Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:10a “Finally, my brethren,. . .”
Approaching the close of his epistle, Paul directed the attention of his readers toward one last, vital topic. The loving Apostle’s pastoral heart could not help but think of the intense struggle lying before the Ephesian Christians.
He feels compelled to talk of the storm, for he has himself had to weather its relentless fury often. He knows whereof he speaks. His words rise from the sanctuary of a battle-scarred soul. Paul had been in the furnace, and felt the flames. He could smell smoke in the Ephesian Christians’ future.
Being in prison had granted Paul much time to analyze the profound spiritual struggle which had been waged in his life. The Apostle had no illusions about the obstacles the Ephesian Christians would have to face. He feels he must be transparent, totally honest, and hide nothing from them. They must not be given an unrealistic view of life. Paul refused to sugarcoat the message and mislead his readers. He sounded the alarm, and sent forth a warning.
Our text, with its call to vigilance, begins the third and last major division of Ephesians, as Watchman Nee outlined: sit (1-3), walk (4:1-6:9), stand (6:10-24). Sit, walk, stand–the order is significant. First, we decide to exercise the privileges which are ours due to our lofty position; we sit with Christ in heavenly places (2:6). Second, we decide to walk worthy of our calling (4:1), to lead an exemplary life. Until we make these two decisions, our Christian life is only talk, a fantasy, an illusion. Satan can afford to ignore such a one.
However, if we commit to use our heavenly seat and to display godly conduct, then watch out, there will be trouble. Thus, “finally,” Paul makes us scrutinize the opposition we face. We must learn how to stand before the foe.
Beware. Let us heed Paul’s wise counsel. If we take seriously our resources and responsibilities, there will be difficulties. Troubles, temptations, trials, strifes, and setbacks lurk before us. If you seek health and wealth theology, you will not find it here in Ephesians 6, or anywhere else in Scripture.
Eph. 6:10b “. . .be strong. . .”
A better translation is, “be strengthened continuously.” This verb is in the passive voice and in the present tense. Both these facts are very significant in helping us understand exactly what Paul was commanding us to do.
Passive voice means the subject is acted upon. In other words, God must provide for us the strengthening required of us. Left unaided, we are powerless, doomed to defeat (JN 15:5). Even for what we deem the most common, mundane, everyday duties of Christian conduct, God’s power is needed. We are insufficient in ourselves. “Our natural strength is perfect weakness” (Henry).
Providing us His own strength is God’s way of enabling us to live as He commands. The goal of salvation is not only to be a Christian, but to behave as a Christian should. Standards of conduct are set for how believers should act within the fellowship, at home, on the job. These standards are fixed, non-negotiable, and, as we quickly learn, unattainable in our own strength.
Unfortunately, many Christians, due to repeated failures, give up the effort to live by God’s standards. They throw up their hands in despair, complaining the Biblical standards are humanly impossible. The tragedy is, these people quit trying just one step shy of victory. They are halfway to the goal, and halfway is good if still making the journey, but not okay as a destination.
Acknowledging our weakness is not to be a stumblingblock over which we trip, but a steppingstone on which we appropriate God’s strength. We never have the right to say we cannot accomplish a certain duty. To say God’s standards are unrealistic or too high is irreverence. Everything God requires of us He enables and empowers. Thus, all His commands are also promises.
Do not be a slacker in this. To be strengthened is our duty. To remain weak is sin, for it makes us yield to temptation and do evil. Weakness is not merely a calamity to be tolerated and bewailed, but a sin to be repented of.
We now return to the verb of our text. The passive voice denotes our need for God to empower us. The present tense indicates continuous, ongoing activity, and tells us our reliance on God must be ceaseless, unbroken, never ending. We must be empowered, not once for all, but constantly for each given situation. The drain is never-ending. Our supply must be replenished often.
The Christian’s struggle is relentless and life-long, constant to the end. Failure to accept this fact is responsible for the widespread passive acceptance of depression and defeat among believers. Many believers deem this normal behavior, and take no thought of the ongoing warfare relentlessly waged against them. Defeated before they begin, they consider no other option.
Victory and success require constant vigilance. We terribly err if we think we can, after conversion, put our lives on automatic pilot and use Cruise Control to lead a victorious life. Spiritual growth is never a given. Thinking the opposite explains why many church members fall by the wayside after their aged parents die or their last child leaves home. These are dangerous times because many are guilty of slipping into the habit of practicing religion by proxy, doing it only for the sake of parents or children. Somewhere along the way, the vitality of personal intimacy with Jesus waned.
Never forget, even after many years of being a believer, we have no more power in ourselves against the foe than when first saved (RM 7:18). We ought to leave this life in a blaze of glory, but many fizzle. Due to carelessness, their spiritual pilgrimage ends in a lackluster way, their final years a spiritual zero.
Napoleon’s retreat in a relentless Russian winter left 500,000 Frenchmen dead. Russians trailed the French army, preying on stragglers. Those overcome by cold and fatigue fell to Russian swords. One day the Russians dashed toward a dark object on the snow. They found themselves face to face with a small body of French soldiers who had their bayonets at the charge and were formed into a square for resistance. The Russians rode round and round, seeking a weak place to attack. Finding none, they charged the square, and found it formed of frozen corpses. The Frenchmen had died at the ready, waiting for the foe. Brothers, let death find us fighting the good fight. Remain on guard. Always be seeking God’s power. Ever maintain close communion with Jesus.
