6


Ephesians 6

            We are now at the end of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul spoke of many things to the Ephesian Christians and faithful followers. He explained how God chose us before the foundation of the world to be in a relationship with God and to be holy and blameless through His grace and forgiveness (1:4, 7-8; 2:4-9; 4:7). Paul told us we are adopted children of God who have an inheritance with Christ in His kingdom (1:5, 11). He explained God revealed His mystery and what the mystery is (1:9; 2:13, 19: 3:3-6). Paul said God sealed us with His Holy Spirit and that His Spirit is the pledge of our inheritance in God’s kingdom (1:14). He spoke, too, about growing in our relationship with God and the members of the body of Christ (2:21; 4:12, 15-16). Paul told us about Christ’s grace gifts in chapter four that Christians are to use to unify and grow the body of Christ. He told us to be "renewed in the spirit of our minds," "put on the new self," and what these mean (4:23-24). In chapter five, Paul told us to be imitators of God, to walk in love, be strong in the Lord, love each other, and do the will of God from the heart. How did Paul conclude his letter? How do you conclude a letter of such size with so many teaching points? Paul ended the letter to the Ephesians in a profound and memorable way.

            Paul introduced the analogy of the armor of God for believers. He had many memorable teachings, but this one is unforgettable. Lest we jump too quickly into the armor and forget the key ingredient for life as a follower of Christ, we must step back one verse to verse ten of chapter six. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” This is the most important thing we can do as followers of Jesus Christ. Paul knew its importance so stated it twice, in Ephesians in 1:19-20 and in 6:10. He explained, too, the greatness of God’s power in Ephesians 3:20. In who are we to be strong in Ephesians 6:10? The Lord. We are to live by the Lord’s super-abundant, more than we can ever think or imagine power. The phrase “be strong” that Paul used means be/being strengthened in the Lord. As a Christian, we are actively and daily to "be strong for the Lord by the power of His might." "Be strong" means being strengthened and emboldened. We must call upon God and live in Him, through His power, as we live in this world. This way of living is a daily, minute-by-minute activity. We followers of Christ do not say we believe and then go about our merry way. Believers in Jesus Christ must each minute choose to live in and be strengthened by God to live as imitators of Him. Remember in Ephesians 3:20 we learned of God’s power being abundantly beyond all we can think or ask. We are not alone and walking in our power. The “power” of which Paul spoke comes from the Greek word dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. The word “work” Paul used is the Greek word energeo, which means “operates.” This means Paul said we must be strengthened by the power of the Lord, according to the dynamo working within us. We should live in this world daily strengthened by God’s dynamo, imitating Him and with His power to overcome the evil ones.

            Looking at the armor of God, we must note Paul gave six commands and they are active commands, not passive. Being an armored child of God is an active lifestyle, not passive, especially when you consider what Paul taught in the first five chapters. Paul commanded the faithful followers to “put on the full armor” (vs. 11), “take up the full armor” (vs. 13), “stand firm” (vs. 14), “take the helmet of salvation” (vs. 17), “pray at all times” (vs. 18), and “be on the alert” (vs. 18). These commands are active and are present tense. Paul meant for Jesus followers to do it now and every day. These commands build upon each other, too. Paul said to “Put on the full armor of God,” clothe yourself with God. Be so closely aligned with God, imitators of God (5:1), that people can only see God in your life. Putting on something does not mean you have to do anything, but Paul means for you as a Christ follower to act as an imitator of God. Do not just accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, but let this salvation change your life, too. Act out what God paid so dearly for you, your salvation. Be imitators of God and show His love. As a soldier, child, of God, Paul said to “stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” To be a Christian means you the devil will assault you more. The devil wants to make you fail - not show God’s love and not share His Gospel message. You must actively be imitators of God because the devil and his dark forces will challenge you. You must stand in the strength of the Lord. Standing firm and putting on are active. Standing firm means to be prepared, steadfast of mind, and immovable. Stand firm in your faith and in the strength of the Lord whose power is abundantly above and beyond your imagining.

            In verse twelve, Paul told the faithful followers and us the struggles we face as Jesus followers is against evil rulers, dark forces of wickedness, the devil, and his demons. Paul spoke of these before in Ephesians 1:21, 2:2, and 3:10. We are unable to fight the evil forces in our own human limited strength. Yet, God provides exactly what we need, His superabundant power and might, which He gives to us as we ask. Paul told us to be imitators of God in 5:1. He did not say we had to fight the dark forces that batter against us in our own strength. God’s strength is available to His children as armor.

