The Twenty First Sunday after Trinity| November 10, 2019| Rev. Rolf Preus| Ephesians 6:10-17
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:10-17
The famous 20th Century Lutheran theologian, Rudolph Bultmann, argued that people no longer believe in such things as angels and demons. If we want to reach people today, we need to scrap tired old myths that no longer serve the purpose of teaching the faith. Bultmann set out to demythologize the Bible. The existence of the spirit world was discarded as ancient superstition. We need to teach the old truth, he claimed, but without the old myths that are no longer believable.
Bultmann is dead and gone. People today are more open to a spiritual reality out there beyond our senses than they were fifty years ago. They don’t necessarily discard the existence of angels and devils. They are more open-minded about the spirit world. But being open-minded is not enough. We need to open our minds to the truth and close them to lies.
Our text for this morning is a call to arms. St. Paul challenges us Christians to do battle with the devil and his demons. Before you can do battle against the devil, however, you need to know two things. First, you must understand the devil’s nature. Second, you must know that Jesus has defeated him. Only then can you be clothed in the armor necessary to defend yourself from the devil’s assaults against your soul.
Know your enemy. Moses described the modus operandi of the devil in Genesis 3 where he said to Eve: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” God said no such thing. He said that they must not eat of one specific tree in the middle of the garden. The devil opened up Eve’s mind to question God’s word. As she dialogued with the devil he went from subtle questioning to direct lying: “You will not surely die.” But they did die. Jesus describes the devil with these words:
He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. John 8:44
The fact that you cannot see the devil walking around does not mean that he does not exist. He is no myth. He is not the personification of evil. He is a real person. He can think and act and exercise his will. He is a spirit. He has no body. He was created as an archangel of God. He was a leader among the angels. In the beginning, he was very good. God is not the author of evil. In pride, the devil rebelled against God and fell with a third of the angels following him. The devil and his demons are described in our text as “principalities, powers, the rulers of the darkness of this age, and spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The life of the Christian is a life of spiritual warfare against these dangerous enemies. We don’t fight against flesh and blood. We fight against evil spirits. To understand the nature of the devil requires us to know that he’s a liar. He murders souls by his lies.
Second, to do battle against the devil requires that we know Christ has defeated him. If we think that we can defeat the devil by our own powers, the devil will defeat us. God said that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. The virgin-born Son of God would destroy the powers of the devil. He did. The fruit of his victory will not be fully felt until Jesus appears to judge. But he has won. We do battle against the forces of evil by relying on Christ’s victory that he won on the cross.
We do not fight against flesh and blood. There are times when we must identify false teaching that is dangerous to the soul. When you identity false teaching you name the false teachers. The Bible always does so. The Church has done so. We must do so. But when identifying the purveyors of false and soul destroying teaching, we need to remember that the true author of all false doctrine is the father of lies and murderer of souls. It is the devil himself.
St. Paul warned Timothy about the “doctrines of demons.” Just as the Holy Scriptures did not have their origin in the will or mind of men, just so false and unscriptural doctrine has a source outside of man. God is the author of the saving truth. The devil is the author of spiritual lies. The cosmic battle between God and the devil wages and we are participants in it.
Paul describes the armor we wear as we do battle against the devil. The devil attacks. We defend. Paul writes,
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
We put armor on. It covers us. It clothes us. St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:26-27,
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Christ covers us with his righteousness. Being clothed with Christ in baptism sets us before God as saints. It equips us to fight against the devil and his powers. We fight with the power of Christ himself. Paul lists the weapons. They are defensive weapons.
He begins with truth. “Stand, therefore, having girded your waist with truth.” Truth is the belt that holds the armor together. The devil’s weapons are lies, deception, and falsehood. Our weapon is the truth. You don’t fight lies with lies. You oppose lies with the truth. You don’t dialogue with lies. You refute them. How did Jesus argue with the devil? He pointed to what was written. The Bible is the written word of God. It is truth.
The next weapon is the breastplate of righteousness. The devil seeks to attack you where you are weak. If there is a crack in your armor, he’ll find it. He’ll find the sin you cannot hide or correct and he’ll manipulate it to your harm. See? Look at what you’ve done! Look at what you are! But the belt of truth holds in place the breastplate of righteousness. The accuser cannot accuse Christ. He points to your sin as proof that he has already won the victory over you. You point to Christ. He is my righteousness. Find fault with him! If you cannot find fault with him, you cannot touch me. My breastplate is the righteousness of Christ.
The next weapon is good footwear. We have to move. We have to step aside, but not fall down. The gospel of peace prepares us to fight. Gospel means good news. Peace is the peace that Christ has established between God and us. Since we are at peace with God, we know that he’s on our side in our battle against the devil. This helps us to do battle. The devil will disguise himself as an angel of light, and con us into thinking he’s speaking for God. When we know that for Christ’s sake we are at peace with God and that he regards us as his dear children, we can move about with confidence. We have peace with God. We have peace with one another. Yes, we’re fighting, we’re at war. But we fight as those who have the peace of God that passes all understanding.
The shield of faith moves quickly as the arrows of the devil come at us from all sides. Faith stays focused on Christ; but it moves to face a variety of threats to it. God said it. That settles it. This is how faith quenches the darts of the evil one. The shield is about four feet tall and two and a half feet wide. It is plenty big enough to stop the arrows that Satan shoots against us.
A helmet keeps you from being disoriented. He strikes. He hits. But we don’t forget we are saved. It is the helmet of salvation. God has rescued me and this is what keeps my head clear. The certainty of salvation provides with us spiritual clarity. The helmet of salvation keeps the devil from confusing us with his lies.
The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is most likely not the long sword used in offensive battle, but the short sword used mostly in defensive battle. The devil wins victories by lying about, twisting, distorting, and obscuring God’s word. The sword of the Spirit parries his every thrust.
We don’t defend ourselves with our own piety, our clever arguments, or our emotional devotion. We fight with God’s word and God’s word alone. This is why we read, mark, learn, and take it to heart. It then becomes part of us. God’s voice becomes our voice.
Faith and life go together, as we have seen. Unbelief and sin go together, too. Do you want to know why a man latches onto his hatred against his brother, holding onto it for dear life, seeking retribution, and personal vindication? It is for the same reason that a woman wanders off from her husband into the arms of another man. It is for the same reason that a man cheats on his wife with another women. It is for the same reason that the young man or woman reject their parents’ guidance and dishonor them. Why is it? Unbelief is why. It is old fashioned idolatry. Idolatry is the root sin of all sins and this is the sin that the devil lures us into if he can.
Toss aside the neighbor’s reputation, the sanctity of marriage, the authority of father and mother – toss aside all of God’s commandments in service to yourself! Set yourself free from the restraints that keep you from realizing your dreams. And what do you get? Slavery! That’s not freedom. That’s running into the arms of the devil who takes great delight in destroying the faith of Christians.
How to do battle? Here is the list of defensive weapons: truth, righteousness, gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. What do they all have in common? They all have to do with Christ and his victory over the devil. When the devil wins a victory over you and you feel dirty, ashamed, and you know you are guilty, what do you do? You return to your baptism where God clothed you with Christ’s righteousness. You claim the forgiveness of sins that Jesus alone can give. The word of absolution means nothing to the sinner who holds onto his sins. But to those who confess to God, admit their wrong, and seek absolution from God, God’s word of forgiveness sets them free. It drives the devil away. It makes us strong.