10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. 13 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 firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, (Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV)
“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 firm.”
This is one of the more famous passages of scripture. It appeals to young boys more often than not, who can’t ever get enough of sword fighting and wrestling, or playing call of duty. I’m sure it was the same in the mid first century as the congregation in Ephesus heard about it, and the people contemplated all the legions of Rome garrisoned along the frontier fighting the Celts, and the Germanic hordes of the border lands, or farther east trying to ward off the advance of the Persians whose great empire once laid claim to their own town, until the time of Alexander the Great. These legions that would march lockstep with one another their armor interlocking to create an impenetrable force on the field that could bowl over most enemies like a tank taking on a Prius. The discipline was formidable, and these were the legions protecting the security of the Eternal City, Rome. Now Paul uses the imagery to rally the troops of the church militant, that is the church on earth, to call them to attention, to bring them into formation, the fight is on, the battle is here.
Church militant, it’s a theological term for the church on earth, it is meant to describe what it is the church on earth does. It fights. Not with flesh and blood though, not by earthly means no matter the comparisons used. Ours is a spiritual warfare that is fought against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. In Ephesus, these forces were much more apparent to the young church than they are to us today. The nonChristians called these forces Daemons and Nymphs, as they worshiped at the temple of Artemis, or Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt and of birth. It was for her temple that Ephesus was famous in the ancient world. And very few disputer the existence of these daemons and nymphs, the Christians just called these inhabitors of the heavenly places “demons.”
That is right, Christians have never disputed the existence of other “gods”, the existence of these forces of evil in the heavenly places. We know that they exist. That is if we believe our Bibles, God’s word to us. Yes we know of charlatans doing palm readings. But we do not thereby disregard the witchcraft and think it is harmless fun that God warns us against. We remember that Pharoahs magi were able themselves to turn staffs into snakes, and the Witch of Endor to conjure up the spirit of Samuel for Saul. No Christians knew that their pagan neighbors were worshiping true spiritual entities, but they also knew that these entities were evil and not deserving of worship, and that they had been conquered and made subject to Christ.
Made subject to Christ. The victory has been won. Jesus conquered and rose victorious over all the powers of death when he died and rose from the dead. But they still fight and mean to take as many as they can with them. We are still mopping up here on earth in the church militant. So put on the whole armor of God. And realize that this spiritual war we fight is not just about witchcraft and exorcisms. And it is very real. It is the lies the devil uses to convince people that Christianity is not true. It is the lies of demons that result in atheism. It is the lies of demons that torture people with guilty consciences and make them think they are not worthy of God’s love. It is the work of evil that convinces people to rely on their works rather than the cross of Christ. It is the work of evil forces in the heavenly places that causes trouble and descent within a congregation, convincing people to harbor grudges and refuse to forgive. It is the spiritual forces of evil that make people jockey and connive for control and power, and all it does is drive everyone else away. Rumors and innuendo sweep through and turn a peaceful house of prayer into a convention of busybodies breaking the 8th commandment. It destroys the cohesion that lives on the bond of peace, the unity we all have in Christ through the forgiveness of sins, a brotherhood of the sword.
Brothers and sisters, you are up against it now. The offensive is on. Will you stand? Take up your sword and fight. Six years with a sword, that is how long it is said someone has to practice with a sword to be proficient with it in battle. It isn’t an easy thing to master, and neither is scripture and the word of God. You want to take up your sword and fight, then pick it up. Pick it up. Come to church and listen, be washed in the word Sunday through Sunday as you live out your baptism where you were buried into Christ’s death to rise victorious with him. Eat and Drink the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sins that your resolve be strengthened and you grow in fervent love for one another. In fervent love for one another, here at this altar where we become one with each other even as we become one with Christ. Where we pick each other up in forbearance, encouraging and building each other up, rather than tearing each other apart. Because together we stand, and divided we fall. Together we stand, and we stand firm! The victory, brothers the victory is ours, because we are in Christ who has conquered death. So unsheathe your swords. It is the gospel we talk about here. It works. It does what it says it will do. It cuts, it hacks, it stabs right through to the soul, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places are helpless against it when we have put on the armor of God and taken up arms together.
And then we rejoice in victory brothers and sisters. There have been so many that we have seen. They happen here. Friends and family that we pray over each morning, visitors that have happened in to a back pew and stayed. Babies and adults brought to the font. Enmity laid to rest as brothers apologize to one another and forgive. Yes, these are victories of the Holy Spirit in our midst who goes out with the word of God. It is a victory of the Holy Spirit when we, Sunday in and Sunday out lose ourselves and confess our sins together in harmony. And believe it brothers, when we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that we have sinned in thought word and deed. Don’t be shocked, that person standing next to you is telling the truth! And so are you. But the victory comes when that person next to you receives forgiveness just as you do. And together we are forgiven. Then the tears and gaps in our armor are healed, the shields repaired, then we learn to stand together once again, and to stand firm as shield clashes shield, and fiery darts fly, and swords thrust out. And then it is a beautiful thing to watch and see amidst the blood and sweat of battle. The darts extinguished in the waters of baptism. The foe laid low to bite the dust, even to eat it as Christ bruises his heal on the serpents head, and victory is ours.