            Notice in verse thirteen, Paul said, “Take up the full armor of God.” We can put on the armor without taking it up. Taking up a thing is to raise and carry it for use. We can put on the armor that says we are a Christian, but we do not have to walk with it. How many people became Christians, but then the next day they went back to their old way of life? No one in their normal circle knows anything about a faith decision they made by their lifestyle. This is the same thing as putting on the armor without taking it up. If we do not take up the armor of God, no one knows we are a Jesus follower because we do not have a changed life. We are not changing the way we live by fighting off the temptations Satan throws at us from which we did not fight before our decision to follow Christ. This second command of Paul’s tells who is an active follower of Jesus. “Take up the full armor of God so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Without actively using the armor, taking it up, we cannot stand firm against the evil ones. We will be movable and waver away from Jesus. The devil can make us ineffective as Christ followers.

            The third command Paul gave was “stand firm.” Paul commanded us to “stand firm” three times for emphasis, for its importance. If we do not stand firm in God, we will return to our old way of life, to non-victorious living. We will not lose our salvation, but we will lose our joy and peace in the midst of living in the world. Paul did not just command us to stand firm; he gave us six very visual pieces of armor to put on, to recall to our minds when we face trials and temptations. He could have said remember the Truth you were taught about Jesus Christ. Remember His righteousness and the righteousness you received when you gave your life to Him. Remember the peace you have knowing you are saved and will be with God in His kingdom. Remember the faith you have in Jesus Christ and the salvation He gave you. Remember, too, the Word of God is always true and reveals truth. Paul could have encouraged us to remember these as we fight Satan, but he chose an analogy that is much more memorable. He chose to use the example of armor for Christians to recall when battling Satan. Paul compared the battle with Satan with the battles people are familiar with on this earth.

Since Paul gave the command to take up the full armor of God, he assumed we and the Ephesian Christians daily put on the armor and prepared to use it to fight the deceit and trickery of Satan. The way to be strong in the Lord is to put on the armor of God, take up the armor, and stand firm in His might and power. The tools available to us as Christians Paul symbolized in the pieces of armor. Since you have put on the armor of God, girded your loins, put on the breastplate, shod your feet, and taken the shield, helmet, and sword, use them. When Paul said, “having girded your loins with truth,” he recalls to us the truth we learned about God’s love, the gift of salvation He bought for us with His Son, Jesus Christ’s, life, death, and resurrection, and our future inheritance in His kingdom. As we fight Satan, we must remember these truths because Satan wants to trick us into not being sure of the truths of God. In addition, in the Bible, when people spoke of the “loins,” they spoke of the future generations who would come from their loins. We are to be strong against Satan in remembering the truths of God and must safeguard future generations from Satan by passing down these truths to them. Remember, God commanded the Israelites to bind the words of God on their hearts and minds and to teach them to their children and grandchildren. We do not fight against Satan just for the present time. We fight against Satan for future generations to know God and stand strong. We pass our knowledge of God and His grace to future generations.

Paul continued, “Having put on the breastplate of righteousness” (vs. 14). We know that to live, we must protect our heart. That organ keeps the rest of the body alive. Our hearts tells what we value, too. We give our heart to what matters most to us. When we love God most in our lives, our lives are changed. God’s righteousness shows in our lives. His righteousness in our lives means we are honest, virtuous, pure, and correct in our thinking, feeling, and acting. Our word “righteousness” gets its definition from God’s character of righteousness. God’s characteristic of righteousness defines for us what righteous living is. If God is our purpose for living and we gave Him our lives, then we gave our hearts to God. When Paul sought for a piece of armor to coincide with righteousness, he chose the armor that guards our hearts, the breastplate. When we live our daily lives, can people see God’s righteousness in you? If not, has Satan’s arrows hit their mark of your heart so that your righteousness is affected? As we live, we meet people who say they are followers of Jesus, but we do not see that their encounter with God has changed their lives because they do not live righteously. Satan probably tricked them into believing something contrary to God’s teaching. We have at our disposal to be used this breastplate. As we live, we must remember to be imitators of God (Eph. 5) and live righteously through His power since He is righteous.

