The Christian Armour For Offense
Reverend Bryn MacPhail / August 28, 2002
As much as I have enjoyed our Wednesday worship services this summer, I fear that, for some of you, our preaching on the armour of God has fallen on deaf ears. I do not doubt that you physically heard what was said; I do not even doubt that you enjoyed hearing these sermons. But I ask you now, have you felt the urgency to apply what you have heard? Do you believe the apostle Paul when he states that you are in the midst of spiritual warfare?
I once heard a pastor say that Ephesians 6:12 was the most disbelieved verse in the entire Bible: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
What amazes me about what Paul says is not what he affirms, but what he denies. I am not surprised to hear him say we are fighting against wicked, supernatural, powers. Jesus told Peter that “Satan had asked permission to sift (him) like wheat”(Luke 22:31). And, Peter himself warns us in his epistle, “Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”(1Peter 5:8). We should not be surprised to hear that we, by virtue of our union with Christ, are engaged in spiritual warfare.
What I find difficult to believe, what is surprising to hear, is what Paul denies. Paul is adamant: “Our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood”.
The implications of this statement may stagger you. I know this verse was a wake-up call for me during a particularly trying time in my ministry. In this verse, Paul was telling me in no uncertain terms that my battle was not against the Kirk session. My battle was not against the management committee. My battle was not against the minority of people who were difficult to please. My battle was not, and is not, against flesh and blood.
Friends, whether you recognize it or not, you are in a spiritual war. To be a Christian is to be a warrior. The soldier of Jesus Christ must not expect to find ease in this world: it is a battlefield. And what is implied by Paul’s words in Ephesians 6 is that if we do not recognize this, we will suffer at the hands of the evil one. Paul tells us, “Put on the full armour of God, that you may be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil”(6:11). What is implied here is that if we do not put on the full armour of God, we will not be able to stand firm against the devil.
Thankfully, God has made provision for us, to keep us from falling, and our faith from failing. If it is your aim to mature as a Christian; if it is your goal to withstand the attacks of the evil one, then you must put on the armour described in these verses. This is how God means to keep us safe until the day of salvation. It is not enough to simply pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, because God answers that prayer by giving us His armour, and so we must put it on.
You have heard sermons on some of these pieces of armour already. I have been asked to speak about the Christian armour in terms of its offensive capabilities. This should make for a more focused exhortation, since there is but one offensive weapon in the Christian armour: the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (6:17).
The fact that there is only one offensive weapon is important for us to note. It reminds us of our defensive emphasis; it reminds us that we are standing upon ground already won for us by the blood of Jesus Christ. As a Christian, equipped with God’s armour, we are operating from a position of strength, not weakness.
And the fact that Paul lists only one offensive weapon is interesting in light of the fact that a typical Roman soldier usually carried two weapons—a sword and a spear. Paul would have known this, yet he names only one weapon, because one is all we need. Paul is telling us that “the word of God” is sufficient in enabling us to stand firm.
But I ask you, is it enough to simply possess an effective weapon? What good is a sword if it is still in its sheath? What good is the sword if the soldier is slumbering? What good will your Bible be against the attacks of the devil if it lies unopened on your bedside table?
It is not enough to possess a sword, one must also know how to use it. It is not enough to own a Bible, one must be familiar with its contents, and know how to apply its truths. This is necessary because, as Richard Baxter reminds us, "The devil is a greater scholar than you"(Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 74).
Now, in order to understand how we are to use “the word of God” against the devil we need to know something about the Greek word Paul employs here. The most common Greek word for “the word of God” is the word logos. Logos usually refers to the entire Word of God, but logos is not the word Paul uses here.
When Paul tells us that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God, he uses the word rhema. Rhema literally means “a saying”. In this case, rhema refers to a particular portion of God’s written revelation (Boice, Acts, 252).
What this means then, is that we are to overcome the evil one by using particular portions of Scripture. This is precisely what Jesus did when He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness. Each time He was tempted, Jesus responded, “It is written . . . It is written . . . It is written” (Luke 4:1-13), drawing upon specific portions of the Scriptures to rebuke the devil.
Friends, if the sword of the Spirit is to be of any use to us, must commit ourselves to 3 things. The first thing we must do is BELIEVE IN THE WORD OF GOD. Unless we believe that the sword will be an effective weapon in warfare we will never pick it up. We need to begin with passages like, 2Peter 2:20, 21, “no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of the human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Paul says much the same in 2Timothy 3:16 when he writes that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable”.
Our first step then, in using our offensive weapon, is BELIEVING IN ITS EFFECTIVENESS.
The second thing we must do is STUDY THE WORD OF GOD. If you are like me, your memory is great, but short. Unless we meditate upon the truths of Scripture, they will soon depart from our memory like water running through a sieve.
In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters, a senior devil writes to a junior devil, saying, “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out” (Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, 25).
Our prayer should be that of the Psalmist who writes, “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thy commandments make me wiser than my enemies . . . From Thy precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:97, 98, 104).
Our second step then, in using our offensive weapon, is STUDYING THE WORD OF GOD.
The third thing we must do is APPLY THE WORD OF GOD. Knowing the Bible, inside and out, front-wards and backwards, is not enough to defeat the enemy. Bring Scripture to bear on every decision before you.
I am fond of confessing to you that I have absolutely no vision of my own for doing ministry at St. Giles Kingsway. This does not mean that we are a ship without a rudder. It means that, as Christ’s under-shepherd, I am committed to bringing the Bible’s vision to bear on every situation. This, I believe, will protect our congregation from being led astray by the evil one.
Friends, be comforted by the fact that we are standing on ground already won for us by Jesus Christ. And though you are no match for the devil and his legion of angels, you and the Holy Spirit are an invincible minority in this spiritual battle.
What is required is that you take the sword of the Spirit out of its sheath. BELIEVE IN THE WORD. STUDY THE WORD. AND APPLY THE WORD, for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of His Church. Amen.