A sermon preached by Rev. Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min., August 22, 2021
This morning we are winding up our study of Ephesians. So far, Paul has encouraged the church to stand firm in their faith in the Gospel and in the first half of the letter he has been teaching them what grace is and how we through Christ have experienced that grace. The second half of the letter has Paul telling the Church that because of the grace we have received and now understand, the visible changes in our new life with Christ should be obvious to the larger community. Our changed lives become vehicles of grace emanating from the church outward in the community. Like the old hymn proclaims, they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Today, Paul finishes his letter by making it very Crayola, i.e., very easy to understand, that there are consequences when Christians and the Church start living lives that shine and share the extravagant love of God. Listen to the Word of the Lord and see if you can figure what those consequences are!
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, 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. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
When I do premarital counseling with couples, I always ask them how they think their life is going to change now that they are together, especially when it comes to their individual families. Interestingly, I often hear, “Well Johnny and I have known each other for years and so we know each other’s families; nothing is going to change at all!” I then ask them, “So, who are you going to spend Thanksgiving with this year? What about Christmas?” This is when the counseling gets very interesting!
“My parent’s house for sure! I’ve never missed a Christmas with them!” The other replies, “This is the first I’ve heard of that!” It’s at this point we are off to the races! I’ve learned to use a disarming question about the holidays to teach the couple a little about family systems.
The first thing I have the couple do is to imagine their newly married family as a little boat like a canoe. His mom and dad, siblings and grandparents are all crammed in one canoe over here and her family is all in a canoe over there. I remind them that when they get married, they are getting out of their family of origin’s canoe and step into their very own newly christened canoe.
Tell me, Beloved, what happens when you stand up in a canoe? It rocks! When mommy sees her beloved baby boy stand up in the family canoe to get into a new canoe “with her!” it can get dicey! Momma may tell her son to sit back down because he’s rocking the boat. Meanwhile, the new bride has already taken her place in the couple’s new canoe and now her new husband is trying to balance getting out of his family of origin’s boat and step into the empty seat in the bride’s canoe. Think about that picture for a minute. If you were in that situation, what would you be thinking, feeling, and saying? Exactly!
You see, starting a new family, even a new team at your job, causes people to shift their seats on the boat. Sometimes family members get angry because the person is stepping out of their family’s boat and into their own. Changes in any system causes reactions throughout the whole system whether it’s a family or a new work team at the office. When a marriage happens, the boat rocks and people are often telling us to sit down so, “My boat doesn’t tip over. YOU don’t want that to happen to me, do you?”
Families, God love them, each have their own degree of dysfunction baked right into them and that dysfunction will try to keep everybody in their seat on their family’s particular boat. There is that delicate time in marriage when the bride and groom are stepping out into their own vessel, and all are three boats rocking at once. If families are not aware of these realities, there will a lot of hurt feelings and the family dysfunction will perpetuate itself. All of this to say, there is more going on in the bride and groom’s lives than having a lovely ceremony. Their decision to get married creates consequences not only for the couple but for the whole family system.
Friends, this is what Paul is trying to convey to the Church. He is telling us that when we learn about the grace of Jesus, when we embrace the grace of Jesus, then there are consequences that ripple outward we may not be aware of at the time. So, Paul charges the Church and Christians, “Be strong in the Lord!”
“But why, Paul?”
His answer is one we may have a hard time hearing in our time but it’s one we ignore to our own peril. You see, we are to be strong in the Lord in order to stand against the wiles of the devil. Now before you go rolling your eyes and tune me out, I’m asking you to hang with me a moment. You see, the devil is the one who is telling at us to sit down in our old seat and quit rocking the boat!
When we hear the word, “devil”, we 1) think of a red guy with horns, spikey tail and a pitchfork, 2) we think of the old Flip Wilson show where he passes the blame for every bad thing he does and declare, “The devil made me do it!” or 3) as C.S. Lewis in his classic book, The Screwtape Letters, reminds us, we are prone to not take the devil seriously at all. Let’s reframe this whole ‘devil’ thing.
To begin with, if you believe in Jesus Christ and his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, then you are acknowledging you live and believe in a spiritual world. If you believe in Christ but don’t believe you’re in a spiritual world, then you indicate you really don’t think Jesus is who he says he is. To say you are a Christian means you acknowledge that there are realities you and I cannot readily see. Paul call’s these ‘principalities and powers’ and “against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6.12). Those forces seep into our earthly realm as expressions of evil in the forms of bigotry, violence, disunity, factional rivalries, greed, hubris; you get what I am talking about it. This is what Paul is warning us about. Evil will manifest itself in the Church, in our communities, in our homes or offices and Paul wants us to be prepared and strong in the Lord. He wants us to be able to stand against the “wiles” of the devil.
I love that word, “wiles.” We don’t get to use it much, and as such, I had to look up what it really meant. Well, our weekly fun New Testament word for this week is wiles! It comes from the same root word we our word ‘method.’ So literally, Paul is telling us to prepare ourselves so we can withstand the methods, the various ways, evil will wrestle with us. So how do we do that? Twice in our text, Paul implores us to put on the whole armor of God. Each of the accoutrements of our armor is defensive, except the Sword of the Spirit which is both offensive and defensive. Put on your armor, Church, and be prepared to defend yourselves from the evil that will make its way to your front door! Be alert, Paul tells us, because evil will sow itself very subtly in our lives. For example, you don’t have to kill someone with a gun when you can destroy them with well-placed lies in the form of gossip. Evil’s methods are subtle, and it will do whatever it can to thwart us and the Church in accomplishing its mission.
Our text has Paul reminding us that as we defend ourselves, we are also to be intentional about going on the offensive. How? Persevere in prayer for the saints, i.e., for fellow members of the Church, this Church. He also says to pray for the church leaders so that we don’t get mired down in the minutia of busy work but are freed up to boldly speak the winsome Good News to fellow members of the church and in the community!
Friends, when we say ‘yes’ to Jesus there is an automatic ‘no’ that gets voiced in the heavenly realms we may not hear. It’s the voice of evil telling us to sit back down in our seat and quit rocking the boat. There are manifest consequences when we share the winsome grace of God.
So, our work this week is to pause and inspect our armor. Examine your faith and note where it needs buttressing. Think about the methods evil is attempting to subtly involve you in. And lastly, beloved, pray for each other. Pray for the Church. Pray for your pastors that we may boldly proclaim the winsome news of Christ! Pray for your church leaders for wisdom, courage, and discernment. If you will agree to this homework, then declare, “Amen!”
© 2021 August 22, Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Methodeia. See the Greek at https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/g3180/kjv/tr/0-1/.