It has been said that the greatest lie Satan ever pulled off was making the world believe he doesn’t exist. We as Christians, of course, believe that there is a devil and that there are evil spiritual forces in the world. The problem is we often don’t live out what we believe. If there is anything that stands out today with all of the violence we have seen is it is causing us to be more aware of the potential dangers to our person in this world. That being said, your chances of being in a place of violence like that are pretty small. Your chances of being in a place of spiritual attack are 100%. You WILL be attacked spiritually, but there is something that you can do about it as God will provide you with all that you need to fight it well. Our two points today are: Stand with righteousness in an evil world and Stand with peace in the midst of war
The passage begins with a call to “Stand.” As one scholar puts it, “The command to stand is Paul's chief admonition of the entire paragraph, which is seen by its repetition… The following pieces of armor describe the means by which a believer is able to stand firm.” (Merkele, 113) In other words, everything we are about to put on in these verses is tied back to this command. We are in a spiritual war, after all, and “[t]he proper response in light of this largely unseen reality is to be prepared. Paul's first imperative to believers is to ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v. 10). Satan and his minions are well armed and can easily defeat or discourage weary soldiers of the cross." (Merkele, 116) Interestingly, we get the order Paul presents the armor is in order of how a soldier at the time would put them on (Floukes).
Stand with righteousness in an evil world
Paul begins with the belt of truth, because the belt would have been key to enable you to fight the rest of the battle. Your clothes would have gotten in the way without being tucked behind your belt.
Of course, the key question is, is this belt referring to capital “T” truth, the gospel, or is this lower case “t” for truth in terms of honesty? I tend to lean towards the latter, as Paul talks about the gospel of peace for your shoes, and it doesn’t make sense to me to have the same concept applied to two different pieces of armor. Other scholars come to the same conclusion: “We may conclude that it is not the truth of the gospel that is alluded to, but the undergirding of truth in the sense of ‘integrity’, ‘truth in the inward being’ of which Psalm 51:6 speaks. As ‘the girdle … gives ease and freedom of movement’, so ‘it is the truth which gives this freedom with ourselves, with our neighbours [sic] and with God. Lack of perfect sincerity hampers us at every turn.’” (H. L. Goudge quoted in Foulkes)
Why is truth so important? The fact that we even ask this question shows how far we as a society have gone in this concept. There is so much information in world now that truth seems to be very hard to come across if discoverable at all. Truth seems less like a precise statement and more of a misty range of approaches each one as valid as the next as long as you don’t get too crazy. It is easy to assume because precisely stated truth is so hard to find that it isn’t important, and we simply make assumptions knowing that the world is flexible enough to tolerate a mistake or two.
We as Christians should have a greater love for truth than that. For us, truth isn’t just something we want to seek out so we don’t get slammed online for spreading “misinformation.” Truth and honesty is an essential foundation of being a Christian. There are precise statements of truth in this world, and it is our job to find them and defend them. The devil lies, and the world lies, but we speak the truth. We’ve already seen this In Ephesians 4:25: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." Other verses point to the importance of truth, as well. Proverbs 12:22: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight." Psalm 25:5: "Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long." Psalm 119:160: "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." Indeed, our Savior is described as “the truth.”
So if truth is such an important concept, then why is it such a rare thing to find in this world, particularly today? I think the answer lies in the fact that our sinful flesh naturally resists the truth and the effort it takes to find it. When you think about it, there are so many other sins that have to be overcome to find and proclaim truth! We first need our pride eliminated so we don’t assume we already know everything. Pride doesn’t seek answers; it already knows them! Next, we need our laziness to be eliminated. It is one thing to be aware of our ignorance, but it is something else to correct that! Then, we need our impatience to be eliminated, as we’ve discussed already. Then we need our pride eliminated again if we find an answer we don’t like or something that we have to submit to. It takes humility to change course. It takes a humble heart to admit we were wrong about something.
However, truth is always worth finding, and it is found only in the word of God. Now, it is true that you can’t find out what happened yesterday in Sylacauga from the Bible, but I guarantee you that you need the Bible to know how to think about what happened in Sylacauga yesterday. All information is interpreted, and the Bible gives the only sure source of proper interpretation.
