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“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all to stand firm.”
Paul’s closing word to his beloved congregation is a heartfelt plea to remain in this ‘one true faith until life everlasting.’ Like every pastor before him and since, he’s seen far too many
• who were baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,
• who sat in the congregation and confessed the faith with their lips,
• who joined their prayers to the prayers of the church,
• who received the Lord’s Supper week after week,
• fall away, walk away, turn away, wander away, drift away.
And each one has broken his heart. How many times had he heard it said, ‘IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL.’
• A brother or sister in Christ who announces that he’s leaving the family.
• Or who doesn’t announce anything but just stops showing up for the Sunday Supper.
• Or who doesn’t care how his or her behavior reflects on the rest of the family.
• Or, when asked why, calls his brothers and sisters a bunch of hypocrites.
To use Fernando’s illustration from last Sunday, it’s as though in the dance with our Lord, Satan asks if he can cut in, and despite our Lord’s ‘no,’ they change partners and dance with the devil.
“It’s ‘nothing personal’? Please.
But this goes way beyond mere sentimentality. This is not about Paul’s broken heart or the disappointment that hangs over him like a dark cloud. It’s about his brothers and sisters in Christ – whom he loves – even as we should all love one another. When one of them walks away from the ‘one true faith’
• They FORFEIT the only salvation there is.
• They EXCHANGE the “truth about God for a lie.” (Rom. 1:25)
• They LET GO OF what gives life and GRAB HOLD OF what brings death.
• They will have to STAND BEFORE THE JUDGE who judges everyone and try to explain why it was that they sold their inheritance for a pot of bean stew. But they will be “without excuse.” (Rom.1:20)
But it goes even deeper than this.
• What about the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for them? Was it shed in vain?
• What about the gift of the Holy Spirit given them in their baptism? Was He given in vain?
• What about the place prepared in the Father’s house for them? Was it prepared in vain?
If, as Jesus says, there is “joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” what sadness must there be in heaven when one saint wanders away from the ‘way and the truth and the life’?
I notice that this concern that Paul has for ‘PERSEVERANCE IN THE FAITH’ shows up in every one of his 13 letters.
To the Romans he writes that Israel was “broken off because of unbelief BUT YOU STAND FAST through faith.” (Rom. 11:20).
To the Corinthians he writes, “Now I would remind you brothers and sisters of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, IN WHICH YOU STAND, and by which you are being saved, IF YOU HOLD FAST TO THE WORD I preached to you…” (1 Cor. 15:1)
Paul’s letter to the Galatians gushes with tears of frustration that they have not stood against the schemes of the devil. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?… You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” (Gal. 3:1, 5:7).
To the Philippians he writes, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, STAND FIRM thus in the Lord, my beloved.” (Phil. 4:1).
To the Colossians, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for ALL ENDURANCE and patience with joy…” (Col. 1:11).
I’ve been reading Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians in my own devotions over the past week. He says that it was killing him that he wasn’t able to visit and didn’t know how they were doing. Were THEY ‘STANDING FAST’ or had they drifted or fallen away? And so, he sent Timothy to visit and bring back a report. Timothy returns to Paul with this wonderful report about how faithful they are even in the face of much persecution. And Paul writes, “For now we LIVE, if you are STANDING FAST in the Lord.” (1 Thess. 3:8).
And to his beloved Ephesians, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil… that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all to stand firm. Stand therefore…”
Our life is MYSTERIOUSLY connected to our Lord’s. Immediately after He was baptized, Jesus was driven into the wilderness where Satan tries to bring about His fall just as he brought about the first Adam’s fall.
It’s like that for us too. Immediately after we are baptized Satan is at us with his temptations and tricks. If he can’t undermine our trust in God’s Word, he’ll tempt us to relax our moral standards. If he can’t get us to abandon the faith through suffering or persecution, he’ll try pleasure. If he can’t cause our fall with one, bold lie, he’ll nibble away at us with half truths until we’re ready to swallow whatever bait he puts on the hook.
The ground on which we stand is FAR MORE SLIPPERY than we are willing to acknowledge. Adam and Eve may have been felled by one, silly little question from the serpent, “did God say?” But we believe that we’re much more advanced than they were – evolution has at least taught us that much. We are the products of the ‘enlightenment’ and have long since quit believing in evil spirits and ‘cosmic powers’ and ‘spiritual forces in the heavenly places.’
We may be surrounded by temptations – but don’t worry pastor, we can take care of ourselves. We may put ourselves right into the middle of temptation confident that we are wise enough and strong enough not to fall.