Further, in verse fifteen, Paul said, “Having shod your feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.” Once again, we accepted God’s gift of grace and forgiveness. We became His children and rest in peace knowing the hope we have of our salvation and future home in God’s kingdom. This is our peace. Christ commanded us to take the Gospel to the world, too (Matthew 28:18-20). The peace we have is not static, but continues. We must recall the peace that comes from the hope God put in us upon our salvation. Paul chose to use foot armor to represent this part of the armor of God. Our peace is so great we want everyone to know of God’s plan of salvation. Paul said in Romans 10:15, “How beautiful are the feet of them who preach the Gospel of peace.” God's peace in our hearts is active in our hearts. We are to live out this peace so other people will hear of the Gospel of peace. We can help them to have the armor from God, too. We are to put on the armored shoes and take them up to spread the Gospel and combat the arrows of Satan. We have peace because we do not fear death or anything the enemy throws at us.

Paul reiterated in verse sixteen, “Taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” He ensured we understood the shield is an active piece of our armor and artillery against Satan. We believe the truth of the Gospel and we must keep it before us so that Satan’s lies and trickery will not cause us to doubt, stumble, and fall. The shield in any armor is the foremost defensive weapon we in hand to hand combat. Behind it, we shield ourselves from arrows. We must continue to stay strong in our faith to be able to withstand Satan’s deceit, to grow stronger in our faith, and to show our faith to others, show that God’s grace changed us into a new person. The shield acts as defense and reminds us of our faith.

“Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” Paul said. With our minds, we acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and His salvation. With our hearts, we believe and accept God’s gift, grace, and forgiveness. Most of us hear the truths about God and consider their reasonableness before we believe. Our minds are the place the truths of God first affect. Paul attaches, symbolically, the helmet as the armor to remind us of our salvation. It assures us of our salvation when Satan tries to trick us into believing it cannot be that easy or that we are not saved. We must protect our minds from Satan’s slippery tongue. We must remember daily and actively that God loved us from before He created the world and chose us to be in a relationship with Him; therefore, when we accepted His grace and forgiveness and received His salvation, we returned to our loving God. Reminding ourselves of our cherished-ness and salvation by God keeps us strong in God. When we are strong in God, we do not become weak and fall prey to Satan. The sword of the Spirit is the only overtly offensive weapon in the armor. With the sword, we can charge forward to protect others from an eternity separated from God by telling them what the Word of God says. The sword is a defensive weapon, as well. It reminds us of everything God told us.

Each of these pieces of armor is to remind us of what we know and to help us grow stronger in God’s power. The armor is an analogy that aids us in remembering God’s love, grace, and salvation given to us. Mostly they appear to be for defense against Satan. Yet we use them offensively as we take the Good News to other people in the world. In addition, they expose the “deeds of darkness,” as Paul said in Ephesians 5:11. As Christ followers, Christ commanded us to love God and our neighbors (Luke 10:27) and to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20). By going, we see and hear from people what they learned in other places. We hear how Satan is tricking people and can reveal the Light of Truth from God's Word to expose the false teachings. Since living in South Africa, I have worked with refugees. I have met many people who gave their hearts to God. When I sit to talk with them and listen to the teachings others taught them, I hear false teachings, teachings that are different from the Word. These false teachings are what we must expose to the Light. One such false teaching I encountered is that Jesus died to give us salvation with God, but Jesus is not a part of the Godhead because if Jesus were a part of Godhead, then we would be worshipping more than one God, which God forbids in the Old Testament. I must spend time listening to why they believe this, then bring the Bible to show them where in the Bible God says after John baptized Jesus, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). I, too, can show them from the Bible that any sacrifices humankind makes to God is not enough to give them forgiveness and salvation. Therefore, if Jesus were just a man who offered himself as a sacrificial offering, his sacrifice would not be enough to atone for the sins of all humankind. There are many teachings about Jesus being the Son of God as well as many teachings telling that the offerings of humankind are not enough to atone for all the sins of humankind and make them righteous before God.

The reality of Satan being in the world to trick, deceive, and destroy is why we are to put on, take up, and stand firm in the strength of the Lord. One other thing we need is prayer, Paul said. Once again, “take up” is an active verb, not static. We are to “pray and keep on praying at all times in the Spirit,” said Paul (vs. 18). Prayer is our dialoguing with God about needs of people and ourselves. Prayer, too, is about thanking and praising God. Paul spoke of more than this, though. He said we are to pray in the Spirit. Praying in the Spirit means we are in such deep accord with God that what God desires is what we want - to see Satan defeated, people saved and discipled, and the whole world returned to a relationship with God. Because we are praying in the Spirit, we are more aware of the arrows Satan throws; we are watchful, alert, and ready to petition for the saints. Our connection with God is so close that His love, thoughts, and desires are ours and we are prepared and joining Him in the battle. We pray in the Spirit whenever we respond to ministers’, missionaries’, and church members’ reports of ministry or requests for prayer. When you see a post on Facebook of a ministry occurring, a person seeking God, a new believer, or someone in the hospital, your immediate response and action is to join God in prayer because your heart loves the person because God’s Spirit within you loves the person. When pastors post the text for next week’s sermon, you pray God will reveal His truths to the pastor to teach to the church. Paul spoke of this when he said, “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel” (vs. 19). The word translated “utterance” is logos in the original Greek text. Logos is the Word of God. Ministers and missionaries still ask for prayer in this regard. Church members should pray for each other in this, too, since Christ told each of us to spread the Word.

