Message: Cosmic War and Union with Christ | Scripture: Ephesians 6:10-13 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Worship Songs: All Creatures of Our God and King; The First Noel; Come Thou Long Expected Jesus; My Hope is Built.
- The ESV and NASB read “be Strong in the Lord,” but why is it important to understand the imperative to be in the passive “be strengthened”? How does this tie back to chapters 1 and 2 of Ephesians?
- What’s the importance of being strong in the Lord (YHWH)? Is there historical reason/value to referring to the Lord (YHWH)? Who is YHWH, and why is it important to acknowledge this person as YHWH considering all those who came in the name of YHWH from the Old Testament?
- What has YHWH strengthened you for, and what are we, as Christians, called to pursue in this life by his extraordinary grace and power?
- Verses 12 (as well as the second half of verses 11 and 13) point to the purpose and reason for why YHWH has strengthened us. What is the purpose and reason for YHWH’s strengthening us? What do we tend to focus instead of this purpose and reason? What does God give us so that we might place our focus in the right places?
- What’s the difference between YHWH’s strength and our own strength (hint: what does it mean to persevere by our own strength)?
- What’s the difference between Satan’s approach towards us and God’s approach? What does Satan do when he’s trying to “lead” us, and what has God done in leading us and pointing us back to himself?
- Why can we trust in the armour of God?
- What have you learned from this week’s sermon (or in previous weeks’ sermons) that have brought you into greater appreciation for the gospel and its application in your own life?
- How can we be praying for you this week in the trials of your flesh and in the joys of your salvation?
- Make sure you leave time to pray for one another.
One of the most iconic plays in basketball took place in game four of the first-round of the 2006 NBA Playoffs when the seventh-seeded L.A. Lakers played the second-seeded Phoenix Suns led by all-time great, Canadian point guard, Steven Nash. It had been one of the greatest seasons ever for the Phoenix franchise, and they were 7.9 seconds away from winning their second game of the series, hoping to tie it at 2 games apiece. Adding to their odds, the Suns had possession, and all they had to do was inbound the ball safely to their team captain, and the rest would have taken care of itself. The problem, however, is that they were playing a Laker team led by Kobe Bean Bryant.
So, there is the inbounder for the Suns, 7.9 seconds left in regulation basketball, Lakers down two, and the ball is inbounded to Nash, but one Lakers’ player, Smush Parker, taps it just as Nash is trying to get a handle on it, and a flurry of events take place where, somehow, the ball ends up in Kobe Bryant’s hands with less than 4 seconds left, he runs at the net, throws the ball 30 feet into the air, and it comes straight down through the net. Game tied. We’re going into overtime. 5-minutes of overtime play elapse, and the Suns, again, find themselves up by one with 6.1 seconds left on the clock. There’s a scuffle on the court about who has possession, so the refs call both sides to meet in the middle for a jump ball. The ball’s thrown up, and, of course, it ends up in the hands of Kobe Bean Bryant. 5.2 seconds left on the clock. Kobe dribbles up the court, and if you know anything about Kobe Bryant, you know he’s headed to one spot. The right corner of the free throw line where he’s made millions sinking that shot with greater precision than anyone else in the game, and everyone in the stadium and watching at home knows what’s about to happen.
Here is the actual play-by-play commentary by Mike Breen as these final seconds unfolded: “Walton to tip it, Bryant with the save, Bryant dribbles, final seconds, Bryant for the win, BANG!” Staples Stadium erupts in pandemonius raucous. Lakers win on the back of Kobe Bryant’s heroics. Asked later what was going through his head that allowed him to sink the game winning shot, Kobe Bryant said, as Kobe only can say, that he had no doubt about what the outcome would be when the ball came into his hands because that’s what I do—I practice that every day till I perfect my craft. People are always talking about the Mamba mentality that Kobe had to be a killer on the court, and whenever he was asked about it—asked what the Mamba mentality was—he said it was simple: the Mamba mentality was simply to prepare more than anyone else consistently over time so that when he was backed into a corner, he wouldn’t have to do anything special to put his mind in the right place, he wouldn’t have to attempt something that was never attempted. He would simply do, what he’s always done. He would simply get to his spot, execute the fundamentals, and knock down the shot, just like he had done a million times before, and just like he would do a million times after.
The key to Kobe’s heroics in the most desperate, crunch-time situations was being more prepared than any other player in the league, and the principle that drove him to such unimaginable heights in his game is the same principle that we ought to employ as Christians. We ought to be prepared more than everyone else for those moments when the world backs us into a corner, and it seems like we’ve got no option but to go through it.
