Jul 02 - What Keeps The Spiritual Armour In Place

What Keeps The Spiritual Armour In Place?

July 2, 2017

Ephesians 6: 10-18

 

 

WHAT KEEPS THE SPIRITUAL ARMOUR IN PLACE?

July 2nd, 2017

Ephesians 6:10-18

 

A business man who was not noted for his religious devotion, needed 3 million $ to clinch an important deal.  So he went to the local church to pray for the money.  As it happened, he knelt next to a man who was praying for $ 1,000 to pay the rent.  The business man reached into his pocket, pulled out his money clip and proceeded to give the other man 10 $ 100 bills.  Overcome with gratitude, the man got up and left the sanctuary.

The business man then looked up and said, “Lord, now that I’ve got your undivided attention...

 

Sometimes we come to church somewhat distracted by the worries, the responsibilities, the stresses that we have been facing during the week, or maybe even the fight in the car on the way to church. 

 

I’m really hoping and praying that, as I get started here, you can take a deep breath, relax, and focus your thoughts and your attention on God’s love for you and his presence with you. 

 

Part of worshipping God with our whole hearts, and part of what it means to push into God, is what the topic of today’s sermon is about ... the spiritual armour of God in Ephesians 6, but more specifically, that by which we put on or attach that spiritual armour - which is prayer

 

The apostle Paul is in prison or house arrest when he dictated this letter.  In the oldest manuscripts, the reference to Ephesus is lacking.  Given the overlap between Ephesians and Colossians, it is likely that this letter was meant to be circulated to a number of churches in Asia Minor, like the letter to the Colossians.[1][2] 

 

Let’s begin by looking at Ephesians 6.

 

1. The passage speaks about the spiritual reality that impacts our lives (that impacts everyone’s life, even if they are unaware of it)

 

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the whole armour of God so that you may be able to stand against the devil’s schemes (his battle strategies or tactics - C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters).  For we do not fight against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities and powers of this present dark world, against evil spiritual forces in the heavenly places.                                                                 Ephesians 6:10-12

 

This spiritual battle is not something we are consciously aware of at all times.  It’s not smart to ignore the spiritual realm and think that the only thing opposing us are other humans, whether in the form of religious radicals, hurtful and damaging co-workers or family members, government officials and policies, uncaring health care providers, unsafe drivers, noisy neighbours, or whoever else may not have our best interests in minds. 

 

So on the one hand, there has to be an acknowledgement that evil spiritual forces in fact exist.

 

We are not just tilting at windmills, charging against imaginary gigantic foes, like the famous but crazy would-be knight Don Quixote of La Mancha.[3]

 

These spiritual forces actually exist, and while they live in the spiritual dimension, the spiritual realm, and so do not appear physically, they can in fact impact the world, political and religious systems, and individuals in a very negative way.  The spiritual realm is real and it has power.

 

On the other hand, if we see Satan or a demon behind every rock and bush, that’s not a very healthy way to go through life either. 

 

There are individuals who think they have to pray over so-called ley lines, based on spurious spiritual and mystical theories about alignments of land forms.  

 

Others think they need to cast out demons from rocks and trees in which those demons dwell. 

 

Others again see in every mental illness or emotional pain a demon that needs to be exorcised. 

 

I have found that those who are extraordinarily focused on and fascinated with demonic forces are quite often emotionally messed up. Instead of getting better, they get worse.

 

It seems to me that an inordinate amount of focus on fighting the occult or the demonic forces, for some reason often seems to simply empower those very forces to negatively impact those who are fighting them.

 

So while we should be aware of the spiritual realm, there shouldn’t be an unhealthy fascination with the demonic, with the devil, with those very spiritual forces Paul is writing about, in large part because Jesus has defeated them on the cross and through his resurrection and ascension, as the apostle Paul writes to the believers in Colossae.

 

Christ is the head over every power and authority .... Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them on the cross.                                     Colossians 2:10,15

 

In reference to the HS, the author of 1 John makes a similar point:

 

He one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.                                                     1 John 4:4

 

So on the one hand, evil spiritual forces can impact the physical world.  However, because of Jesus’ victory, strange as it may seem, human beings can impact the spiritual realm...

 

... and it does not have to be through the negative and potentially dangerous occult practices:  Through séances, through the laying of tarot cards, through calling on the spirit of the Ouija board, through incantations and spells, through voodoo and witchcraft and Satan worship.

 

In Ephesians, the apostle Paul points out that the way that Christians can impact this spiritual realm is by putting on the (whole) armour of God.

