When our lawn mower broke and wouldn’t run, my wife kept hinting to me that I should get it fixed. But, somehow, I always had something else to take care of first, the shed, the boat. Always something more important to me. Finally, she thought of a clever way to make her point. When I arrived home one day, I found her seated in the tall grass, busily snipping away with a tiny pair of sewing scissors. I watched silently for a short time and then went into the house.
When I came out again I handed her a toothbrush. I said, “When you finish cutting the grass, you might as well sweep the driveway.” The doctors say I will walk again, but I will always have a limp.
There are many things to fight in this world. For instance, you can fight sickness, fatigue, against the failure of plans and hopes, questions without answers, and pain without reason. Yes, we fight and struggle in this world.
But we don’t have to fight alone. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” says Philippians 4:13. And the psalmist remembered, “In the day when I called out, you answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.” God wants to accompany us into battle. The Lord doesn’t ask you to fight on your own. “The Lord is my strength and my shield,” is a truth we should commit to heart and memory.
As I look back at my life I’m aware of so many blessings, more than I could have asked or even imagined. At the same time there have been many challenges and obstacles. There have been few periods when I’ve not faced battles. Perhaps for others they wouldn’t have amounted to much, or what they find to be a battle may not have been for me as hard. We each must find a path to victory or risk defeat.
For sure, battles vary enormously. There are internal battles, times of temptation, doubt, fear, and anxiety. There are times of deep sadness, loss, emotional upheaval, betrayals. There are battles over health, finances, work and relationships. There are periods of opposition and criticism.
Most of us know nothing of life lived in a rose garden, though again our garden may have fewer thorns than many others, or vice versa. Whenever I’m doing any gardening among my roses or with my bougainvillea which can have huge thorns, I’m sure to wear gloves for protection. I’ve been cut and poked pretty badly by them.
God has protected us. The Lord covers us. We’ve been provided safe passage. God’s kindness has softened blows. Grace strengthen our steps when we are faltering. How merciful and loving the Lord is to us. Will we ever know the extent and depth of God’s care?
If you’ve ever been to Washington D.C., you may have visited the National Archives Building to view one of our nation’s most prized documents, the Declaration of Independence. Be prepared to wait in a substantial line because you will be only one of more than a million people who want to take even just a brief look at this historical treasure each year.
Before you reach the viewing area in front of the bulletproof glass, two guards stand at attention. They can be talked to; it’s not like at Buckingham Palace. You may notice the number of people who say something to the guard. Do you know what almost everyone asks him? They ask him how the Declaration of Independence is protected.
The answer is complex, but he says that the case it is so strong that the building could collapse around it and it would survive. Also, each night the case and document are mechanically transported into a huge 50-ton steel and concrete vault sunk deep beneath the ground of the museum. It is waterproof, fireproof, and atomic bomb proof.
We want to be sure the things we love are safe. We try to be strong but more important than strength is the power of love. I know we think love is weak and only emotional but it’s a spiritual power that comes from God above. And that’s where our ultimate protection comes from.
The word protect comes from Greek that means to cover over or walk in front of. We are willing to cover and even walk in front of who and what we love when they face danger.
We know love can’t safeguard children or spouse or partner or friend from all pain. Nobody can make that promise. But love has the power to spiritually defend us and others. When we’re not alone, we’re strong. Our spiritual strength is established in the capacity to love others and to be loved.
The truth is love not only protects us by bringing us help and reducing pain through shared lives; it gives us the strength to battle against forces and experiences too negative by enabling us to heal. When we love, we heal because love shows us all is not lost. We heal because we’re not left with only anger or resentment. Love gives us the strength to believe again. Love comforts our hearts. Love shows us who and what really matter. Love is
God’s will among us. Love is a way of life that brings peace and bestows divine power on those who practice it.
As scripture says, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Love’s power is immeasurable but assured because we know it comes from God, is shown in Christ Jesus, and seeks to save us all, as John 3:16 proclaims, “For God so loved the world that God gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” That love is for the world, for all. It’s what binds us all together as God’s children.