Eph. 6:10c “. . .in the Lord,. . .”
This prepositional phrase and its equivalents occur about 35 times in Ephesians. It emphasizes the intimate relationship believers enjoy with Jesus. By connecting the phrase with “Be strengthened continuously,” Paul forces us to grapple with how human weakness and God’s strength are interrelated.
Paul understood human weakness. A person who never failed could not speak on this subject, but Paul had experienced feebleness. He told the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness” (1 C 2:3). A strong Christian is always a humble Christian, fully knowing the strength is never inherent in our nature.
Paul understood God’s strength. Acknowledging human weakness would lead to despair and hopelessness were “the Lord” not present. Fortunately, Jesus “the Lord” our Master, is the strong One. He who indwells us is the power.
Paul understood human weakness and God’s strength, and realized the two were interrelated. The Lord told Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 C 12:9). Strength in weakness is a paradox, but Paul acquiesced to God’s plan and confessed, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 C 12:10).
Paul’s key to success was his humble willingness to concede personal emptiness and to let this emptiness become saturated with divine fullness. We believers agree with Paul and intellectually accept this concept as a given in our understanding of how to live an effective Christian life. This situation raises a serious question. Since we know what needs to be done, why do we not do it more? We often lack three critical triggers: intimacy, time, and focus.
First, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by intimacy. I think it is significant that Paul begins his most detailed discussion of spiritual empowerment with the preposition “in” rather than with “from” or “by.”
Our strength does come “from” the Lord, and we are empowered “by” the Lord, but the vital key to triggering the flow of this power is in our intimacy with God. Our union with Jesus, being “in” the Lord, is the channel, the passageway which conveys strength to us. The power’s intensity is determined by how well our fellowship “in” Jesus is maintained with uninterrupted vigor.
Power is not so much something I extract “from” Jesus, or have bestowed on me “by” Him, as much as it is a by-product of my life “in” Him. God’s power flows into human weakness via the bonding which occurs between Jesus and us. Intimacy with God is a conduit whereby strength flows into our weakness.
“Be strong in the Lord” is Paul’s way of telling us to remember, consider, and take advantage of, our position in Jesus. Our need is to access the strength which is already rightfully ours, and to live accordingly. The power is readily available, immediately accessible. How well and how much we activate it at a given moment depends on the condition of our intimacy with Jesus.
Successful Christian living entails an ongoing yielding, a never ending merging of our essence into ever more intimacy with Jesus. The more yielded we are to Him, the more strength we are receiving. Success requires maintaining and deepening an uninterrupted, vigorous fellowship with Jesus.
Second, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by time. Since our success depends on a sustained, ongoing relationship, we must be willing to commit ourselves to the long haul, to invest time in the effort.
No shortcuts lead to personal godliness. It is an all-day-long, everyday, lifelong pursuit. No Christian becomes strong by merely willing on the whim of a moment to be so. A casual wish cannot strengthen the weak, heal the sick, or give a Christian “soul-fixity of character and energy of will” (Pulpit Comm.).
Our bodies gain strength through everyday, lifelong physical disciplines such as a nutritious diet and proper exercise. Similarly, our spiritual vitality hinges on everyday, lifelong spiritual disciplines such as meditation, private prayer and Bible time, and attending church. Quick fixes and prayer-ettes will not do. The old hymn wisely advises, “Take time to be holy, Speak oft with thy Lord, Spend much time in secret.” Take time–there’s no other way–to be holy.
Third, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by focus. Believers are often too scattered, trying to live the Christian life in a hectic, helter-skelter, take it or leave it, way. To succeed in Christian living we must focus on the particular difficulty or situation at hand, and apply to it what we know.
To give intensity of strength to anything, it must be given focus. Light, concentrated to a focus, intensifies into a laser beam. Water sprayed through a nozzle is more intense because focused. Believers must concentrate. We must mentally converge our resources onto our circumstances. We cannot think of spiritual empowerment only in general terms or from time to time.
Many Christians lead a lackluster life by default. They believe in the need for power from God, but rarely practice it. Intellectual belief or belief in general is not enough. Belief brought into focus is required.
The housefly helps illustrate this. A fly is able to walk on a ceiling due to the vacuum its webbed feet produce when pushed hard against the surface. The insect does not merely flit against the ceiling and accidentally stick. It must consciously press its weight against the surface and push out the air under its feet, thereby creating an emptiness which results in the needed vacuum.
Similarly, our power lies in consciously pressing the weight of our thoughts on the great principles we know. We can not casually flit about. Let our troubles force us to concentrate. We lean, as it were, on our weakness, truly expecting the result to be a vacuum drawing God’s power into our emptiness.
