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The Breastplate of Righteousness

June 7th, 2019

Therefore take up the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm then … with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed.. (Eph. 6:13-14)

The Breastplate holds two images in the Scripture: the breastplate of the High Priest symbolized mercy and holiness (Exodus 28:15-30); and the breastplate of the soldier symbolized protection (Isaiah 59:17; Eph. 6:14; 1 Thes. 5:8). In both cases they represent someone who has possesses the character of God and who has a passion in his heart to do the will of God. 

When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he spoke about the “day of evil” (Eph. 5:17 and 6:13), and shortly after he wrote this letter the first official Roman persecution was begun. From AD 64 until AD 70, or from the burning of Rome until the Fall of Jerusalem, was a period that was chaotic and very difficult to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul could see that a very difficult time was just around the corner for the church. 

His Spirit-inspired words speak to us today as well. When culture seems to turn against the Christian faith, we need to be sure that we maintain the transformed character of Christ that the Holy Spirit is creating in us. Integrity is essential in every age, but especially in those that are unfriendly toward believers. 

Secondly, in the scriptural contexts where this image is used, is illustrated the importance of Christian intercession through prayer. God was appalled in Isaiah’s time that there was no intervener, and intervention begins first in prayer. Many have correctly noted that evangelism is not only speaking to men about God; it is first speaking to God about men. The first Christian duty in any ministry situation is to bring the matter to God in prayer. 

Thirdly, this breastplate calls for redemptive action. Righteousness that covers our sinfulness through the grace of God in Christ is what saves us: the “righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). But this righteousness also changes us in how we view ourselves and the whole world. The Christian thinks redemptively and mercifully. When God’s righteousness covers our hearts, we see everything in a new light, according to the holiness and righteousness of God. Righteousness includes the forgiveness that God offers in Christ Jesus to our broken world. 

The best protection for every Christian at any time is to give our hearts to God and let His righteousness mould our hearts into the image of Christ. When we are dressed in the righteousness of God, we will stand in integrity, we will pray in intercession, and we will minister in intervention and grace.

 

Spiritual Warfare

Be Strong in the Lord

May 27th, 2019

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. (Ephesians 6:10)

In this passage about spiritual warfare, the God-inspired author’s first words include in capsule form all else that follows on this topic. The only hope that any of us have in spiritual warfare is God’s help to us.

Midgets among Giants

A fundamental fact about people and spiritual powers is that we are clearly overmatched. We may hold sway over one another and achieve great things in our lifetimes, accumulate vast amounts of knowledge and possessions, and we may hold numerous titles, receive countless tributes, and even have wonderful friends. But all that we are in this world’s estimation, and all that we might ever become, fades into powerlessness in the face of the most diminutive demon. We are like intoxicated spiritual midgets with marred souls and fundamentally flawed character stumbling out into a demonic street that we are completely unprepared for.

We should always remember that whatever rules we hold to about “fighting fair” the devils do not. We fight on two dimensions, if even that, while they fight in four or five. We are muddled in our allegiances, unclear about our loyalties, at least some of the time, but they are never such. We want to wage thumb wars, but they fight for our very souls. The height of any human foolishness has always been, and will always be, to enter into this spiritual battle in our own strength.    

And did I say “to enter into,” because we have already entered into it the moment we were born. The World, the Flesh, and the Devil have been set against us and against every human since the sin of Adam and Eve. Spiritual warfare is a constant in our lives, not mere random events. 

Hence the Command, “Be Strong!”

So Paul spends little time here trying to explain why this matter of being strong in the Lord is so important. He is here like a seasoned veteran soldier about to lead new recruits into their first real fight.  The dawn is about to break, the new soldiers nervously grip their rifles while wondering about what terror awaits them, the troop ships stop bobbing in the sea and hit solid ground, and just before they leap into the surf and directly engage the enemy the seasoned sergeant utters a few last words of instruction, and every soldier that has any sense at all listens carefully. This is the spirit of these verses.

Can you envision here that there are always some personal effects that raw recruits might want to take with them to battle – things that the experienced commanders would say, “Leave that behind.” Every useless or even sentimental item becomes another weight that slows the soldier down, something that competes with essential equipment. And in life, for every yes, there is also a no. For every acceptance there is also a rejection. 

Be Strong in the Lord

So the wise Christian travels light in personal affections and loads up his soul with the things of God. The first meaning that this verse has is the importance of a relationship with God, that we have trusted in Christ and know God as our Father and Christ as our Lord. There is spiritual strength that if we will have it we may only gain it through faith and dependence on God. The words “Be strong” clearly puts some responsibility on our own shoulders to believe and to align our affections toward God and toward Christ. 

The word in Greek is endunamoo and here it means to gain strength and courage by focusing upon the promises of God. It was used for Abraham “who did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith” (Rom. 4:20). It means to put aside your doubts and the things that cause you to stumble, to trust in Christ and from that trust to step forward to the duties into which God has called you. 

The second meaning is to know the “power of His might,” and here is a practical command, to be able to translate God’s promises into your circumstances. The word “power” is kratos in Greek and includes the idea of “dominion” as well as power. The power of God’s might is available only to those who recognize Him as Lord and surrender to His rule in their lives. Oh, but there is real power for the Christian to experience here, and to do any other thing, even to try and be neutral in this spiritual war, is render ourselves powerless.

Know and Love the Lord

So the entire passage from Ephesians 6:10 to 6:20 is introduced by this summary statement. If we will experience success against the schemes of the devil, we must be in a relationship with God, and we must be surrendered to Him as our Lord. We must know Him and love Him, things that we may only do as He calls us to Himself through Christ. We are utterly dependent on God taking this initiative and saving us through Jesus Christ, but thank God that is exactly what He does in this world. 

There is an apparent danger that someone may miss this point about faith in Christ, and try to simply memorize a few prayers, or a few scripture verses, or carry a religious artifact, thinking that these along can substitute for personal relationship. They cannot. Scripture and prayers and religious symbols are powerless without personal knowledge of God through Christ. God must come and rescue us by His grace in Christ. All we can do is to respond to Him in repentance and in faith and in surrender. 

Ephesians, Spiritual Warfare