The Walk Week 6: The War
Sometimes being a Christian in today’s world feels a little bit like warfare. We try to equip ourselves to rise above and to walk forward, but the bullets still come. Sexuality, greed, distractions, prejudice, cultural expectations, politics. And it seems impossible to walk the Christian walk when we’re just trying to survive. And everybody’s watching. What if our strength could be the catalyst for others to rise? How do we shield ourselves against all the temptations? Will the enemy ever cease fire? What does it take to walk the walk?
Good afternoon to everybody, and a happy father’s day to all the fathers that are here. I’ve got to confess something to you. I think it was either last service or nine o’clock. I don’t know when it was, but I must have shaken hands and hugged somebody that had been given some really nice cologne for Father’s Day because I smell good. I mean, I’m telling you right now, whatever it is is pretty good. So, if you want to smell how good I am, give me a hug after church because it’s pretty good stuff. But, anyway, happy Father’s Day to everybody.
We’re in a series called “The Walk.” The whole series has been about how do we walk with the Lord and what does it look like to walk after the Lord? I’ve made some notations along the way that the Lord’s not after a decision from you and me. He wants a relationship with you and me, and the Old Testament and the New Testament refers to that as a walk. In other words, we walk with the Lord. It’s a relationship. You know, we turn from walking the way we were walking and we turn towards the Lord and walk with Him. It doesn’t mean we get everything perfect, it doesn’t mean we always do everything right, but it is an active relationship that we’re walking with the Lord. And we’ve talked about what that looks like in a lot of nuanced ways.
Well, this particular weekend, we’re going to deal with something that’s a little strange and a little hard for us to get our arms around, especially as those of us who live in the west because we live in a very scientific world. Everything is empirically verified. Everything is bottom line. Everything has sort of got a naturalistic explanation. And so, when Scripture talks about the fact that you and I are involved in a spiritual battle and that there are spiritual things going on, it’s a little hard for us to fully understand because we just think of the world as natural causes. We don’t think that there actually could be something going on that we can’t see, but yet Scripture says that there is.
So, we want to look at that this weekend because it is part of our walk with the Lord that we’re in a spiritual battle. And I can tell you this: If I were to get 10 people together that knew the Bible really well, that understood both Old and New Testament and I were to say, “Give me your top one or two verses on a spiritual battle in Scripture,” inevitably, at the top of the list — if not the top of the list, at least the second or third one — would be a passage that we find in Ephesians 6:10-12 that deals with this spiritual battle that’s going on. So, if you’re familiar with that, you know. You’re like, “Yeah. That is a passage that deals with that.”
If you’re not familiar with that, that’s okay. No big deal at all because we’re going to end up in that passage by the end of the message and look at what that means for you and me to walk and what it means to be in a spiritual battle. But before we get there, because I think it’s going to be imperative to understand contextually what Paul is talking about, we want to do a little bit of background work in the epistle to the Ephesians. So, I’m going to do a little bit more of my professor side today with everybody. I’m going to do a little bit more teaching. I’m going to help us learn to understand Scripture a little bit. When we work through that argument of the epistle to the Ephesians, we’re going to finally get to Ephesians 6:10-12 and it’s going to make a lot more sense to us than if I just started there and lifted it out of context.
So, to do that, let’s do a little work here on understanding how to read and study the Bible. Let me give you an example here of why it’s so important to read and study the Bible properly. If we could — we can’t. But, if we could get in that proverbial DeLorean and go back in time, and we could somehow land right before the Civil War broke out between the northern states and the southern states, we might find a church somewhere in the Deep South where the preacher would be up preaching out of the epistle to the Ephesians and would be saying something to this extent:
“Listen, I am your pastor and I believe that the Bible is the Word of God and I believe that when we read the Bible, whatever it says literally, we ought to take it and we ought to apply it to our lives. The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it. Church, what we have today in our union is we have some northern people that are trying to change what we do down here that is biblical. They go to these high intellectual seminaries — Yale and Princeton — and they think they know how to read the Bible and they tell us that’s not what the Bible says. But I’m going to tell you right now it’s very clear what the Bible says. Get your Bible out, your King James Version. Here in Ephesians 6:5, it says, ‘Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling.’ Church, what this says here is in God’s Word that slavery is a part of the way God has ordained the world. There are slaves and there are masters, and that’s what it says. Since it says it and it’s literal and it’s right there in front of us, we’re going to believe that.”
Unfortunately, many people in the church would’ve said, “Well, that’s sort of what it says. So, let’s go with it,” which is why it’s so important for us to go, “We need to interpret the Bible. How do we read this?”
Just so that you know, there are people today that point to passages like this that say, “Your Bible itself condones certain acts that we wouldn’t condone anymore”
And most of us in here go, “Yeah. You know what? We’re not for that at all. We don’t believe that that’s true.”
