Ephesians 6:10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
The section before us is the culmination of the book. In this peroration Paul addresses the entire congregation and reminds them that they are all involved in a warfare for the lives and souls of men and women and they must be sure that they have equipped themselves for it. This concept that the Christian life is a fight has been resisted both by our enemies and in the house of our friends.
i] Modernism, which dominated Wales throughout the last century, has concluded that the problem of evil is located in the structures of society and not in the hearts of individual men and women. Charles Dickens, for example, helped to popularise that philosophy 150 years ago. In his novels of course there are sinners, but sin’s power is mainly manifest in banks and factories, in the churches and orphanages, in slums and schools, and in the aristocratic structures of English society. Dickens has become the standard English author studied in African high schools because Dickens’ views fitted the prevailing attitude of African politicians so completely. One consequence was the church’s growing confidence in Caesar, that you fight against wickedness by political action, by acts of parliament, and by committing more and more of the organising of our lives and the education of our children to Caesar. Our warfare is directed at big business, capitalism, the arms industry, the pharmaceutical companies, and the political organisations which support them. That is a very different emphasis from what we find in this chapter where every Christian is being urged to be fighting against sin and spiritual wickedness. One of the main causes of the weakness of the Christian church today is the fact that the devil has been forgotten. All mankind’s ills are attributed to the unjust structures of society while the fiery darts of the evil one are being ignored. So the enemies of the gospel have opposed the Christian warfare from that perspective.
ii] Then there have been well-meaning Christians – our own friends – who have also opposed the idea that our lives are a long fight. They consider the best Christian life to be a largely passive one. A Chinese minister named Watchman Nee wrote some best-selling meditations on Ephesians entitled Sit Walk Stand. It’s a memorable title, and Nee claims his ideas come from this letter. Sit! That is where the Christian life begins, he says, by sitting with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephs. 2:6). Accept your status as a conqueror in Christ. Walk! That comes from the exhortation at the beginning of chapter four of this letter in the Authorized Version, in other words, you live out practically the Christian life. Stand! And he derives that exhortation from here, from the next verse in Ephesians 6, verse 11. We stand on the ground that has been won for us by Christ. Christ has obtained all our victories for us, and, says Watchman Nee, our own warfare is bound to be defensive rather than offensive.
What are the consequences of accepting such a perspective? James Montgomery Boice sums it up like this, “there is nothing (or at least very little) for us to do as Christians. ‘Let go and let God,’ some say. That is, the battle is not ours; it is God’s. So just let go; let God do the fighting for us. At the most, you need only stand your ground. It’s true, of course, that Paul does use the word ‘stand.’ He uses it four times, but when he speaks of our armour he speaks not only of defensive weapons such as our helmet, breastplate, and shield, but also of our offensive weapon, our sword. And whether or not he is thinking of fighting offensively or defensively, he is thinking of fighting against the most powerful and cunning foes” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, Baker, 1997, p.224).
Put this section in the larger context of this whole letter. For five chapters we have been given the purposes of God and warned of the existence of the devil who seeks to thwart these purposes. Surely we are in for a fight? Aren’t we all in the salvation army? If there is a flock of Christ’s sheep then there’s bound to be a wolf skulking about who’ll try to destroy them. No orthodoxy, no experience of ‘victorious Christian living,’ no ‘Holy Spirit baptism,’ no focusing our energies on structural injustice is going to deliver anyone from the battle that lies ahead. I am sure that the first rule for success in conflict is to know your enemy, and this is what this final section of the epistle does so helpfully. The preacher must look every Christian in the eye and say to him, “Don’t you know there’s a war on? Are you prepared? Is there anything in your life that suggests that you are involved in a fight to the death?”
So I’ve been saying to you by way of introduction that this final section of the epistle on the Christian warfare has been attacked by our enemies, the modernists, who want to make Christianity a social gospel, who are seeking to bring the kingdom of God to earth by government legislation and taxation, and also by our friends with their message of passivity, of letting go and letting God fight our battle for us. How then are we going to approach this section? I think we have to bear four things in mind.
