“Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Following Jesus in this world is to become acquainted with battle. This is because following Jesus means advancing the kingdom of God while living in the kingdom of this world. Advancing the kingdom of one ruler from within the kingdom of another is asking for a fight. And indeed, a fight is what we will face if we do it consistently and well. That means when you sign up to follow Jesus, you are signing up to be a warrior. One thing every warrior needs is armor. Armor protects you and allows you to sustain attacks that would otherwise wipe you out. Because the battle we are in as followers of Jesus is not like other battles, though, neither can our armor be. Let’s talk this morning about our armor and the nature of our battle.
This is one of Paul’s better known reflections out of all of his letters. It is a common theme in particular for lessons for kids. This is because it so easily lends itself to activities that are engaging for them. What kid doesn’t want to make a suit of armor complete with a helmet and a sword? We have a really creative volunteer at my church who constructed all of the various pieces of armor for each of the kids in the class out of posterboard and cardboard when they did an armor of God unit a few years ago. My boys were thrilled with the outcome. We’ll get into talking about the various pieces of armor themselves next week. For this morning, let’s just focus our attention on Paul’s introductory statement here.
This trio of verses form a chiasm. A chiasm is a literary device ancient authors would use to help their audiences remember the points they were trying to make. The most basic chiasm has an A-B-A structure where one idea is presented twice on either side of a second idea. My New Testament professor loved to identify chiasms and trained me to look for them as well. In this case, the A idea is that we need to put on the full armor of God so we can stand against or resist the devil. The B idea talks about the nature of the battle we are in. Let’s look at each of these ideas in turn starting with B.
When you are in a battle, it is good and necessary to know who your enemy is. After all, if you don’t have clarity around that fact, you are likely to attack the wrong person. When it comes to the battle we are in as followers of Jesus, who is our enemy? It is tempting to think our enemy is the unbelievers around us. If not that, then our enemy is the unbelievers in positions of authority over us who are using their authority to make our lives as followers of Jesus more difficult than they need to be. This line of thinking is so tempting because we can see these people. We can interact with them directly. We can focus our attention and hatred against them. Paul, however, points us in another direction.
The primary nature of the battle we are in as followers of Jesus is spiritual. Yes, the spiritual often has a physical appearance to it, but the prime reality is a spiritual one. What this means is that your enemy as a follower of Jesus is not a person. Ever. You have never encountered a person who is your enemy in the great battle being waged for the soul of the world. You have perhaps encountered individuals who are being used by your real enemy. They may even be complicit in his schemes, but they are not the enemy themselves. Because our battle is spiritual, our primary enemy is spiritual. Our enemy is the devil. We war against his limited yet broad powers manifested through rulers, authorities, cosmic powers of darkness, and evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
This may seem like a small point to make, but let me assure you it is not. If we let ourselves buy into the notion that the people around us are our enemies, we will run the risk of focusing our efforts against them. We will level our attacks in their direction. We will seek to do them harm. None of these things will hamper the efforts of our real enemy. In fact, if we get this wrong we can inadvertently find ourselves participating in his power. Think about it: If someone who is not a follower of Jesus finds himself being attacked verbally or even physically by someone who claims to be a follower of Jesus in Jesus’ name, how likely is that person going to be to become a follower of Jesus? Our misidentification of the real enemy will result in his misidentification of his real enemy as well. Now, instead of proclaiming the Gospel to this person in the hopes of his embracing it and becoming a follower of Jesus Himself, we have demonstrated to him that the Gospel is his enemy vastly increasing the likelihood of his turning against it entirely, condemning him to an eternity separated from God. It is hard to imagine something that could be more diametrically opposed to the plans and will of the kingdom we profess to serve. And, at the point we are working vigorously against the aims of our Authority, it becomes a fair question to ask whether we are really committed to Him, or if we are secretly working for someone else.
Let me put a point on this: People are not our enemy. They are precious souls whom God loves and for whom Jesus died. If we communicate by our actions toward them that God doesn’t love them, we are not only lying ourselves, we are making God out to be a liar. We are actively misrepresenting His character to them, decreasing the likelihood of their following Him. Any time we do this we are handing a gigantic loss to the kingdom of God and a win to the kingdom of the world. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Once we know who our enemy really is, though, we must understand how we are to battle this enemy. Paul calls us to put on the armor of God so that we are ready for battle, but look carefully at the nature of our fight. He says it twice to make sure we get it. We are to dress in the armor of God so that we can resist the enemy; so that we can stand against him. The tactics of our battle are not to level attacks, but to take a stand for the kingdom wherever we happen to be. We plant ourselves as a kingdom herald and ambassador wherever God has placed us, and by our resistance to the attacks of our enemy we allow the kingdom to grow from where we are outward to affect the lives of the people around us.
One of the great lies of our present age is that we must attack to win the battle we are in. We see this kind of marshal language with depressingly increasing frequency in the church today. We must win the battle against the forces of darkness represented best and most clearly by our ideological or theological or cultural or political opponents. When they strike at us, we must respond with strength and battle back. God’s kingdom needs warriors ready to throw themselves on the enemy to defeat him utterly. And if we can’t get at him directly, then we will go after his servants with the same vigor and aggression.
It is hard to think of something more opposed to the consistent call and example we see in the New Testament. Paul here explicitly contradicts this entire line of thinking. We dress for battle not so that we can attack anyone. We dress for battle so that we can stand firm and hold the line God has placed us on. When He moves forward to advance His kingdom, then we move forward with Him. But again, our forward motion is not aggressive and angry. It is patient and peaceful. It is gracious and gentle. We simply stand firm and refuse to give in to the world’s call to arms. We don’t fight with our fists, we fight with our faces turned to the sky in prayer. When the enemy’s servants come to lock arms in combat, we love back with the love of Christ. And when it is time to follow our king forward into enemy held territory, we don’t go in with guns blazing. We must minister with the means of the Gospel.
And why do we do all of this? Because of who our enemy is. People who oppose us are not our enemy. If we actively attack them, they will naturally conclude we think of them as such and return the favor. No, people who oppose us are potential brothers and sisters in Christ and it is our job to love them to the point they are willing to heed our calls to repentance and to receive the love of the Savior who died for them. If we take any other approach, we will not expand the kingdom of God. We’ll shrink it and instead advance the kingdom of our real enemy. That is a loss we don’t want to be responsible for making.
So, stand firm and love the people around you. Work vigorously against the ministrations of your real enemy, but do this by being kind and gracious and compassionate with those whose lives he has ruined so they can see how much better life in the kingdom of God really is. The armor we wear will be our help in these efforts. On Tuesday, Lord willing, we’ll talk more about it.