 

2. Impacting the spiritual realm

 

Therefore, take up the whole armour of God so that you may be able to withstand in times of evil, and having done everything, to remain standing.       Ephesians 6:13

 

Paul describes the armour of God in terms of a Roman soldier’s uniform:

 

  • Belt of truth

  • Breastplate (body armour) of righteousness (justice)

  • Sandals the readiness (to share) the good news of peace

  • Shield of faith (distinguishes the flaming arrows of the evil one)

  • Helmet of salvation

  • Sword of the Word of God (the sword of the Spirit)

 

Paul may have been looking at a Roman foot soldier who was guarding him when he dictated this letter and described the spiritual armour as 6 parts of what the man is wearing and holding

 

Many sermons have been preached on the various pieces of the armour - what they consist of, how they are important, and how they are to protect a believer from evil spiritual forces. I won’t be doing this today.

 

Because really, the most important verse when it comes to spiritual warfare, is placed at the end of the description of the spiritual armour, as Paul points out that prayer is the backbone of the believer’s way of impacting the spiritual realm

 

[Put on the armour] through [or: by means of]every prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit.  To that end remain alert and persist in your prayers for all believers.                                          Ephesians 6:18

 

After he describes the spiritual armour, Paul refers back to it (lit. Gk. dia,) to indicate when and how the armour is put on: through or by means of prayer.

 

As oxygen is essential for our body and physical wellbeing, so prayer is essential to our soul and spiritual wellbeing.  So much of how we experience our relationship with God, how we experience our lives, and what kind of life choices we will make, depends on prayer.

 

Whether we realize it or not, humans are in desperate need for God - to help, empower, encourage, guide, strengthen, protect, bless, gift them with spiritual gifts, and change them for the better.

 

When Christians pray, they acknowledge their need for God.  When they do not pray, they are in fact demonstrating the belief that they really don’t need God and can get through life on their own steam, in their own strength, and with their own knowledge and wisdom.   

 

While a prayerless life may be OK, in my estimation, it won’t be nearly as positive as a prayer filled life. 

 

So when we come to church, is it enough to listen to an enjoyable musical presentation and, while our children are engaged in well-run and age-appropriate activities and programs, to hear an engaging speech?  Is that what we are aiming for on a Sunday morning?  Or is that really not enough?

 

There has to be more than that, because anyone can produce a concert or motivational talk in their own strength.  There has to be a spiritual dimension to it all, and there won’t be if there isn’t any prayer

 

On a personal level, if there’s no prayer, there is likely little spiritual growth, and little spiritual power or strength. 

 

Prayer is like the various leather straps that hold the armour of the Roman legionnaire on his body:  the straps that holds the body armour in place, the straps that hold the sheath to the belt and keep the sword at his side, the straps which keep the shield on his forearm or the sandals on his feet. 

 

[Put on the armour] through [or: by means of]every prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit.  To that end remain alert and persist in your prayers for all believers.                                              Ephesians 6:18

 

So Paul writes to the Ephesians that they should be praying at all times.[4]  This is not some occasional prayer, it seems.  We read something similar in Paul’s letter to the church in the Macedonian city of Thessalonica.

 

Rejoice always.  Pray without stopping.  Give thanks in all circumstances.  Because this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.                         1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

What exactly does this mean to pray at all times or the pray without stopping?  Is that even possible?  Many of us have problems spending 5 minutes of prayer on any given day.  Many Christians don’t even pray 5 minutes during the week.  So it is understandable that our minds may struggle with the concept of constant prayer. 

 

In order to pray like this, wouldn’t we have to opt out of normal life?  Wouldn’t I have to join a monastery or mountain top retreat?  Potentially, would we have to quit work or drop out of school if we want to practice constant prayer?  Would we have to neglect our relationships?

 

Sorry boss, I can’t do this assignment because I’m spending some time in prayer here.  Sorry, I can’t do any homework because I need to pray.  Sorry, I can’t spend time with you because I need to pray.  I have a full-time job here fighting demons, don’t bother me with life.    

 

The reality of the first century didn’t allow for this kind of interpretation.  At the time when Paul wrote this letter, Christians still had to work. Some of them were slaves who had to work 7 days a week

 

So was Paul a dreamer? Is Paul just throwing something out there that’s hypothetical?  Is he purposefully exaggerating the amount of time spent in prayer?  If not, what was he saying?  Is there a way to do this in the real world?

 

Paul writes that Christians pray at all times and on all occasions when they “pray in the Spirit.” 

 

[Put on the armour] through [or: by means of]every prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit.  To that end remain alert and persist in your prayers for all believers.                                              Ephesians 6:18

 

We read something similar in Jude 20.

 

Build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.                                        Jude 20

 

But what exactly does it mean to pray in the Spirit?  Is this something that happens when we don’t know what to pray and the HS does it for us?

