Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Sermon for the 21st Sunday after Trinity 11/06/22
Strong in the Strength of His Might
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There are few more profound or important passages in Scripture than the one which stands before us as our text this morning. This is not a Gospel text in the sense that it lays Christ and His sacrifice on our behalf before us. It is not a Law text in the sense that it gives us rules for living or a pattern for holiness. We can find both Law and Gospel here, but the importance of these words is that they set before us the reality of our lives, of the struggle of the Christian faith, and prescribe how we must approach these things if we are to endure. Our only hope, and our greatest defense is if we are, in the words of our theme this morning, Strong in the Strength of His Might.
The lessons, particularly the Epistle lessons, for Trinity season focus on living the life we called to live as Christians. Some have focused on values, and some on morality, and some on the temptations that face us. The lesson today has a broader focus, although it is still about living out our life in Christ. I hope that you have noticed that I am avoiding using the phrase "the Christian life." There is nothing wrong with the phrase, except that when I hear it used commonly, it seems to be used in a way that suggests that the life of all Christians is pretty similar – that there is this distinct thing called "the Christian life." But there isn't. Each Christian has a life, and we all face different challenges – or the same challenges and temptations confront each of us differently.
Of course, there is a common thread in our lives. It is faith in Jesus Christ, and the knowledge of God and His love for us. We face common temptations, and we have a common morality – we call it the Ten Commandments. But there is nothing about how we live out lives that we can take for granted, after those few things. Being Christian does not mean that you will be a Republican, or a Democrat. Being Christian does not determine your taste in music. One Christian may enjoy science fiction while another is driven to distraction by it, and the third is bored by it. So the phrase "the Christian life" can be confusing – because every Christian has a life, and whatever it is, and however it goes, as long as that individual remains a believer, it is "the Christian life" for that Christian.
So I prefer to speak of the life which Christ has called us to live – which for me is as a pastor, and a husband; for Cheryl is as the wife of a pastor, and a woman who works outside of the home, and for each of you is what and where you are. We have what one might call "common-places" in our lives, however. We all have the Word of God. We share in worship. We are each tempted. We each have those particular people we like and those we don't enjoy so much. We each have enemies and we each are confronted by troubles and tribulations tailored for us personally by the Adversary, the enemy of God and man, the devil. Our text gives us some fundamental perspectives and principles to work with as we live out the life we have been called to live in Jesus Christ.
The basic things is that we understand that we are called to live our life strong in the strength of His might. That means that just as we could not choose to be a Christian, but God had to choose us and change us and make us His own, so we are not adequate to face the challenges of the life in Christ by our own strength. Our only hope is that we live this life by His power – strong in the strength of His might.
That is where Paul begins this exhortation: Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Oddly, you grow stronger in the Lord by growing weaker within yourself. Strength in the Lord is faith in Him, and loss of confidence in your own fitness and ability. That makes this strength challenging for sinful man, and particularly hard for us self-sufficient Americans. You have to humble yourself, a tough thing for us proud people, and learn what God says about the battle we are to fight and the enemy we are to confront. We must face the uncomfortable truth that we simply are not up to the battle, in and of ourselves, and the enemy is overwhelmingly powerful and our only real hope is in the strength of the might of God.
Once you understand that reality, you are ready to put on the armor of God – the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Without that armor you will not stand. Period. You will fail if you try to confront the battle by your own strength. I tell young people that when they confront a temptation – and they confront so many – that they need to put physical distance between themselves and the temptation, whenever possible. You cannot eat a forbidden dessert if it is in the kitchen and you are out in the yard. You cannot succumb to the temptation to satisfy any lust of the flesh if the object of your lust is not at hand. So young boys and girls need to resist the temptation to immorality by fleeing one another in the hour of temptation – not by saying, "I am a Christian. I am strong! I can resist!" I can report on personal experimentation in my youth that proves that temptations faced, and not fled, mean victory for the Tempter. That is why the Bible says, "Flee youthful lusts."
