Aren't You Mistaking The Enemy?

February 28, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Ephesians 6:10-20

Be Strong!

1. "Be strong!" That's what the scripture says. It is from today's second reading. "Finally I say. Trust in the Lord and be strong in his mighty power!," (verse ten). Why is it necessary to be strong? It is because there is a battle and we must fight it. Who is the opponent with whom we are doing battle? The scripture says in the next part in verse eleven, "So that you may be able to stand up and resist the tactics of the devil." It says the opponent with whom we're supposed to be doing battle is "the devil." To say that the opponent with whom we're supposed to be fighting is "the devil" means, in effect, "You must not fight with human opponents." Thus, in verse twelve the scripture says, "Our battle is not to take on flesh and blood." "Flesh and blood" means human beings. The opponent with whom we fight is not human. We mustn't forget that fact. When fellow human beings oppose each other, when fellow human beings fight each other, when they hate and hurt each other, then the one who is truly elated with success and in triumph is the devil.

2. Paul uses the phrase "the tactics of the devil" on purpose and by choice in this text. When [somebody] says something like "the tactics of the devil," the words may sound quite a bit superstitious. But on the other hand, there is no expression that expresses this reality as marvelously as this, is there? For example, please consider a household. Nobody gets married wanting to spend his or her whole life arguing with someone. It is hardly possible that both husband and wife hope to hate each other. But before they even see it coming, what both of them are not hoping for [may] come to pass. You can't help but shake your head no. All you can say is they ended up falling into the tactics of the devil.

3. Also, I think we can see this in the many different ways of confrontation and conflict in this world. A lot of times we see in this world the figure of people on the same organizational team trying to do good but fighting with each other. Or maybe there are some who are working towards good all the while thinking they are doing good, but they end up becoming the source of the arguing. Looking back over history, while hollering about fulfilling righteousness, the most cruel acts have taken place, and the reality is that much blood has been shed. They are truly acts that can only be said to be the tactics of the devil. Such acts are out there. Of course, since the church is not exempt from them either, even in the daily lives of Christians, even in the walk of the church, these tactics of the devil we're talking about are always familiar topics of discussion. That's why Paul wrote this to the church. I will state it again, he says. "Our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is not against humankind. Make no mistake about the opponent with whom we do battle. It is important that we stand up in resistance to the tactics of the devil."

4. If it were a battle against human opponents, we might do battle with weapons. There may even be cases when power does the talking, or when there is "strength in numbers." We might win with that over human enemies, but we will not win against the devil. To win against the very devil himself, to win against the very power of sin, we need to "be strong" in the true sense.

5. Therefore, Paul does not just say, "Be strong!," but says, "Trust in the Lord and be strong in his mighty power!" Where it says, "Trust in the Lord," it is a free translation. Originally it is the phrase, "being in the Lord." In the New Interconfessional Version, it is translated many times as "joined to the Lord." Therefore, the scripture says, "Be strong!," however, the emphasis rather than being on our becoming a strong person by trying hard is really on our being connected steadfastly to Christ. In addition, to be strong by being connected to Christ, even more specifically, is expressed [in scripture] as "to wear upon your person the armor of God."

6. We have something we're supposed to wear. There is something we're supposed to put on in [our] life in Christ, [in our] every day faith lives. Without it, we cannot be strong in the true sense. We cannot do battle. At least, we cannot fight the fight with our non-human opponents. We have an armor for that. But, what is this armor we are supposed to put on in Christ? In this text it gives a record of six pieces of armor. Let's take a look at them one by one.

Putting On The Armor Of God

7. First, [there] is "the belt of truth." The believer must first of all firmly put on "the truth." What is the truth? In The Second Epistle To Timothy the following is written in regard to two persons [who went by the names] of Hymenaeus and Philetus. "They have deviated from the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection has already taken place, they have overturned the faith of certain people," (Second Timothy 2:18). Paul is using the word "truth" there, but it clearly means "sound teaching." The focus of sound teaching is Christ's cross and resurrection, yet they began their own interpretation about the resurrection without consulting anyone else. And since [what they taught] was disconnected from the correct teaching, these two were imposing their bad influence on others.

8. Sound teaching. The substance of the faith which the church has been faithful in communicating. We could call it "doctrine." It is extremely important that we learn it faithfully, that we take it in and put it on. "The faith is not studying." -- That is for sure. But, there are more than a few instances of fervent Christians who emphasize "personal experience" in the faith but have been carried off their feet and have deviated from the path, for having neglected to do their studying. We must firmly put on the belt of truth.

9. Second, [there] is "the breastplate of righteousness." "Righteousness" in another passage is simply translated as "goodness." The breastplate we're supposed to have is not human righteousness. It is God's goodness [given to us as clothing as a gift by faith]. It is the righteousness of God whereby he forgives and makes the sinner good or righteous due to the atonement for sin on Christ's cross. Human righteousness is no good in the presence of the devil; because the devil is the accuser, he is the prosecuting attorney, and he is ever challenging our righteousness. He will prosecute you with the indictment, "Aren't you a sinner? You've been condemned by God and will be destroyed, isn't that all you are? Where are your qualifications to stand in God's presence?" The words of the devil's indictment are certainly not mistaken. We are not qualified to stand in God's presence or to do anything. Our righteousness has no currency in the sight of God. But if we lose hope because of that we will wind up falling into the devil's tactics. That's why we must make God's righteousness our breastplate. We must declare, "I am saved by Christ, I am forgiven of my sin, and I am made righteous by God."