And this is where we find ourselves in our text, this morning, in Ephesians 6:10-13. Paul has come to the climax of his ethical requirements. He’s given us the theology of our salvation and reconciliation to God and to one another through Christ, he’s prescribed to us the ethical application to walk in a manner that is worthy of God’s calling us to himself as a people set apart, and now, having thoroughly equipped the Ephesians, he calls the Ephesians to be prepared for battle. You need the right tools before you enter into the trenches. You need to know your opponent and the tactics he’ll use to try and defeat you. If you’re prepared, Paul is telling us, then you have nothing to fear. So, here, Paul tells us how we need to prepare. Read these verses in Eph 6:10-13 with me. TWoL.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.
Our proposition that spurs us to preparation this morning follows the exact path that Paul lays out for us in these verses: Be strengthened in God for the battle against the enemies of God by putting on the armour of God. How are we prepared for battle? By being strengthened. How are we strengthened? By putting on the armour of God. What Paul is doing is bringing us back around full circle. He started with God’s providence and election of us, and he ends with his providence and election of us. So, let’s not delay anymore and look at our first point.
1) Be Strengthened in God
Verse 10 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” Both the ESV and NASB read “be strong,” but the more accurate reading might be rendered, “be strengthened.” There’s a component to the verb where something from outside of us is providing us with the means to be strong. What I mean is that all the theology and all the ethical commands, they are nothing unless there is divine intervention enabling us to turn our minds to the truth of the gospel, to facilitate Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, and to live morally set apart lives. God must be the one who has chosen us from before the foundation of the world, predestined us for adoption, and set us forth in Christ (Eph 1).
Thus, to be strengthened in the Lord, we know, refers to Jesus—God has strengthened us by virtue of giving us a living gospel that not only justifies but sanctifies us through the Holy Spirit. But for these Ephesians, especially those with a Jewish background, they would have heard these words, and they would have thought of Moses, Joshua, David, and the prophets who were told to be strengthened in YHWH—the Lord God of Israel—the covenant maker, deliverer, and sustainer. Whenever the name YHWH was invoked, it was always in reference to the covenantal relationship between God and his chosen people.
Now, Paul is telling these Ephesian Jews and Gentiles to be strengthened in preparation for battle in this covenantal YHWH—the YHWH who graciously and powerfully delivered his people from Egypt, the Philistines, the Syrians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, so on, so forth. As he did for historical Israel before their rebellion, so he has and shall do for you.
And he, the covenantal YHWH, is not some impersonal force, distant and unknowable—strengthening you in some mystical way. He is the Lord God come to establish a new covenant in a very specific, unbreakable way. Something Israel didn’t have before. This YHWH lived and dwelt among us as one who took on the daily challenges of life, blood, sweat, and tears. But more than what we could or can do, he also took on the consequences of sin and death for us—he atoned for both the rebellion of Israel and the nations, and he satisfied the requirements of righteousness for us so that Paul might say, right now, to the Ephesians, and to us, be strengthened for YHWH has come in the flesh, he has brought about a revolutionary means for your endurance and perseverance, and he, alone, is the one who is able to sympathize with you in every way and not grow weary of you. Draw from him. In him, in your identifying with him, and in your Spirit-filled possession of him as your own righteousness, you can not only persevere through hardship, but you can flourish, you can find life, you can be happy in every circumstance because he sustains you forever.
What I mean by this isn’t some hyper-spiritual feeling. It’s not some tingling sensation that comes over you where you’re suddenly able to lift a car, or that if you believe in what this verse says, you’ll be able to do extraordinary things (Steph Curry). No, what this passage means is that through your union with Christ—through both your belief in his coming physically and in his provision to you of his own faith and righteousness—you are able to honour and be faithful to God even in your ordinary, humble life.
There’s so much emphasis these days about how it’s possible to be the next big thing, if you aspire to it. But Paul reminds us in 1 Thess 4:9-12 that the Christian isn’t to pursue the vainglory of the world, and it’s not to fill up our minds with fanciful thoughts about a better life. Rather, we’re called to “love one another as God loved you, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” In other words, God strengthens you not for the fantastic, worldly things but for what the world calls the mundane: to go to church on a weekly basis and serve with your gifts, to abstain from all forms of immorality, to care for the family that God’s given you, to love your wife, to respect your husband, to care for your children and raise them in godliness, to obey your bosses and treat those under you with the same generosity and mercy that God has shown you. In other words, you’re given union with Christ by the omnipotent providence of God, so that you might display Christ in your normal life. As Christ came to humble himself and give his life as a ransom for many, so too are we given strength to humble and give of ourselves to point others to him.
