Ephesians 6:13a: “…Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes,
you may be able to stand your ground…” (see Eph. 6:10-18 below)
Paul begins this section with these words: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power;” and then says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.” The trouble is that many people’s lives become so very miserable because they do not ‘stand their ground.’ Rather, they lose ground, they slide backwards, and they lose the battle. We have all seen it in ourselves and in others– we begin to make some wrong decisions, and then do some bad things, and pretty soon we are losing ground fast and life is a mess.
People usually do not take sudden, dramatic leaps into sin and despair. Most people do not lose all their ground all at once. They don’t very often mess up everything by a single stupid decision or act. Sometimes that happens, but usually not. More often it is that we, like sheep, just ‘nibble our way lost,’ gradually meandering off the path. Little by little, we lose ground. Bit by bit, we wander away. Little white lies become more and more frequent, and before long we fall into a pattern of dishonesty. Innocent flirtations with nothing intended become less innocent and more intentional, and two people drift into adultery. Minor defiance by a grade school child can become open rebellion in high school. A few beers once in a while after work, for some, can become an addiction that takes control over every aspect of their life. Consistent weekly worship attendance can be gradually eroded away, first by a few absences and then by infrequent attendance, and after a while there is no worship at all. We nibble our way lost and we start to lose ground. Our lives become a little mixed up and we don’t pay attention. Soon, it begins to get worse, then it’s out of hand, and before long we find ourselves getting used to things we shouldn’t be getting used to at all. And then we wonder how our life could have gotten so sad. Little by little we lose our ground, and then stability becomes instability, harmony turns into discord, peace into conflict, diligence into sloth, and so on. We lose our ground. We nibble our way lost. It happens all the time.
Don’t let that happen!, says Paul. Remember, life is a battle! This is war! “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” Paul tells us, “but against the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil, and against the devil’s schemes.” With all those enemies against us we must realize that living a godly life requires hard work, steady diligence, and much prayer and faith. We cannot just walk around in this world as if no one or nothing can hurt us. There are dark powers out there, says Paul, spiritual forces of evil, and the devil himself who wants to do you in. Can we doubt that? Can we forget all the evil of the 20th century? Has the horror of 9-11 already worn off? There is much evil in this world, and it is not only all around us, but also within us. There are many powers of darkness, working against us on many fronts.
Therefore, says Paul, “Put on the full armor of God so you can stand your ground.” Put on the belt of truth, he says, or in other words, know what you believe. Put on the breastplate of righteousness so you can know what God expects of you and you can obey him in every big and little decision. Take up the shield of faith, which is to say, take hold of what you believe and apply it to your life so that you can live in faith and hope and not in fear and uncertainty. Finally put on the helmet of salvation. Eternal life with God has been promised, so we can fight with courage and trust, knowing that when the battle is over we will be with the Lord and safe.
How can we get that armor? Through prayer and God’s Word, Paul says. He writes at the end of this section: “Take the sword of the spirit, which is the Word of God,” and, “pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” God has provided us with what we need for this battle. We just need to take the time to hear God’s Word and keep in touch with God by our prayers. That is how we put on the whole armor of God. We must make no mistake about this, we do need this armor. The battle rages around and within us and we will not just drift on into victory. We need to stand firm or we will lose ground and will drift into all sorts of sin and despair and misery. The powers of darkness are fighting against us and we have already seen too many casualties.
Yet, there are so many who will attempt to fight this battle without armor and without weapons. What’s worse, even though it is Satan who seeks to harm us, we give to him our eyes and our ears. We spend hours filling our eyes and ears and minds with all the wickedness this world has to offer in its ever-present and ever more vulgar television, music, and movies, while giving very little of our attention to God. It is no wonder that so many people are not strong for the battle. It is no wonder that so many lives get so confused and sad. People give their eyes and ears to the enemy, and when things go wrong, we wonder how God could have let it happen.
God does provide the help we need. Prayer and God’s Word do not guarantee a smooth life, but obedience to God will keep you from much misery. Belief in God’s promises will give you inner strength, and those promises give you a hope that will not disappoint you. And then, just as we can nibble our way lost, we can nibble our way back to peace and stability. The effects of prayer and knowing God’s word are usually not characterized by dramatic and emotional leaps forward, but little by little our foundation is strengthened and we become more able to stand our ground.
People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.
D. A. Carson, For the Love of God
Ephesians 6:10-18a — Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Most great and mighty God, you are the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator and Preserver of all things. Look down, we beg you, on us your unworthy creatures. We humbly thank you for your daily care of us. We beg your pardon for whatsoever you have seen amiss in us this day, in our thoughts, words, or actions. Strengthen us in every good purpose and resolution. Reform whatsoever you see amiss in the temper and disposition of our minds or in any of the habits of our lives; that we may love you more and serve you better, and do your will with greater care and diligence than we have yet done. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.
–Warren Hastings (1732-1818) English colonial administrator