‘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. (Eph. 6:10-11)
Strong in the Lord
It’s tempting to hear a very different message from that of Paul, namely, ‘Come on, get your act together! Keep pressing on. Stand on your feet. What’s wrong with you? Shouldn’t you dare to be a Daniel or be another David?’ That’s not the message of grace. The gospel comes to us and declares, ‘Be strong in the Lord.’
A more accurate translation of this verse is ‘Be strengthened in the Lord and in the power of his might.’ We’re looking at a passive imperative similar to the one we find in Ephesians 5 where Paul says ‘Be filled with the Spirit.’ It’s easy to obey an active imperative like: ‘Be quiet’. But ‘be filled’ or ‘be strengthened’? How do you obey an imperative that’s passive? Scripture that give us keys to this.
‘Be still and know that I am God.’ – Psalm 46
It’s a real tonic to stumble on a command like this, particularly when you’re going through a tough patch. In the margin of the NASB it says ‘relax, cease striving’. In other words, ‘enough, stop’.
You can’t skip over those things, you need to let them pour into your inner being. How do we go the long journey? How did Moses keep going year in year out, decade in decade out? How did David keep going through the hounding of Saul with the heartbreak of Absalom? How do you do this? How did Paul do it? I think God just found some very strong people. No He didn’t! He found some people who discovered how to draw down the energy of God into their little lives.
Change your attitude
Before we come to these pieces of armour, there’s the call, ‘Be strong!’ It’s possible to sidestep this command and charge for the armour. This can result in a rather defensive attitude: ‘Circle the wagons, hold the fort, watch out’. But Paul begins, ‘Be strong.’ Strength comes first. We’re called to have a good attitude or morale before we get into the battle.
Confidence changes things
You don’t play to your strengths without confidence. And here Paul is saying: ‘Now come on, I want you to have the kind of attitude that declares, ‘I’m strong’. Paul is reminding his readers that they’re not injured civilians but soldiers who have been equipped for warfare.
Isaiah declared, ‘Awake, awake, clothe yourselves in your strength O Zion. Clothe yourselves in your beautiful garments. Shake yourself from the dust. Rise up. Loose yourself from the chains around your neck’ (Is. 52:1,2). He was calling God’s people to recognise who they were. ‘Come on,’ he was urging. ‘God has called you. You’re his people. Don’t live in the dust; don’t live in chains. Shake them off.’
Saints not sinners
Paul echoes his words. He too is writing not to sinners, but to God’s people whom the New Testament describes as saints. It’s very important for us to understand that God calls us saints. Too often I meet with people who want to appeal to the fact that they feel that they’re pre-eminently sinners. They say things like: ‘I’m just one sinner telling another sinner how to find God’. The Lord disagrees. True, you were once far off, living in darkness, godlessness and hopelessness, but now you’ve been brought near to God and He’s made you into a new creation.
‘New creation’ is your new identity. You used to be darkness. Now you’re light in the Lord! That’s who you are! In Jesus’ estimation either you’re a bad tree producing bad fruit, or you’re a good tree producing good fruit. So many Christians think that they’re still a bad tree, trying to tie some fruit onto the branches, trying to do good things to make God happy. When you’re born again you have a new identity and new life flows from within.
Paul is writing to soldiers, people who are the light of the world, God’s blessing to the nations. He tells them that once they were nowhere with God, but that now they have a totally new nature. The people who were once nobodies have been transformed into a people who are the praise of God’s glory. ‘Be strong’ he says, ‘and be aware of exactly who you are.’
This post was adapted from the 1st of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010