 

The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.  ... the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.             Romans 8:26-27

 

This too is a strange passage.  It seems to be saying that, when we are at a loss for words, the Spirit takes over and communicates our yearnings, fears, the feelings deep down, even though we may not be speaking literal words.  The Spirit then communicates what is going on in our thoughts, minds, souls and heart, even when we don’t or cannot. 

 

That may be one possible interpretation, but it is unlikely to be what Paul meant. 

 

Or maybe this is something that happens when we speak or sing in tongues.  The apostle Paul addresses spiritual gifts in general and the gift of tongue in particular, as he writes the church in Corinth, Greece.

 

I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.  I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.

                                                1 Corinthians 14:15

 

Is Paul referring to the spiritual gift of tongues when he speaks of praying at all times in the Spirit? 

 

I think this too is unlikely because those who speak in tongues often don’t know what they are saying (an unintelligible prayer), and Paul describes prayer in the Spirit with reference to interceding and praying for others

Speaking in tongues really is more of a praise language to be used privately, than conscious intercession.

 

A third interpretation would be that prayer in the Spirit is prayer that follows the will of God.   

 

In other words, praying in the Spirit is saying prayers that are according to God’s will because they are guided by the HS

 

Nothing in our passage seems to point in that direction.

 

Most commentators feel that praying in the Spirit is referring to either ...

  1. prayer that is prompted by the HS,

  2. or payer that is guided or led by the HS,

  3. or prayer that is empowered or made effective by the HS

 

Whatever it means, the comment about praying at all times, seems to indicate that a Christian does this by somehow weaving prayer, particularly intercession and thanksgiving, into his or her daily life

 

Yes, there are times when we need to take a time out to pray - to take a spiritual mental health day - Jesus pulled away into lonely places for times of prayer.

 

But I also think, that there are many occasions when the Spirit may nudge us toward praising God or praying for someone else.  We may be sitting in class, driving to work, watching TV and someone comes to mind. 

 

Or we may sit at the bus stop or in a restaurant, and a complete stranger catches our eye and we wonder who the person is and what their life is like at that moment. 

 

Sometimes a prompt to pray may come in the form of difficult issues.  I believe the Spirit will prompt us to pray for the person who cut us off in traffic instead of cursing them.  I believe the Spirit prompts us to pray for that family member who argues with us, no matter what we say. 

 

I believe we can be prompted to pray when we watch the news.  When we see something on our social media feed.  When we are faced with fear or temptation.

 

Or we can be prompted to give thanks by a beautiful day, a beautiful sight, a part of nature, an animal, or the beauty of character in a person ... or maybe a dog. 

 

In all of this, keep in mind that Paul is writing about praying at all times in the Spirit in the context of spiritual warfare.  I have been told that there is a different level of alertness when deployed in the battle field.  Those who patrol through a war zone need to be vigilant.  When physical danger is present then the adrenalin is flowing and the senses are magnified.  There is a type of alertness that simply isn’t there when a person feels safe. 

 

This is what Paul mentions as well in in our passage. 

 

[Put on the armour] through [or: by means of]every prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit.  To that end remain alert and persist in your prayers for all believers.                                              Ephesians 6:18

 

He mentions something similar in his letter to the church in Corinth and ties it into standing firm even when under attack, just like the passage in Ephesians. 

 

Be alert!  Stand firm in the faith.  Be courageous and strong. Do everything in with love.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14

 

Be alert ... realize that the enemy is real, even though he remains hidden and camouflaged.  And he is looking for opportunities to attack.  The author of 1 Peter was similarly aware of this spiritual reality. 

 

Be of sober minds and be on the alert!  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.                                             1 Peter 5:8

 

Going back one more time to Ephesians 6:18, I want you to notice that when it comes to spiritual warfare - when the HS leads us or guides us or prompts us or empowers us or motivates us to pray - the most important subjects of our prayers are not we ourselves – these are not requests that God would do something for us personally.  No, instead they are prayers for others, particularly for fellow believers, and it doesn’t just have to be for those who are our close friends. 

 

[Put on the armour] through [or: by means of]every prayer and petition, praying at all times in the Spirit.  To that end remain alert and persist in your prayers for all believers.                                             Ephesians 6:18

 

Pray for the Lord’s people (supplication for all the saints, for all believers).  When it comes to spiritual warfare, Christians have a specific assignment to pray for other believers

 

Why pray for Christians?  Why not focus our prayers on the hurting people in the world, regardless?  Now don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing wrong with praying for situations and nations and groups and individuals throughout the world. 

 

But sometimes our prayers ignore the struggling person in the chair beside us in the sanctuary in favour of pursue the suffering on the other side of the globe. 

 

It’s like those whose sole focus on giving to humanitarian efforts overseas, without giving any thought to the needs closer to home. 

 

Or those who focus solely on overseas missions and not at all at those organizations that are working on bringing the good news of Christ to people around them, including their own families.