You need the truth. If you do not have truth or honesty in what you say is true, you will not be equipped for spiritual warfare. As yourself this question, whenever you come across of piece of information or say something, “How do I know this is true?” Just about every media source has had some sort of scandal of lying. Who do you rely on and why? This isn’t to make us all paranoid, just thoughtful in whom we trust. Just because it is mainstream (or not), doesn’t make it true. Just because a source says something different than the main narrative doesn’t mean it is right.
I remember in seminary, a professor told us how to approach sermon preparation. He warned us against the tendency to prefer a particular interpretation over another simply because “we like it.” That’s a bad method of Bible study! There can be things that sound profound, but are still wrong (in fact, we will be looking at a few of those in our summer series coming up!).
We move on to the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate was an essential piece of armor, as it protects all of your vital organs except your head (itself protected by a helmet).
Now, the question we have to ask first is, whose righteousness are we talking about? Are we talking about Jesus’ righteousness, or our own? There is a sense in which the answer is “both” with the majority emphasis on Jesus’ provided righteousness. I say it this way because I think that Jesus’ righteousness placed on you will also produce a righteousness in you as well. As one scholar put it: “By putting on God's righteousness believers are committed to being imitators of him (5:1) and acting righteously in all their dealings.” (O’Brien, 475) You need Jesus’ righteousness to survive the conflict. You will never make it on your own righteousness. When the battle is over, no one is going to look at themselves and say, “Wow, I really protected myself there!” It is always going to be, “Without Jesus, I would have never made it.”
However, without a personal commitment to holiness, you risk being less effective on the battlefield. Think about King David. Was He covered by the grace of God despite what he did with Bathsheba? Yes, he was, and praise God for that. That means God can cover me. Did God work through even a series of sins as heinous as those to ultimately advance His redemptive purposes? Yes. And praise God again that this means I can’t derail God’s plans due to my sin as well. Did David’s sin cause devastation to his family and ultimately the nation of Israel itself? Also yes. And praise God that He allows consequences for sin to help motivate me not to commit it as often. David’s sin cause him to be a less effective king than he otherwise could have been. It is hard to rule when you are running away from your own son. If we want to be effective parents in our homes, fathers and mothers, we need to put away those sins that so easily surface in parenting. We need to put away impatience, pride, and selfishness and instead cultivate patience, humility, and love. Can you go to heaven being an impatient parent? Yes, but think about how much better of a parent you could be by cultivating patience? None of us will ever be perfectly patient or perfectly anything (that’s why we need Christ’s righteousness), but we will be more effective warriors in this spiritual battle by being conformed to the image of Christ.
Developing this personal righteousness by the Holy Spirit’s power will help keep you from sins that can devastate your witness or ability to minister. There are qualifications for ministry, and if I fall into certain sins, I can disqualify myself for ministry. If I become a quarrelsome person, always picking a fight with someone, or using my position to steamroll people who get in my way, or fall prey to the love of money or the praise of people, I could very easily do whatever it takes to keep those things and thus disqualify myself for ministry. Could I still go to heaven? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that I could get right back in the saddle to preach again. Sin really does have severe consequences, and the forces of evil would love for us to fall to those things. No, they can’t force you out of heaven, but they can put you on the sidelines. This can even happen without disqualifying sins. I’ve seen guy’s ministries brought to a standstill because they couldn’t get out of their own pride. Fight for holiness.
Stand with peace in the midst of war
Finally, the shoes. We don’t tend to think of these as armor, as the Roman shoe would have looked like a sandal. That doesn’t seem very protective to us, but the real technology was under the shoe! There would have been small spikes underneath the shoe to help grip the ground underneath them which would have given them a solid footing in any terrain. It would have also, obviously, kept their feet from injury and pain, so you wouldn’t have to watch where you were going lest you step on something sharp. Your feet were protected.