But, being honest, we might be handed that passage and we might not know how to explain what’s going on, which is why we need to read the Bible right. Because what follows that particular passage right after Paul gives that admonition is the passage that we’re going to get to. So, if we say, “That passage is no longer relevant. It doesn’t make any sense. We’ll just pull it out of the Bible.”
Well then, what other passages do we pull out of the Bible? And if we don’t pull it out of the Bible, then what does it mean for you and me. And to understand that, we’re going to have to learn how to read an epistle. We’re going to have to understand, “When I go to the Bible and I read, what am I reading when I read an epistle?”
So, let’s work on that a little bit. I think as we work through this you’re going to see how that passage falls and how it makes total sense once we read it right, and then how we work into Ephesians 6:10-12, the spiritual battle that we’re going to talk about at the last part of the message. And I think everything’s going to fall into place and we’re going to learn a lot. And I think we’re going to leave differently than when we came in.
So, let’s talk about the epistles. Just so that you know, the epistles are not the wives of the apostles, just in case anybody thought that that was the case. That’s not what they are. They’re letters that are written to the churches. They’re letters that we called ad hoc documents. The Latin term “ad hoc” means “for this.” In other words, they were written “for this reason.” They were written for a reason when they were written to the Church. And they’re specifically crafted. So, if you’re reading Galatians or Thessalonians or James or Jude or whatever — maybe 1 John — you’re reading an epistle. You’re not reading the Gospels. The Gospels are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They’re a different literary genre. Acts is historical narrative. You’ve got to read that a certain way. The epistles are letters that were written by an apostle or by an associate of an apostle or by somebody that knew Jesus. James was Jesus’ brother, and he writes the epistle that we call “James.”
They were specifically crafted documents. In other words, they mattered. What they’re writing is dealing with something that’s going on in that local church at that specific time. So, they were written to a specific people. It was not written to you and me. It was written for you and me, but not to you and me. In a specific time, place and purpose. So, when we go to any of these New Testament documents that we call epistles and we’re reading them, if we don’t quite understand the background, the time, the place, the purpose or whatever, we might misinterpret what is being said in this book. And it’s easy to just go and have the arrogance and pride — and you’ll see it in the Church. “Well, I’m just going to read this like I would read any other book, and it’s just going to make sense to me.”
These are antiquated documents. We really do have to spend some time. We would never, ever, ever go read Plato’s Republic or Plato’s Symposium or any of those books or try to read Aristophanes’ comedies and just assume that we know what they mean. And we do a disservice to Scripture when we don’t understand that not knowing the background of some of these epistles might lead us to form conclusions that are not entirely Biblical. I can give you an example, like the epistle to the Galatians. The epistle to the Galatians is typically read in the Church through the lens of the Protestant reformation. We hear “works” and we hear “grace” in that epistle. So, we normally think of doing stuff for God or experiencing grace.
The epistle to the Galatians is not dealing with those categories like that. The epistle to the Galatians is dealing with a group of people that have come from Jerusalem called the Judaizers. They’ve come into the Galatian church and they’ve told them that unless they get circumcised and unless they keep the works of the law — and that’s not the 613 commandments in the Old Testament. The works of the law are table fellowship, dietary and Sabbath laws. It’s a particular phrase in the First Century that if they don’t do those things right — that’s why, in Galatians 2 when the Judaizers come and Peter leaves eating with the Gentiles, he’s keeping the works of the law at that point. That’s why Paul rebukes him publicly. So, if we read it through the lens of what we think we’re reading, we might misinterpret that epistle.
All of these epistles have those minefields. If we don’t understand the people, the time, the place and the purpose, we’re likely to come to some wrong conclusions. So, therefore, knowing this, we can say a couple of really positive comments about the epistles that will help us in understanding how to read them. First of all, they’re corrective in nature. What that means is this: The epistles are written to Christians in a church. So, if you take an epistle and read something out of an epistle and you say it to your non-Christian friend, you’re in some ways betraying the way these books were written. They were not written to non-Christians. They were written to Christians and they are corrective in nature. In other words, as we read through these epistles, every single one is dealing with some deficiencies in the local church that the writer is having to address and to correct.
The reason they’re doing that is because the writers believe that the local church is the most important institution in society. If their witness is marred, if the witness of the local church looks more like the culture than it looks like Christ there’s going to be a problem. And so, these epistles are written to correct things. That’s why when you read Corinthians or you read Ephesians or you read Titus or you read Timothy, you’ll see there’s so many things that these books say about, “No, don’t do this. You should maybe do this.”
It’s corrective in nature, written to believers that are somehow looking a little bit more like their culture than they’re looking like Christ. Now, because they’re corrective in nature, they address specific issues. They’re dealing with issues, not primarily propositional truth. A propositional truth line would be, “God is love.”
Now, we might sit down and ask, “What does love mean?” We might sit down and ask, “What does God mean?” But we know that that is a propositionally true statement. God is love. We don’t have to do a whole lot of work on that. God is love. Okay. The epistles are not read like that. They’re not Bible bullets to pull a passage out and then quote it at somebody as if, “Okay, this is what you ought to go do.”
