The Devil’s Schemes and the Armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Since I need to begin my vacation tomorrow I had better wrap up our sermon series today, which means Paul had better be wrapping up his letter also! He is doing just that:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Ephesians 6:10, 11 NIV)

We are encouraged to be “strong in The Lord” with the warning that the devil is out to destroy God’s Kingdom work, which means he is also out to destroy God’s Kingdom workers. We will need to stand our ground, and to do so, we will want to put on the “armour of God.” While we can imagine the armour of a Roman soldier is in view here, we also should be aware that Paul also has in mind references in the Old Testament to God wearing armour. For example,

Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (Isaiah 11:5 NIV) He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:17 NIV)

The idea, then, is for us to imitate God, striving to be like Him as we were encouraged to do in 5:1, something which is far more likely if we are filled with His fullness, as Paul prays in 3:19. So putting on the armour of God involves both our will and his work in us.

We are to put on the armour to help us stand against the devil’s schemes. I think it is worthwhile to think on those schemes and how the armour can help.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist (Ephesians 6:14 NIV)

The devil’s schemes include using deceit to keep us weak. Indeed the first time we hear of him in Genesis, deceit is employed as his first weapon against God’s Kingdom. We, however, are to imitate God, who is the prime exemplar of integrity and honesty. When we walk with integrity and honesty, we stand firm against the devil’s schemes.

Stand firm then, . . .with the breastplate of righteousness in place (Ephesians 6:14 NIV)

The devil’s schemes include enticement to sin, to do the wrong thing, as Adam and Eve were quick to do. But God is just and righteous, so to put on his armour is to walk with justice and righteousness. When we do that we stand firm against the devil’s schemes.

Stand firm then, . . . with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:15 NIV)

The devil’s schemes include using offence to destroy us. When we take offence or give offence, we are an offence to God’s Kingdom work. Having “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace” means that we are ready, like God is with us in Jesus Christ, to forgive and declare the offer of reconciliation and peace. When we forgive and seek forgiveness we stand firm against the devil’s schemes.

Stand firm then, . . . . take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16 NIV)

The devil’s schemes include creating doubt about God’s power over evil. If we doubt a shield’s power to stop an arrow, we may well throw it away and try instead to dodge the arrows, trusting in our own abilities. But God is able, no matter what the devil, your enemies, or life itself throws at you, God is able. When trust that God is powerful, we stand firm against the devils schemes.

Stand firm then, . . . .Take the helmet of salvation. (Ephesians 6:17 NIV)

The devil’s schemes include creating doubt about God’s love. We can trust God is powerful, but we are weakened when we fail to trust that He will use that power for our benefit, out of His love for us. To put on the “helmet of salvation” means to trust in His salvation, to trust that saving you, from hell, from sin, from brokenness, from anything that will destroy you, is precisely what He intends to do, and indeed has already done at the cross. When we trust that God loves us, we stand firm against the devil’s schemes.

Stand firm then, . . . .and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:17 NIV)

The devil’s schemes include diverting our worship, replacing a true vision of God with a false one, blinding us to His revelation so that we commit idolatry. But God has revealed Himself to us, supremely through His Word, Jesus Christ, and sublimely through His Word, the Bible. When our vision of God and all reality is tuned and fine tuned through His Word, we are rescued from idolatry and our worship is in Spirit and in truth. When we worship in Spirit and in truth we stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

Stand firm then, . . . .And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18 NIV)

Though prayer is not associated with a weapon there can be no doubt that the devil’s schemes include nurturing a disconnect between ourselves and God. Prayer done well connects and reconnects us to God. The devil hates that. When we connect with God, we are changed. The devil hates that too. When we are changed, God’s Kingdom work advances. The devil also hates that. Expect the simple act of prayer to become difficult! When we pray we stand firm against the devil’s schemes.

Stand firm then! And “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Slaves, Masters, and Serving Together (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NIV)

Some people use verses like this as an excuse to run from Christianity. After all, why would anyone want a religion that supports slavery? And if Jesus really were from God, wouldn’t we expect that both he and his followers would denounce slavery? As we journey through Ephesians we do need to stop and ask if this criticism is fair.

First, let us look at what our passage says to the slaves and the slave owners:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. (Ephesians 6:5-8 NIV)

Wow, if I had slaves I would want them to be solid Bible-toting-and-quoting Christians! The Christian slave here is encouraged to be the best servant possible, serving their masters as an expression of serving God Himself. They are not worried about whether or not their masters are watching them for they are always hard at work, putting their all into it. Do employers today want to hire Bible-toting-and-quoting Christians? If as Christians we would consistently apply Biblical principles to our lives, it would be natural for all employers to desire a Christian staff! However, up to this point in our passage there doesn’t seem much to help change the mind of the sceptic. But let us read on:

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9 NIV)

Wow, if I were a slave owner, I’m not sure I would want to be a Bible-toting-and-quoting Christian! “Treat your slaves in the same way,” that is, serving your slaves with respect, fear, and sincerity of heart, serving them as a slave of Christ and with enthusiasm. And here, as with the preceding passages on wives and husbands, children and parents, the main encouragement still ringing through is from 5:18 that we be “filled with the Spirit,” and being filled with the Spirit we will “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV). If a slave owner’s life has been touched by Christ, if he has been filled with all the fullness of God as Paul has been praying according to 3:19, then the relationship between slave and master will be forever changed. The slave owner becomes a servant to the slave. We see a wonderful and real life example of this in the book of Philemon, a letter Paul writes to Philemon with regards to a runaway and thieving slave, Onesimus. Note Paul’s encouragement:

Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Philemon 1:15-17 NIV)

What a change Christianity would bring to slaves! This change was not brought about by an attempt to change the laws or topple the government. This change was brought about by a transformation of people, and a transformation of relationships. This was Kingdom work, and the Kingdom of God is like a seed which though small, grows into a tree, or “like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough” (Matthew 13:33 NIV). Christianity would bring incredible change to society, but it would focus first on bringing incredible change in the lives of real people. We do well to remember this when the lawmakers pass laws that are decidedly unChristian in our time and place. Paul wanted to meet Caesar, but not so that Caesar could change some laws, but rather so that Caesar would be changed. Indeed Caesar himself was a slave though he didn’t know it, as we all are without Christ:

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. . . But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:17, 22 NIV)

There are those who use the mention of slavery in the Bible to keep their distance from Christianity. Let us keep such in prayer that they would draw close to Christ and experience redemption from the worst kind of slavery.

Slavery would not be abolished in New Testament times, nor could a tiny minority group of weird people called Christians hope to overturn the laws of the land and create such havoc in the culture of the day. But slaves and masters would be changed, and so, slowly, but surely, as Christianity took hold, slavery would become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, there are those for whom the Christian religion was just their religion and not their way of life; they leave us the legacy of the slave trade. Many a slave trader and slave owner would have done well to study and live Paul’s good word to slaves and masters in Ephesians, and Paul’s good work with the slave Onesimus. We do well to study it too.

The Submissive Parent and Ephesians 6:1-4

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children” (Ephesians 6:4),or as the King James Version has it, “provoke not your children to wrath.” This I find quite a tricky thing to not do as it is my role each morning to wake our children up and get them going. I can usually count on at least one of the three to be sore about that!

To get what this passage is saying about parenting we need to go back to an earlier passage. While in the English language we hit a period and we think the thought is done and over, in Greek, especially Paul’s Greek, the thoughts and sentences can go on and on, not unlike my sermons somedays. Those who are in the know in such things (meaning Biblical Scholars on Greek, not our church family on my sermon length) tell us that the main thought throughout the first half of chapter six is found in 5:18: “be filled with the Spirit,” with the sub-thought being “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NIV). Though not restated with reference to children and parents, there in the background is the thought that children should submit to their parents, and that parents ought to submit to their children. We may not be surprised that children are to submit to their parents, but we may be surprised by the thought that “submit to one another” includes the submission of parents to their children. What does this look like? What does this mean?

First, let us think of what being a submissive parent does not mean. A parent being ’submissive’ to a child does not mean handing over authority. I think I owe this insight to a book by Richard Blackaby, that Jesus serves others but never hands over authority. For example, when he washes the feet of the disciples, he is serving them, taking on the role of a slave, and yet the whole time maintaining his proper authority. When Peter tries to usurp that authority: “’No,’ said Peter, ’you shall never wash my feet,’” Jesus stays in charge: “Jesus answered, ’Unless I wash you, you have no part with me’” (John 13:8 NIV). A Christian parent is to always maintain authority over non-adult children, children are to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) and not the other way around.

How then is a parent to be ’submissive’ to a child? By placing the real needs (and not felt needs) of the child first.

To the original readers this would often mean that a different kind of father was needed. While fathers could be quite loving, society gave the father absolute sway in the family; they could be as harsh in discipline as they wanted, they even had the right to sell their children into slavery. But a Christian father must approach his parental task as a Spirit-filled person who is growing in the character traits of “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV). Such a father serves the best interest of the child. Thus Paul encourages fathers to not use authority in ways that will demoralize the child, “exasperating” them through cruelty or indifference. Thus Paul also encourages the father to ensure the child is raised “in the training and instruction of The Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV). To know Christ, to live for Christ, and be a member of Christ’s body is in anyone’s best interest!

Sadly, there are those who could use a different kind of father in our day. What “exasperates” a child today? A father who is never sober can leave a child exasperated. Similarly, a father who loses his money at the track, or a father who abuses, whether physically, emotionally, or in any other way. Or a father who sets unattainable standards. Or a father that just doesn’t show up. Or a father who who treats the child’s mother like dirt. Or a father who treats himself like dirt. There are so many ways that fathers are leaving their children exasperated and angry in our day. If you or I are ever that father, then it is time to put down our junk, and pick up our children, submitting ourselves to their need for love, for direction, for Godly example. It is time for repentance.

As we consider the ’parental submission’ our passage in Ephesians is calling for, there is one more thing we can consider. My wife and I signed up for memberships at the local Y about 13 years ago. I knew I was terribly out of shape, something I had known for about twenty some odd years of the twenty some odd years I had been alive. What I was not expecting was that my wife’s heart rate would actually be higher than mine. Soon enough the reason for her elevated heart rate became clear: she was pregnant, which was something else I was not expecting! A woman’s body changes with pregnancy, in fact you could say that it ’submits’ to the needs of the child she carries. Along with the changes in heart rate and hormones were changes in cravings. Sandra began craving BBQ ribs, and along with that I began thinking that ten or more children would be fine.

When a woman’s body submits to pregnancy, it does so naturally, automatically, and beautifully. What a contrast to those who will scream out about rights and decisions! The female body was not designed to think of the rights of the mother, but of serving the needs of the child. Can we who are parents learn to submit our souls to our children naturally, automatically, and beautifully? Can we aspire to this while the child is in our care, even in the womb? We can, especially if we are striving to be filled with the Spirit.

Let those of us who are parents learn to serve. Let the rest be in prayer for us.