Spiritual success hinges on our determination to concentrate in the time of need. Having done our homework, having been faithful in the daily, lifelong disciplines, whenever a need arises, we are ready. The habit is formed. We focus on the difficulty at hand, concentrate on our weakness, and rivet our prayers on God, calling for His strength. This concentration causes us to turn often throughout the day toward the Master’s face for fresh supplies. We refuse to let go, to turn aside, to break our concentration, until we are blessed. Power centers in the decision to focus unrelentingly. Without this fixation and determination, elaborate theology and beautiful sentiments are worthless.
”Be strengthened continuously in the Lord.” Realize your weakness, confess God’s power, know that the two are interrelated. Trigger the power by nurturing intimacy with God. Always take time to be learning how to rely increasingly on the Lord’s power; faithfully perform the every day disciplines. In the moment of need, focus, concentrate on applying what you know.
Eph. 6:10d “. . .and in the power. . .”
“Be strengthened continuously” is passive voice, present tense; weak in ourselves, we must receive strength ceaselessly. “In”–not primarily “from” or “by”–“the Lord;” empowering is available to us due to our union with Christ, and is triggered by intimacy with God, investing time, and maintaining focus.
The word translated here as “power” refers to active, dynamic energy. God’s strength is not solely to be contemplated, admired, and discussed. It is meant to energize, to flow and be readily available to us. Believers who live in despair and defeat have never grasped this first, fundamental principle.
Any form of energy is of no avail if it is unharnessed, affects nothing, and produces no visible results. God does not want His strength to lie dormant. He yearns for it to be conspicuously manifest, obviously revealed.
The normal Christian life is one in which God’s “power” is actively demonstrated. Our everyday lives should be arenas wherein God’s “power” is displayed for the eyes of others. People should see in us outward results achievable solely by the Spirit’s power. Victories should be common, supplications often granted. Sins should be crumbling, anxieties and depressions lessening, kindnesses increasing. Events should happen in our lives which can only be explained by one word–God. His “power” flowing through us is to be the norm.
Eph. 6:10e “. . .of his. . .”
“His” places the emphasis where it belongs–on Him, the Lord. The “power” is “His” and flows only from Him. The Lord forces us to find strength solely in Him for at least three reasons. First, for His own glory. Remember Dr. Blackaby’s beloved verse, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (PS 50:15).
Second, to enhance His relationship with us. By our repeatedly calling on God when in trouble, repeatedly being delivered, and repeatedly glorifying Him, we learn the habit of always turning to Him when in trouble. Difficulties can thus become built-in reminders for us to spend quality time with God, and can actually enhance our relationship with Him.
Third, for our comfort. By knowing the strength is in God, we can always be confident, whatever the dilemma. If we had to find strength in ourselves, we would regularly face situations we deemed impossible, and thus be defeated before we started.
The “power” is “His.” Keep your heart turned toward, and tuned into, Him. Victorious Christians engage in what old-timers called practicing the presence of God. Translated into practical terms, this means ceaseless prayer (1 TH 5:17) offered in an atmosphere of vital communion (JN 15:5).
In prayer, commune. Christians do not believe words in and of themselves have mystical powers. Our faith is in God, not magic. George Mueller, a powerful expert in prayer, repeatedly said the first thing we must do in prayer is to realize the presence of God. In prayer, words are vital, but not as important as the atmosphere. We should not begin a private prayer by speaking immediately. Before talking, meditate. Before conversing, commune. Ponder all that is ours due to our heavenly seat; consider the fact we sit near Jesus.
Even after the prayer is begun, our words must continue to rise from a sensed consciousness of God’s presence. Prayer thrives best when its primary focus is kept away from our pressing problem, the at-hand supplication, and turned instead toward the Lord. Our finest prayers contain much adoration and praise, for these terms of endearment accent His worth and reveal we understand the importance of a sensed intimate, personal relationship with God.
Without a constant sense of vital communion with God, our communications rise no higher than the ceiling. Realizing His nearness, sensing His presence, is more important than anything we can say. Acknowledge what we sing:
I need Thee every hour, stay Thou near by.
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.
Without His divine company, our phrases and His power fade into nothingness.
Eph. 6:10f “. . .might.”
Whereas “power” emphasized energy actively flowing from God, the word translated here as “might” refers to the huge reservoir of strength inherent in God. This highlights the vast, immeasurable quantity of strength in Him waiting for us to use. Humbly note, the stockpile is in God, not us. He alone is strong. We are weakness incarnate. Nevertheless, weary pilgrims, plenty of strength is to be had. God’s “might” is ours, and we all need every bit of it.
Saints involved in daily and hourly struggles with inward and outward temptations have no trouble confessing we need huge amounts of “power.” Our paramount necessity is to access God’s “might.” When we tap this reserve, the unlimited supply makes its recipient invincible, as God’s child should be.
“Might” tells us the supply is infinite, “power” tells us the strength is usable. Both truths are vital. How we view God’s strength makes all the difference. Let me illustrate this by comparing an oak tree and a horse. An oak tree has “might”; it is strong enough to withstand a hurricane. However, its strength is passive, and thus it has no “power” to put forth to perform a task for us. A horse, on the other hand, is not as mighty against the storm as a tree, but has “power” to put forth, energy to give us. Some see God’s strength as only like the oak tree’s, vast quantity but not much accessible. Others view God’s strength solely like the horse’s, accessible but not much quantity. Fortunately for believers, the best of both comparisons, oak and horse, applies.