It’s not dealing with that. It’s dealing with correction to specific issues, which means the truth that is embedded in the corrective nature of that issue is something that we have to dig in to get and pull out the truth that is correcting the issue. Not the issue in the correction, but the truth that is guiding that. And that’s called good hermeneutics. That’s called reading the Bible right. So, it takes some work to understand this stuff.
So, they’re corrective in nature. They address specific issues, not primarily propositional truths. And, as such, what they really are — and it’s what most of the New Testament is — is a playing out in history of redemptive history. In other words, what we’re seeing is how does the fact that Jesus has risen from the dead, that Jesus is gone and ascended to the Father, that He has sent the Spirit to be in His Church — what does it look like to be a Christian in the world that we live in? And watch that sort of play out in redemptive history.
I’ll give you an example of how, just so you can understand how redemptive history works. If you go to the New Testament and you go to the Gospels, we meet a guy named Peter. We all know this guy. We know he can be erratic. In Matthew 16, he can be saying that Jesus is the Son of God, He is the Messiah, He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and Jesus can look at him and say, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed that to you, but my Father which is in heaven.” And just about a minute later, he can be getting rebuked and Jesus can say, “Get behind me, Satan.”
I mean, Peter goes from aces high to murderers’ row in like a minute. I mean, he’s this type of guy. Not only does he then go cringing away when Jesus is crucified, but Jesus shows up, he jumps out of the boat and he goes and has fish with Jesus on the beach. He’s sees Jesus alive. He sees the resurrected Christ. He experiences the resurrected Christ. Not only that, but on the Day of Pentecost when he’s filled with the Spirit of God, he preaches a message where thousands of people come to faith. I mean, this is a man that has been touched by the Gospel. This is a man that’s been touched by God.
But we go just a few chapters later in the book of Acts and God says, “I want you to go visit Cornelius. “I’m not going to go visit Cornelius because he’s a Gentile.” You’d be going, “Dude, you had all those experiences with Jesus and you still don’t quite get it?”
No. God had to give him three visions to finally go to the household of Cornelius. What’s going on here? What we’re seeing is we’re watching the development of the Church throughout the New Testament which means the New Testament is far more describing the things in this epistolary literature than it is prescribing things to you and me. Because it’s corrective in nature, dealing with specific issues, and it’s a playing out of redemptive history. In other words, “How do I deal with this?” Which is what we have to do. We have to start asking the question to ourselves once we read these books and figure out what’s going on. We have to start asking, “How would then I apply redemptive history in my world,” because the world that we live in is different than the world that they lived in.
So, let’s look at this. Let’s back up here for a minute and try to see how this plays out in the real world in Ephesians so that we can understand what Paul is saying to that church. Then what we’re going to do is we’re going to move it into 2018 and we’re going to try to see what it would mean for you and me to apply to our lives. So, let’s look at what goes on here.
In Ephesians 1:3, Paul tells them that they have been blessed with all of the spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. In other words, they’ve got all the things that they need. They’ve been chosen. They’ve been predestined. They’ve been adopted by the One who does all things after the counsel of His own will. And not only that, but they have received the inheritance of the Spirit in their lives. And by the end of Ephesians 1, Paul says, “And, man, you are the Church. You are the vehicle that God is going to fill all in all with.”
In other words, man, the Church is a really significant entity in the book of Ephesians. If you go home and read it this week, I would challenge you — six chapters. You can read it in one sitting. Underline the word “church” when you read the epistle to the Ephesians. You will find that you underline on a regular basis. It’s all about the Church. Paul is saying, “Listen, you guys in Ephesus don’t look like Jesus anymore. You look more like the culture that you live in than you look like Jesus. And I’m going to write this to you to give you some correction. First of all, look at what Jesus has done for you. He’s forgiven you, He’s chosen you, He’s adopted you, He’s filled you with His Spirit and He’s made you this vehicle, the Church.”
And so, you understand how that works. Let’s make sure that we all understand how we got in there. Ephesians 2:1. When we were all dead in trespasses and sins and we had no hope in this world, and we were by nature children of wrath, what did God do? God, who is rich in His mercy, loved us and He gave us provision to be saved. That’s why it’s by grace that we’re saved, not by the things that we do lest we would boast. And you see that in Ephesians 2:1 about being dead in trespasses and sins. And then, in Ephesians 2:8 where we’re saved by grace through faith, and that’s not of our own doing. It’s the gift of God. Not of works, lest anyone would boast. And because all of us come the same way, Paul says, “So, let me tell you the mystery now. Remember how it used to be that there was Jew and there was Gentile? Remember how that used to be?”
Okay. What He’s done — you can see that Ephesians 2:12-13 and following. He says, “What’s happened is that middle wall of partition that separated Jew from Gentile has now been torn down and He’s made one new man. That’s the Church. The Church has been made now of both Jew and Gentile and it’s one new man.”