Paul likens this piece of the armor to the gospel itself. My seminary professor once put it this way, “Since Paul will shortly explain the soldiers footwear as ‘the readiness of the gospel of peace’ (6:15), he probably has in mind here also the truth of the good news that is centered on Jesus and his reconciling death on the cross (2:14-18).” (Thielman, 424) Put simply, understanding that you are at peace with God gives you a sure stance when you fight. IF you are unsure where you stand with God, any effort you put towards the Christian life is doubly hard. If you have ever experienced dizziness, you know how important a sense of firm footing is. The same can be said spiritually. But with your feet properly prepared and on solid footing with the knowledge that you are at peace with God because of Jesus’ obedient life and death on the cross, His rising from the dead, and ascension into heaven, you will be able to fight knowing that you will be victorious. There is also the sense in which we are proclaiming the gospel as well. There is likely an allusion to Isaiah 52:6-7: “Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Thielman, 426) As another scholar sees it: “Although some believe that Paul's imagery and explanation of the armor indicates that Christians are to take only a defensive stand, this perspective is probably too narrow. The shoes signifying ‘the readiness given by the gospel of peace’ (v.15) suggest that we should be prepared to advance the gospel message wherever God calls us.” (Merkele, 116)
What is our takeaway from all of this? Well, while the tools come from God alone, we are called to put them on (Hoehner, 842). Preparation for spiritual war doesn’t happen on cruise control. You will need to take steps every day to intentionally live, as John Piper once put it, in a “wartime lifestyle.” Everything should be dedicated to the spiritual war effort. This isn’t meant to drive us to panic because the war is won. Rather, we represent the glorious victor and are honored to fight by His side.
We do this by remembering that our standing with Him is only by the gospel, by walking closely with Him to conform our lives to His character, which will spill out as an honesty and commitment to truth.
Image by LUM3N
You know, since becoming a parent one thing I have noticed is that there is no shortage of advice for mothers to give one another. There are books, magazines, blogs, podcasts, and, heaven help us, Facebook groups dedicated to finding the hack, the foolproof way to raise the children to be who you want them to be in three (hundred) easy steps. We have experts from every field coming out of the woodwork to tell mom what she needs to be doing above all else! It’s organic food, no its no screen time, no, its gentle parenting, er, authoritative parenting, er, montessori, classical, something not even invented yet is going to be the thing that is going to finally make mothering easier! You would think having access to all of this information would be calming as there would be at least direction on where to go, but it is just the opposite. It’s not even all of the bad advice out there; it’s actually all the advice that sounds and is exactly right. The only problem is there is just no way to do it right all the time, so mothers go around feeling like they are failing in slow motion, mothering in a nightmare where you just can’t get your feet under you.
This passage puts a cool balm over this irritated, anxious wound as we are reminded of the providence of God in our lives and in your mothering. This passage reminds us to have a proper view of God and the things that He has called us to do. Our customary two points today are God provides for His people and secondly, God blesses His people.
This Psalm was written by Solomon, and it reads a lot like a proverb, doesn’t it? There is much wisdom in the simple sayings we see here, yet they are so often forgotten. The wisdom is put in the form of a Hebrew poem, a short, carefully worded piece of literature that makes a powerful point. To aid in memory, it is also set to music for the people to sing in worship to God as they went up to celebrate and worship Him. Here in verse one, we have a hallmark of Hebrew poetry called parallelism. When you see it once, you see it all over the Psalms. The poet is going to write one line with an idea and then the second line is going to say the same thing, generally, but provide slightly more illumination about the overall idea.
That idea is that God is the one who provides for His people, not their own labors alone. He is the one that makes our work successful as He defines it. It’s a simple truth, but one that we usually forget about to our detriment. Solomon, writing, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the Lord’s own words, tells us that our building, watching, and late-night toiling are all in vain (or an exercise in futility) if God isn’t behind it. In other words anything we attempt without the approval and support of God is doomed to failure.There is no preparing beyond God.
This doesn’t mean that we resign ourselves to pessimistic fatalism. “Oh, I can put in the effort, but God is just going to come in and wreck everything so might as well not even try.” No God commands us to work, but here’s the thing: You’re not building a doomed project. You’re building the Kingdom of God! Guess what house God is building? His own! Guess which city God is watching over? His own! And if you’re a part of that work, there’s no need for anxiety and dread!
God being the ultimate factor in success isn’t meant to make us paranoid or unmotivated, but to make us more reliant on God and sure of His own success. God isn’t capricious or malevolent, instead, He gives His beloved sleep. This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t call us to work hard. After all Jesus Himself got up early to pray with His Father, and was up late doing God’s work, but as one commentator pointed out, when He was in the boat during the storm, where was Jesus? Was He wringing His hands or flailing with the ropes? Nope. He was asleep. He knew that His Father was working and thus models for us what our attitude should be.
