During the Covid-19 Pandemic, for a while at least, the world put aside what we were doing and united to battle the disease. Charlyn and I were in the Philippines where our ministry was interrupted, and we returned to the US. That was a weird flight home, especially the part where I choked on a peanut and coughed for five minutes. The lady next to me left and never came back to her seat.
The serious battle against the virus is being waged by scientists and doctors. Meanwhile, the greater and very real spiritual battle continues uninterrupted, though sometimes incognito. The apostle Paul explained we are in a battle against the “schemes of the devil.” Discouragement, temptation, and fear are among the “schemes” we faced long before Covid came. Even though we may forget at times, the battle doesn’t go away.
While we are called to be always vigilant in spiritual warfare, during Covid I believe the enemy has pressed hard. I am pretty sure there is nothing the devil opposes more intensely than apostolic church planters like us. While we know he schemes against everybody, the devil aims to silence us, undermine us, discourage us, and by any means thwart our efforts to win people to faith in Jesus Christ.
Have you been thwarted in any way during the last year and a half? Has your ministry been hampered? Have you struggled at times with discouragement, fear, or temptation? This is a great time to remember God’s instructions for spiritual warfare. I know it has helped me.
In Ephesians 6, Paul calls us to remain vigilant and take our stand in the fight. Even though it is not woke to say so, I really like Paul’s bellicose metaphor. “Put on the whole armor of God.” The Greek term is “panoply.” That is also an English word, though we do not hear it often. It means the entire battle suit of armor and weapons, and for Paul the image in his mind was the armor of a Roman warrior. As he wrote this, he was in prison in Rome. Most likely, Roman warriors were Paul’s prison guards. He saw them and their formidable battle gear regularly. I like to imagine he was with one as he wrote these words (maybe one he had won to faith in Christ — consider Philippians 1:13 on that point).
The suit of armor he speaks of in Ephesians 6 is even better than Roman armor. It is God’s armor. Our own human efforts, our fleshly vigilance and strength alone, are not sufficient for this task. God’s armor is perfectly suited for this spiritual battle. And He supplies it. Strap it on, piece by piece. Cinch the leather ties. Let the steel clatter. Do it, and God’s promise is incredibly reassuring: you will be enabled to stand your ground against the schemes of the devil. His armor strengthens us in the strength of God’s own might. While I love the imagery, it’s even more helpful to consider what each piece of armor means and the actions we are supposed to take in light of each one. But first, Paul gives more reconnaissance on the enemy.
We wrestle, He says, against the “rulers…authorities…cosmic powers over this present darkness…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” What are we supposed to do? What tactics do we use? Paul’s argument is that this is very real, even though we usually can’t see it with our eyes. And I think, often this contest is misunderstood. It is easy to misread the schemes of the devil and the method of our battle.
First, Paul says, we are to take truth. Bind it thick and taut around your core. Lash and tie it secure. Connect your thoughts to it. This warrior-girdle of truth will protect you from the devil’s lies and the fear he means to incite. It will expose the hidden snares of temptation as lies. What is this truth? The truth is, our perfect Father keeps his eyes on us. He has us always and forever in His hands. The world shakes. But his love is unfaltering. His intentions are undeterred. Our hope is secured.
We are wrestling a spiritual battle for minds and affections and allegiances. This enemy operates under the obscurity of “this present darkness.” The strategy is to deceive our minds and tempt our hearts and, ultimately, to weaken our faithful allegiance to Christ. Anxiety and fear are his allies. The truth protects our core and exposes the devil’s schemes.
Second, Paul says we are to dress ourselves with the breastplate of righteousness. Lashed securely to the girdle of truth, our impenetrable breastplate is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We have no righteousness of our own, but we have dressed ourselves with all the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. The devil cannot accuse us. Jesus paid for our sin. The bulwark of Christ’s righteousness is blazoned across our chests. It cannot be penetrated. Yes, we still falter and sin. But our sin is covered by the righteous breastplate of Jesus.
Third, shod your feet so you are prepared to take your stand. To prepare for battle, Roman soldiers tied sandals onto the bottoms of their feet so they could stand firm. For us, Paul says we are to make ourselves ready to preach the gospel. A secure footing in our warfare means we are prepared to preach the message of the gospel. Evangelism is our point of contact in battle and in this we are to stand firm. Paul is referring to the words of Isaiah 52:7 here: ” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace.” Our enemies in the spiritual realm are defeated as unbelievers receive the gospel and make peace with our Lord.
Fourth, girded by the truth, defended by righteousness and shod with readiness to evangelize, take up the battle shield of faith. Even when we are protected by the armor we wear, we must trust God who gave us the armor to stand firm. By faith we do not retreat in fear or discouragement or succumb to other temptations. We stand firm. The devil’s schemes are like fiery darts and faith in God is our defensive shield. It renders them ineffective.
Fifth, the helmet of salvation protects much like the shield of faith. Our salvation in Christ is like a warrior’s helmet protecting our minds from the attacks of our enemy. In Christ our salvation is secure.
Finally, the one offensive weapon in the armor God gives us is the sword of the Spirit, which is His Word. The Bible not only is the content source for our gospel preaching, it also is the content that instructs our faith.
Our primary tactic in spiritual warfare comes in verse 18. We pray. God is our sovereign. Christ is our redeemer. The gospel is our peace. Our faith is in Him. Our salvation is settled. God’s Word is in our hands. We stand in this armor…to pray. We pray for each other, and all the saints. We pray for their protection. But Paul asks us to pray for more. And this last instruction connects spiritual warfare intimately to our ministry as apostolic church planters.
This armor of God is really for people like us in World Team – people who have aligned ourselves with God’s mission in history. This is a missionary’s text. It is missionary armor. That is clear in verses 19 and 20. May God grant us boldness, like Paul asked for. May we proclaim the mystery of the gospel to our generation like he did to his.
All around the globe, we World Teammers have experienced lockdowns and quarantines. Paul himself, wrote Ephesians while in chains. But he remembered, even in chains, he was Christ’s ambassador. Now that the constraints are being lifted, let’s get after the work of an ambassador. Let’s pray. Let’s ask God to embolden our witness.