This is incredible because in Ephesians 3 he says, “Let me bring it a little bit more. Through the Church, God is going to make known His manifold wisdom and grace even to the principalities and powers that are in the heavenly places.”
And then he says, “So, let me stop for a moment and pray for you so that you get the download of all this stuff that God has done in your life and what He wants you to be because He wants you to be the Church in Ephesus. So, I’m going to bow right now and I’m going to pray for you that you understand the breadth and the depth and the height and the width of the love of God and you understand the One who’s going to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think.”
And he says, “Now that I’ve prayed for you,” in Ephesians 4:1, “here’s what I want you to do. I want you to walk worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called. I want you to look like what you are. I want you to live this out.”
So, in doing that, God has made provision. You can see it in Ephesians 4:12-13. He’s put people in the Church — apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists — to equip the saints so that the saints can do the ministry so that in Ephesians 4:17-18 you no longer walk the way you used to walk and you start living a different life. You look differently. So, into Ephesians 5, you’re no longer doing these things and those things anymore. You’re living a different, ethical and moral life and you’re redeeming the time, in Ephesians 5:15-16, because the days are evil.
“And since all of that’s true, I don’t want you to live like the culture you live in. I don’t want you to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess. I don’t want you to live this party life that you all are living and just sort of doing whatever you’re doing. You’re called to be the Church. Jesus has done all these things for you. He’s blessed you with all these blessings. I want you to walk this thing out. God’s put provision in the Church to get you equipped. Don’t live that way. What I want you to do is I want you to be filled with the Spirit. Ephesians 5:18. You are the Spirit-filled community in Ephesus. Be filled with the Spirit. And when you’re filled with the Spirit, you’re not going to look like the world. You’re going to be different.”
He doesn’t give an exhaustive list. He doesn’t give a prescriptive list. He gives a descriptive list of what it might look like to be filled with the Spirit. He says, “Here’s what you’re going to do: You’re going to be thankful. You’re going to sing songs and you’re going to sing hymns and spiritual songs and you’re going to make melody in your heart to the Lord. You’re going to love God and be thankful. And you’re going to be submitting to one another out of reference for Christ.”
Which would be like, “Whoa. We’re going to submit? We’re going to be the Spirit-led Church and we’re going to submit one to another out of reverence for Christ?”
Just think about this for a second. How many churches really submit one to another out of reverence for Christ? Basically none, which Paul is saying is part and parcel of really being the Church. He says it in Philippians. “Have one mind and one accord. Let this mind be in you which is also in Christ Jesus.” He says it throughout all the epistolary literature. Everybody’s saying the same thing. Jesus says it in the high priestly prayer that He prays over you and me in John 17:21 and John 17:23.
“Father, let them be one, as we are one, so that the world may know.”
He says, “I want everybody to be filled with the Spirit and I want us submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. I want us to look different than the world. I want us to look different than our culture.”
And then, if you would’ve lived in Ephesus, you would’ve known what’s called the “household code.” The household code was Roman in its invention, and everybody knew it because the Romans, in their empire, what they did not want was chaos. They wanted to make sure there wasn’t chaos because they knew that chaos could erupt and, before long, chaos would get a leader. And, before long, there would be a fight going on in this outer corridor of some place out in the outer banks of the empire. So, they liked to have order.
So, the Romans had what was called a “household code.” Everybody would’ve known it. It wouldn’t have been any surprise to anybody. And the household code went something like this: In order to establish order in society, there has to be a hierarchical chain of command. And here’s the way it works. In the household — and the Roman household included your family, your wife, your children and the businesses that went on in the household or what your economy might be. It was all of that together.
Here’s the way it worked: If you were the man in the house, your wife submitted to you. If you were the man in the house, your children submitted to you. And if you were the man of the house, your slaves, if you had them, submitted to you. Paul says, “Okay. That’s the way the Romans do it. Here’s the way we do it: We’re going to submit one to another, and we’re going to do it in a way that’s revolutionary that shows that Jesus is in our midst in Ephesus.”
In Ephesians 5:22, it reads, literally, “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.”
The word “submit” is not in Ephesians 5:22. So, everybody who’s always looked at their wife and said, “Wife, submit to me. Ephesians 5:22,” the word “submit” is not in the original Greek. It is pulled from this word, because what Paul is doing is not teaching wives to submit to their husbands. He’s teaching the entire household how to submit one to another out of reverence for Christ.
He says, “To the women, that they submit to their husbands as to the Lord.” And they needed to hear that because, in Ephesus, if you understand how the culture was run at the time, there was a large, large temple there that was run by women who taught that women were far superior to men and the men that serve them, they castrated. So, Paul is saying to the women, “Hey, look, we can’t be looking like our culture here running around. You need to submit to your husbands. And husbands are going to submit to their wives, too, because they’re going to love them as Christ loved the Church.”
Which would’ve been radical because that’s not the way it worked in the First Century. It was, “Here’s the hierarchy.” Paul’s saying, “No. We’re changing this. The hierarchy is that we worship the Lord. And, in worshiping the Lord, we put others first. We do it differently. We’re the Spirit-filled community. We look like Jesus.”
So, women are going to submit to their husbands. Men are going to submit to their wives by loving them and giving themselves for them. And he’s not even talking about marriage. That’s what he says. He goes, “I’m not even talking about marriage. I’m talking about Christ in the Church. He’s talking about the witness of the Church in the world. He’s not even trying to address things that we think he’s trying to address. He’s saying, “Listen, we’ve got to look different. We’re the Spirit-filled community in Ephesus and we look more like the culture than we look like the world. We need to be filled of the Spirit, we need to submit one to another, and here’s the way it’s going to work.”
And then, Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, you are going to not provoke your children to anger.”
The “children obey your parents” would’ve been commonplace for most people. That’s what they did in Ephesians 6:1. But in Ephesians 6:4, that parents, fathers in particular, would not provoke their children to anger was radical because children were like cattle. They were property. Paul says, “This is the way you can mutually submit one to another. Fathers, you honor your children. Children should honor their fathers, but fathers, you honor your children.”
And then he says, “And slaves honor your masters.” And then he says this, and this is so important. “Masters, do the same to them.” Because, see, this is all flowing together. This is not disparate things that you just pull out and go, “Oh, this is how you run your marriage. And then what do we do with this slave thing? Let’s just chuck it and get rid of it because it doesn’t make any sense to us.”
No. It makes perfect sense. Because here’s what he’s saying: “As we work out these issues in the local church, an outworking of redemptive history, we’re going to do it differently. Masters, you’re going to do the same to them. You’re going to honor them.”
Which would’ve been radical.
“And you’re going to stop your threatening. You’re not going to do this anymore. You’re going to know that He who is both their master and yours is in heaven...” — listen — “...and there’s no partiality with Him.”
What is Paul saying here? Paul’s saying, “Hey, listen. If you really understand how God is working in the Church, the distinction that the Roman society makes between slaves and owners is not made by God. Therefore, maybe it shouldn’t be something that we do in the local church.”
Which is why, when he writes Philemon and the slave has run away, he says, “Accept him back as a brother,” because this is an outworking. This is not Bible bullets that you pull out and extract out. This is a letter that was written at a time and a place for a purpose.
Now, all of this is so important because the next words that Paul says in these continual argument and the continual flow of what he’s saying is this: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and 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. For we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
So, what’s he saying here? Rather than just lift this out and run wild with it, what is he saying? He’s just said, “Hey, listen, this is what I want you to be. I want you to be different. I want you to be the Church that God’s called you to be. I want you to walk this out. I want you to be different. I want us to be a place that’s filled with the Spirit and mutually submitting one to another. We’ve revolutionized the household code. We’ve revolutionized the way culture’s done. We’re all going to work together on this thing. And so, since I’ve said all of those things to you, finally, because it’s not going to be easy to love others and to mutually submit and to put others before you and not want to pull back to culture and the hierarchical authorities,” —
That’s why Paul can later on say, in the epistle to the Galatians, “In Christ there’s neither male nor female. There’s neither bond nor free; slaves or free. None of that. There’s neither Jew nor Gentile. All are one in Christ Jesus because we don’t do that stuff. The hierarchy is Jesus. The way it works out is we serve one another. We don’t play the games that culture plays.”
And then he goes, “You’re not going to be able to not play the games that culture plays if you think you’re going to do this in your own strength. It ain’t going to happen. You’re going to have to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. This is going to be something that God’s going to have to work in you. It’s not going to be something that you’re going to be able to do on your own.”
“Therefore put on the whole armor of God,”
“If you think you’re going to just get up in the morning and just live a Christian life without culture influencing you and you ending up looking more like culture than Christ,” Paul says, “You’re gravely mistaken. You need to understand something, Church at Ephesus. Please listen to me. Your witness in Ephesus is going to be challenged by spiritual forces that all they care about is to ruin your witness in Ephesus. If the Church looks like the culture in Ephesus, then the witness for Christ is gone.”
And when the Church looks like culture, the witness is gone because people who are on the outside are going to go, “Well, the Church doesn’t look any different than these people. It doesn’t look any different than that particular group. It doesn’t look any different than that.”
Paul is saying, “No. Reject this.”
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand...” — notice here he doesn’t say “fight.” I grew up in a tradition where all we did was fight the devil. It was like we had prayer meetings against the devil. We’d bind in everything and loose in everything and yelling at the devil and all this stuff. One day, I was in prayer. Twenty minutes had gone by and I’m going, “Man, we haven’t even prayed to God yet. All we’ve done is yelled at the devil for twenty minutes.”
I’m going, “That just doesn’t seem right. Something seems wrong about this.”
Okay. Paul doesn’t say fight. He says to stand. He already told us in Ephesians 1, 2 and 3 what Christ has done to secure the Church and what He’s done for the Church. He says, “Put on the armor of God and stand against the schemes, the tactics, the methods of the diablos, the liar, the slanderer, the accuser.”
He says, “Listen, we don’t wrestle.”
See, in antiquity, you’d start off with bow and arrows from a distance. And then, as the war got closer, it would be swords. And then, as it got really close, it would be wrestling. And if you were wrestling on the ground with one of your opponents, the one who got up lived and the one who didn’t get up died. He says, “We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood. You know that fight you think you’re having with your husband or wife? Or that challenge that you think you’re having with your children?”
Or, for us it wouldn’t be slaves and masters. It’d be going to work. The boss, the co-workers. Part of our household, how the economics in our household works. He says, “Let me make something really clear. Your battle about living your witness in society is not against flesh and blood. You’re going to think that it is. You’re going to get mad at people. You’re going to want to get back at people. You’re going to want to be mean at people. You’re going to say, ‘Look what they did to me.’ No, no, no. Your battle’s not against flesh and blood. That’s not where the battle’s at. It’s against rulers and authorities and cosmos powers over this present darkness, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places that have one focus for you as a believer: To destroy your witness for Christ in the local community. That’s what they care about. That’s what they want to do.”
If they can get the Church looking like culture — and we do. I mean, think about it. So often, the Church looks more like culture than it does look like Christ. I mean, Christ turns the other cheek. Christ loves enemies. Christ washes feet. He is different from the way culture works. Culture says, “Get what’s yours.” Christ says, “Go love others.” And then what we do — and this is so damaging — is we adopt culture, and then what we do is we take Christ and try to cram Him into our culture and make the Bible work for the things that we want to believe culturally, rather than letting Christ reject the culture that we live in and live the way God wanted us to live. Big difference. Big difference.
Okay. So, let’s back up here for a minute and let’s unplug. Let’s download some real practical things now that we’ve worked through this epistle and we’ve learned sort of how to better read it and we’ve got a better idea of what’s going on. Let’s just unplug for a minute and listen to some of the things that we need to think about practically in our life. Give me a minute to explain this. Number one: The spiritual battle — we just read that there’s a spiritual battle. There’s cosmic forces. We’re not wrestling against flesh and blood. We just read this.
The spiritual battle reminds us that evil is real. When I say that, let me explain to you why that’s so important. This is such an important thing for you and me to grasp. When I or you say that evil is real, what we’re making is a moral judgment. We’re making a judgment that something is evil, which means there’s also, alternatively, something that is good. I don’t know how you all do your things in life, but I have an iPhone. It’s funny. People call me PC, but I use Apple products. But I write down on my iPad with a stylus, or I type on my phone on notes because I’m constantly assimilating stuff when I’m working on either classes as a professor or, as a pastor, working on sermons.
I jotted this down and I said, “You know, I need to read this to the congregation so that they understand why this is so important.”
Let me read what I wrote down on my iPad: “The wholesale societal movement towards a naturalistic explanation for everything...”
Let me stop there. See, in our world today, we want to explain everything through a naturalistic bent. If you do something wrong, well, you didn’t get sociologically worked in the right way. You didn’t get psychologically worked in the right way. Maybe physiologically you didn’t get some needs met, or whatever. Or maybe, pathologically, you didn’t get the right medicine.
And what’s going on is by explaining everything in naturalistic terms — if everything can be explained naturally, if everything can be explained just naturalistically, then what happens is, whether we realize it or not, it’s an attempt to make ethics and morals obsolete. Because what we can say is, “Well, that person didn’t really do that. It was sort of because they didn’t get this, this, this and this, then the choice that they made was really who they were.”
So, there’s really no moral or ethical bent to anything that we do. It’s just sort of who we are.
“So, don’t give me grief when I do what I am because it’s just naturalistically I can explain everything.”
No, no, no. When we go to the Bible as Christians — and, again, I’m not speaking to non-Christians here. If you’re a non-Christian here today, I am so glad you’re here. You are welcomed here. You can belong here before you believe. I’m speaking to those people who say, “I follow Jesus.” If we follow Jesus, we are told in Ephesians that there is a spiritual battle that is going on that you and I are involved in whether we realize it or not. And since there is a spiritual battle, that means that evil is real. That means that there are moral things and there are ethical things.
So, the moral and the ethical truths are not what I want to do or what I think I’m supposed to do or what I say, “This is who I am,” or whatever else. The moral and ethical rules of life come from the one who created us. They come from the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And so, what God says is right or wrong becomes what is right and wrong. And if we obey and do the things that God says, that is good. When we deviate from the things that God says, then that becomes evil and it’s a wrong way to go and it’s the wrong walk. Does that makes sense? Very important to understand. Evil is real.
