************ Sermon on Ephesians 6:16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 11, 2018
"The Shield of Faith"
At the Word & Deed board meeting last week we heard about the attacks of Satan in India. Let me tell you about three of them.
First, a Hindu political leader came to a ceremony in which five ladies were each being given a sewing machine through the ministry of W&D. He stood up and declared this was not going to happen because the sewing machines were being given as a bribe for the five ladies to convert to Christianity.
In the second incident a local Hindu leader commanded that a church group was not to be allowed a place of worship in his village.
And, in the third incident, a Christian pastor was killed by a well-known assassin who was probably hired by a government official.
In these three incidents we see, again, that 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 (Eph 6:12). In these three incidents we see the devil's schemes.
But, now, remember how our Bible reading starts? "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power" (Eph 6:10). Be strong in the Lord. Be strong in His mighty power.
Let's take a look at this mighty power of God in terms of the three incidents I already mentioned. The first incident: the sewing machine ladies. The five ladies did something totally unprecedented. Low caste ladies never ever do this kind of thing to someone in a higher caste. But these low caste ladies stood up and told the politician he was wrong, that they were not forced to become Christians, that they were not bribed to leave the Hindu faith. It was their decision; of course, we would say it was election. The politician backed down. These five ladies were strong in the Lord.
The second incident: the church was not allowed a place of worship. You will hardly believe what happened to the Hindu leader shortly after he gave the command: he became paralyzed. And you will hardly believe what the church did in response. They asked if they could visit the leader and pray for him. Every week they came and prayed. Every week. Week after week they came and prayed for their enemy. And the leader and his family were converted. The church was strong in the Lord.
The third incident: the assassination of the Christian pastor. President Trump telephoned the President of India and asked what was going on. The President of India called the Hindu leaders of the state. The pastor's oldest son was offered a great government job as a bribe; he turned it down because he was taking his dad's place as pastor; the job is going instead to his younger brother. And, the news was spread that everyone who was anyone better show up for the pastor's funeral. Some 14,000 people showed up -- lots of them practicing Hindus -- and they heard the Gospel preached to them. Do you see what happens when you are strong in the Lord?
Now, how can we also be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power? I've been telling you that we tap into the mighty power of Jesus when we do what Jesus says:
(Eph 6:11) Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.The key to being strong and mighty in the Lord is to put on the full armor of God.
(Eph 6:13) 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.
We've been looking at the armor of God (HOLD UP PICTURE FROM NURSERY). We started with the belt of truth: that is, knowing sound doctrine and having a real, sincere faith. We looked at the breastplate of righteousness: that is, the righteousness of Christ that He works in us, a righteousness that we in turn live out. We looked at the shoes of the Gospel of peace: that is, we are able to stand firm because we have peace with God in Christ. Today we look at the shield of faith.
I The Roman Soldier's Shield
A Various kinds of shields were used by the Romans. Early in their history they used the Greek clypeus -- a small, round shield. Shaped liked a frisbee, it was curled at the edges. On the back were two straps so it could be fastened to the left forearm of the soldier. It was very light so it was easy to carry and even to run with. The soldier used this shield to turn away the blows of hand-to-hand combat.
Later in their history the Romans began to use another kind of shield: a thureon. The thureon was large, usually about 4.5 feet by 2.5 feet, made of thick wood, and covered with metal or tough leather. It was quite heavy so the soldier would hold it with a straight arm and rest it on his left shoulder. As the soldier held it before him, it protected him from spears and arrows.
Now, you need to realize that in Bible times people were much smaller than they are today. Meaning what? Meaning that a 4.5 foot by 2.5 foot shield would give total protection. You just stick it on the ground and get behind it. That's what it was used for. It was designed for total protection.
Paul mentions flaming arrows, so let me say something about them. Flaming arrows were arrows dipped in pitch or oil and set ablaze. When the arrow hits, the burning pitch or oil would splatter. Imagine the pain this would cause a soldier who was pierced and how effectively it would put him out of commission as it burned his clothing and his flesh. So the shield was needed to stop the arrow and to extinguish the flames. Can you imagine if you didn't have a shield for protection when the enemy fired at you with their flaming arrows?
I also need to also say something about Roman military strategy. The Romans would form a long line of soldiers at the front with their shields. The edges were designed so that the entire line of soldiers would interlock shields and march into the enemy like a solid wall. The shields would be a wall of protection. The soldiers at the front would provide the line, the wall. And it would shield them from the arrows and everything else that was flying through the air. And even the soldiers right behind them would have protection.
B Notice how our text starts: "In addition to all this ..." This tells us we need to see the difference between the first three parts of the soldier's armor mentioned by Paul and the last three parts. The first three parts -- the belt, the breastplate, the shoes -- are permanent, something you always have on as a soldier. Even when resting, during a lull in the battle, you don't take off the belt, the breastplate, and the shoes. They are always there. At the same time, when you are resting you put down your shield, your helmet, and your sword. But when the battle resumes, when the warfare gets hot, when the enemy advances on you, you take up your shield, helmet, and sword.
