Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the remarkable pastor of Westminster Chapel in London during the 20th century, took two weighty volumes to expound the text that we’re considering today. Obviously, we’re just taking a glance at it by comparison but something that MLJ said bears importance as we consider these verses:
I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his ‘fiery darts.’ And, of course, because we are not aware of this we attribute all temptation to ourselves. So the devil in his wiliness will have succeeded admirably. We become depressed and discouraged, we feel that we are failures, and we do not know what to do [The Christian Warfare, 292].
My goal in our meditation on the Word today is not to give a full picture of this text—that requires some weeks to accomplish. Nor is it to simply alarm us that the devil is crafty and wily in what he does, and consequently put us into a state of fear or panic. Rather, particularly in light of the occasion of our friends’ commissioning to serve in Central Asia with our denomination’s mission board, it is fitting that we give consideration to the mission intent of this passage. Here, in the words of Peter T. O’Brien, we have Paul’s Great Commission, similar to that found in the Four Gospels. I know that it is styled differently but it is a missionary commission written by one in the middle of extending the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. Even as a prisoner for the sake of the gospel, the mission passion never wavered, as the apostle asked that the Ephesian church pray that he would be able to open his mouth to boldly speak the mystery of the gospel. It was written with the vantage point of one who had experienced the adversary’s assaults as he took the gospel to Asia Minor, the Mediterranean coastline, and Greece.
There is no fear in the tone of the writer. Despite the chains of imprisonment, he saw them as tokens of his ambassadorship for the gospel. The devil did not hold him hostage. He was Christ’s prisoner! And a joyful prisoner at that! For he understood that the place where the sovereign Lord put him was a place of mission and an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. Instead of succumbing to the poor surroundings and whining about how difficult things were, he consciously continued in mission. His comings and goings may have been altered but not his mission—and so not his purpose as a Christ-follower. He had learned to practice what he now passes along to the Ephesian church and our church: put on Christ, stand actively in the gospel, and participate in the mission. Although many things have changed in 2000 years, this has not: Jesus still equips His followers for mission. One does not need academic degrees to be equipped; he does not find this equipping through a clever program; he does not achieve it because of vast experience in ministry. It is found by a reliance on the Holy Spirit and application of the gospel. Let’s venture into this truth as we commend it to our friends whom we’re sending out.
1. Put on Christ
I know that it sounds almost strange, “Put on Christ,” yet it’s precisely what the Scripture teaches. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts,” Paul told the Romans (13:14). Similarly, embracing the idea of the new man in Christ, he told the Ephesians, “And put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24). Now he calls it, “the armor of God.” “Put on the armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” As we shall see, the armor reflects very clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ applied to the believer. Yet, before we can put on the gospel armor, we must heed what Paul declared in verse 10.
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” “Be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength” (HCSB). In other words, the apostle is not counseling us to self-reliance. We’re tempted to do that when we get into difficulties. We fall back on our personal intellectual and moral strength and experience to handle what comes our way. But that will fail us. We’re too weak. George Whitefield understood this as he preached the gospel in colonial Philadelphia, while the adversary sought to oppose him. He wrote in his journal, “The storm is gathering apace. As the Word of God increases, so will the rage and opposition of the devil. Lord, support us in a suffering hour, and overshadow us with Thy wings” [Whitefield’s Journals, 407; italics added]. Yes, there is the reliance on the Lord: “overshadow us with Thy wings!” “Be strong” is a passive verb, which means that this is not a strength that you work up but a strength that you receive, a strength that you live in because of union with the Lord.
The imperative also calls for us to be strong “in the strength of His might.” That phrase echoes one of Paul’s major themes in Ephesians: the strength of the Lord’s might. His prayer for the church in 1:18-23 demonstrates a conscious application of the strength of the Lord’s might. He prays for the church’s heart-eyes to be enlightened, to know the confidence in His calling, the riches of their inheritance in Christ, and “the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”
How does this happen? “These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might.” In other words, the very provisions that you need to press on faithfully in Christ amidst all opposition is found in what the Lord has given to the church in accordance with the working of the strength of His might. What is the strength of His might? It is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. . . that seated Jesus at the Father’s right hand . . . that elevated Jesus far above all rule and authority and power and dominion . . . that elevated Jesus above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come. It is the same power that put all things in subjection to Jesus Christ, even under His feet! It is the same power that God gave to Jesus as the Head over all things to the church, which he describes as His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
It’s the same power that he brings up again in the second prayer of Ephesians (3:14-21). Paul prays for the church, according to the riches of God’s glory, to strengthen the church with power through His Spirit in the inner man. Why does the church need this strength with power? “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” And just in case there’s some measure of doubt that such power and strength belongs to us, he tells us that this God “who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think,” does so “according to the power that works within us” (3:20-21). That’s not power that we drum up but His power in us through the gospel applied by the Holy Spirit. This is why we can be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might! Through the gospel received and the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we now have power unnatural to us, residing in us, so that we might serve Jesus Christ—not in our strength but in His mighty power!
So, “put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” We put on the armor as we consciously put on Christ. Keep in mind that Paul’s using language of dressing, putting on clothes. You reach into a drawer or to a closet, consciously picking some things to put on in order to be appropriately clothed for the day. If I were going to mow my lawn, I would not pull out a suit, tie, and dress shoes. That would be inappropriate for the occasion. If you are going to face a world that rages against the gospel, then put on the clothing suitable for the occasion—put on the full armor of God. Your conflict is not with flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this age, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (HCSB).