Secondly, the spiritual battle reminds us that evil is real and it’s formidable. In other words, if you think you can just get up every day and not put on the armor of God and not think about what it looks like to really live out our lives, I can tell you you will give into culture at some point and you will eventually try to figure out how to make Christ work in the way culture works because the evil in the world is formidable. That’s why Paul says, “There’s rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil.”
He writes this to say, “Hey, this is a big deal.”
Now, there’s two things that we can do wrong here. One is to overemphasize the spiritual world. We don’t want to do that. You’ve all met that person who’s like, “The devil made me do it.” You’ve been there, right? Maybe you did that. It’s like, “No. The devil didn’t make you do that. You shouldn’t have spent your money on that thing. That’s your problem, not the devil’s.”
But to overemphasize or underemphasize it, to act like it’s not real, that there is no such thing as this. Paul says, “This is formidable.” Now, he doesn’t explain this, so anybody — listen, trust your pastor on this. Anybody who says they know how all this works, they don’t. Just when they tell you that they do, just say, “Thanks,” and move on. Nobody knows how all this works. I know the guy on late night TV who sells you the book for five bucks and the holy water that they bottle at the Waffle House bathroom is going to tell you that this is how it works, but the bottom line is that’s not how. We don’t know how this works. We just have some little bit of stuff. The danger is for people to try to understand things that are beyond our understanding.
What we know, biblically, is that there is evil out there. We know that there are spiritual forces of wickedness out there. We know that there’s a battle out there and that’s enough. We don’t need to know how it works because we’ve been given provision to stand, not to fight, and we’ve been given the armor of God so that we can withstand. And that’s all that we need to know. But to think that we’re not going to be confronted with this stuff and that it’s not a formidable foe would be biblically inaccurate and we need to be aware of that.
Third. This is huge. A spiritual battle, knowing that we’re in one, enables us to understand certain spiritual dynamics. We’re told by Paul that there are schemes, methods, tactics of the devil, the liar, the slanderer and the accuser. I don’t have time to go into all of this because it would be another series, but what I can tell you is there are two ways — and they’re the predominant ways — that the devil gets into our lives with his schemes.
Here’s what he does: It’s through temptation and it’s through accusation. Let me explain how this works. This is huge. All the three services before this, people have said this was really great truth for them. They said this was a revelation for them. If you’re a believer — I’m not talking to unbelievers. I’m talking to believers.
If you’re a believer, the schemes the devil uses — and these are the two major schemes that he uses — are temptation and accusation. When the devil tempts you and me, what he does is he gets us to look at the grace and the mercy of God and elevate that and downplay the holiness and the righteousness and the judgment and the wrath of God to where we go, “Oh, well God loves me. I mean, why would He not want me to — I mean, I’ve worked hard. Why would He not want me to have these things? Why would He not want me to do this? This is sort of who I am. I mean, He created me, right? I’m going to do this things.”
And the temptation in the life of the believer is when we elevate it — and he does. He puts it in front of us — the love and mercy of God to the detriment, to the hiding of the fact that God is a holy God and, therefore, we are tempted as believers to do something thinking, “Well, this is what God would want,” or, “I did this enough,” or, “I tried enough, so I should get this. This is something that I should get.”
That is temptation. Accusation is the exact opposite. Accusation is when the devil holds up the holiness and the righteousness and the judgments of God and downplays the grace and the mercy of God and says, “Look at how holy God is and look at what you’ve done. You lied. You cheated. You did those things. You talked about. You did this. Look how holy God is. He could never, ever, ever use you. He could never, ever, ever love you.”
And why does he do these two things? Because if he could get you giving into temptation, and if he can get you believing accusation, then he can destroy you and I’s witness in the community for the Lord, and the Church, then, doesn’t become the witness that it should be. You can read the book of Revelation. In Ephesus, Jesus says, “I’m about to come and take your lamp stand out of your church because you’ve lost your witness in the community.”
That’s why Paul writes. He writes to you and me because there is a witness to be upheld. Paul sees the local church as the hope of the world. That the local church exemplifies who Jesus is or it doesn’t. And so, it’s so important to understand the logic of these epistle and what they’re trying to do.
And the last thing I’ll tell you as we get out of here is this: Our walk amidst and against the spiritual battle is part of living out redemptive history in 2018. Next year, it’ll be 2019. Next year, it’ll be 2020. If we lived in 1944, it’d be in 1944. How do we live out what Jesus has done for us in the Church in today’s world? Because we’re confronted with different things than they were. I can’t give you everything because I wouldn’t have time to do it, but I can give you a few things based on the context of what Paul has said here in Ephesians.
Number one. I can tell you that we ought to be honoring the marginalized. Why do I say that? Because Paul honors the women, the children and the slaves right before he goes into this spiritual battle that we’re in. We should be honoring the marginalized. And let’s just be honest here. It’s okay. It’s okay to admit it. The Church, primarily, in America, has done a really poor job of honoring the marginalized. We’ve judged them, we’ve condemned them, we’ve told them they’re going to hell, but we’ve not done a very good job of honoring the marginalized.
This is an area that if we’re going to look like Christ in our culture, the very first place that we should be is honoring the marginalized. And I can tell you Jesus did. In Luke 15 — go home and read it today. Just read it. It says, “The tax collectors and the sinners were all drawing near to hear Him.”
The sinners wanted to hear Jesus speak. I want to ask a question. Do the sinners in America want to come to the church to hear the pastor speak? If they don’t, we might be doing something wrong. Because do you know who grumbled? The religious people. They grumbled. I always ask the staff, or I’ll ask the people, “Has any church called and they’re upset at us being at First Friday?”
“Anybody criticizing us for doing some of the things that we’re doing? They don’t like the fact that we’re down there taking care of the kids and they’re selling beer and wine in the middle of all that stuff and we shouldn’t be a part of it? Is that what the religious people are saying? Then let’s go do more of it because when the religious people are critiquing it, that means we’re probably doing what God wants us to be doing.”
So, honoring the marginalized. In honoring the marginalized, we’re giving a voice to those who don’t have one. The Church should be giving voices to those that don’t have one. Do you know why? Because Jesus does. See, I didn’t have a voice until Jesus met me. You didn’t have a voice until Jesus met you. He gave you a voice, and He gave you a voice to tell people about the King of kings and the Lord or lords. It’s called the Gospel. And what we want to do is when we honor the marginalized, we give them a voice. When this happens — and this is looking like Jesus; a lot like Jesus — community revival takes place.
See, in these churches that were really living out the things that God had called them to do, it says they were turning the world upside down. It’s when we turn inward and we focus inward and we get focused about us rather than doing the things that God’s called us to do is when we get messed up. So, how do we live out redemptive history in 2018? Here’s a start. And if your Christianity struggles with some of this stuff, maybe your Christianity has been a little bit more informed by culture than it has by Christ because Christ comes for those on the margin.
And let me tell you something: I know He came for those on the margin because I and you, if we’re Christians, we were on the margin when Jesus found us, whether we want to admit it or not. We were as far away from God as anybody could be away from God. There’s no difference between us and anybody else. We can try to play that game in our mind, but every single one of us, in terms of the holiness of God, was as far away from God as we could be. We were on the margin when you consider the holiness of God, but He came to you and me. We need to make sure that we go out into the highways and the hedges and that we reach out into the marginalized of society. We don’t have to always condone everything that’s being done, but we can give them dignity and value because Jesus died for them.
Amen? So, I’ll leave you with this last thought: Instead of going home today and this week and going, “Okay. I’ve got a great job, I love my family, I love my spouse. If I get a little bit better job and make a little bit more money and maybe get a little better house and a little better car — and, man, God, I love You and I thank You for all the things You’re doing in my life. If You could help me get a little bit better at some things, it’d be awesome. I mean, I’m okay if You don’t, but I love You.”
Instead of looking at life that way, what if you said, “God, I love You and You’re first and You’re my Lord, which means my house, my family, my kids, my car, my job is place for me to demonstrate Your glory in such a way that stands distinct and different from the way our culture does it. I’m going to be a steward of all the things that you have given to me rather than doing all the things that I do and trying to get you into that. I’m going to put You first in everything that I do and realize I have an awesome opportunity to be an incredible shower of Your glory in everything that I do because it’s all Yours anyway.”
I think if we adopted that mindset as a church that we could see Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota turned upside down. Let’s put on the full armor of God, let’s stand against the schemes and the strategies of the devil and let’s walk in the victory that Christ has given to you and me and let’s make a difference in the world that we live in.
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank You so much for Your love and Your mercy. I thank You for the wonderful people here at Grace Community Church. I thank You, Lord, that this church is making a difference in the community. In many ways, we’re doing a lot of these things. But Lord, I’m not going to settle for doing a lot of these things, Lord. I want to even ramp it up more. I want to see Your power and Your presence shake Lakewood Ranch. Lord, I want people at Pinchers coming to Jesus. I want people at the Trattoria coming to Jesus. I want people at the Mexican place coming to Jesus. Lord, the people at Pinchers, I want them to be Pinched for Jesus while they’re eating.
So, Lord, just make it happen in here. Let it start with us. Let it start with us realizing that we’re in a walk, and part of that walk is a spiritual battle and we’re going to put on the full armor of God. We’re going to walk as a Spirit-filled community. We’re going to live this thing out for You, Lord, to please You in such a way that people are going to see things differently, and many, many people are going to come to faith because we believe that that local church can genuinely be the most important institution in all of society.
So Lord, as we leave here today, we pray that You would lead, guide and direct us. We pray that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And I pray, Lord, for every father in here that they would have a great day today, that You would just bless them abundantly as they leave, and Lord, we just thank You for all the things that You’re doing here at Grace. We love You for it. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”
Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. God bless everybody. Happy Father’s Day. God bless you.