God’s strength is both infinite and usable. Tapping “might” which produces invigorating, victory bestowing “power” is feasible, a viable and realistic possibility. To claim this for the “average” Christian is not ridiculous, theoretical, or abstract, but rather reasonable, practical, and concrete.
The huge amount and ready availability of God’s strength in us is already a proven fact, having been demonstrated in each believer’s life. We know the strength potentially available to each of us is infinite, for Paul told us (1:19-20) the power offered to us is the same immeasurable, infinite power God exerted in raising Jesus from the dead. We know the strength is usable, accessible, for its energizing influence was obviously activated and openly displayed in our regeneration. Without God’s “power” we could have never been saved. We who were dead in trespasses and sins have been quickened, lifted from death to life, and will never need more “power” than was required for this.
God’s infinite and usable strength is ours for the taking, but we must not be presumptuous. The command to be strong is a call to prepare ourselves.
With God’s help, we must each implement a pyramid of power. Ground the foundation in investing time. On this seek intimacy with God. Then confess our weakness and acknowledge “the power of His might.” Make focus the capstone; apply to specific situations what we know. There is no victory apart from groundwork. The unprepared believer will become the defeated believer.
Eph. 6:11 Introduction
Since childhood we have sung the challenge, “Put on the Gospel armor, Each piece put on with prayer” (Duffield). Now we shall study and analyze in depth for several weeks what we have sung about for years.
Eph. 6:11a “Put on. . .”
The verb translated “put on” means to envelop in, to clothe with. God intends for His armor to be the Christian’s daily, life-long attire. We are not to take it off and on from time to time. We are to clothe ourselves in it, wrap ourselves with it, and never discard it. Many Christians forget this, become careless about always donning their armor, and in the moment of temptation, find themselves unprepared. Once the enemy attacks, it is too late to put on the armor adequately. Each piece must be strapped on before a conflict begins.
We must “put on” the armor all the time. This ought to be the habit of our lives, and should become second nature to us. We need to be like the warrior Coriolanus who had so wielded his weapons from childhood that they seemed as if they had been born with him, or grown into his hands (Plutarch).
Never leave our armor hanging on the wall. Cromwell ever deemed himself in danger. In camp, at court, at home, he always wore under his clothing a coat of mail. Seneca said Julius Caesar was quick to sheath his sword, but never took it off. Believers, too, must develop a philosophy of soul-militancy.
God has much more power than Satan, but victory in every skirmish is not therefore automatic for believers. A Christian’s victory in any situation depends not only on God’s strength, but also on our faithful appropriation of His power. God offers us armor; we have to put it on. God’s assistance and man’s resolve are wed. “Without God’s mighty power man can do nothing; unless man put on the whole armor of God, God will do nothing” (Gouge, in BI).
Eph. 6:11b “. . .the whole armor. . .”
“Whole armor” translates one Greek word. “Panoplian” combines “pan,” meaning all, and “hoplon,” weaponry. The panoply, the “whole armor,” refers to a complete suit of armor. Paul’s imagery, drawn from the Roman “man of arms,” pictures the uniform which conquered and controlled the western world.
Roman soldiers were omnipresent in Paul’s day. Having been a prisoner often, Paul had repeatedly seen their armor up close. Even as he formulated the words of our text in a Roman jail, he may have been chained to a soldier.
This famous suit of armor was not viewed as consisting of separate pieces, each optional to wear. Each piece was fashioned in ways which highlighted its need for all the others. Strengths and weaknesses in each piece counterbalanced weaknesses and strengths in all the others. A complete Roman panoply was perfect interdependence incarnate. Every piece was needed for protection.
To leave off any part of the armor at any given time invited disaster. A lack of only one piece of armor left a huge opening for the enemy. Wearing all but the helmet left the head in danger. Without the shield, vital organs were exposed. When no sword was carried, the enemy mocked. David, fleeing Saul in haste, left behind his sword. Knowing he was ill-prepared for battle, David asked Ahimelech the priest for a sword. When offered the very one he had used to cut off Goliath’s head, David said, “There is none like that, give it me” (1 SM 21:9). Once armed fully and properly, David pressed on with confidence.
Similarly, Christians must be fully armed, employing all their faith and all their graces all the time. Christians, put on the “whole” armor. Leave no part naked, unbolstered, exposed to the enemy. In the context of spiritual gifts, we focus on our strengths, but in the context of spiritual warfare, we focus on our weaknesses. Dr. Leavell’s charge to my graduating class at New Orleans Seminary resounds in me, “How far you go in life is usually ultimately determined not by your greatest strength, but by your greatest weakness.”
Have you ever heard anyone refer to an Achilles’ arm or an Achilles’ leg? No, the reference is always to an Achilles’ heel. Why? Because Achilles’ greatest weakness overruled and negated all of his overwhelming strength. As a child, Achilles was dipped in the magical waters of the river Styx. This mightiest of warriors seemed impregnable, but Paris learned Achilles was vulnerable in the heel, where his mother had held him when she dipped him in the river. Thus, Paris killed Achilles by shooting him in the heel with a poisoned arrow.