It’s just this kind of dangerous ‘self-confidence’ that Paul wants to blow up. “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.” Sounds like some kind of science-fiction horror movie. It’s enough to frighten little children – and hopefully, grown adults.
Those who don’t realize the danger and the enemy that we’re up against are headed for disaster. The Proverb says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Prov. 16:18). Paul says it like this, “Therefore, let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12).
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, Paul nails the mystery of the Christian life when he says, “when I am weak then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:10) The familiar children’s hymn gets it just right. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so. Little one to Him belong. They are WEAK but He is STRONG.” Little children know how vulnerable they are and are not afraid to depend on one stronger than themselves for their protection and care.
And we have just such a One. “Finally, be strong IN THE LORD and in the strength of HIS MIGHT.” Paul directs to look, not to ourselves but to our BIG BROTHER who is the LORD ALMIGHTY.
As soon as Adam and Eve fell to the “schemes of the devil” in the Garden of Eden, the Lord clothed them. It was no longer safe for them to remain ‘naked’ as they had been. Now, they weakened and vulnerable. They tried to clothe themselves with fig leaves, which was a joke. “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Gen.3:20). As long as they remained in those ‘skin clothes’ that the Lord put on them, they were safe. You gotta wonder just whose skin they were wearing don’t you?
Paul says, “put on the armor of God.” In your baptism, as the water ran over your head, God clothed you in His armor, so that you may ‘STAND FAST’ against the assaults of the devil.
There’s probably been a million sermons written on the “ARMOR OF GOD.” Let it be enough for our purpose this morning to say that this armor that Paul describes protects the whole body from head to toe, from helmet to shoes. We’re completely protected.
Setting the analogy aside and going right to the reality, we have been clothed in ‘TRUTH,’ in ‘RIGHTEOUSNESS,’ in ‘GOSPEL OF PEACE,’ in ‘FAITH,’ ‘SALVATION,’ ‘THE WORD OF GOD,’ and ‘PRAYER.’ None of these come from within us. All of these are given to us by God. And every child of God is clothed with ALL OF THESE from the moment the Holy Spirit comes down on Him in the water.
• Against the confusion of lies and deceptions, the ‘TRUTH’ has been ‘FASTENED’ onto us. AND WHO IS “TRUE” BUT JESUS.
• Against the accusations of the devil and our own conscience, ‘RIGHTEOUSNESS’ has been ‘PUT ONTO’ us. AND WHO IS ‘RIGHTEOUS’ BUT JESUS.
• Against every accusation that God could never forgive you for THAT, we are ‘fitted’ with the ‘GOSPEL OF PEACE’ that declares that all of your sins have been forgiven BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST SHED FOR YOU.
• Against every doubt we are equipped with the gift of ‘FAITH’ that turns every doubt into more certainty. AND WHAT IS THE OBJECT OF OUR FAITH BUT JESUS.
• Against the fear of death and eternal separation from God, we have been fitted with ‘SALVATION’ and eternal life with God. AND WHO IS THE SAVIOR BUT JESUS.
• Against the word of the Tempter, we have the “WORD OF GOD.” AND WHO IS THE WORD OF GOD BUT JESUS.
• Against every suggestion that you’re on you own in this world, we have the gift of ‘PRAYER’ that we may call upon God our Father in the name of Jesus His Son and our Brother.
Brothers and sisters, “We are not lacking in any spiritual gift as we wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1:7) We are clothed in Jesus Christ, who ‘stood firm’ against the devil and crushed his head. What shall we say then? If God is for us who shall be against us?” (Rom. 8:31)
These are indeed ‘evil days,’ and it sometimes feels like the ‘present darkness’ is getting darker by the hour. And the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” would have us see nothing but “the evil day” and ‘the present darkness.” What they don’t want you to see is that the war has already been won. The victory is already accomplished by our Lord Jesus Christ. Better days lie ahead. In fact, a ‘new day’ has already dawned on the 3rd day.
The GREATER our assurance that the victory has already been accomplished, the GREATER will be our patience and perseverance in “these evil days.” “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Rom. 8:18)
On the other hand, where the assurance of salvation is LACKING, the gratitude toward God and the strength to resist the temptations of the world and the desires of the flesh will also be lacking. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mat.6:21) (Christian Dogmatics: III:99)
We can relax that the outcome does not depend on us, it depends on the Lord. The ground under our feet is solid and secure. We need only ‘STAND FIRM’ and encourage one another to ‘STAND FIRM’ in the daily skirmishes that will continue until Jesus comes again in glory… and ‘the evil day’ is over and the “present darkness” is swallowed up in LIGHT, and we take our place with the with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, in the ‘feast of victory for our God’ that has no end.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil… that you may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all to stand firm.”