1. THERE IS A WAR GOING ON RIGHT NOW.
Firstly, in our being clear that there is a war going on right now in which every single Christian is engaged. There is that awakening word of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as he is describing this section; “This is a stirring call to battle . . . Don’t you hear the bugle, and the trumpet? . . . We are being roused, we are being stimulated, we are being set upon our feet; we are being told to be men. The whole tone is martial, it is manly, it is strong” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Warfare, Banner of Truth, p. 16, and 22). I hope you students have taken advantage of the annual autumn special offer from the Banner of Truth and have bought so very cheaply Dr Lloyd-Jones’s volumes of sermons on Ephesians. They will equip you for life. Paul is telling us that will be no cessation of hostilities for anyone this week; the battle for men’s souls is going on right over the holiday period, no Christmas Day football match with the devil and his hosts. There will be no cease fire, no temporary truce, not until we reach the rest of heaven. On our death beds we will still be engaged in the Christian warfare. We have to fight to maintain the Christian life
David Feddes has pointed out, “There’s a lot more to following Jesus than being a nice, tame pussycat. The Bible speaks of Jesus as a lion (Revelation 5:5), and Scripture says, ‘The righteous are as bold as a lion’ (Proverbs 28:1). Do you see Jesus as a lion or as a fluffy kitten? Do you want to be a tame pet in a safe home that does nothing but lie around and eat? Or do you want to be a lion in the service of the ultimate lion, Jesus Christ? To live as a real Christian, it’s not enough to be tame and safe. You need to be bold, strong, even fierce.”
“By the way, lack of this warrior mentality may be one reason many churches have little appeal to men. Instead of God’s call to be strong, some churches merely call men to be nice. Author John Eldredge says, ‘Christianity, as it currently exists, has done some terrible things to men. When all is said and done, I think most men in the church believe God put them on earth to be a good boy… If they try really hard they can reach the lofty summit of becoming … a nice guy. That’s what we hold up as models of Christian maturity: Really Nice Guys.’ Wouldn’t the evening service be more exciting if it became a strategy session of warriors? Wouldn’t our meetings be different if they became a place to rally for war against Satan? Church might then be a place not just for children, women, and old people, but for men – bold, vigorous, dangerous men who are strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Church would invigorate, not emasculate.
“In any case, whether the church has turned men off by becoming too wimpy or men have simply hardened their hearts against the Lord, the fact remains that all of us – men and women alike – are living in a spiritual war zone. You might want nothing but a peaceful, easy feeling, but if you aren’t prepared to fight sin, if you’re not ready to battle Satan, if you’re not on a mission to win victories for Jesus, you are doomed. You can’t negotiate or make peace with Satan. In the 1930s before World War II, the British government was so eager to avoid conflict that it stood back as Adolph Hitler invaded one country after another. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain boasted of solving disputes ‘by discussion instead of by force of arms’ and spoke flattering words about Hitler and Mussolini. After the Munich agreement giving Czechoslovakia to Hitler, Chamberlain said, ‘I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice, quiet sleep.’ Many British people cheered wildly. But there would be no peace and very little quiet sleep. The only way to stop Hitler was to fight.
“When a tyrant wants to conquer everything he can, there can be no peace. Satan is a tyrant, and he wants to conquer everything he can. Satan wants to dominate you and hold you under the power of sin. Satan wants you to die in your sin and end up in hell with him. He wants people around you to perish too. He wants them to ignore Jesus, believe false religions, and end up in hell. If you expect peace in our time, a life without struggle or conflict, Satan will completely control you. Don’t be a spiritual appeaser. Stand against Satan. Fight him. Be a warrior. Join Jesus’ army, and don’t expect an easy, peaceful life. It’s hard to stand against Satan’s attacks. It’s hard to go into enemy-occupied territory and bring the liberty of Christ to those ruled by Satan. There will be no peace in our time. There will be spiritual warfare till Jesus comes again. In our text Paul says, ‘Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.’ (David Feddes, The Radio Pulpit, July 2003, “Call to Combat.”)
2. THIS WAR IS TAKING PLACE RIGHT UNDER OUR NOSES.
The second thing that we must bear in mind is that the scene of this conflict has been set for us in the previous verses, and you will see that the combat zone is found in the ordinary relationships and duties of life. The battle will not be in some spectacular and exalted exploits which we will do for Christ. The home, the intimate relationships of family life, in our work – the office and the university, our conversations with those in charge of us and those who work under us – these constitute the arena where the issues of the Christian warfare are settled for weal or woe. Swinging his legs on your kitchen worktop, unseen by mortal eyes, sits a demon looking for an opportunity to stir things up between parent and child or between husband and wife. There is another in the staff-room, and another in the officers’ meeting. In all the ordinary activities of every day life we are engaged in a spiritual battle.