One weakness often becomes the most important factor in a Christian’s life. Believers, very fond of “pet graces and favorite virtues” (Parker), think their strengths will be enough to carry them through any fray. We sometimes tend to exaggerate our strengths and downplay our weaknesses. Be not deceived. Any flaw in the armor is serious and must never be treated lightly.
Always be prepared on all fronts. A fortress may be ninety-nine percent secure, but if one small gate is left unattended, the whole castle will fall.
Where is your weakness? Unfaithful church attendance, not knowing and using your spiritual gift, no daily prayer and Bible time, no intimacy with God, not regularly practicing the presence of God? I implore you, put on the “whole” armor. Is our eye weak? Satan will accommodate us with many lewd objects. Are we careless with the ear? Satan will force his way into our essence through foul language, gossip, and unwise counsel. Is our tongue vulnerable, a loose cannon? Satan will fill it with mischief, cruelty, or profanity. If we are never inebriated, but selfish, the latter will be our downfall. If we have no sexual lust, but are cold-hearted, the latter will trip us someday. If we never curse, but are proud, the latter will cast us headlong.
In fighting our foe, we must take to ourselves all that God provides for living and for overcoming. If there be even the least loophole in our armor, the wily adversary will discover and exploit it. If we leave any piece in the armor undone, we not only tempt the devil to tempt us, but also reveal to him the best place to attack. However small it may seem to us, Satan sees our weaknesses as his beach-head. He hits hardest any part he finds unarmed.
Do we wear the “whole” armor? To do otherwise is dangerous. The French once entered a battle having thought of everything, almost. They forgot to put proper armor on the horses, and lost the battle due to a shower of English arrows which so galled the horses that they became unmanageable and trod down their own men. One fatal omission bred disaster. Believer, find the hole in your spiritual dike, stop the trickle, or Satan will make it a flood.
Eph. 6:11c “. . .of God,. . .”
In any warfare, one must wear proper armor. Preparing to face Goliath, David tested Saul’s armor, but said, “I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them” (1 SM 17:39). Fortunately, we believers have superb armor, tried and true. We are weak, but for our war against evil, “The Lord hath opened his armory, and hath brought forth the weapons of his indignation” (JR 50:25).
Though the Lord does not insulate us and defer us from battle, He does take upon Himself responsibility for equipping us adequately for battle. In earthly armies, a leader flies as it were on the wings of his soldiers. In God’s army, the opposite is true. All strength lies in the leader. We soldiers cannot attack without His arm or defend ourselves without His armor.
Our only hope is to don the armor “of God,” the one of His making. For the conflict, nothing less suffices. Cast away as worthless any other armor we have trusted–our keen intellect, winsome personality, or own ability to figure things out. Eventually these will fail us. Only the armor “of God” is fool-proof.
Vulcan, the god of fire, was the blacksmith and metalworker who forged the armor of the gods, including the scepter of Jupiter and the arrows of Apollo and Diana. The ancients believed their noblest war heroes wore armor made for them by Vulcan. That was fable, but the armor “of God” bestowed on us is reality. He provides ample provision for every type of attack we will ever face.
The armor we wear is not only made by God, but also worn by Him. We serve as enlisted soldiers under a Heavenly Warrior. Isaiah 59:16-17 pictures God as putting on armor. Displeased at injustice, YHWH “put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.”
Being human, we like to conceptualize God in human roles, such as Shepherd, Priest, King, Father, Comforter. Add “Warrior” to this wonderful list. He is the ultimate armor-clad Warrior, who leads us into battle. God does not ask us to fight battles He avoids. When we are in the fray, He is there to rescue. In the context of spiritual warfare, deem God an ever-present, armor-clad Warrior. As you fight, realize God fights, too. See God in His armor, and know that what He, the greatest Warrior, wears, He offers to us for protection.
Eph. 6:11d “. . .that ye may be able. . .”
“May be able” implies the results believers seek are neither easy nor automatic. We must think of ourselves as constantly under attack. The Christian life is no place for cowards, weaklings, wimps, and the fainthearted.
Conversion enlists us into the ultimate warfare of the cosmos. We are saved to fight. Every step of our way is contested. We enjoy no picnic areas on this journey. Our enemy always shoots at us from the hedges, challenging our position. The devil does not want us to possess our possessions, and whenever we try to appropriate what is ours, his opposition rages. As inevitably as a tide swells, when our resolve rises, so does his resistance. Expect hostilities.
Eph. 6:11e (part 1) “. . .to stand. . .”
“Stand,” the key word of this third and final section of Ephesians, is a military term. It is soldier-talk, meaning, “stand firm under attack.” It refers to standing one’s ground, to holding a critical position while under assault.
In a critical moment at Waterloo, all depended on one besieged brigade. Couriers dashed to tell the Duke of Wellington the brigade’s desperate plight. He responded, “Stand firm!” As the brigade’s distress worsened, an officer appealed, but heard again, “Stand firm!” The officer explained, “But we shall perish.” The Duke, knowing the brigade’s critical role, repeated, “Stand firm!” The officer replied, “You will find us there!” Every man in that doomed brigade fell, bravely fighting at his post. They illustrated what it means “to stand.”