 

One of the best things that Christians in a church or area can do is to pray for each other.  And not just as something obligatory.  Not as some necessary ritual.  But as a result of having God’s love for us, change the way that we think about others. 

 

A new commandment I give to you:  Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, so you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another.                                                                        John 13:34-35

 

Interestingly, Jesus didn’t say, “By this all people will know that you are the disciples, by the love that you have for the unfortunate in the world.”  What did he say?  “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, by the love you have for one another.”  Three times Jesus repeats the focus on one another. 

 

Further, while love for one’s neighbour is to encompass all the people we come into contact with, throughout the NT, the love shown to fellow believers is to be a priority over anything else.[5] 

 

As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to those who are part of the family of faith.

                                                          Galatians 6:10

 

And likewise, in Ephesians 6 Paul stresses that spiritual warfare is focused on praying for and interceding on behalf of fellow Christians.

 

Some people think that the spiritual leader, be it priest, pastor or minister, is being paid to do the heavy spiritual lifting, including prayer.  There is the thought that spiritual leaders are spiritual giants whose prayers have more pull with God than the average person’s. 

 

I believe with all my heart that this is a big fallacy

 

A spiritual leader is simply another a fallible person, only gifted or called to a vocation of spiritual servanthood.    So when we covet prayer, we should ask not only the pastor, but as many fellow believers as possible to pray on our behalf.

 

When the followers of Jesus are praying for each other - that is what makes all the difference when it comes to spiritual warfare.  However, some people are pretty discouraged because either they have been praying for someone for years, or because they’ve requested prayers for years, and nothing seems to be happening.  They might conclude that prayer doesn’t accomplish much of anything, so why bother?

 

They have forgotten that real prayers of intercession are not focused on making someone’s life easier, but to keep their lives from becoming derailed or their faith destroyed because of the actions of evil spiritual forces. 

 

We may not be able to change someone's circumstances through our prayers, but we will be able to lessen any negative impact that spiritual evil may be having on their lives.

 

At times it may seem as if our prayers appear to be little more than pebbles that bounce off the walls of spiritual fortresses, castles, strongholds.  But if we could just peak into the spiritual realm, we would see just how powerful our prayers really are. 

 

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.                    2 Corinthians 10:4

 

They have divine power, that is, the very power of God. These are not pebbles we are tossing but huge boulders. 

 

And prayer is both an offensive and a defensive weapon. 

 

As the apostle Paul writes to the believers in the Macedonian city of Philippi, the birthplace of Alexander the Great,

 

In every situation thank God as you pray, petition and let him know your requests.  Then God’s peace, which exceeds human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.                             Philippians 4:6-7

 

It would be absolutely silly to play hockey without the proper equipment.  It would be silly to play football without proper gear.  It would be absolute foolishness to go into battle without a helm or a Kevlar jacket or weapons and ammunition.

 

Prayer offers both protection and the capability to go on the offensive.  It is, as I’ve said, the primary method of spiritual warfare.  It is that which protects us and others.  But we have to put it on.  God doesn’t do this for us.  It’s up to us to suit up and then to strap all of it together. 

 

Sometimes Christians can get so discouraged, so tired, so burdened.  Life can be so hard and complicated at times.  But because of our prayers for each other and our thanksgiving to God, whatever we face in life should not destroy us, should not rob us of hope, should not cause us to despair and give up, should not cause us to become bitter and jaded

DOES THE FOCUS OF MY PRAYERS HAVE TO CHANGE FROM: ASKING FOR GOD TO MAKE MY LIFE AND THE LIVES OF OTHERS EASIER

TO: THANKSGIVING IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES AND PRAYERS FOR SPIRITUAL PROTECTION AND (SPIRITUAL) GROWTH FOR OTHERS?

 

IF SO, WHAT CAN I DO TO REENERGIZE MY PRAYER LIFE?

 

It is time for us to pray. 

 

 

 

[1] Col 4:16 makes reference to a letter written to the Laodiceans which, like the Colossian letter, was to be circulated between the two churches.

[2] Both churches are close together in the Lycus river valley in the Roman province of Asia.  Laodicea is one of the seven churches in Asia Minor that are mentioned in Revelation 2-3.

[3] Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote - first published in 1604.  Cervantes lived from 1547-1616.

[4] Lit, “en panti kairo” (in/at every/all time).  The same expression is used in Luke 21:36 where it is usually translated “at all times.”

[5] In 1 Tim 2:1. Timothy is encouraged to make petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for “all people”, including those in government.  Nevertheless, there is a primary focus on giving first to the household of God:  Pursue what is good for one another and for all people (1 Thess 5:15); Let us do good to everyone, and especially to those belonging to the family of faith (Gal 6:10).