We see something similar to this at a football game, don't we? When the quarterback sits on the bench, he keeps his uniform on. He keeps his shoes on. But off comes the helmet. When it is time to go on the field again, the helmet goes back on.
II The Christian's Shield
A So what can we say about the shield of faith?
Let's go back to the imagery of the Roman soldiers walking towards the enemy, shields interlocked. This is so suggestive. This suggest the Christian never faces the enemy alone. Other Christians are marching with me, beside me. Their shields are protecting me. My shield is protecting them. Telling me also that if I fail to do my duty, I am putting my fellow believers, my fellow soldiers, at risk. If I fail to hold up my shield, there is a hole in the line, a hole the enemy can exploit. So, my brothers and sisters, the image of the shield suggests that we Christians are not in the battle alone.
B Notice why we need the shield of faith: "with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one" (Eph 6:16). The shield of faith is more than enough. It is more than enough because ALL the flaming arrows are extinguished.
Where did these flaming arrows come from? Who shot them? Who is the enemy firing away? Paul has identified him a couple of times already: the devil, rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world, spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Now he identifies the enemy as "the evil one" (Eph 6:16). Literally, he is one bent on evil, focused on evil, intent on evil; he is vile and wretched in all his ways.
It is popular today to deny the existence of the devil. And many will even go so far as to deny the existence of evil. But that is not what the Bible teaches. The devil is real. The devil is dangerous. The devil hates us. The devil attacks us.
When we protest abortion and euthanasia, when we stand against gay marriage and gay practice, when we stand against drunk drivers, when we stand against gang violence, we are not fighting some abstract, impersonal, shadowy force. We are fighting a real being, with a real name, with a real agenda, with a real army, with an evil purpose. We are fighting against the devil and his demons. Our enemy is not someone from another political party or someone of another race or someone in another church or someone we do not get along with. Our enemy is the devil.
Now, what are the devil's flaming arrows? Do you remember the sixth petition of the Lord's Prayer? "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one." The evil one. The same one mentioned by Paul who fires flaming arrows. The arrows of the evil one, dear friends, the arrows he fires, are seducing temptations. Satan fires shafts of immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking, and so on (cf Eph 5:3ff). Satan bombards the believer with arrows. He fires one arrow after another and never quits. He wants us to put down our shield, to lose our place in the line, to have lust and covetousness and hatred and anger. The only response, the right response, is to hold up the shield of faith. That's the only way we can be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power when we face the flaming arrows of the evil one.
C So, what is the shield of faith? It is the faith we sang about and celebrated in our opening song this evening. Based on Hebrews 11 the song reminds us of what was done "by faith" on the part of the Old Testament heroes of faith.
Over and over again the Bible gives us the same message about faith:
(Hab 2:4) ... the righteous will live by his faith--Do you hear the message? The righteous will live by what? The righteous will live by faith! Not by works. Not by human striving. Not by even the most rigorous obedience to the Law. But by faith. The righteous will live by faith.
(Rom 1:17) For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
(Gal 3:11) Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."
(Heb 10:38) But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."
Faith is our life. Faith is our protection. Faith is our defense against the flaming arrows of the evil one. Faith in God. Faith in Jesus. Believing God. Believing Jesus. Believing their Word. Accepting their promises.
When the great missionary John Paton was translating the Bible for a South Seas island tribe, he discovered that they had no word for trust or faith or belief. He was at a loss at how to convey the idea to them.This became the word that Paton entered into the translation of the New Testament. This is what an entire tribe ended up doing: they put their whole weight on God in Christ. They may not have had the word, but they had faith, they had belief, they had trust.
One day a native who had been running hard came into the missionary's house, flopped himself into a large chair, and said, "It's good to rest my whole weight on this chair."
"That's it," thought Paton. "I'll translate faith as 'resting my whole weight on God.'"
D Opposed to the shield of faith is the devil and his lies. Remember, every flaming arrow that Satan has ever shot is a lie. And if you buy into his lies, his flaming arrows are piercing you.
The first time we see the flaming arrows of the evil one is in the Garden of Eden already. Satan disguised as a serpent asks, "Did God really say ...?" Do you hear Satan's message? "Don't believe God. Don't put your whole weight on God. Don't trust God. Instead, trust me."
At the beginning of the new creation, when Christ started His ministry, Satan tried the same approach -- after all, he knows this method works. He tells Jesus to turn stones into bread. Now, if you are the Son of God you can turn stones into bread; it is not a big deal. But this means Jesus is not trusting His heavenly Father. This means Jesus is not putting His whole weight on the Father. This means Jesus is taking matters into His own hands.
The righteous will live by faith. But Satan does not want us living by faith. Satan does not want us trusting God. Satan does not want us putting our whole weight on the Father. Satan wants us to doubt God. Satan wants us to believe Satan and trust in Satan and accept Satan's lies. Satan wants us to put down our shield. Satan wants us to endanger ourselves and -- because there is a gap in the battle line -- our brothers and sisters in the faith.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.
How? By putting on the full armor of God. More specifically, by taking up the shield of faith.
Why? So you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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