How do you approach your work, the work that God has called you to whether that’s motherhood or ministry or something in between? Are you depending on yourself and your resources entirely to make it happen? That’s eating the bread of toil. Do you try to squeeze every last ounce of effort and time because you are driven by the pure fear and anxiety of having the world on your shoulders? No matter what you do, that sort of effort doesn’t guarantee anything! Here God is telling you that actually He is holding the world. It doesn’t depend on you. He’s not saying stop working, but He is telling you worship, not worry, while you work. In fact, I heard a sermon this week at presbytery that asked, “Have you thanked God for your dependance?” We don’t think that way, do we? We wish we weren’t so dependent! But we should in fact be grateful that we are dependent on God because He cares for us so well.
We still need to do our best and keep all of these things in mind, so, how do we approach work the way God wants us to? My Old professor, Dr. Alan Ross in his commentary on this passage lays it out for us: “We may say that the LORD builds the house if (1) the people build it by faith in the LORD’s provisions for it, (2) in accordance with his will, (3) in a way that is pleasing to him, honest and fair, (4) dedicate it to his use and purpose, and (5) give him glory for the accomplishment.” (681) Anything that we approach in our lives with that framework in mind is going to be something that God is building. To put it in fewer words, “God’s work done in God’s way won’t lack God’s provision.” This is how we approach everything in our lives, especially when we think about our next section of the Psalm this morning:
God blesses His people
We have seen so far how any success we have is totally thanks to the involvement of God. And now we are about to see that all blessings we have are from God as well, including that of children.
Verse three calls attention to children and calls them a heritage and a reward. The word “heritage” captures how God sees children so well. When we think of a heritage, we think of something that is both a privilege and a responsibility to have. Think of a family heirloom that you may have. The object may have intrinsic as well as sentimental value, making it an honor and privilege to own. But at the same time, being entrusted with a family treasure is no casual matter. You have been called to care for that treasure with the expectation that it will continue to travel down the generational line after you. I have a pocket watch from my late grandad that sits in a little glass box in our home. It was photographed at our wedding as a way of having him there. It was a gift for that to be passed on to me, a gift that I am entrusted with. That’s what children are! They are a gift and an honored responsibility, a family heirloom from God Himself.
Sometimes we have to remind ourselves of that, don’t we, moms? We have to remind ourselves that what we have in front of us is a blessing God has entrusted to us. And as the weight of that responsibility crushes onto your shoulders again, let it be lifted by what we have already talked about earlier in this passage. Unless the Lord parents your child, your training is in vain. This means that we are dependent on the Lord to parent His way so that we may dedicate our children to His purposes giving Him glory for it the whole way. We are not reliant on our own wisdom or the thoughts of supposed parenting experts who don’t have the Bible as their foundation. We’re not even trying to raise them up to be in our own image but in the image of Christ as detailed in here. And we’re not doing it alone. We are working with the Holy Spirit as He indwells in us and hopefully our children as well. That is the entrusting.
But what is the gift? God describes children like a warrior having a full hand of arrows, confident and ready to wade into battle. Blessed indeed would be the person with a whole bunch of them! Now, what sort of battle might be brought to mind? Well, the last part of verse 5 talks about speaking with an enemy at the gate. This is where legal battles would take place for property and financial disputes. The argument goes that the more kids one has, the more they are able to defend the families interests in the future from attack.
While that can be true today, and folks who have had many children will tell you how much of a help they are, but obviously that is not all that God has in mind. He’s not giving you kids just so you have a bunch of lawyers! But what we do find is that the blessing of having children is something that sometimes won’t fully show up until they are grown. After many years of training and discipline, nothing thrills the soul more than to see those little arrows go out and speak in defense of the family of God. That’s where we see blessing.
That word “blessed” is broken out into many different contexts. In short, to again borrow from Dr. Ross, this word “blessed” “celebrates the benefits of a right relationship with the LORD; it refers to the feeling one has who knows that all is well with God.” That’s what children are.