To analyze how we Christians are “to stand” in our spiritual warfare, we examine the subject under three pithy, easy to remember, headings–no fright, no flight, only fight. First, “to stand” entails no fright. Being human, we are afraid at times, but believers must never be consumed or overwhelmed by fear.
Satan wants us to panic, to approach our battles from a premise of terrorized defeat. He seeks to accomplish this by dislodging us from appropriating the benefits of our heavenly seat and armor. He wants us to forgot about our possessions, to think we are losers drowning and thrashing about, barely able to survive.
Satan, for sure, does not want us to grasp intellectually the full implication of Paul’s directive “to stand.” The command deals not with an assault or a march, but with holding steadfast what is already attained.
“We do not fight for victory; we fight from victory. We do not fight in order to win but because in Christ we have already won” (Nee). In any given situation, victory can be assumed by us if we stay faithful in appropriating the benefits of our heavenly seat and armor. Things may not always turn out the way we plan or desire, but Satan will be thwarted, and God purposes achieved.
As believers, our task is simply stated–yield no ground Christ has gained for us. Our heavenly seat and armor are disputed by the devil, but rightfully ours by birthright due to the victory Christ won. No fright, no panic–we will not be deterred from our heavenly seat, or take off our armor. We consciously take advantage of all both have to offer, and leave the results to God.
As we stay focused on our heavenly seat, and keep our armor on, Satan has no chance to defeat us. We remain in this victorious position, refusing to concede defeat to Satan. In the heavenly seat, no fright, Jesus is near. In the panoply of God, no fright, God is nigh. We stay in our seat, keep on our armor, and the result is never in doubt, for God is duty bound to defeat Satan for us.
In practical, measurable ways, how do we exhibit “no fright”? In the throes of a furious fray, how do we prove we believe God has already won the victory? By interspersing praise with our petitions. While we are making requests, also be praising. Even when we see no hope, no opening, no ray of light, we thank God in advance, believing God will yet make a way. This ability to act upon what we cannot see is the essence of faith. We must look not for the victory, but only for the results and indications of God’s prior conquest. We confidently pray, “God, we know you have won. Let us see the evidence.”
If we pray only for victory, we confess we have none. If all we do is beg and plead, we thereby essentially acknowledge defeat and throw away our fundamental position. However, if we pray to see the results of victory already won, and thank God in advance for victory, we exercise true faith, for we cast ourselves fully on Him, trusting Him totally, without wavering.
Should we pray less? No. Should we ask for less? No. Should we intercede less? No. We just need confidence to praise God in advance more often.
Eph. 6:11e (cont.) “. . .to stand. . .”
“To stand” involves no fright. Christians, be “in nothing terrified by your adversaries” (PH 1:28). Refuse to let Satan unnerve us. Robed in God’s armor, unceasingly take advantage of our heavenly seat, thanking God in advance for the victory He has already won, and for the evidences of it He shall reveal.
In addition to no fright, “to stand” entails no flight. Our call is to hold out, as opposed to quitting the field and taking flight. Nothing more dishonors an army than a frenzied retreat. One of Joshua’s darkest hours occurred when his routed troops fled Ai in disarray. The commander cried out, “O Lord, what shall I say when Israel turneth their backs before their enemies?” (Joshua 7:8). One of the most humiliating moments in U.S. military history took place at Bull Run in our Civil War. Union troops broke ranks and ran pell-mell.
Flight is also a humiliation in spiritual warfare. Jesus, our Commander in Chief, offers believers no backdoors. He fixed the standard, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (LK 9:62). Christ ordered His embattled church at Thyatira, “Hold fast until I come,” and commanded the Philadelphia church, “Hold that fast which thou hast” (RV 2:25; 3:11). Our orders are simply stated–surrender nothing God has won for us. “Keep living by that same standard to which we have attained” (PH 3:16). We must face the enemy till death, never looking over our shoulder.
For believers, retreat and defeat are not options. Cortez, once his men were ashore in the new world, burned all his ships. His troops were trapped. They had no possibility of retreat, and thus never considered it as an option. This desperation helps explain why they fought with excessive fury and cruelty.
We Christians, too, must never count flight an option. Retreat is disastrous. Hell rejoices every time a Christian quits. It shames God, and allows Satan time to have his way with the deserter. In the Christian panoply, no armor protects the back. Thus, Satan wants us to desert our worthy walk (4:1), and expose the one part of our body unprotected by armor. Anyone who gives up and flees is totally defenseless, and will experience a cataclysmic fall.
Weary warrior, please don’t quit. I know full well that the battle is often fierce. Blows come hot and heavy at times. The strain can seem unbearable. My brother, Charles, rightly once said in a sermon on our text, “Sometimes it is a great victory just to be able to stand.” We hunker down at times, nurse our wounds, and collect ourselves, but we never quit. We say with our beloved Apostle, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 C 4:8-9). We will not leave our seat, quit our walk, or take off our armor.