Think of King David; you all remember that story of him as a teenager killing the mighty warrior Goliath with a slingshot. Such an event was a one-off incident in his life, a dangerously ego-reinforcing occasion. He knew victory in battles and deliverance from Saul and the Philistines. Did all this make him complacent? Did David take for granted God’s protection? He lost his greatest battles in his home. He took numbers of wives; he stole Bathsheba from her husband Uriah and had him murdered. What a wretched action! David, who conquered his tens of thousands on the fields of battle, was overcome by lust. It opened the door to spiritual wickedness coming into his home and settling down there. Indirectly it led to one of his sons raping one of his daughters; it led to one of his sons killing another son. It led to civil war and the deaths of many people, all because in David’s home, around his table, in his bed, he was restless and discontented with the one wife God had given to him. He lost the spiritual battle in his family. The consequences for his life were horrendous.
3. THIS WAR CAN ONLY BE WON THROUGH CHRIST.
You see our text, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). What has Paul been saying to you? How does he expect you to live? Ordinary Christian wives actually submitting to your inconsistent husbands? Yes. Ordinary Christian husbands loving your inconsistent wives to the extent that you would lay down your lives for them? Yes. Ordinary young children trying to come to terms with themselves and what life is all about by obeying and honouring your parents even when they are mean-spirited about your love for Jesus Christ? Yes. Ordinary Christian fathers not exasperating your children but bringing them up to love Jesus Christ more than anyone else in the world? Yes. Christian slaves obeying your earthly masters not just to get their favour but doing God’s will from your hearts? Yes. Christian masters loving your slaves as yourselves? Yes. And all of you ordinary limping staggering Christians meeting the powers of this dark world, the spiritual forces of evil, and conquering them? Yes. That is your high and holy calling. This is not an option. This is the future for every single Christian, living like that.
“How can I do it?” you cry. “It is impossible,” you argue, “I am too weak,” you plead. “It is all hopelessly idealistic.” No. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, and so you see the significance of what Paul is saying when he begins this section, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Or better, henceforward be strong in the Lord. From now on in the Christian life you are not going to be wimps. You are going to change; you are going to be strong men and it is going to be through Jesus Christ. How else can we live like this? Triumphing in the Christian warfare is far beyond the power of feeble man. We cannot do it, but we must do it. We can’t but we must, and we must, but we can’t. It seems a Catch 22 situation. No! When we are weak we go to Christ for strength. Be strong in the Lord!
Paul doesn’t say be strong in your knowledge of the Bible – though he wouldn’t be averse to that exhortation. He doesn’t command us to be strong in faith because none of us feels that we are strong there. He doesn’t drive us inward. “Be strong in the Lord,” and that is his exhortation. I visited a wife whose husband had had a heart attack and he was in intensive care and a long way from home. She was deeply fearful and in considerable anguish of soul, her terror compounded by the distance she was from him. She told me all that she owed to him, all he had taught her, how they had come to gospel faith and trust in Christ together. She told me how he was everything to her and she wondered how she could cope without him. She was only strong in him, she was saying and feeling the possible loss very deeply. Well, God was merciful. 37 years has passed since then and they are still strengthening one another.
We are strong as Christians only through this living person who is above us, and with us, and in us, and before us, and behind us, and alongside us, and every preposition to us. All our strength comes from him, and we must make sure that we know that and live in the light of that. The most important thing about spiritual warfare is to look to the strength and leadership of the ultimate warrior. David Feddes points out that Scripture says plainly, ‘The Lord is a warrior’ (Exodus 15:3). Why did Jesus come to earth? To pick a fight! Jesus says, ‘I did not come to bring peace but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34). The final result of Jesus’ coming will be peace, but before he brings peace, he brings a sword against evil, and he brings division between those who join him and those who reject him. Jesus did not come to earth to negotiate with Satan. He did not come for diplomacy or to work out a compromise. Jesus came to destroy. ‘The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work’ (1 John 3:8). The Son of God became one of us and died for us ‘to destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil’ (Hebrews 2:14).
“Do you think of the Lord as a warrior, as a destroyer of his enemies? In the Bible God often reveals himself that way, and biblical prayers speak of him that way. Psalm 18 starts out with words of love – ‘I love you, O Lord’ – but is this love for a sugary, sentimental deity? No, he’s the God of strength and battle. The psalmist says, ‘I love you, O Lord, my strength,’ and goes on to say, ‘The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies, great bolts of lightning and routed them… With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall… You armed me with strength for battle’ (Psalm 18). Another Scripture, Psalm 68, speaks of God’s concern for orphans and widows, but does that mean God is just a gentle do-gooder? No, one reason God is such a comfort to the weak and vulnerable is that he wields terrifying power against enemies: ‘May God arise, may his enemies be scattered, may his foes flee before him… A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling… Kings and armies flee in haste… The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands… Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies… Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God as you have done before’ (Psalm 68).