Around your mid-section, put on “truth.” That’s objective truth—the Gospel of Jesus Christ; the consciousness that Jesus died for your sins, according to the Scripture, and that He was buried, and on the third day, He was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. Start with that truth wrapped about you as foundational. Add to it “the breastplate of righteousness,” i.e. the strong consciousness that Jesus’ death for you satisfies all that God requires due to your sin; that His obedience to the law and His submission on our behalf to the law’s demand requiring wrath, declares you righteous before God. No matter how low you may find yourself, nothing changes that effective work of Christ for you. Find your daily joy in this truth.
Here’s the Great Commission verse: “and having shod your feet with the preparation [or readiness] of the gospel of peace.” Roman soldiers had hobnails implanted in their sandals so that they would be ready to charge forward in battle. Footgear was not for standing around but for heading into battle. In this case, the armor of God is not at all passive. It’s offensive posturing that O’Brien explains, “involve[s] carrying the attack into enemy territory, of plundering Satan’s kingdom by announcing the promise of divine rescue to captives in the realm of darkness” [The Letter to the Ephesians, 476]. You do not put the armor on to be comfortable but to prepare you for going into battle. The weapons of your warfare are not fleshly but divinely powerful, pulling down the stronghold of arguments that sinners have raised up against the knowledge of God, and “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:3-6). The armor of God is the clothing for gospel mission. It’s not so that we can simply deflect Satan’s darts while we hide in our Christian bunkers. It’s for going into the world with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ as Lord!
As you go, “the shield of faith” extinguishes the enemy’s flaming arrows. The “helmet of salvation”—your assurance that you are in Christ, deflects the blows of the adversary. But remember, you’re not on defense. You’re engaged in mission so you need an appropriate weapon: “And take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Again, O’Brien gives a clear mission explanation that Paul intended in this text:
What is in view here is not some ad hoc word addressed to Satan, as though what we speak against him will defeat him. Rather, it is the faithful speaking forth of the gospel in the realm of darkness, so that men and women held by Satan might hear this liberating and life-giving word and be freed from his grasp” .
2. Stand actively in the gospel
There’s a repetitive call for standing firmly. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. . . . Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth.” Mission calls for standing firmly on the gospel. It’s not passively waiting for things to come to you; rather, it is the active engagement of the world with the gospel, holding your ground by the strength of the Lord’s might. Standing firmly does not mean that you win the victories but rather you actively stand in the victory already won by Jesus Christ. As you go forth in mission, you’re standing on ground that Jesus has decisively won at the cross! The day will come when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. You’re just engaged in the process of proclaiming the good news so that those whom Christ has secured through His bloody death might hear, repent, believe, and receive the Lord Jesus.
When our friend Z.P. and his wife went to Central Asia, they started working with a people group of 13 million in which there was only one known Christian. They were the first Christian workers ever allowed into that particular country where their people group was located. That was almost 20 years ago. That one believer multiplied into hundreds of brothers and sisters among those people. How did it happen when this country had been so closed to the gospel for generations? Our friends, and later co-workers, put on the full armor of God and actively stood in the gospel among the people with whom they lived. They went into their stores and shops, actively standing in the gospel. They ate in their restaurants actively standing in the gospel. They lived in apartments and got to know their neighbors actively standing in the gospel. That armor of God not only protected them from the fiery arrows that the enemy sought to zing their way, but that gospel armor also went on the offensive. We do not defeat the enemy by sitting back but by going forward with our feet covered with the gospel of peace! Battle shoes are not made for the easy chair but for the battlefield where soldiers follow the marching orders of their Captain, who in this case, has told us to “Go and make disciples of all people!” Take the sword of Spirit—the word of God, wield it wisely, patiently, lovingly, compassionately, and powerfully. Let the Sword do the work under the power of the Spirit.
3. Participate in the mission
The last paragraph of our text brings all of us into the picture of participation in the mission. “Standing firm and praying belong together,” writes O’Brien, because prayer is “foundational for the deployment of all the other weapons” [483–484]. While we’re all on mission in the sense that we are to take the gospel to the unbelieving world around us, some will go outside the home environment in which we live. They will be focused on the very same thing upon which we must be focused at home. Andrew Fuller, the home leader of the Baptist missionary society that sent William Carey to India, wrote to a deacon in a Scottish church that had been spending its time focusing on secondary issues to the church’s harm. Fuller explained, “Christ and him crucified must be our theme, and the turning of sinners to him . . . must be our object. . . . If we are more concerned about an inferior matter than the spread of that kingdom for which our Redeemer died, then we really are sectarians, and shall come to nothing” [Peter Morden, Offering Christ to the World, 178]. In other words, we cannot think of our friends whom we’re sending out as the missionaries while we’re dawdling with secondary issues at home. We must embrace the same missionary posture. Along with readiness to speak the gospel, our call is to pray with alertness; persevering in prayer; praying broadly and specifically; praying for gospel opportunities at home and beyond; praying that the gospel might be spoken with boldness and clarity and power; praying for all those whom the church has sent out as ambassadors for Christ, would speak the gospel boldly and effectively (6:18-20).
Andrew Fuller had a remarkable balance in this regard that, I pray, we might have as well. While sending out his friend Carey, Fuller, along with John Sutcliff, Samuel Pearce, and John Rylands Jr., maintained faithful gospel witness in the United Kingdom, while interceding for the work in India and raising financial support. Pearce’s church gave a remarkable amount of money to keep the mission going. They were faithful to their promise to Carey. As Carey volunteered to go to India, he said to them, ‘I will go down into the mine, if you will hold the ropes.’ As long as they lived, they held the ropes through prayer, financial support, letters of encouragement, raising up additional missionaries, and faithfully proclaiming the gospel at home.
On this special occasion, we’re called to do no less. Our friends are going down into the mine. We’re called to hold the ropes. May the Lord find us faithful.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by South Woods Baptist Church.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy:
Copyright 2011, South Woods Baptist Church, All Rights Reserved