Ivor Powell tells of the two animals emblazoned on the Australian coat of arms–the emu, a large bird that cannot fly, and the kangaroo. These less than illustrious animals were selected because neither can move backward. If the emu tries to go backward, its big three-toed feet cause it to fall. The kangaroo is kept from going backward by its long tail. Both animals cannot retreat; neither can fully armored Christians who remain in their heavenly seat and continue their worthy walk. Victory is assured to all who choose no flight.
“To stand” entails no fright, not being dislodged from our heavenly seat, and no flight, not being swayed from our worthy walk. “To stand” also entails only fight. “YHWH is a warrior” (EX 15:3a) and His call is for soldiers, not diplomats, for regiments, not embassies. Victory is fought out, not negotiated.
Christians are engaged in warfare, but some wrongly believe God saves us to make us happy without a care all the way to heaven. The moment God redeems us, a terrible, ferocious enemy declares war on us. We remain under constant bombardment from this foe until death finally brings rest. The Christian walk is a battle, not a life of ease. Stay ready. Never lower our guard.
The Kingdom of Christ is, by its very nature, an advancing attack force. In the beginning, God’s creation was perfect, but in Eden, Satan wrought ruin and rebellion, and usurped the throne of this world as his own (2 C 4:4). Fortunately, God has not forsaken mankind. Through His Kingdom He attacks the pirated realm, reclaiming what originally was, and rightfully is, His. Jesus said of His Church, “The gates of Hell shall not prevail against it” (MT 16:18). This implies the Church is advancing. The word “prevail” means to stimy, to hold down. “Gates” do not attack, they merely withstand. The challenge to Israel at the Red Sea applies to the Church today, “Go forward” (EX 14:15).
With fearless and reckless abandon, God has ever taken the battle to the devil. This assault climaxed when our Lord attacked Satan in the evil one’s premiere strongholds, sin and death. Courageously daring the devil to do his worst, Jesus became sin itself (2 C 5:21) and entered death’s dominion. In the very moment demons thought they had crushed Jesus, He was triumphing over them. His resurrection made a mockery of Satan, publicly humiliated the forces of darkness (CL 2:15), and vaulted Jesus to a position of authority, far above principalities and powers (PH 2:9-11). Christ now demonstrates the victory He has won at Calvary by using His Church to attack Satan’s usurped territory.
Though the ultimate victory has already been won at Calvary, the defeated foe never willingly yields one inch of his usurped territory. He launches fierce counterattacks in the only sphere left to him. Satan can do no harm in Heaven, for he and his demons were thrown out of paradise and cast down to earth (RV 12:7-9). He also knows he cannot destroy the Church (RV 12:13-16). Unable to strike God or to kill the Church, Satan connives to embarrass God and the Church by causing Christians to sin. Satan musters all his cohorts to attack Christians as individuals (RV 12:17). He cowardly unleashes his fury on the weakest link in the kingdom advance, the individual soldiers–believers. Thus, the battlefield is in our hearts. The war of the Universe rages within us, and our role as individuals is “to stand,” to fight, keeping the enemy at bay.
Our situation is illustrated by what happened to the Allies in the last year of World War II. After the D-Day invasion, Germany’s fate was sealed. V-Day was inevitable, but in one last ditch all-out effort, Hitler counterattacked, hurling his forces at the middle of the Allied line. The assault was fierce, and bulged the center of the Allied line back until the counterattack was repulsed. This Battle of the Bulge was fury let loose, for it was a desperate do-or-die situation for Hitler. This pictures our dilemma as believers. Calvary was D-Day. Our victory is inevitable. In the meantime, we experience the fury of the Battle of the Bulge, Satan’s relentless counterattack. He cannot win the war, but seeks to humiliate God by making life miserable for the foot soldiers.
It is vitally important for us “to stand”–no fright, no flight, only fight–because in our bewildered world, in a society tossed to and fro by every new idea or whim which blows our way, people need calm and steadfast role models who understand what life is all about, and who have it all together. We make a strong statement for God and His Church, and honor both, by simply standing. As others are collapsing, “stand!” People will see and be influenced. Our strength will inspire many, causing them to look unto Christ for strength.
Eph. 6:11f “. . .against the wiles of the devil.”
Modern minds often depersonalize the spirit realm, and consider “the devil” an obsolete superstition, but Jesus, Paul, and every other early church leader believed in the existence of a personal Warlord of darkness. Satan is not imaginary. He is a real person who thinks, plans, hates, and attacks. Believers know Satan is real; the Bible says he is, and our experiences confirm it. Joseph Parker said, “Satan has nearly torn me to pieces; he is a terrible opponent. He is not a metaphysical antagonist–he is a real and tremendous foe.”
The Bible seems to go out of its way to prove the literal, true existence of an evil Warlord. Scripture affixes many horrifying labels to this foe: the devil (accuser), Satan (adversary), Abaddon and Apollyon (Hebrew and Greek words for destruction), angel of the bottomless pit (RV 9:11), Beelzebub (god of filth, LK 11:19), Belial (wickedness, 2 C 6:15), the great dragon, that old serpent (RV 12:9), god of this world (2 C 4:4), prince of the power of the air (EP 2:2), roaring lion (1 P 5:8). The penmen of Scripture believed Satan was real.