Now at this point we might be thinking a couple different things. One might be the person who never had children. Does that mean that you are somehow cursed by God? Absolutely not. Children aren’t only the blessing and responsibility of the biological parents. As I’ve said before, Talladega county has 72 kids in need of a home. Those kids are a blessing to us and a responsibility. Just because you can’t raise them in your own home doesn’t mean you can’t be involved.
Or maybe you’re thinking something different. Maybe you’ve tried having children and for one reason or another it’s never worked out. Perhaps you know the deep pain of miscarriage and in your darkest moments feel that God must be cursing you, making this day all the more difficult. Oh, my sister, this isn’t true. God has blessed you, because He did give you a Child who has ministered to you in ways that you can’t even imagine. He was promised long ago and was born in a humble stall. He was born to save His people from their sins which is why He is named Jesus. He grew up and died on the cross for your sins and mine so that we might have an inheritance, a heritage of eternal life, a gift and a trust to share with everyone we know.
So this mothers day, if this is a day of pain for you for what you have lost, that pain is real and deep, but it is not beyond Christ’s reach and eventual putting right. You have a God who cares for you deeply and oversees all that you do. All that you’ve done in your life and will do in your life you owe to Him. So as you work, worship. As you raise your kids and the neighborhood kids, worship! For each of these things is a blessing to you, a blessing that the Lord Himself is building for your good and His glory! Abide closely with Jesus and He will build it. Will it be built overnight? No. Will it always look like we want it to? No. As it has been said, the Kingdom of God leaps from victory to victory often cleverly disguised as defeat. Sometimes it’ll look that way with your plans and your children. Despite our best efforts sometimes, our children can wander away from the Lord. We aren’t promised anything, but as long as they are alive, their story isn’t done. Jesus isn’t finished with their construction, so rest from your anxiety, and put them in His hands.
What’s our takeaway? Rest in the victory that Christ won on your behalf. Rest in knowledge that if you are in Christ your sins are forgiven, and then get up and love on those little blessings in your home and your neighborhood under the caring eye of your Lord, knowing that He will prosper your work done in His name for His glory.
Alan Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms Volume 3, Kregal Exegetical Library.
Confidence in ourselves can lead to some pretty ridiculous results. A survey was done asking around 1,000 Americans what animal do they think they could beat in unarmed combat. Around 70% believed that they could beat a rat in unarmed combat. 61% believed that they could successfully go toe-to-toe with a goose. Confidence slips when we get to a medium sized dog (49%). The truly interesting insight, however, comes from the number of people who believed that they could, again, unarmed, beat a grizzly bear. A full 6% of the respondents believed that they could win hand-to-hand combat with a bear. What this shows is a terrible misunderstanding of the power of a bear. A bear’s paw could cover most of your chest, and according to the internet, lift around 1,000 pounds or both of these pianos on the stage. Misunderstanding your enemy is a critical error in combat, but this is exactly what we do in our fight against spiritual forces every single day.
Most of what we do is not preparing for the real battle we will face in our lives. Most of the time, we prepare for the things that will likely never happen. I’m not against preparing for those things (I have a savings account and life insurance), but when we do those things and exclude what we are actually going to face, like, tomorrow, that’s where we get into trouble. If you are prepared for a tornado but your family doesn’t know why they believe what they believe, they are in far greater danger! A tornado is not likely to show up tomorrow, but Satan and his minions sure will. How much energy do we put into making sure that our children (or ourselves, for that matter) have a proper understanding of math and sports ability as opposed to how much energy we put into their spiritual development? I know for me with my kids, I’m always pointing out letters and numbers as we see them in public, but how often am I pointing to God’s working in all of those things? I ask Granger what color that rose is to work on colors, but I often don’t ask him Who made the rose to work on theology. What does that say about my priorities?
This passage is going to show us the war we aren’t watching for and tell us where to look. Further, it will even tell us what to do about it. We’ve all wished to have a guide telling us where things in life will go wrong so we could avoid them. Most of life’s problems you could have seen coming if only you knew where to look. Well, folks, here it is! Here is where the real problems in your life are coming from, and here is what to do about it. Our two points: You are in the midst of the spiritual war, and You are commanded to stand in the strength that Jesus provides.
