“Life in the Combat Zone” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 2, 2018

“Life in the Combat Zone” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Have you ever been in a combat zone? I mean, a real, live, active combat zone. A place where bullets are whizzing past your head and explosive devices are ready to take your leg off. That’s a combat zone, and it’s a very dangerous place to be. You could be killed or wounded at any moment. Making it out of there alive is a very precarious proposition.

Well, guess what? You are in a combat zone, whether you realize it or not. Every Christian is. It comes with the territory. The battle is real, and the battle is on! The battle is raging, and there are no deferments, no going AWOL. You are in this battle, automatically, and it is a fight to the finish, a life-or-death conflict. So what to do? Be prepared for this battle. Because it’s going to come. There’s no avoiding it. Are you ready? Are you prepared? And so our theme this morning: “Life in the Combat Zone.”

Our text today is the famous “whole armor of God” passage from Ephesians 6. It begins: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in 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.” It’s fitting that Paul here wraps up his epistle to the Ephesians with a call to wrap ourselves up in the armor of God. For that is the only way we will be able to stand in the day of battle, and at the end of the day, to stand victorious. So prepare for battle! Realize you are in a combat zone. Take up the armor that God has given you for the fight. And at the end of the day, you will stand victorious.

First of all, realize you are in a battle. It is the battle of your life. Not only is it the most crucial and intense battle you will ever face in your life; it is also a battle that lasts your whole life long. Let me explain. On the day you were baptized, the pastor spoke these words over you, accompanied by the appropriate action: “Receive the sign of the holy cross both upon your + forehead and upon your + heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” Well, that cross not only marked you as one redeemed by Christ, it also marked you as one targeted by Satan! That cross on your head and your chest–those are targets, bulls-eyes, and the devil has you in those crosshairs! The day you were baptized you were inducted into the service–the Lord’s service. And that makes you a target for the devil and his hordes. You took on an enemy that day, and the old evil foe will not let up until you safely take your final breath.

Martin Luther recognized the attacks of the devil more keenly than most. He took it very seriously whenever a little child was baptized, knowing what was in store for that new Christian for the rest of his or her life. Luther writes: “Remember, therefore, that it is no joke to take sides against the devil and not only to drive him away from this little child, but to burden the child with such a mighty and lifelong enemy.”

No matter how young or old you are, no matter how long you have been a Christian–man or woman, boy or girl, pastor or layperson–you are in a battle. It is a spiritual battle. Paul describes it like this: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This is a spiritual battle. The fight is raging on the line between faith and unbelief, between reliance on God and pride in ourselves, between hope for the future and despair of God’s mercy. Your enemy Satan will try to defeat you, destroy you, get you to fall away from the faith. He will try to distract you or render you ineffective in the service of the Lord. He will tempt you, allure you, seducing you into great shame and vice. And if that doesn’t work, he will try to lull you into spiritual sleepiness and security, getting you to let down your guard. Or you may prosper and be successful and become a pillar of the community and a pillar in the church. Then the devil will tempt you toward pride or hypocrisy, so that you no longer feel dependent on God and his grace–that you have earned all the good you enjoy, and you deserve it. Your adversary Satan will attack your mind, attack your emotions, attack your body, attack your relationships, attack your soul. In all of these attacks, his purpose always is to get your eyes off your Savior Jesus Christ and his cross.

Dear Christians, take heed lest ye fall! Your enemy, the devil, is prowling about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Beware the devil’s wiles! He seeks to get you “off-message,” off the saving message of God’s grace in Christ, so that you fall into unbelief. That is the devil’s ultimate goal. You do realize, don’t you, that the devil is real and active, actively bringing evil upon the children of men? And it’s not just the showy stuff, the spectacular evil that gets our attention. Less noticed but just as deadly, if not more so, is the quiet evil the devil does in thwarting faith in the gospel. That’s really his goal: that we give up on God, give up the faith, give up on God’s goodness shown expressly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind. The devil has one goal above all in regard to us–something that would spell defeat for us and victory for him–and that goal can be summed up in one word: unbelief. So prepare for battle! You’re in it, and you will be in it, till the day you die.

How do you prepare for battle? When soldiers are about to go out into a combat zone, they don’t just waltz out onto the battlefield clad in t-shirts and shorts, with nothing in their hands or on their heads. No, ask any soldier, and they would laugh at your suggestion. In fact, there are military veterans here among us, combat veterans, and you know the importance of being properly outfitted and equipped for battle. It can literally save your life.

