August 22nd 2021 homily on Ephesians 6:10-20 by Pastor Galen Zook
This past week I was up in the Pocono mountains of northern Pennsylvania for several days of meetings related to my campus ministry role. Unfortunately, when I got there and started to unpack, I realized that I had completely forgotten to pack any clean socks. Not a problem! (I thought to myself). I’ll just make a quick trip to the closest target or Walmart to pick up a few pairs of socks, but I discovered that there were no stores within at least a 30-minute drive. So I thought I’d place an order for Amazon same-day shipping, but the earliest that Amazon could deliver socks to where we were was early September!
Finally I had to just humble myself and tell my coworkers that I forgot socks, and ask their forgiveness for going barefoot and sockless for the duration of our meetings. Fortunately our meetings were pretty casual and my teammates were very gracious. My boss even offered to let me wear some of her socks! But I couldn’t quite humble myself enough to accept her offer. That being said, if I were there to go hiking or skiing in the dead of winter, or if I had some sort of formal presentation to give, I would have needed to accept my supervisor’s generous offer and humble myself to accept her generosity, because not wearing socks in either of those situations
could have been quite devastating to my health or to my career.
Being Made Strong
In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul is writing to the Christians in the city of Ephesus – but it’s a letter that was meant to be circulated around to be read by all of the Christians in the region, and so indeed is indeed a letter written even to us as well.
And here in this letter, Paul provides us with a sort of packing list, just to make sure that we are fully prepared for whatever might come our way. But it’s important to remember that this list was given to a community of people – a whole church, and so although we generally read this individually, it will be significant for us to remember that we are meant to live this out together, in community.
Now before Paul launches into the packing list, he says, “being made strong in the Lord.” Now the way it’s often translated in English, it often sounds more like a command – Be Strong in the Lord! But the original Greek connotes more of a process that is taking place now in our lives and that is also ongoing, rather than a 1-time event. Being made strong, or being empowered in the Lord. This phrasing is also significant because it suggests that the power comes from outside of us. Something or Someone other than us is empowering us, or making us strong – the onus is not solely on us to be strong
Paul says “being made strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” And so we see that the strength and power that we are gaining as followers of Christ comes ultimately from God. We don’t need to figure out a way to muster up the strength or power on our own – we merely have to receive or tap into the strength and power that comes from God. This will be important for us to remember as we go along.
But Paul does go on to give an instruction that is more active on our part, telling us to “put on the whole armor of God.” In other words, make sure you are dressed. Make sure you are fully prepared. Pack everything you need. Make sure you are ready for whatever might come your way.
Now of course, Paul is talking on a metaphorical level – he’s not telling us to literally wear armor and prepare to engage in physical warfare, but rather he’s talking about spiritual armor that we need to protect us from the spiritual battles that we face on a daily basis, which we’ll talk about in a few minutes.
Now the concept of armor would have been much more familiar to the Ephesians Christians than for us, since it was a common occurrence in those days to see soldiers walking around wearing armor. Roman soldiers served as a sort of omnipresent police force throughout the Roman empire in those days. So the Ephesian Christians knew what physical armor looked like, even if they had never worn it themselves.
Armor of God
Since most of us don’t see pieces of armor on a daily basis, if Paul were writing directly to us today, he might use the language of accessories that we might wear or use on a daily basis for work. A hard hat if you’re a construction workers, steel-toed shoes if you work in a factory. If you commute to work, perhaps Paul might tell you to bring an umbrella, since on a day like this you never know when it might rain. Perhaps he might tell us to wear a watch so we can make sure we arrive on time, and of course he would tell all of us not to forget our masks!
Paul is using this analogy of spiritual conflict, and spiritual preparation, because the enemy we face is also one that operates on a spiritual level. Paul speaks about withstanding the “wiles of the devil.” Paul says that our struggle is “not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic power of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
Now, just because these conflicts are spiritual doesn’t necessarily mean that they are necessarily mysterious or unknown. Throughout the book of Ephesians, for example, Paul has been addressing such conflicts as the division that existed between the Jewish and Gentiles believers, and how the Gentiles such as the Christians in Ephesus were often made to feel “less than” or as though they were further away from God than the Jewish believers, who were seen as God’s chosen people.
While divisions of this sort may feel physical, Paul would remind us of the spiritual roots of these types of conflicts – the divisions we face even today in our society have their spiritual basis in the sins of racism, sexism, and nationalism. Elsewhere in Ephesians, Paul addressed greed, which has its roots in egocentrism, selfishness, and self-centeredness. In Ephesians 5, Pajul spoke of sexual immorality, which is often about looking out for my wants and desires at the expense of others. A few weeks ago Curt talked about speaking the truth, from Ephesians 4. The opposite of that is falsehood, which is about manipulating others for our own ends. In chapter five we see that these things are essentially idolatry (5:4) – the very thing that the Ephesians had moved away from when they gave their hearts and lives to Christ, since they’re all about making ourselves the center of the universe, putting ourselves in the place of God, or thinking that everything revolves around us.
And so if the battles we face even in the physical realm have their roots in the spiritual realm, then Paul wants us to take full spiritual preparation, to pack everything we need, and not forget any important spiritual tools that God might use to strengthen and empower us to face whatever spiritual battles might come our way, recognizing of course that the ultimate sources of these attacks are not other people, but rather spiritual forces that are all around us, and if we’re honest with ourselves, inside us as well.