“The Lord Jesus calls us to join his fight against Satan and evil, against sin, cruelty, fear, discouragement, and all Satan’s other weapons. Jesus could be very gentle with weak and wounded souls, but he could also be combative and downright terrifying to Satan and his demons. Jesus often met people who were possessed and tormented by demons. These people did not have the strength to liberate themselves from demonic power. But Jesus had more than enough strength, and the demons knew it. They panicked whenever they saw Jesus coming. Some demons yelled in rage; some whimpered in fear; all felt threatened by Jesus. They knew they could not stand against him. As the Bible says of the Lord, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you’ (Psalm 66:3). Demons are not wimps. They are rebel angels who have lost all goodness but still have terrible strength. Human power can’t scare them, but the divine power of Jesus terrifies them. In fact, Jesus only had to speak a few words to make the demons flee.
“If you’ve always thought of Jesus as a mild-mannered wimp, please watch the real Jesus in action. When he’s confronted by a legion of demons, Jesus sends them fleeing in terror (Luke 8:26-33). When he’s told that King Herod wants to kill him, Jesus fearlessly denounces the wicked king (Luke 13:32). When he’s told that his words have offended some elite religious leaders, Jesus offends them even more by calling them “blind guides” (Matthew 15:12-14). When he sees God’s temple made into a marketplace, Jesus goes on a rampage with a whip, driving out the merchants and flipping their tables upside down (John 2:15). When he sees a mob coming to arrest him, Jesus calmly tells them that he’s the one they’re after – and something about him makes them shrink back and fall to the ground (John 18:3-6). When Jesus enters death itself and takes on the ultimate enemy, the ground shakes, the grave opens, and death is defeated. These are not the actions of a passive, harmless wimp. This is the Lord of hosts, the commander of angels, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the General who calls us to combat in his forces. Here is one of the final glimpses the Bible gives us of Jesus: ‘I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war… He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him’ (Revelation 19:11-14).” (David Feddes, op cit).
4. THIS WAR CAN BE WON ONLY IN THE LORD.
What do I mean? Let me make this as practical as possible.
i] Rely on the Lord.
John Berridge was a great preacher of the 18th century. He was quite well off a a young man, and he had become a vicar at the age of 35, but he did not become a Christian until he was 40. He is quaint and personable in talking about himself and this is how he describes his own journey into being strong in the Lord and in his mighty power; “Once I had gone to Jesus full of airs and graces. I thought, ‘If he is somebody, well, I am somebody too. If he is special, then so am I. If he has merit, then so do I. ’ I used Jesus, like a healthy man carries a walking cane and twirls it in the air. Today he is my whole crutch; I can’t stir a foot without him. He is my all, as he ought to be if he is my Lord and Saviour. My heart never has any rest until it rests on him wholly. If evil passions rise within me I go to him as a demoniac. If spiritual deadness spreads through my whole being I go to him as a paralytic. If I am full of frantic crazy worries I go to Christ as a lunatic. If darkness covers my life I go to Christ like blind Bartimeus, and whenever I pray I go to him like a leper crying, Unclean! Unclean!”
You will not appreciate the Son of God being your zimmer frame unless you have first discovered just how weak you are. You’ll never rely on the Lord unless you are made aware that the only way you are going to get through today, and this week, and this winter ahead is by his mighty power. If you think you are coping then you’ll never ask anyone for help, least of all the invisible Saviour. Then what happens is that God lets you fall flat on your face. he will desert you some cold night as you warm yourself by a fire without any other Christian around and you start acting in a sub-Christian way – to your shame. The Lord will show you that you can’t survive without a consciousness of your need of him. So Rely on the Lord. Be thinking and silently praying continually, “Lord help me now . . . be with me now . . . don’t let me bring dishonour on you now . . . I need you now.”
ii] Desire the Lord more and more.