2) Be Strengthened in God for the Battle Against the Enemies of God
Before we deal with verses 11 and 13, let us first consider verse 12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I want to turn our attention to this verse before dealing with verses 11 and 13 because while Paul is calling us to be strengthened in our ordinary, humble lives, the purpose and reason for God’s intervention upon us is not only because we are sinful, and it is not only because we fix our gaze and affections on the wrong things within the world, but he must intervene to equip and prepare us for a war of epic and cosmic proportions.
It’s on this particular verse that the whole of the Christian message either stands or falls. What Paul says here tells us that there is, at the center of all things, a struggle between good and evil, and it’s not a struggle between man-and-man or even between our old self and our new self. No, the sooner that we realize that the war is not about us or my rights and my freedoms, the sooner it is that we can grasp what being a Christian is all about. Christianity isn’t about self-enlightenment or becoming the best version of yourself. No, Christianity and the cosmic war being waged all around us is about who or what is able to make the claim that they are God. It’s about who is worthy of worship above everything and everyone else. It’s about who can command your affection and fealty. Make no mistake, the true, righteous God has already won the war, the only reason why it continues in any capacity is because he does not want to forsake us. The war is not about you, but it involves you because, for some reason, as humans, we often think that we’re at the center of the universe and that our problems or our achievements matter more than the problems and achievements of the person sitting beside us. We make us the center of our worship.
What we miss when we make ourselves to be more than we are is that we, inevitably, isolate and war among one another. And by doing this, we distract ourselves from the one who is supposed to be worshipped. And this plays right into the schemes and wickedness of the devil because so long as our eyes are turned away from God, so long as we are distracted from our union in Christ, we make it easy for him to overcome us. The devil wants us focused on ourselves because as long as we’re looking here, we’re not asking for help from the only one who can save us.
This is why Paul begins to close the letter here after chapter 5 and the first half of chapter 6. He likely could have kept on talking about ethical relationships, and how to live them out in God-honouring ways, but he comes now to the conclusion after talking about wives, husbands, children, masters, and slaves because if the devil is going to win your heart, these are the institutions he’s going to attack first. If he can breakdown our most significant and meaningful experiences in this world—if he can increase the number of broken families, divorce rates, abusive and enslaving relationships—then it makes the battle for him significantly easier! Why? Because we become focused on ourselves. We spend all of our attention on our divorce. We become increasingly self-dependent, which is just a state of perpetual weakness. Or we turn our minds to thinking how our parents have got it wrong, and how they don’t understand me. Or we’re constantly striving to subject other people to our wills and force them to do the things that I want. You see, Paul focuses you on others. He wants to emphasize the covenantal aspect of God and the community of Christ because, by doing so, your eyes are turned out from focusing too much on yourself and onto things that really matter.
The devil, in contrast, wants you self-involved—he wants us focusing and warring within ourselves because he wants to tear us away from any possibility of having that thing that he cannot have. He wants to rend us from goodness, righteousness, truth, and beauty. He wants us to displace our devotion to the one worthy of it, and he does it by deception and distraction. The devil is the greatest magician the universe has ever seen because he is constantly using slight-of-hand to keep our eyes away from what we should see.
But God calls you to himself not by deception, trickery, or slight-of-hand. No, instead of distracting you with thoughts of your own grandeur and importance, he gives you a family. Instead of filling your head with lies about what you deserve in isolation from the rest of the world, he gives you the church. You see, Paul focuses on these two main institutions—the family and the Church in Ephesians—because they help us take our eyes off of ourselves. They stop us from isolating, criticizing, and judging one another, and instead, create within us an unbreakable, God-worshipping, covenant-making, Spirit-empowering, gospel-preaching, Bible-thumping community of Jesus freaks who have been saved by grace. God has strengthened us in himself not so that we might try and conquer each other as husbands and wives, children and parents, masters and slaves, or as Jews and Gentiles, but so that when the world, when our own sinfulness, and when the devil tells us to do these things, we might be prepared to look upon the one who has borne us up in his own strength.
