A fighting manual
‘Be strong in the Lord’ (Eph. 6:10).
The book of Ephesians wasn’t written in the context of academic research but against the backdrop of hostility, conflict and battle. Paul wrote from prison, not as an academic, but a warrior. The great truths taught in the earlier chapters come alive in the setting of conflict. It could even be argued that the whole book is building up to the sixth chapter – the preparation for warfare. So Paul’s epistle finishes up more like a fighting manual ‘put on armour and get ready for the battle that’s ahead’.
The world, the flesh and the devil
It’s a strange business that the world comes at us from one of two angles. Sometimes it enforces conformity with an iron fist and sometimes it seduces with a delicate invitation. In Paul’s day Caesar ruled with an iron fist and the same is true in many nations today. But in the free west, people are often lured into a desire to be like others. The world wants to shape your thinking. You can become lazy, lustful, legalistic. All of these are manifestations of the flesh.
Satan is still a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.
Our battle is against the world, the flesh and the devil. We’re in conflict – and we need to know it. Paul writes to help us in the battle, to give us this word: ‘Be strong’. And that’s the phrase I want to concentrate on first. The armour comes later. We start with ‘Be strong’.
Moses and Joshua
‘Be strong’ is a kind of transition word. When Moses is preparing Joshua to lead the next generation, he repeats again and again, ‘Joshua you must be strong’, ‘get strong and courageous’.
What does Moses know about strength? Well he’s been through a few experiences. He’s confronted Pharaoh. He’s led two million people through the wilderness; He’s seen a people turn against him. He watched as his sister challenged his authority and became leprous, and as the sons of Korah who followed suit were swallowed up by the ground beneath them. Moses has been through battle after battle. He’s carried the people all the way, and now he needs to encourage his successor. So he says, ‘Joshua, we’ve been through some battles to get this far, but there’s a land ahead of you; there’s a river to cross; there are cities walled up to heaven; there are giants in the land. If you’re going to carry God’s purposes further you must be strong’.
David and Solomon
Look at David. His word to his son Solomon is: ‘Solomon now be strong and very courageous’. Why does he say this? Because Solomon’s leadership is going to be contested. He’ll have to go through battles as he establishes God’s temple and fulfills God’s plans for the nation.
What does David know about battles? Well he knew what it was like to have Saul’s spear hurled at him, to live as a fugitive, to hide in rocks and caves and to have his son, Absalom rebel against him. And now he turns to Solomon and says, ‘Now come on. If you’re going to get the next phase, you must be strong.’
Paul and Timothy
The same exhortation is repeated when Paul encourages Timothy. ‘Be strong in the grace that’s in Christ Jesus,’ he says. Paul has the marks of Christ in his body – not stigmata (crucifixion wounds) but scars from his beatings, the battles he’s had to endure. ‘Timothy,’ he’s saying, ‘Get ready. Fierce wolves will move in. They’ll have itching ears for what they want to hear. All kinds of difficulties are on the horizon. You’ll have to fight for doctrine, so be absolutely clear about truth. Study, show yourself approved by God, a workman who correctly handles the Word so that you won’t be ashamed. Timothy get ready, you’re a next generation leader. Get ready for the battles.’
This is a very timely word for those of us who are talking about transition. The next generation needs strength. Much ground has been gained but there are battles ahead. Moses could say that, so could David and Paul. Here Paul is writing to the Ephesians from prison. What lies ahead? Nation after nation, continent after continent – the whole world. The battles are coming and the word to you is: ‘Be strong!’
This post was adapted from the 1st of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010