The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity
October 21, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
Finally, let the Lord and His mighty power make you strong. Put on God’s whole armor, and you will be able to stand against the devil’s tricky ways. You’re not fighting against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and lords of this dark world, against the evil spirits that are above. This is why you should take God’s whole armor; then you can resist when things are at their worst and having done everything, you can hold your ground. Stand, then, with truth as a belt fastened around your waist, with righteousness covering you as a breastplate, and with shoes on your feet, ready to bring the good news of peace. Besides all these, take faith as the shield with which you can put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take salvation as your helmet, and the Spirit’s sword, which is God’s Word.
In the name of + Jesus.
The letter to the Ephesians has a constant refrain: “in.” In Christ. In Him. In the Beloved. In the Lord. In. That’s what the first line of Paul’s concluding section says, literally. Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the in the power of His might (v 10, translation mine). The strength St. Paul wants you and me to have has a location. In the Lord. Not outside of Him, not apart from Him. Only in Him.
How do you access this location? How do you become “in the Lord”? Baptism. Baptism is baptism into the name of Father, Son, and Spirit. Baptism is movement from outside Christ to in Christ. Like we’ll sing next week, He is a mighty fortress in whom we seek refuge. Baptism has many benefits; among them is what Paul calls “the whole armor of God,” which enables you to stand tall even in the face of the fiercest attack.
Baptism Outfits You with God’s Armor
The first thing to make clear is that this struggle is not a typical battle with conventional weapons. Put on God’s whole armor, and you will be able to stand against the devil’s tricky ways. You’re not fighting against flesh and blood but against the rulers, authorities, and lords of this dark world, against the evil spirits that are above. This is why you should take God’s whole armor; then you can resist when things are at their worst and having done everything, you can hold your ground. Two things to note from St. Paul’s words: The battle is not with flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil; and the battle tactic is defensive rather than offensive.
I’d like you to make a mental list of your enemies right now. Who would you put on it? Who are you at odds with? Who just rubs you the wrong way? Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to come up in front and tell us all about it (although maybe some of you aren’t ashamed of having enemies).
But your list is probably populated mostly by persons of flesh and blood. A rival from school. A family member with whom you’ve had a falling out. Someone from town. Someone from the church. You’ve got enemies. Everyone’s got enemies.
Maybe you listened perceptively to the epistle and put the devil on your list. If I had done this a little more inductively, though, and had not revealed the true enemy up front, you probably would have skipped right over the devil or any of the lesser demons.
But St. Paul reminds us first that our true enemies are not those of flesh and blood. Why is this? Because they share flesh and blood with you, and, more importantly, Jesus shares in the same flesh and blood as them. He died for your worst enemy just as surely as He died for you. So they cannot be the true enemy.
The true enemy is spiritual. St. Paul also names them rulers, authorities, lords, and evil spirits. These names aren’t to identify different ranks of devils, but to show where their power is located, and how it is limited. The devil and his demons are certainly powerful in the world, but their power is limited only to the world. They have no authority in heaven, they’ve already been defeated.
The second thing that St. Paul wants you to know about the nature of this battle is that the tactic is defensive rather than offensive. If you were outfitted for attack, you would lose in a heartbeat. Spiritual warfare isn’t about wielding weapons and gaining ground on the enemy. Rather, it’s about standing your ground, and deflecting or absorbing the attacks of the enemy.
Attacking is contrary to the Gospel. Neither St. Paul, nor the Spirit who inspired his words, wants you to attack your enemies. He wants you to withstand, to endure, to resist. He wants you to stand. He says it twice in three sentences. Stand firm.
Spiritual warfare is about assuming a strong defensive stance. Like in basketball, a defensive stance allows you to be nimble, to move quickly, and to keep your balance. If you’re not in a defensive stance, you’ll trip over your own feet and fall over when your opponent drives into the lane. Spiritual warfare is defensive.
This is the nature of the battle St. Paul writes about. It is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil. And the battle tactic is defensive rather than offensive. This is further shown in how God outfits you for the battle.
The defensive nature of this battle is reinforced by the fact that St. Paul urges you and me to put on the whole armor of God. The word here is panoply, which is the full outfit for the earlier Greek and later Roman soldier. This outfit is not something that you have to put together for yourself, but is a gift given to you in your Baptism. Stand, then, with truth as a belt fastened around your waist, with righteousness covering you as a breastplate, and with shoes on your feet, ready to bring the good news of peace. Besides all these, take faith as the shield with which you can put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take salvation as your helmet, and the Spirit’s sword, which is God’s Word. The armor given to you in Baptism is truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and God’s Word.
A belt of truth. The dress of the ancient world was a long tunic or robe similar to my clergy attire. But it doesn’t make for easy athletic movement (if you ever watch me run up the stairs behind the altar before service, it’s not a graceful sight. But if you have a belt, you can hike up the skirts of your tunic and tuck them into your belt to create a more athletic outfit. The older way of saying this was “girding your loins.” It’s the same way the Israelites were told to eat the Passover—ready to go at a moment’s notice. This is what the truth does for you. It makes you nimble so you don’t trip over yourself. And the truth is not some abstract concept. The Truth is Jesus Christ, who calls Himself the Truth (John 14:6).
The breastplate of righteousness. Taking a blow to one of your extremities can be seriously damaging, but taking an arrow center mass is much more dangerous. The breastplate protects the vital organs, and this corresponds to righteousness. Often in Scripture, righteousness is equated with a covering or something that we wear. This righteousness is one that is outside of ourselves—the righteousness of Christ.
The shoes of the Gospel of peace. The Prophet Isaiah writes of the coming Servant of the Lord: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace (Is 52:7). This peace was accomplished by the death of the Lord’s Servant, which reconciled God and man. His peace, which surpasses all understanding, is the forgiveness of sins.
The shield of faith. The shield of the panoply was a large shield, about four feet by two feet, made of wood, and embossed with metal bands. Because they were wood, they were susceptible to flaming arrows. So to keep the wooden shields from going up in flames, the soldiers would soak them in water. The shield of faith is faith born in baptismal waters. No matter what accusation the devil lobs at you, no matter what sin he unearths, you can say, “What of it? My Lord Jesus died for that sin, too.” And all his fiery darts are quenched.
The helmet of salvation. Beware of spiritualizing the Lord’s salvation. This part of the armor isn’t just about something that’s to come in the future to benefit the soul, but it is also salvation of the body. The helmet protects the head, which is responsible for the body.
The sword of the Spirit. This is the Word of God, the spiritus gladius. Now, you might say that this is finally a weapon for offense. But there were two kinds of swords that the ancient soldiers used. The first was a longsword for hacking opponents in open combat. But that’s the kind of sword that St. Paul includes with the whole armor of God. This is the short sword, or perhaps even a dagger, that the soldier would use to parry the blows of his enemy. So even this blade is a defensive tool.
The whole armor of God is the gift of Baptism. Baptism puts you in Christ, and therefore in His armor, so that even in the fray of this fallen world, you are protected from the fiercest assaults. Though you will certainly take your blows, they cannot ultimately harm you. The armor of God makes you stand and resist and endure all of the attacks of the enemy.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard