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|29th August, 1999|
As we enter the twentyfirst century, what should we take with us? I have previously suggested we need to take a new outlook. Then a sense of inner peace, that reconciliation with God that overcomes alienation from each other, our environment and God. Then a victorious Spirit that can overcome personal problems. Then a deep concern, a true love, which enables us to care for others. Now I want to suggest that entering the twentyfirst century requires us to be people possessing a persistent toughness.
But someone will object immediately. If we are Christian people, ought not we be gentle, kind, temperate, soft? Are not these the marks of a Christian, not toughness? Are not Christians to be known for their mildness rather than their robustness? We gloss over the fact that the work of Jesus Christ in advancing God's kingdom is a spiritual warfare and casualties are real. There is war on the spiritual front. Every Christian compromised by the delights of this world, seduced by the passions of the flesh, or ensnared by the financial traps set for the unwary, delights hell and weakens the Christian cause. Young Christians on the front-line need to be surrounded with the grace of God and equipped for spiritual battle. Now I am aware that you may not like to consider spiritual warfare. You do not like the war terminology. You prefer to talk only of sweetness and light, blessing and goodness. But such an attitude is unrealistic. It is out of touch with the realities of personal, inner conflict. It ignores the fact of evil.
Spiritual warfare was an image used by Paul. On one occasion he was guarded also by professional soldiers of the Emperor's own Praetorian regiment. He was chained by the wrist as a special prisoner of Caesar to whom he had appealed for justice against the death threats of the Judaisers. Under a decree of Augustus, "Lex Julia de vi publica" a Roman citizen had the right to appeal to Caesar. "So we came to Rome" he said. For the next two years he was chained by the wrist to a new guard each eight hours in his rented apartment.
He was under the personal care of a "stratopedarchos" or camp commandant. During this time many Jews visited him to ask about the Messiah. New leaders of the Church like Priscilla, Aquilla, Phoebe, Mark, Silas, Justus, Aristarchus, Ephaphroditus, Demas, Timothy and Titus and many others heard him preach, teach and explain. They became the backbone of the young Church. Every time he spoke he had a captive unbeliever chained to his wrist. Some of those soldiers believed and became the saints "in the Emperor's household." Those believers, both among his visitors and his chained companions, became the first graduate ministers of the Gospel, taking advantage of the greatest theological mind of the early church. Paul taught them the Gospel and surrounded them with God's protective care. But all Christians need to be spiritually equipped. Paul knew young Christians need knowledge of the faith and also spiritual protection because we are engaged in a battle for souls.
Paul gave them an object lesson on how God protects us and makes us bold in our witness. They understood as Paul pointed out each piece of the soldier's armour, and applied a spiritual lesson. He saw in the pieces of armour symbols of spiritual truth that protect us enables victory in spiritual warfare. Spiritual victory depends upon spiritual strength. God's work is not the place for spiritual weaklings. In a sinful, secular country like Australia, the spiritual battle is always tough. You have to be spiritually fit and strong. Some of you have lasted in this spiritual battle for decades. Others need to learn how to "be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power." v10.
Paul repeats: 11 "Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes... put on the full armor of God." It is not Caesar's armour that will protect you and enable you to stand your ground. It is God's armour. Paul named the real enemy in the toughest battles Rome had seen. 12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Paul called it as it is. The purpose of God's armour was to ensure victory and the ability to hold their ground in the future: 13 "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." That, every Praetorian understood. They were the elite, the toughest, the bravest; they had defeated Caesar's enemies.
Now Paul called them into God's army and named off each piece of armour in an object lesson they would never forget. We need the whole armour of God. Paul uses the Greek word panoplea as found in Charles Wesley's hymn: "Stand then in His great might with all His strength endued; And take to arm you for the fight the panoply of God." Note the pieces of the panoply of God for Christians today:
1. THE BELT OF TRUTH: MEANING INTEGRITY. v14. "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist." The Roman tunic was held by a wide, metal studded leather belt protecting the hips and loins. Paul described it as the "belt of truth", meaning for the Christian, character or integrity matters. Security starts with inner integrity. None are safe without it. You will be effective as a Christian provided the belt of truth surrounds you. Nothing damages a Christian like lack of integrity.
2. THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: MEANTING CHARACTER. v14 "with the breastplate of righteousness in place." Character counts. Nothing is more needed by Christians in marriage, personal relationships, business dealings, financial affairs, and family conduct than righteousness of character. There can be no failure of ethics or morality. The moulded leather and metal chest protector covered the soldier's vital organs. As VIP's in dangerous places must wear protective vests, so the Christian must be covered by God's righteousness, lived out in pure living.
3. THE BOOTS OF THE GOSPEL: MEANING PURPOSE. v15 "and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace." I have found it necessary to complete studies or do the work of social worker, counsellor, psychologist, teacher, chaplain, administrator, businessman, media presenter, and author. But God called me to do none of these full time. He called me to one purpose: to march in the boots of the Gospel! Rome dominated the world because her soldiers were the first to march quickly across the Empire on the great roads. The soldiers wore "caligals", knee high boots with hobnails underneath, protecting feet, shins and ankles. Christians need a good hold on earth so that "you may be able to stand your ground." The willingness to announce the Gospel, to witness, to proclaim gives us strong purpose enabling us to withstand all.
4. THE SHIELD OF FAITH: MEANING TOUGHNESS. 16 "In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one." The tragedy of so many Christian today is that they do not realise the reality of spiritual warfare and many give up too easily. It is difficult to be a Christian. The battle is hard. The enemy is determined. Your allies often frustrate your tactics, hurt your family, and forget your calling. But you have been trained, equipped, prepared - do not run from the battle! The Roman shield was 4 foot high, one inch thick, made of wood covered with leather and metal so that burning arrows tipped in tar could not set them alight.
In battle the shields were locked together as an overlapping impenetrable barrier like scales on a tortoise. Christians need to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with faith protecting them from "all the flaming arrows of the evil one."
5. THE HELMET OF SALVATION: MEANING ASSURANCE. v17 "Take the helmet of salvation." Nothing has held me so much over forty years of ministry than the rock solid assurance of my salvation. Nothing can shake the certainty of God. The Roman soldier in Paul's cell wore a brass helmet to protect him from blows. So the Christian is protected by the fact of his or her salvation. As Luther sang:
"And though this world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed
His truth to triumph through us.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill, God's truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever!"
6. THE SWORD OF THE LORD: MEANING COMMITMENT. V17 "Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." The Roman sword was short and sharp, used in both offence and defense. So we have the Word of God. HEB 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." If you do not believe the scriptures, you are defenseless.
This is what protects you and enables you to win and hold your ground: truthful integrity, righteous character, purposeful proclamation, tough faith, assured salvation, and commitment to the Word of God. The soldiers of Christ thought of that every time they dressed in the panoply of God! So Paul concludes: 18 "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." Prayer is to surround the Christian. We sing "Put on the Christian armour, each piece put on with prayer." Prayer is the basis of all Christian action. Then Paul says: "be alert." The Lord Jesus warned us to "watch and pray". Paul stressed the necessity of keeping alert both for attack and defense.
Every moral, spiritual, personal, and community fight for God and goodness is a tough fight. You should never give up. 3 "Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." Persistence counts. Don't quit. In the twentyfirst century we must fight for Christ and guard ourselves.
"Leave no unguarded place, no weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace, and fortify the whole;
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle, and fight, and pray;
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day!"
The twentyfirst century will not be easy. We must take with us, mental and spiritual toughness!
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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