The early church contained Gentiles recently converted out of pagan religions obsessed with dread for demons. Christianity did not counteract this fear by saying evil spirits were a figment of people’s imaginations. We did not deny the existence of evil spirits, but exposed them, explained who they are, how they act, and how we can confidently and reliably protect ourselves from them.
With regard to demons, Christianity gave its adherents facts and comfort. With joy we realize “the devil” and his demons cannot indwell or possess a believer. His assailing of Christians is limited to tactics which Paul describes here as “wiles.” The term is “methodeia,” the basis of our word “method.”
“Methodeia” refers to stratagems, craftily designed plans of attack used by a commander to take advantage of his opponent. “The devil,” experienced in the art and craft of devious warfare, lies in ambush. Frontal assaults are not his style. Shunning open fields, he deals in secret plots.
He would be much less dangerous a foe if he appeared to us as he really is, and taunted us, “Hello, I am the devil, and have come to trip you throughout the day, to use you to humiliate God.” If he did this, we would immediately say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” (MK 8:33). Sadly, he is not this easy to perceive. “Transformed into an angel of light” (2 C 11:14), he deceitfully tries every conceivable, underhanded tactic to ensnare the Christian warrior.
Christians, beware. Be not obsessed with Satan, but also do not ignore or underestimate him. Realize what he truly is: a formidable foe, in age second only to God’s age, a power second only to God’s power, a mind second only to God’s mind. Satan is neither a novice, a weakling, nor an ignoramus.
Satan is no novice. Angels were God’s first companions. Satan, the old serpent, predates man and has had eons to practice and perfect his “wiles.”
Satan is no weakling. The superhuman tempter fearlessly ventured to fly in the face of God, and had power enough to mount in heaven itself a rebellion so effective that it brought down one-third of the angels. B.H. Carroll felt this uprising was spawned by pride in angels chafed at God’s decision to make them ministering servants to human beings. Satan is strong. Even the archangel Michael, when contending for Moses’ body, dared not speak lightly or loosely to Satan, but ventured only to say, “The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 9).
Satan is no ignoramus. His is “more than a human mind” (Beacon BC). He was the master architect of not only heaven’s, but also the world’s, rebellion against God. In the spirit realm, he roars like a lion, but in our world, the sinister genius quietly shrouds himself in sheepskin. Watch for sly lions prowling in sheep’s clothing. Plotting ingenious schemes of stealth, Satan systematically stalks us to way-lay us with “pits dug in unsuspected places” (Parker).
The devil is like a hawk who sits on a fencepost all day, patiently waiting for a field mouse to make a wrong move. Satan patiently waits, weighing his options, and watching our tastes, triumphs, trials, and traitor.
When he catches us relishing for a moment the taste of a past sin, he helps us roll the juicy morsel under the tongue of our memory. Satan stirs up the remembrance of how good the evil tasted for an instant.
When we triumph over sin, Satan has mixed emotions. He hates to lose, but loves knowing that our celebrations often cause us to let our guard down.
Satan revels in our trials. When we strain under the burden of life, when our energies are crippled, and happiness is but a memory, he attacks.
Satan’s favorite beachhead is the traitor in our own camp, the Judas within us, our own flesh, our old nature. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (GL 5:17).
With trickery and cruel cunning, Satan seeks to finagle to his advantage our tastes, triumphs, trials, and traitor. He confronts our weaknesses in the critical moment, and too often wins the day. Watch your weakness–be assured Satan the hawk does. In the wilderness, Satan attacked where he thought our Lord would be weak (LK 4). Hungry, Jesus was tempted to make bread. Feeling weak, Jesus was pressed to worship Satan and rule all the kingdoms of earth. Unknown, Jesus was tempted to attract attention by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple. Fortunately, Satan at his strongest was no match for Jesus at His weakest. Unfortunately, the devil succeeds with everyone else.
When Abraham left Canaan due to famine, Satan knew he was watching a man whose weakness was the issue of security. Satan put Abraham in a bind, in a situation where a lie would seemingly protect him. Abraham lied.
The devil saw in Samson one glaring weakness, an inordinate desire to please the wrong crowd. He was not careful about the company he kept. Seeing this, Satan sent Delilah. Samson fell.
Satan found David’s weakness. The king was supposed to be in battle with his troops, but had decided he had done enough in life, it was time for ease and self-indulgence. Satan let him see a bathing woman. David yielded.
Before the devil’s wiles, great patriarchs fell, fine kings fell, even prophets and priests fell. With but one exception, all have fallen, none has been able to overpower and outwit the devil. “All have sinned” (RM 3:23).
Even Adam in his perfect state fell. He not only fell, but fell very easily. If Adam in Eden fell, what chance have we who possess a sin nature? Only one chance. Our only hope is to assess accurately Satan’s strength, to acknowledge our weakness, and to flee to our heavenly seat. Our greatest danger lies in not being prepared due to not feeling our danger. Pearl Harbor taught America this lesson. Be prepared. Know what Satan is doing. He is wooing us away from our spiritual resources, hoping we will rely on our own strength. We must remain fully armored in our walk, and stay in our heavenly seat as near to Jesus as possible. Our Lord beat the devil in the wilderness temptation. The power to overcome evil is still to be found in Jesus.