You are in the midst of a spiritual war
Our passage begins with Paul rounding the final corner with a last exhortation to us all. Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. He really pounds the drum of being strengthened in God’s strong strength. Are you getting the message that God is the strong one? Good! Because that is Whom we are called on to rely on. The passive – sounding word "be strengthened" also has an active nuance to it. While the Lord is the one providing all the strength, there is an element of work that we should do in preparing ourselves for a spiritual fight (Thielman, 417). Though “[t]his certainly does not mean that they ‘grow strong’ by their own efforts alone: as 3:16 makes clear, believers are ‘strengthened in power’ by God, as a free gift” (Thielman, 418).
So how do we grow strong in the Lord? Well, “Syntactically, the imperative put on the full armor of God explains how the admonition of v. 10, be strong in the Lord, is to be carried out. It is only by donning the divine panoply that believers can be properly equipped against the devil’s attacks.… Essentially, then, to ‘put on the new self’ is the same as donning the full armor of God” (O’Brien, 462). What this commentator is getting at is everything that we looked at from chapter 4 onwards is a part of what it means to be strengthened in the Lord. It means putting away our old ways of thinking and living and embracing what the Lord is doing in our lives.
It is worth pausing here to stare at the reason God is calling us to put on this armor: there is a threat out there that we must be convinced of! We will only take something seriously if we are convinced it is serious. We’ve all had the experience of learning about a new fear or new health condition that we have, and suddenly we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to deal with it. Suddenly, we find the motivation to research all kinds of things that previously, we didn’t give a second thought towards. I’ll say, I don’t think I had so much as thought about mold prior to my experience with my crawlspace!
What, or more accurately, who is that threat in our Christian lives? The devil. Verse 12 goes on to assure us that the main threat to our lives actually does not inhabit flesh and blood. The primary threat in our lives is spiritual. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t evil people in the world as one commentator puts it: “To reject the identification of the powers with human traditions and sociopolitical structures, however, is not to deny that the supernatural intelligences work through such agencies; after all, the New Testament speaks of the whole world lying in the power of the evil one. Satan and his hosts exist for the purpose of bringing their evil and destructive influences to bear on the world and humanity at every level” (O’Brien, 469). So what we are saying here is that yes, there are institutions in the world that need to be stopped in practical ways when we can via political or practical action. When evil forces use a madman with a gun to commit the evil of murder, you are allowed to stop him with physical force including a gun of your own. However, we don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that ALL or even MOST of our problems can be stopped with a bullet or a vote (O’Brien, 470). The main evils of this world are resisted by putting on the full armor of God.
Paul also uses an interesting word to describe this conflict: wrestling. He uses the image of hand-to-hand combat rather than long-range fighting. This fight is personal and constant. I will occasionally work on a martial art that is similar to wrestling, and if you don’t put forward the best effort against a motivated opponent, you will lose. If you flail around without purpose. You will still lose and also be super tired! If we are going to wrestle against spiritual forces, then that fight needs to be smart and relentless. "Jerome has captured Paul's meaning precisely: ‘Just as wise leaders of armies are accustomed to assault especially those places of a city which are least protected so that, when they have broken in through those places, the protected areas may be easily captured, so also the devil seeks to break in and reach the very citadel of our heart and soul through those places which he sees lying open or perhaps not shut up firmly’" (Thielman, 419). Your enemy is motivated. He wants you, your family, your church, anything that could be used for building the kingdom of God. The only sin that Satan doesn’t commit is laziness. He is happy to do anything else, but he will not be lazy. He will continue every single day. And He has a lot at his disposal. As O’Brien reminds us, “According to 4:27, Satan tries to gain a foothold and exert his influence over the lives of Christians through uncontrolled anger (V. 26) as well as falsehood (4:25), steeling (V. 28), unwholesome talk (V. 29), indeed any conduct that is characteristic of the ‘old way of life’ (V. 22)” (463-4).
Do you see how serious this is? The biggest threat to your children is not physical danger. It is deception by Satan. The biggest threat to you is not financial mismanagement or too much cholesterol. The biggest threat to you is evil forces that will relentlessly work towards you sinning. They’re at work right now, and they’ll be right back tomorrow. What are you doing to prepare for that? What did you do today to prepare for that? What can you do?
You are commanded to stand in the strength that Jesus provides.