There are many kinds of strength. But the most important one is the strength you need in the love that comes from the Lord. Christian strength is not of the body; it’s spiritual. It’s what we need more of than we have.
It helps us to fight against temptation.
We all must learn how to overcome temptation, because we will be tempted. But, by God’s grace, we can overcome. And there is a lot to fight against. There are outward sins, lying, stealing, verbal, sexual and physical assault, immorality, murder. There are inward ones, such as pride, jealousy, envy, selfishness, lust, unforgiveness, and hatred.
As our final Ephesians passage says, we aren’t fighting an easy fight. “For our struggle is not against enemies of the blood and flesh.” These would be easier to fight against and win. We struggle spiritually.
Whether you believe there are rulers and “cosmic powers of this present darkness,” as our reading says, the need to struggle against wrongdoing, sin, temptation, defeatism, immorality, hatred, spiritual deafness and blindness is ever present.
Here’s the thing: People don’t just do wrong things, they get swept up into them, as in a current or stream or torrent or storm. There seems to be a power that gathers steam and force. A silent tsunami of negativity and destruction can take over individuals, families, communities, countries. It seeks to have its day and sway, some say to reign and rule.
Standing firm against this power is not to be assumed. It is to be struggled for. It requires truth, which is why Ephesians starts its discussion of the whole armor of God with truth. We fasten the belt of truth around our
waist. The belt was the first piece of equipment put on, and it secured all other pieces of our armor. Wearing the belt showed the soldier was ready for action, since he would only loosen it when off duty.
Truth must come first. It holds everything else together and enables us to know what the right path is. Once falsehood is listened to, anything is permitted, all can and will occur—even things once thought impossible, or when looked back upon, seem incomprehensible to others who didn’t get swept up into the forces.
We may think this is obvious or even easy to accept and apply in our lives. But truth coming first isn’t easy. Truth is good and right, and up to a point, is what most people want and believe in. But the honest to the Lord truth is that sacred cows and unexamined opinions and preferences are more important than the truth to too many. Truth to a point is what people want. Not truth first and everything else after. That scares people.
I challenge you to hold tighter to truth than to fiction, to what we assume is true enough. Sacred cows were idolatry in Moses’ day, and still are.
Next, we are told to “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” Without goodness, without humility and kindness, truth becomes hardness, a sharp spear point that we use to attack. But goodness coupled with truth brings salvation to hearers, and even can transform disbelievers into believers.
Our scripture says we are to put on our feet whatever makes us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Shoes might not be the most exciting piece of armor, but historically speaking, it is said, “the military successes both of Alexander the Great and of Julius Caesar were due in large measure to their armies being well shod and thus able to undertake long marches at incredible speed over rough terrain.”
Back then, shoes weren’t taken for granted. Just like today, peace shouldn’t be taken for granted. Peace comes from the light. Discord and war arise from darkness. We need to struggle hard to maintain our desire to walk in the light and to bear peace in our thoughts, words, and actions. Darkness has its lure and its logic, but they’re destructive and don’t bring peace.
Proclaiming peace, the peace of God found in Jesus Christ, and peace between people, is the object and purpose of the Church. God’s desire for peace is what brought the Church to life. But we are going to take some blows if we’re going to live for Christ and proclaim God’s peace. Our shield of faith must be carried and used to deflect what comes against us. This
shields us from falling prey to temptations and the lie in temptations that says we don’t need God’s help or direction.
The whole armor of God includes a helmet of salvation that protects our head and thinking from having too many doubts about God’s love that saves us in Christ Jesus. Finally, the sword of the Spirit is the living word of God that brings Christ’s teachings to life today.
We don’t fight alone. God accompanies us into battle. Through Christ, we can do all things. God answers those who seek to walk in peace. Let the immeasurable greatness of God’s love, the power of Christ’s grace, and the beauty of the Holy Spirit raise you in strength to love as God asks us to love, to do good so that the good is lifted like a banner, to follow the truth so that the Lord can be given the glory.
Can the church say Amen?