Of course, youth aren't the only ones who face temptations, or the schemes of the devil, which is why we all need to be prepared. And the first thing we must understand if we are going to be prepared to live this life in Christ in a God-pleasing and holy manner is that our enemy is always the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Our enemy is never really the person before us. It isn't the one who makes us angry, or the one who does such hurtful things or says such obnoxious things. They may well be serving our true enemy, usually are – whether they know it or not. But the man or woman who may be troubling us is not the enemy. They are trapped, enslaved, in need or rescue and redemption, just like the rest of us. Our enemy is always the devil.
Since our enemy is the devil, and the war, however it may look or feel to us, is spiritual in nature, we need the armor of God. And Paul tells us to put it on. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. You put it on by Faith, which is to say, by knowing the Word of God and trusting God's promises.
Stand firm, therefore, having girded your loins with the truth. These words echo Isaiah 11:5. "To gird" means "to equip, to prepare for action." You must equip yourself with the truth. Jesus said "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Since our enemy is the father of lies and the great deceiver, we must be girded with the truth and ready to answer the lies and deceptions of the evil one.
Next we need to be prepared by having put on the breastplate of righteousness. Paul is describing the preparation of the Christian in terms of the armor of the Hoplite – the Roman foot-soldier, the most efficient and effective military force known before the advent of gunpowder. The word for "full armor" in our text is "panoply", the technical military word for the armor worn by the Roman soldier. An essential part of that armor was the breastplate. It protected the heart – and therefore the life – of the soldier against the swords and arrows of the enemy. You had to strike around it, you could not cut through, not in the heat of battle.
The righteousness of Christ is our breastplate. It protects us from sin and death. It is the answer of God to the accusations of the devil, whose title, "devil", means "the accuser". He will accuse us of sin. He will accuse us of weakness. He will accuse us of deserving death and damnation along with him. And it is all so true, in and of ourselves, – but we Christians wear the righteousness of Christ. We stand empty-handed, offering no defense except that Jesus died in our place, and has bestowed on us His own righteousness. We ask God to judge us by His Son, just as He has judged His Son by our guilt and sin. That is our breastplate – Christ's righteousness.
Then we shod [our] feed with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. No army could long endure or fight effectively without shoes. Rocks and sticks and sharp, pointed things in the ground would bring any army to its knees without proper footwear. We are prepared for the battle with the footwear of the Gospel of peace. God is at peace with us, and we are at peace with one another. Our sins are forgiven, so we know that whatever we encounter in the battle, God is not against us, nor are things out of control and hopeless, but we are at peace with God and He with us. And we are to be at peace with one another! Four Roman soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, back to back formed the most effective fighting team history has ever known. We, too, need to stand shoulder to shoulder in this battle, and know that the danger is from the enemy, not from those who should have our backs as our brothers in Christ.
Then we take up the shield of faith. Trust in God and in His promises can extinguish all the flaming arrows of doubt, of guilt and of fear that the devil can send against us. We can shout, in faith, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" We also wear the helmet of salvation, which keeps us in every circumstance in contact with our head, namely Christ.
Finally, being fully protected with the panoply of God, we pick up the sword – the Word of God. The battle in Christ is not fought with fists or bullets. Not with parliamentary procedure and by-law changes. Not with shouting and shoving. It is fought with the Word of God. The Word of God is the power of God for the fight, and the only effective weapon, for our enemy is not the bodies of flesh before us, but the demonic, spiritual powers at work behind the terrorism and persecution and hatred of the world for all that is of God.
The Battle is engaged, and we can fight effectively, and we are protected by the power of God. We wear the strength of His might by faith – which means we must know what He has promised, and trust Him to do all that He has said He will. To fight effectively we must be armed with the Word – which is accomplished by knowing it. We put on the Gospel armor by study and hearing the Word of God. That means regular, faithful participation in worship, and joining with the congregation in the study of the Word. I have been asked many times, can you not study on your own? The answer is, Yes – the real question is, will you?
God has given us the armor, and He has given us the power, and He has given us the weapon for the battle. We must also remember that He also has given us the ultimate victory as well, in Jesus Christ, so we have no need for fear. Put on the full armor of God, and finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)