Trinity 21, 2016
The Epistle. Ephesians 6:10-20
The Gospel. St. John 4:46-54
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
In every age…maybe not as much in ours, the majority of people know and understand to one degree or another the nature of mankind.
We understand the potential good and the potential evil men can commit. The potential evil is what we must keep an eye on.
Those who have been smart enough and bold enough to understand, acknowledge and then act on this have been the ones who have had the greatest impact.
There are some who know the depths of human depravity and have exercised it themselves, or they have harnessed it in others.
But those on the more virtuous side and the more logically thinking side, have been well aware of man’s nature and have sought to act accordingly when writing, ruling, enforcing laws or just living.
Plato writes in the Republic: “He who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself.”
Though a thoroughgoing pagan, Plato did have a sense of morality (which all men possess) and was able to discern the potentials of man.
Jeremiah 17:9 is an oft-quoted passage from the Bible which gives us a short but clear picture of the nature of man. It gets at the very core of man when it says,
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
If talking about this with some, we many times have to make sure we point out that this does not say that the heart of man is as evil as it can be. Christianity never teaches that we are as evil as we can be. It does teach that evil is, however prominent in the heart of man….and prominent enough to keep him an enemy of God…unless it is changed by God.
The Christian. The regenerate man has had the heart of stone removed and a true heart of flesh put in its place and therefore, we have at least undergone a change and progress has been made. God has done this for us.
We are no longer, as Christians, strangers and aliens, alienated from God and children of wrath. We are now sons of God and welcome family members. Beloved of the Father.
Those, even who have questionable lives when it comes to the faith, like many of the founders of our own country, have still rightly understood the nature of man and they set out intentionally and drafted a document that was designed to restrain the evils of man ….especially by those who govern and have power over others.
Even Thomas Jefferson wrote things like: “In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.” The Founders never relinquished their fundamental belief in the depravity of man.
In more recent times Peace Through Strength was a motto of an American Presidency. This too reflected an understanding of the core nature of man and his tendencies…..and the need to be watchful not to let those tendencies run unchecked.
And it would seem that those (not counting Plato) who have understood the nature of man and have sought to constrain his tendencies, one way or another, have drawn not only from what is obvious in nature, or not only what the eye can see and experience has perceived, but most in the past…. have drawn from the text of the Bible.
The Bible is replete with examples in both the Old and the New Testaments of man at his worst. Even those we consider great men like Abraham or David have committed great sins against both God and man.
Jesus in the New Testament speaks about the heart. He says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:18-20a ESV)
James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15 ESV)
But the theme today in the lessons and Collect is that of peace. Peace in and through Christ. Yet this peace comes at the price of being well armed. Well fortified. And rightly seeing evil.
We can see the two things coming together when we read a passage like: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe…” (Luke 11:21 ESV)
So from this, we can see that evil is less apt to attack when it knows that its enemy is armed and strong. This keeps relative peace.
Paul seems to be saying as much today in the section from his Epistle to the Ephesians.
It is really a
passage of war. Arming one’s self
for battle. It mentions the ways in
which the enemy attacks.
It speaks of the ways in which the Christian is to defend himself.
It speaks of weapons…both offensive and defensive.
But all to attain final and everlasting peace. That is the goal. That is what we look to accomplish. That is what we hope for.
The pathway to peace is knowing the potential and power of evil and being well armed.
We learn peace from Paul in today’s lesson in at least three ways. And this is for us both an inward and an outward struggle.
First, true Biblical peace is attained not in our own strength but in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Paul says this here as the opening line. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”
So this fight is not as we might first think.
It is not first and foremost against man. It is against a much greater power. It is against Satan himself.
His advantages are invisibility and craftiness. He lies in ambush. He prowls about like a roaring lion….seeking whom he may devour.
This is done many times on a very subtle level. He finds ways to draw on our own weaknesses. He works to make divisions amongst the people of God in Church congregations.
He pits Christian against Christian if he can find a foothold in us….where we have something unrepaired between us and our neighbor.
He works to foster in us evil desires which draw us into thoughts and deeds that we know we are not to think or do.
He looks for opportunities where gossip and slander might take advantage.
He seeks out eyes and minds that wander in adultery…working to make a thought into a deed.
The examples like this could go on and on. Only the power of God can save us, defend us and keep us from these destructive attacks.
Second, we are to stand against any and all attacks.
This is our duty. To be ever on the watch. Ever vigilant. And to do this we must put on the whole armor of God. All parts are necessary.
Paul tells us about each part, its name and its function.
First there is the Belt of Truth. Truth. Sincerity. This is a weapon of character. Only in truth can we exercise power and firmness. Falsehood only weakens our defenses.
Truth in all things. Truth from the smallest of things to the biggest. Truth. Integrity.
Next there is the breastplate of Righteousness. This, notice, is a forward moving piece of armor. There is no back to this piece, so it figures the solider is moving forward and not retreating in the face of evil.
It means when evil approaches in its many forms, we move toward it and overcome it with righteousness.
Next there are the shoes for our feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
The Gospel here is the News that says that we are secure in the Lord. These are the shoes that we wear….the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Our peace with God is attained through the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins and raised for our justification.
We find favor with God in the work of Christ. This produces liveliness, promptness, and a cheerful readiness for whatever comes to us.
Because we know the Gospel is true, no threat can ultimately overtake us and destroy us. The enemy has been defeated already by the Cross.
Next there is the shield of faith. A defensive weapon for the most part.
Here is what theologian Charles Hodges says about the shield of Faith. “The faith intended here is that through which we are justified and reconciled to God through the blood of Christ.
It is that faith of which Christ is the object, which receives him as the Son of God and the Saviour of men.
It is the faith which is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen, which at once apprehends or discerns and receives the things of the Spirit. It overcomes the world…”
What are some of the kinds of flaming arrows that are fired at us that we must shield ourselves from? Hodge again, “It is a common experience for God’s people that at times horrible thoughts—unholy, blasphemous, doubting, malignant—crowd on the mind, which cannot be accounted for by any ordinary law of mental action, and which cannot be dislodged. They stick like burning arrows and fill the soul with agony. They can be quenched only by faith, by calling on Christ for help.”
Next there is the Helmet of Salvation. This item is for the head. And so that we may keep our heads both figuratively and literally, we need the helmet of Salvaion.
This is the knowledge that we have salvation in Jesus Christ and no other way or one. This is another armor piece that brings confidence.
Finally there is the Sword of the Spirit. “Christ came not to bring peace, but a sword, but this Sword of Christ brings peace.”
The Sword of the Spirit is here the Word of God. The Holy Scriptures. The Holy Bible.
The Epistle to the Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
The Scriptures are living and active.
They are true and unchangeable.
They are eternal and binding….and in them and through them we learn about all things necessary to our salvation.
Paul closes this section like this. “To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV)
There is also a third element and without it the other two would be useless and that is Prayer.
Prayer must be regular and habitual. Without it the Armor would not even be able to be put on. Prayer must be in the Spirit.
It must be watchful prayer.
It must be regular and vigilant prayer.
And it must be intercessory…so that each of us prays for the other…that no one be left out and all are accounted for.
Two prayers come to mind here. Trinity 4, “O
GOD, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy…”
And Advent 1… “ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life..”
May God give us grace to know our enemy and to resist with all of the armor He provides…that through His mighty protection we may find peace through the knowledge of our salvation in Christ, and our hope in everlasting peace in the world to come.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.