Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
You may also want to hear this sermon on the same passage.
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Have you noticed how zombies seem to show up everywhere in our popular culture these days. There are zombie movies–like World War Z–but zombies have even made it into classical literature. Check out the young adult section of the book store and you’ll see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I’m not making this up.
My son has recently been watching a show called Supernatural. It’s about two brothers who are monster hunters. Every episode they face some new paranormal creature and battle against it.
Why do you think we have such a fascination with the supernatural?
There are many reasons, but one of them has to do with the fact that our younger generations have been put in a bind.
On the one side they are told in school that you can’t discuss religion in public, Christianity is the “old way of thinking about things,” and there is not such a thing as the “supernatural.” Everything can be explained with math and science.
On the other hand, every human being has this deep sense that there is something more than being just a random combination of chemicals.
Deep down inside we know that Paul’s words in Ephesians 6 are true.
“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but…against spiritual forces of evil.”
Does that mean that we, as Christians, are called to battle zombies and vampires?
No, we tell stories about zombies and vampires as way to explore the world of the spiritual, but the real spiritual battle is much more real than that.
Everyone of us has a struggle going on and that struggle is spiritual.
It might be an internal battle with thoughts and feelings that are tearing you apart inside.
Or, it might be an external struggle with forces that seem to be working against you that are outside of your control.
This morning I did an experiment and checked the headlines. Here are two that stood out to me.
- At the macro level we see the Trouble in Syria. Should we strike?
- Then there was an article about the tension between parents and teens regarding freedom, privacy and safety on Social media. This is just as big and dangerous as impending war.
These are the very real struggles that we face every day.
The battle is real, it is scary, and it is all spiritual.
Today we are going to look at this last section of Ephesians and talk about how to stand strong in the Lord in this battle that we are in.
I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to Ephesians chapter 6, verse 10. It’s in your pew Bible on page 1067.
I want to highlight four observations I make about how to Stand Strong.
First, there is an enemy.
One reason that some people stay stuck in dark places and continue to repeat unhealthy patterns is because they don’t think anything is wrong.
Life just is what it is and there is nothing you can do about it. Either they have given in to fate and think they can’t change their situation,
or they think there is no such thing as right and wrong, so they just keep doing harmful things or letting harmful things happen to them.
Paul reminds us that there is an enemy.
Life is a struggle. We saw this last week. Anything that is healthy grows, and anything that grows is going to struggle and experience pain to do so.
That’s what Paul talks about in the section of Ephesians that we skipped over.
Look at this illustration. Paul uses an image of light and darkness to contrast the destructive patterns versus the life-given patterns.
In 4:22-24 he says,
“22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Again in 5:8-11 he says,
8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
So, there is an enemy, and we are in a struggle against it.
The second thing I observe is
The enemy is not people.
12 [For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.]
What does this mean? Are we pawns, caught in a cosmic battle of angels and demons? Are there zombies and vampires lurking in the darkness, waiting to eat our brains or capture our souls?
Here’s a way I like to think about the spiritual forces of evil. These are the collective attitudes of people that come together and become a spiritual power of their own.
Have you ever seen a mob form?
It’s a scary thing. You take a group of people who are just typical people, but if they all get together and someone rallies them around a cause, they can storm the castle with pitch forks and torches and cut people’s heads off.
When you multiply this times millions we call this society.
Paul confronted one of the spiritual forces of his day.
His world was a male dominated power structure. Men were supreme. Women were only good for producing a male heir. Children were property. And slaves were like animals.
Chapter five is all about flattening that power structure. Paul challenges the status quo in chapter 5 verse 21. He says,
“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Husbands and wives, fathers and children, slave masters and slaves…all equally respecting and submitting to each other. Those were culturally revolutionary words.
There are many spiritual forces of evil in society that have taken a life of their own and seek to control us and destroy us.
We battle against things like individualism, consumerism, greed, injustice.
Our world is divided into hostile groups, just like the Jews and the Gentiles.
The world says, “You are from [insert group label here] so I must hate you.”
The way of God that Jesus came to show us says, “You are a human being, created in the image of God, so I must love you. The fact that our groups hate each other is something that we need to fight against.”
Do you see the difference?
It is not people that are the enemy. It is the forces that drive people to do what they do that is the enemy.
There is a third thing I observe in this passage.
The Victory is already won.
This is the point in my teaching of Ephesians 6 when I usually start talking about each piece of the armor of God. I love this passage and I’ve taught on it many times. I’m not going to do that this time. The point is that God has given us armor to protect us against these enemies. He’s given us the truth, salvation, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, and the word of God.
The interesting thing about the armor is what Paul tells us to do with it.
He doesn’t say, “now go out there and kick some demon butt!”
What does he say?
That’s it. Stand strong.
Because Jesus has already won the victory.
We saw that two weeks ago. Jesus has broken down the wall of hostility. He has brought peace to the nations. God loves the world and seeks its restoration and reconciliation. You can’t win the battle any more than it is already won.
We just need to stand on that promise.
That leads us to the fourth observation.
The power is in prayer.
“Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.”
I want to share what a teacher named Parker Palmer says about prayer.
“Prayer is the practice of relatedness…prayer is our capacity to enter into that vast community of life in which self and other, human and nonhuman, visible and invisible, are intricately intertwined…in prayer, I no longer set myself apart from others and the world, manipulating them to suit my needs. Instead, I reach for relationship, allow myself to feel the tugging of mutuality and accountability, take my place in community by knowing the transcendent center that connects it all…In prayer, I begin to realize that I not only know but am known.”
Prayer reminds us that we are connected with God. In that we can stand strong and confident.
Every once in a while we need to take this advice. “Don’t just do something, stand there!”
Our society, especially here in the Northwestern suburbs, tells us go, go, go? Do, do, do! You know, if all you do is do-do, then all it is is doo-doo. Think about it.
I don’t know what your particular struggle is right now.
The truth is that we each fight our own demons.
We each have that darkness that we are struggling against as God calls us to grow deeper in maturity.
We each have that hidden addiction or obsession or trauma that eats away at us.
We are in a unique struggle.
But, we also share this larger, spiritual battle against our culture that tells us we are ultimately alone to fight our own battles in the universe.
I invite you to do something with me right now. Just breathe.
Breathe with me, in and out.
Paul reminded his friends in the churches around Ephesus that they are in relationship with God and they are in relationship with each other.
Jesus has broken down the walls of hostility.
We can stand against the forces of evil that seek to divide and destroy us.
The victory has been won and we are at peace with God and each other.
May you stand on that promise as we enter into this new season, together.