10. Martin Luther once wrote that he suffered often from these accusatory visitations from the devil. There is the famous story that one time he threw an ink bottle at the devil. They say in Wartburg Castle there is still an ink stain from that time [he threw the bottle]. However, Luther won the victory over the devil through the breastplate of righteousness. He later wrote as follows. "The unpleasant opponent (the devil) cannot at this time shoot his criticisms at us, that we have sinned against God's commandments. That is because Christ has removed the certificate of the conscience that goes against us and which puts forth the evidence against us and he has already nailed it to the cross."*

11. The breastplate is something that protects life. The breastplate of righteousness protects the life of the believer. As long as we put on this breastplate, nobody can separate us from God, or cause us despair, or destroy us. As long as we have this breastplate of righteousness, we can stand up and fight against the devil.

12. Third, the text says [there is] "the preparation to announce the gospel of peace." This applies to footwear. We are victorious over the devil by our telling the gospel to others.

13. Paul wrote this but he was once a persecutor of the church. The people in the church at Jerusalem underwent persecution and so they were scattered into the regions of Judea and Samaria. Did the scattered people gather weapons in order to resist the persecution? No, they did not. In the scriptures the following is written. "So, the scattered people went around making the gospel known," (Acts 8:4). When looked at by human eyes, no matter how undesirable the situations looked, no matter how undesirable the relationships with the others seemed, it wound up becoming an opportunity for them to make the gospel known. Instead of doing battle with human opponents, they tell the gospel to them. Their preparation for that is the footwear they were supposed to wear on their feet in order to do battle with the devil.

14. Fourth, [there] is "the shield of faith." The word "faith" is one that has a wide range of meaning. At one time the word expressed God's "loyalty." The word also expresses our "trust" in that loyalty. But, in this text the meaning of "trust" feels particularly fitting as "a shield." It calls it "a shield," and it actually stands for a pavis, a large shield that gives full frontal coverage to the body. With it you put out the fiery arrows that the devil shoots at you. The devil will shoot all kinds of arrows of fire [at you]. Sometimes it is temptation, sometimes it is suffering, or it may be a disaster. We can't avoid this ol' world where fiery arrows come flying out at us. But, there is no real reason we have to turn into bodies on fire from those flaming arrows. We can put out the fires of the fiery arrows. With what do we do that? We do it with faith. We do it by trusting in God's loyalty in all things. As long as we've not lost our trust, the fires of the arrows of fire will be put out and extinguished.

15. Fifth, [there] is "the helmet of salvation." In The First Epistle To The Thessalonian Disciples the scripture says, "Wear as a helmet the hope of salvation," (First Thessalonians 5:8). So, we can make the case that this "salvation" means the completion of ultimate salvation. Right now, we are still in the battle, we're still in agony and being wounded all the time, but the battle will not last forever. The day of victory is coming. We must not let go of that hope. We must wear it faithfully on our brows.

16. Sixth, [there] is "the sword of the spirit," that is, the word of God. The Holy Spirit is at work wherever the word of God is spoken and [wherever] the word of God is heard. The number one place where God's word is spoken and heard is in the worship service on the Lord's Day, like we are gathered here together now. We must not neglect this hour in which we assemble ourselves together. The secret to victory is when our lives are not separated from God's word. When we live by the Word and we walk by the Word, we can stand tough being completely victorious to the very end.

17. With that now, we have taken a simple look at the six pieces of [God's] armor [for believers]. [The scripture] states that we must "put them on and wear them." It sounds like the right thing to say, however, you can't say it's not for you yourself to put on. Nobody else can wear it for you. "[I don't have to] because my wife is a fervent believer." "[I don't have to wear it] because my parents are devout Christians." -- That matters not for you. You are the one who must put it on for yourself. What's more, putting on clothes has a different meaning from putting on armor. Is armor really of any use when you put it on for the first time at the time of the battle? It is not useful. Unless you wear it before then and practice with it on, it won't be any good at crunch time when it matters. Therefore, the scripture says, "That you be able to stand steadfastly and resist skillfully on the wicked day," (verse thirteen). The day is coming when the wicked day, the battle with the devil, will be required of us in a real sense. Will we end up pulled apart from God or will we remain in faith instead? The time of fighting against [the devil], when we will be called upon to answer this question in a decisive battle-tested manner, is coming. For us, it might be, for example, when we get sick. It might be the time a huge problem in [your] life comes up. Or it could be the very last moments of [your] life. Whatever the case may be, at that time it won't be of any use to wait until the last minute to prepare. When we claim that everything is fine right now because we have no problems, then in due time our feet will be swept out from under us. Right when everything is peaceful and uneventful is the right time in our lives when we need to put [God's] armor on snuggly and wear it steadfastly.

End Note

*In the quote from Luther,the phraseology,「そは」=「それは」, is an archaic literary expression.