Well, let’s look at verse 13! While God wants us to be sober about this, we don’t need to be scared. As one commentator put it: “Mention of the schemes of the devil remind us of the trickery and subterfuge by which evil and temptation present themselves in our lives. Evil rarely looks evil until it accomplishes its goal; it gains entrance by appearing attractive, desirable, and perfectly legitimate. It is a baited and camouflaged trap…but this paragraph ‘does not foster an attitude of fear. The entire passage is suffused with a spirit of confidence and hope and the reader is left, not with the feeling of despair, but with the sense that Satan can be defeated’” (qtd in O’Brien, 464). In other words, yes, Satan is very powerful, but God is more so! The resources that God gives to you are able to meet with these forces. The opposing forces are fighting a losing battle. “In the spiritual dimension, Christ has already won the victory over the rebellious and demonic powers (1:20–22a), but the victory has not yet been fully implemented. Demonic powers are still active in the world, influencing the "Course" it takes and working within human beings who continue to rebel against the Creator (2:2–3). It is necessary, then, for believers to put on God's full armor, to take their stand on the ground the Christ has won, and resist the final, ultimately futile attacks of the devil.” (Thielman, 422).
So practically, what does it look like to be strengthened in the Lord? Well, we have to remember that Christ is the Victor. In Christ is where you will find strength. So how do you get strengthened in Christ? Well, Christ begins that process by showing you that you are not strong enough. That’s what happens with the disciples, isn’t it? They literally walked with Jesus Himself for three years, but when it came down to it, they fled in the moment of trouble.
We are the same way! You can do devotionals with your kids or for yourself all day, but that alone won’t change their hearts or yours. Yes, it rightly puts them in a great environment that the Lord has commanded you to put them in and promises to use in His timing, but it isn’t a math formula.
It is so easy to not believe that we are the one’s running this ship. Relying on your strength can even look like obedience to God. The critical difference comes when your obedience is conditioned on God’s coming through for you, whatever that means. That looks like saying, “Ok, step 1, step 2, step 3 equals my life turning out right, and if that doesn’t happen, I will be angry with God.” It is fine to grieve the death of a dream. You wanted that dream job but didn’t get it. You wanted him to love you back, but he just wants to be friends. You wanted this idea to come to fruition but it just didn’t happen. Those things can be grieved. But if we turn that allowable emotion into anger against God because He supposedly didn’t hold up His end of the bargain is both lying and slandering God. You’re saying God doesn’t uphold His promises, and He isn’t good. As one seminary professor said, that really yanks God’s chain. The tricky part is, we often don’t know that this is exactly the deal we’ve made with God until it doesn’t turn out. That can even be part of the reason God doesn’t let it work out. If you were only obeying God because you thought that was the path to the life you wanted, then it was very kind of God to reveal that to you. The disciples were with Jesus until it got hard. This sets them up for the next step.
This is where Jesus takes the next step, and shows you that He will uphold you. It is one thing to know you aren’t strong enough, but it is another thing to know that God will hold you up anyway. This is what we see with Peter, isn’t it? Jesus gives Peter the assurance that He loves Him and has something for Him to do. It ain’t steps; it is Christ. It is throwing in your lot with Him, and letting Him take you wherever He wants to go. Your path won’t be exactly like mine. We will share a lot of similarities, but not everyone does the same things or has all the same experiences. There were 12 (13, if you count Judas) disciples, but only three of them wrote books of the New Testament, and the guys who wrote most of the New Testament by number of books and word count (Paul and Luke respectively) weren’t in that group!
Finally, Jesus gives you the grace to fall back into His arms (again and again) where the strength is. Rest feels like strength. When can a child go the farthest on a hike? When he is on his father’s shoulders! Let Him carry you. Take advantage of the good and enjoyable graces He gives to you in His Word and prayer, and then leave the results up to Him. Don’t climb onto His shoulders and then be petrified of falling off. You’ll still make it to the end of the hike, but boy, will be unnecessarily stressed and tired the whole time!
Don’t panic in this spiritual war! Don’t use the excuse of fear of messing up to stay out the fight. The fight is won! Now participate in the final mopping up of Satan’s forces!
As we conclude, let’s hear from Peter, as he writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and as one transformed from denier to defender of the faith,
1 Peter 5:5b-11
“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
Image by Samuele Schirò