What’s more is that God doesn’t approach us in shadow, in hiding, and in cowardice as the devil does. In his real and tangible grace, he sent his own Son as the light of the world to draw near to us, to take on our weakness, our rebellion, and our distractedness, and to refocus our gaze from ourselves back to him. He does this so that when the forces of the enemy come to steal and persecute us and to throw the world into darkness and chaos, we will have but one response: my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood, supports me in the ‘whemling flood. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay. On Christ the solid rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.
3) Be strengthened in God for the battle against the enemies of God by putting on the armour of God
We now come to verses 11 and 13. Verse 10 tells us what God is doing (strengthening us), verse 12 tells us why God is doing it (we’re in a war against evil), and verses 11 and 13 tell us how he does it: he strengthens us by giving us his complete armour so that we might put it on. Here, again, we see this language of putting on. It’s something that’s confronted us throughout the book of Ephesians, and now, we see it in reference to armour, and Paul is reminding us that it is of fundamental importance to be appropriately dressed for the occasion. Don’t come unprepared. Don’t come under or overdressed.
In my life, I’ve, unfortunately, always been the one who never understood what it means to dress appropriately for the occasion. One time, I went to a friend’s wedding in shorts and a polo shirt because I was told to dress semi-casually. I’ve told you all about the story when I was very young and went swimming in my great grandmother’s apartment building only to forget to put on my swimming trunks. I’ve shown up to special, family dinners at high-end restaurants right after playing sports sometimes wearing my sweaty jersey and gym shorts because I had forgotten to pack better clothing. In all of these instances, I was rightly chastised by family, friends, and even people I didn’t know. What I’m trying to convey is that you should not learn from me what it means to be dressed for the occasion. Instead, learn here from Paul especially because the situation is dire, and being inappropriately dressed won’t just render you a scolding. It can cost you far worse things than that.
Paul isn’t just telling us to be properly dressed for an innocent event—he’s telling us that this is an event far more serious than any of us can understand on our own. This is why he’s not telling us to grab our own armour and put it on, or to put on those things we can find on our own lying around our homes. No, he’s telling us to put on the armour that belongs to God—the armour that he’s given us to wear. The armour for only those who have been made spiritually aware of the situation. It’s specific clothing for a specific occasion.
Where else in the Bible do we see a reference to putting on armour? Well, the most famous occasion that comes to mind is in 1 Sam 17 when David tells Saul that he wants to confront Goliath. And what is Saul’s reaction? First, he mocks him. Then, seeing the boy’s resolve, he tries to clothe David in his armour, but David rejects the armour, why? Because it is untested. It’s an unfamiliar feeling not only to David, but Saul himself, because in his cowardice, Saul has not gone out to fight the Philistines as a King who leads his people, so how can David know that the armour Saul is wearing is any good? If anything, the armour is a liability because it tempts David to put faith in its protection rather than in the God who has promised to deliver his people. Saul wants to dress David out of fear that David will die. David rejects the armour because he knows that his God lives.
Now, how is what Paul telling us to do any different than what Saul told David to do? The difference is that we’re not taking on Saul’s armour, we’re putting on David’s victory gear. See, our David has come, and he has defeated not only the Goliaths of this world, but he has destroyed the greatest enemy and evil in the cosmos. By his death and resurrection for our sin and our punishment, he gives to us an armour that is not only tested but that is unwaveringly true. Our David has gone to battle. Our David withstood the greatest of his enemies’ arrows. And our David now stands as the King who rules over his eternal kingdom in infinite power and might. We are not now called to take on a coward’s armour—we are called to take the armour that belongs to YHWH himself. And this armour shall protect us not only so that we can withstand our adversary’s blows, but also so that we might, as Paul says in verse 13, be able to stand alongside our God as he hurls the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and the devil himself back into the hell from which they came. Temptations of the flesh may come, but we are not those who face them unprepared.
This is why we have been saved. We’ve been saved so that God might show us his power, glory, and authority over all things. He is the only God worthy of our worship. And yet, this same God who is incomparable in his authoritative might, he has done all of these things not just to prove his character to us but to show us the infinite depth of his love in bringing us to himself.
On our own, verse 12 is an impossible picture of the bleakness of our world and circumstances—one that only increases in its wickedness. But our God has furnished us with immeasurable grace by giving us the armour of his own beloved Son. And he unifies us with him so that we can both withstand the schemes of the devil and the coming evil day and thrive as those who see the cosmic war but do not cower away in fear for our Christ has come arrayed for battle. We stand as those who are confident that the outcome has been decided. The enemy has been defeated. Our Davidic Christ has won, and in him, we have been strengthened to trust and worship him as our King forever.