Feb. 22 lesson: Clothed and ready
Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 3: Stewardship for life
Sunday school lesson for the week of Feb. 22, 2015
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Ephesians 6: 10-20
The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be prepared!” That was also Paul’s last word to the Christians in Ephesus.
Ephesus was a major seaport in Asia Minor (today Turkey). Tradition holds John took Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Ephesus after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to fulfill the instructions of Jesus about her from the cross. Ephesus was one of the seven churches addressed in the book of Revelation. Paul spent several years there in his missionary work. The long-standing pre-eminence of the community of faith there is important to remember. As with the rest of the New Testament, the message to one church was shared with all. We may safely assume these words were a “last will and testament” of Paul to the churches he founded and nurtured.
The writer identifies himself as “an ambassador in chains.” With these words Paul declares a prisoner is what he is, but the ambassador for Christ is who he is! His work for Christ is not diminished by his physical limitations. The work goes on!
What is that work? To be prepared to fight the good fight against the forces of evil. Paul identifies the leader of those forces as the “devil.” Some may be uncomfortable with the idea of a personal devil, but the reality of evil is undeniable. Moreover, Paul wants us to know the evil against which we struggle is systemic and cosmic.
“Our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the authorities, against
the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the
spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (vs.12)
Impersonal evil is manifest in our world today: prejudice, religious conflicts, racism, political dictatorships, corporate irresponsibility, environmental destruction – and the list goes on.
With such a fight on our hands, we could easily be discouraged, but take heart! The war has already been won! The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ has assured us of the ultimate victory.
Years ago at Winter Camp Meeting at Epworth By The Sea, William Sangster, the wonderful English Methodist preacher said in a sermon: “The devil is beaten – but doesn’t know it! Poor devil, poor devil!”
However, the individual battles continue. For the battle, Paul wants us to know the strength and power available to us in the Lord. (vs.10) God’s gift is power, given as grace, not self-generated, and with the power come the tools needed for the battle
The list of equipment Paul uses metaphorically is the familiar battle clothing of a Roman soldier. Paul was seeing these men every day, and all the citizens of the empire saw them everywhere they went. As we are writing, the TV is filled with scenes of soldiers walking the streets of Paris, armed and ready. Similarly on our trips to Israel, we have witnessed Israeli soldiers in battle garb, prepared for the worst.
Let’s note at the beginning, most of the “armor” is defensive – to protect the warrior from injury. Standing up, the soldier lifts the tunic (outer clothing) and binds it with a belt around the waist so the soldier may move freely, unencumbered with unnecessary restraints. In another context, Paul uses the phrase “gird your loins.” The belt or girdle is “truth” – the same truth Jesus spoke about in John: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”
Next, the breastplate is fastened in place. Like today’s bullet-proof vest, the breastplate was to protect the most vital organs of the body from a fatal wound. And what protection this affords in the battle with evil! The righteousness of God, imputed to us by Jesus on the cross, covers us and enables us to survive in an evil environment.
Interestingly, Paul follows with the proper foot-wear. Historians give credit to the boots the Roman legionnaires wore for their success in conquering the Mediterranean world. Walking great distances and fighting long and tiring battles required good boots. The same is true today. One of the hard lessons learned in WWII in the Battle of the Bulge was the American soldier did not have proper winter foot-wear. The Christian shoes are to enable us to carry the good news God has made peace with sinful humanity possible through Christ.
“With all these take the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (vs. 16) Vividly, Paul records how the battle goes with a hailstorm of arrows raining down on the troops in battle. Faith is our shield in front or overhead, and this absolute trust in God enables us to overcome. “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply.”
Two final pieces of equipment: The helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. Salvation is not only forgiveness of past sin, it is strength to conquer present and future sin as well. We must never look only backward to when we were “saved,” but look forward, knowing we are being saved every day.
Lastly, there is the sword, the only offensive weapon we have. Paul declares the sword to be the Spirit – the very Word of God. How did the soldier carry his sword? It was attached to the belt! The Belt of Truth – the Sword of the Spirit – the Word of God! WOW! We are equipped fully to do the work of fighting the battles! For us the Word is both the living Word – the “logos” (John 1:1), and the written word – the scriptures. We remember vividly sword drill in VBS (Vacation Bible School) when we were given Bible verses to find quickly. That was training never to be forgotten!
Are you “clothed and ready?” Paul adds one final important admonition. We are to pray always. Remember Unit 2 – “Learning to Pray?” Prayer is to be done for “all the saints” – the church, the Body of Christ in the world. Paul also says prayer is personal – pray for me! Yes, even the great ambassador for Christ needed prayer. We all do! Life’s circumstances are precarious. We can’t always escape. We are called to stand firm and live faithfully. Put on the whole armor of God. Growing up in Valdosta FUMC, we often sang:
“Whisper a prayer in the morning, whisper a prayer at noon,
Whisper a prayer in the evening: to keep your heart in tune.”