So it is for us in the great spiritual battle in which we are engaged. We need to be well-clad and well-equipped for the fight. And the good news is, God has equipped you! He has given you a complete set of armor, especially suited for this conflict. Paul even lists the pieces of the armor you’ve been issued. He writes: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Here is everything you need to stand and fight and win: Belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, and sword. Paul uses the image of the outfit and equipment a soldier of his day would have used, and he applies it to Christians.

The first piece to take up is this: “Fasten on the belt of truth.” Gird up your loins, like a soldier getting ready for action. Wrap yourself around with divine truth–the truth of the way things really are, from God’s perspective. Don’t listen to the false narrative that the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh will tell you. Rather, fasten on the belt of God’s truth.

Second: “Put on the breastplate of righteousness.” When the devil aims at that cross-shaped target marked on your heart, accusing you of your sins, your own righteousness will not do. It’s too flimsy and easily pierced. Instead, you need the bulletproof breastplate that God supplies, the perfect righteousness of Christ your Savior. Jesus won that righteousness for you when he let his own side be pierced, as he bled and died on the cross. The holy blood of the Son of God, shed for you, pays the price for all your sins, wins forgiveness and righteousness for you, and acts as the divine breastplate to ward off all the devil’s accusations.

Third: “As shoes for your feet, put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” Christian soldiers, marching as to war, need protection for their feet, making them swift and sure-footed. Otherwise, you’re not ready. Our readiness for war comes from the gospel of peace. The peace that Christ won for us, in his body on the cross, establishes peace between heaven and earth and reconciles rebel man back to God. This gospel of peace gives us the sure footing we need to march into battle and to take our stand.

Fourth: “Take up the shield of faith.” The devil’s flaming arrows are flying your way, his lies and distortions. The saving, objective content of the Christian faith, which you yourself believe–this is the long shield that covers you and protects you from head to toe against those fiery missiles. And when we as a church stand side by side, with all our shields aligned in a straight row, then we form an impenetrable wall of defense.

Fifth: “Take the helmet of salvation.” A blow to the head is always the most dangerous and deadly. And Satan is aiming there on you, right where you were marked with the cross. But Christ has dealt the mortal blow to the devil, striking that old serpent in his head. That salvation then serves as your helmet in the combat zone. You are being kept safe for eternal life.

Sixth: “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The word that God utters is powerful and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. Every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord strikes down the devil. It is the word by which you live. God’s decrees, God’s declarations, his spoken word of gospel absolution–these words are spirit and life. The word of God is your sword to strike down the devil, the word that dwells in your heart and comes off your lips, as you sing it, confess it, and share it with your neighbor.

So then, our six pieces of armor are the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of readiness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit . . . and prayer. Our seven pieces of armor . . . no. . . . Seriously, notice that after the six items, Paul adds a seventh: prayer. Only he doesn’t match it up with a particular piece of armor. He just says it plainly: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Prayer is taking God up on his promise by asking him for help. And our Lord has given us his promise: “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

As we do battle with Satan, and the battle grows hot and the action is thick, at those times cry out to God in prayer, seeking his aid. In all times, in all circumstances, with all perseverance, call on God in prayer. He invites you to do that. God is watching out for you, keeping you safe. And pray to God for your brothers and sisters in Christ, who also are doing battle. Pray for me, your pastor. Pastors especially come under Satan’s attack. Dear friends, how we need God’s constant aid and protection! Let us not be lazy or sluggish. Rather, let us take God up on his gracious promises and pray, as we do battle.

Life in the combat zone. Yes, we are living in a combat zone, and it’s a dangerous place. Satan is hurling his fiery darts straight at us. The world would lull us into a state of unreadiness. Our own sinful flesh is fighting against us, opposing the will of the Spirit. We are in a battle, and the battle is real. So put on the whole armor of God.

The battle is real. But so is our Savior, Jesus Christ! And he has overcome all our foes–sin, death, and the power of the devil. The battle has already been won. Jesus won it for us–his resurrection shows it forth. The victory remains with life. Christ is the victor, and we stand with him. Brothers and sisters in arms, in Christ there truly is life in the combat zone.

Published in: on September 1, 2018 at 7:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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