Paul ended his letter by telling the Ephesian Christians that he was sending Tychicus, who would tell them about his circumstances so they could comfort themselves about his well-being and know how to pray for him in the Spirit. In the end, Paul expressed his heart in his closing. He prayed and blessed them with God’s peace, love, and grace.

God’s love filled Paul’s heart. Paul loved the Ephesians as much as God did. He prayed in the Spirit for them. Paul desired them to grow in Christ and in unity as the body of believers. He wanted to make sure they understood so many things. The armor of God is a wonderful analogy of the Christian life and a model of sanctification, the growing in Christlikeness. Paul basically taught our putting on the armor of God, taking up the armor of God, and standing firm is our working out our salvation, our sanctification – the preparing yourself and walking in Christ in God’s strength. We are not spectators, so put on the armor and use it. In addition, know God’s strength is in us through the Holy Spirit is what makes us stand firm and reminds us of truth, the righteousness Christ gave you, and the hope of our salvation, which gives us peace. These help us combat the arrows of doubt and deceit, the trickery of the devil. So remember the salvation we have received and stand strong in that knowledge. The armor is a defensive weapon against Satan’s deceit. Remember, at all times pray in the Spirit. Be that connected to God.

Paul gave a much-remembered analogy for Christian life in the armor of God. Christians for centuries heralded and taught other parts of Ephesians as profound, too. Below I offer a summary of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. --

Now that you know God chose you before the foundation of the world to be in a relationship with God and to be holy and blameless (1:4)…

Now that you received adoption as God’s sons and daughters (1:5)…

Now that you know of God’s redemption through Christ’s blood (1:7)…

Now that you received God’s grace and forgiveness (1:7-8; 2:4-9; 4:7)…

Now that God revealed the mystery (1:9; 2:13, 19; 3:3-6)…

Now that you have an inheritance (1:11)…

Now that the Holy Spirit sealed you (1:13)…

Now that you received His pledge of the Holy Spirit for your inheritance (1:14)…

You are the praise of His glory (1:14; 3:20-21),

So…

Grow and keep on growing in your relationship with God and in Christlikeness (2:21).

Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man (3:16).

Walk in a manner worthy of being called a child of God (4:1)

            grow individually and jointly and (4:12, 15-16)

            be unified into one body (4:13, 16)

            because of God’s love for us.

Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (4:23).

Put on the new self (4:24).

Be imitators of God and walk in love (5:1).

Love each other as God and Christ loves you (5:25-27, 33).

Do the will of God from the heart and render service as to the Lord and not to men (6:6-7).

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (6:10).

The point of chapter six lies in verse 10, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” The armor analogy Paul created gave Christians of every generation a strong image to remember and use for the purpose of verse 10. The analogy gave different parts of the faith to remember to help us stay strong. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was multipurpose. He taught many significant points in it. I do not think any one point is more important than another is. Yet Paul ensured the people remembered the spiritual blessings with which God blessed each Jesus follower. The armor pointed these out. Most importantly, though, Paul emphasized that God gave each believer His Spirit as a pledge of their inheritance, as joiner of God and human in prayer, and as the strength against dark forces.

People are not alone fighting against evil in the world once they become Jesus followers. God joins us with Himself through His Spirit. Trying to do right is tiring. Trying to keep our heads above water wears us out. We are fragile, limited humans. We cannot buy, find, or guarantee our own eternal life. Nothing we do can ensure us of this. God provided a way through His Son, Jesus Christ. When a person decides with their heart to follow Jesus – accept God’s love, grace, and forgiveness – God gives His Holy Spirit to live in him or her to guide, teach, remind, strengthen him or her. The Holy Spirit is God’s promise to each of His children. Have you made the decision to follow Jesus? You can do it with a prayer to God confessing your sins and accepting His grace, forgiveness, and salvation for eternal life. It is up to you. You do not have to walk through life alone. God waits for you to call to Him. If you want to talk to someone, write to me or speak to a Christian pastor or friend.