I’m thinking of the psalmist; “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psa. 42:1&2). Here is a beast which feels it is dying of thirst; its eyes are glazed and its tongue is hanging out; it is breathing rapidly. Where is there a brook, a pool of water, to quench its longing? The psalmist says, “I long for God in the same way. My soul is thirsty for God, not for divine things, not for religion, but for an encounter with the living God. I must meet with him. Christ I have. Christ I enjoy in the privileges of Christian fellowship and in the preaching of the gospel, in Christian faith and sonship, but I want that same Lord more! I want him all! I am pressing on for the prize, the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. I am hungering and thirsting for his righteousness. I want to be made conformable to his life and death. You see the state of mind of these people? They are hungering and they are thirsting; they are starved and utterly parched. They are absolutely desperate. They are at their wit’s end. they have tried everything possible that this world has to offer and it has left them with a handful of pebbles. They are in a state of destitution and they know that there is something that they need for their survival, something they must have at all costs. And what is it? It is the Lord himself. It is not the possession of gifts, nor the experience of blessedness, but I am absolutely desperate for the mighty power of the Lord. Christ I have, and I want him more and more. It is quite desperate. If I am going to survive on this amazing Christian enterprise then it is only because of him. This is the absolute dominant longing which is in the Christian soul, for the Lord, for his energy and presence day by day and every passing moment. So I am exhorting you to increase your desire for the Lord, that he should control every part of you. That his energy was the dynamo motivating and inspiring you day by day.
iii] Be increasingly grateful to the Lord.
I have a few brief letters which were sent to me by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. I have kept them all because of my debt to him. I think there are about five in all, but I met an American pastor named Gary Long and whereas he had a letter or two written by Spurgeon he had none written by the Doctor, and so I sent him one. It was a difficult choice because they were all personal letters to me, addressing events in my life, but then there was one which was fairly bland and I sent that one to my friend. The Doctor had taken a little interest in me, and he was the greatest preacher in the 20th century. How grateful I was for every contact I had with him, for his encouragement and also for his disapproval of some of the things I did and said. I thought about those cautions too because he was wise and full of God. What discernment he had; how skillfully he led the church. I am so grateful that God gave him to the church eighty years ago when he began his ministry in Wales . My gratitude makes me consult him regularly. In fact I have read his sermons on these words again. I first read them in monthly letters sent out from Westminster Chapel in the 1960s.
We are talking about how we can become increasingly strong in the Lord. I have said that it is by a growing sense of dependence on him and a growing desire for him, but now I am saying that it is by an increasing thankfulness to the Lord. This Lord did not only take an interest in me, he loved me, and he gave himself for me. He laid down his life and saved me. How thankful I am for that. I was on a broad road hell-bent for destruction. He stopped my crazy juggernaut in its tracks at considerable cost to himself. He got me onto a far narrower road, in fact he got in alongside me and he’s helped me every mile of the journey ever since. How thankful I am for that. When I’ve driven through Vanity Fair he’s been with me; when the road has gone through Doubting Castle he’s been with me; when it’s been through Enchanted Ground he has kept me sane; when the road has gone through a Bog of Depression Jesus has been with me then too. I am so grateful for him taking me off the road that leads to hell and for helping me on the way to heaven and never leaving me for a moment. He is my bodyguard and navigator and personal trainer and teacher and friend. Who is in the cab with you? Whom have you got to advise and warn and cheer and strengthen you? Can’t you see how the Christian is strong in the Lord?
iv] Have Faith in the Lord more and more.
I do not believe that there is no purpose at all to life. I do not believe that this is all a dream and soon we will wake up and discover we are a swarm of butterflies. I believe that this is the real world into which God the Son came 2000 years ago. It is in the mess it’s in because of man’s sin. People choose to defy God and many end up living lives like George Best, and Gary Glitter. The pain is self-inflicted, and the guilt is real. I believe that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. To do this we need the grace of God which is focused in his Son Jesus Christ. To have him as your Saviour you must acknowledge your sin and shame and ask him to become your Lord. You must entrust yourself to this living loving Person. You really have to believe right into him so that you are joined to him from now on, like taking a husband or wife and spending the rest of your life with him. He speaks to us through the Bible, especially when it is preached to us, and we speak to him in prayer. It is a growing enriching relationship of trust and love and obedience and encouragement.
I trust everything about Jesus Christ, and he tests my faith through difficulties and trials, and keeps me believing in him. Even when there are wintry times when I don’t feel anything about Christ, when I don’t feel very close to him I remind myself whose I am and what Jesus has done for me and what he is doing for me. I have stopped praying to him, but he hasn’t stopped praying for me. My love for him seems cold but his love for me is as warm as ever. Shame on me, I say, to be cold to such warm personal helpful love.
That is how I keep strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. It is a personal relationship that develops and blossoms as the years go by. It really is life that is the most abundant kind of life. And what to those who find? Ah this. No tongue nor pen can show the love of Jesus, what it is, none but his loved ones know.
27TH November 2005 GEOFF THOMAS