And so how do we prepare ourselves? What sorts of things do we need to pack in our spiritual suitcases, to take with us wherever we go, so that we are always ready, no matter what might come our way?
#1 Paul talks about putting on the belt of truth (Eph. 6:14a). There’s a lot of false doctrine out there, a lot of fake news. In order to identify what is false, we need to have a firm grasp on what is true.
My wife Eboni and I both used to work as bank tellers. And do you know how we were taught to identify counterfeit bills? By memorizing what real money looks, feels, and smells like. It’s pretty much impossible to be alert and aware of every counterfeit bill in the world. If you tried to memorize every fake dollar bill in the world, you’d go crazy because you could never keep pace with all the counterfeits that are constantly being created. The only way to catch a counterfeit bill is to be so familiar with real money that when a counterfeit comes your way you know it’s not the real thing.
In the same way, rather than studying all of the false doctrines and fake news that’s out there, we need to become so deeply rooted and grounded in the truth of Jesus Christ that we immediately know when something is counter to the way of Christ.
#2 The Breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14b). “Righteousness” is the same word in the Greek as “justice.” It’s “rightness,” the way things ought to be. Wearing the breastplate of righteousness is about guarding our hearts so that we do not become desensitized to injustice. It’s so easy to become jaded or cynical when we see so many things around us that are not the way things ought to be. Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, famously prayed, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Imagine if we continually prayed that prayer, asking God to keep our hearts soft and sensitive to the brokenness and injustice around us.
#3 Ephesians 6:15 says that we should have our “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel [the Good News] of peace” (6:15). Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
How beautiful are the feet! So Paul is saying, wear whatever you need to put on your feet to make sure that you’re always ready to go share the Good News about Jesus Christ. Whether that’s socks, or shoes, or sandals, or steel-toed boots.
Notice that the Gospel that is being proclaimed is a gospel of peace. Although there is conflict and struggle all around us, our ministry and our work should bring God’s peace, or shalom – which is not just an absence of conflict, but a real, genuine peace where everything is made right, where there is no more need for conflict because the sources of the conflict have been dealt with. If we want to get rid of division within the church or within our world, it’s not enough just to gather together in diverse gatherings and pretend that we’re all the same. No! If we want to achieve true unity, true peace, then we must deal with the root causes of the things that divide us.
#4 The shield of faith (Eph. 6:16). Paul says that if we have the shield of faith, we can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Faith is not just intellectual belief, it’s about cultivating a lifestyle of faithfulness and trust in the Lord, recognizing our dependence on God and looking to God for our source of strength and hope.
Roman shields were wooden, and covered with leather, and soldiers used to take their shields and soak them in water overnight so that if they were in battle and someone shot at them with a flaming arrow, the moisture of the soaked leather and wood would extinguish the flame of the arrow on contact. What a beautiful picture of faith and faithfulness – soaking our lives in the God and in the community of faith, so that we can grow and expand our trust in the Lord, and be able to withstand the flaming arrows of the enemy.
#5 Ephesians 6:17 And then lastly, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. A helmet, because so often the enemy attacks our mind and tells us we’re not good enough, or not worthy enough, that our salvation is not real or genuine. This is why, in chapter three, Paul prays that the Ephesians would “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:18-19). Remembering the grace and mercy and salvation that is offered to us so freely is one way that we can protect our minds from the doubts and insecurities that the enemy might try to bring our way.
Paul ends with the “sword of the spirit,” the only piece of armor that Paul mentions which is more confrontational, and not merely used tof self-defense. He equates the sword of the spirit with “the word of God” (6:17). The Holy Spirit, speaking through the Bible, cuts through the lies, the falsehoods, the things that threaten to separate us and divide us. But even this is not about using the Bible to attack others, but rather using the Word of God to stave off the attacks of the enemy, and allowing the Holy Spirit to help us perceive the true causes of division and dissension, allowing us to get to the heart of the conflicts and struggles that we face.
Living This Out in Prayer and Community
And so we have a lot of things that we need to pack in our suitcases, to make sure we are ready and can withstand the attacks of the enemy! We remember that it’s a process, that it’s God who id doing the empowering, we have only to open ourselves up to what God is doing in our lives.
I’m encouraged, because we not only have God on our side, but we are also invited to do this together, as a church community. When Roman soldiers were engaged in battle, the armor that they wore and the shields they carried did not just protect them individually, but they also helped protect those standing next to them. In heavy conflict, Roman soldiers would cluster together in a group, and they would link their shields together to form something like a tank. The soldiers in the front would stand shoulder to shoulder with their swords in their right hands and their shields in their left, partially covering the soldier next to them. The soldiers in the middle of the formation would hold their shields over their heads to cover themselves and the soldiers in front of them and behind them, and those on the sides would hold their shields to the side, creating an impenetrable formation.
In the same way, we also need to look out for one another. We need to pray for one another and encourage one another, since we are all in this together. We need to remind each other of the truths of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and work together to stave off the attacks of the enemy, so that we can be a people who joyfully proclaim the Gospel of peace to all those around us.