Standing Part 7

Thus far we have examined everything but the sword. So in coming to our last piece of armour it seems appropriate to see all of them in context.

14  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; Ephesians 6:14-17 (NKJV)

When we reflect on this it is clear that all of the pieces we have examined so far are for stability, like the shoes, and protection. The sword of the spirit is unique in that it can be used for both attack and defense. We see that the sword is the word, the scripture. The best example of someone wielding this sword is found in Matthew 4:1-11 (see also Luke 4:1-12). We should expect Jesus to be a skilled swordsman, which He demonstrated, but He also expects us to develop our skills in the realm of parry and thrust.

As an aid to skill development, let’s see how Jesus used His sword in a portion of this passage.

5  Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6  and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7  Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” Matthew 4:5-7 (NKJV)

While it is important to note that Satan is a liar by nature, he did not misquote this scripture (Ps. 91:11-12). His strategy was to misrepresent scripture to deceive! Psalm 91:11-12 was true, but could be claimed only if one was walking in submission to Yahweh. The Father was not leading Jesus to leap off of the temple so Psalm 91 was not applicable and Jesus knew that. Satan was tempting Jesus to tempt His Father.

In one swift move with His sword Jesus did a parry and thrust and ended this encounter.

Now to us. To effectively wield the word we need to know it and apply it in context. Read through Paul’s letters and see how many promises have a condition attached. Here are a couple of examples.

9  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 (NKJV)

23  if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. Colossians 1:23 (NKJV)

Take the first one. If we want to claim His peace in our lives we need to walk in obedience. If we have our peace disrupted and are being obedient we take up the sword. We can declare His peace (shalom) over our lives and we can receive it. This is taking up the sword of the Spirit.  

So, let’s stay in His word and develop our skills with the sword He provides.

Next week, to wrap all of this up we will look at the following verse.

18  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints Ephesians 6:18 (NKJV)

Standing Part 6

In the last five posts we have looked at most of our spiritual armour – truth, righteousness, peace and faith. We now come to the helmet of salvation.

17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; Ephesians 6:17 (NKJV)

The helmet guards our heads, in the case of spiritual warfare, our minds.

I remember reading the story of a young struggling pastor. He went to a wise older mentor who asked him if he was using the armour from Ephesians 6. The young pastor began to respond with what he had learned about the armour in seminary. The old fellow stopped him and said something like, “I don’t care if you know about it. What I want to know is, are you actually putting it on?” His point was that the armour is only useful if it is applied.

So, how do we protect our minds? This may sound odd, but we need to think about our thinking. Most of us are likely familiar with Romans 12:1-2 about the need to renew our minds, but like the story above, the knowledge is only useful if it is applied. I had occasion recently to share my distinction between knowledge and wisdom. I see it like being in the middle of the highway with a large truck coming at me. Knowledge is knowing I need to get out of the way; wisdom is moving!

In a similar way, knowledge is knowing I need to put on the helmet of salvation, weighing my viewpoints in light of scripture. Wisdom is aligning my thoughts with scripture. A shorter, but parallel passage to Romans 12:1-2 is below.

23  and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, Ephesians 4:23 (NKJV)

This renewal process is clearly laid out by Paul in Philippians 4:6-8. Paul tells us that we are to set aside anxiety and worry and exchange it for peace. He tells us how. We are to turn our worry into prayer. This does not mean ‘praying the problem,’ giving our Father a list of what is wrong. Instead we are to bring before Him the change we desire to see (in line with His word) and then to meditate, to think deeply, on things that are good, pure, and right. The outcome is peace resting in our hearts.

This is putting on the helmet of salvation.

Standing Part 5

We have looked at the role of truth, righteousness and peace. We now come to the shield of faith. In Paul’s description we wear truth, righteousness and peace. A shield we wield. Paul says,

16  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. Ephesians 6:16 (NKJV)

Most of us our not familiar with using a shield. Think a little differently then. Think of a baseball player out in the field or a goalie in a soccer net. The player needs to see the ball coming and stop or intercept it. In the same way the shield is used to stop or intercept an attack.

In the sports analogies, once the player has caught or stopped the ball they transition from defence to offense. The same is true in spiritual warfare. The shield is used to protect from attacks and is preparation to transition from defence to offence. This transition may move rapidly from defence to offence and back again. The important piece to know is that the shield is used for both protection and preparation

Now, to successfully stop or intercept a spiritual attack we need to recognize when we are experiencing one! I remember Rick Joyner describing feeling irritable for days. He then took a flight somewhere with Bob Jones and Bob commented that Rick had an arrow in the back of his neck and reached over and pulled it out. Rick said he felt immediate relief.

While most of us cannot see in the spirit realm the way Bob did, if we reflect back I suspect most of us could describe a time when we felt some sense of heaviness or oppression. This is the result of arrows (Paul calls them fiery darts). I have never had anyone remove one from my neck or back, I have however on a number of occasions felt a heaviness, oppression or irritability lift while worshipping.

If we are wise we recognize that when we are in a ‘heavy’ or ‘reactive’ mode, some darts have gotten past our shield. I have learned in those situations to do two things, reposition my shield and then worship in spite of how I feel. In fact I think worshipping is wisdom, it is raising my shield. It is an act that pushes back the enemy. After all, our shield is composed of faith!

An additional thought. While the focus of this series is on a few verses from Ephesians, the book and Paul’s main prayers in it in chapters 1 and 3, while they can be applied to an individual, are addressed to a corporate body. In Middle Eastern thinking in the first century the focus was on family, community and the body. In looking at the armour in our passage Paul was describing a Roman soldier who was part of a unit. The Roman army was the most feared fighting force of the day. What made them so effective was that when they moved forward in battle their shields interlocked to form a nearly impenetrable wall. If you are having trouble wielding your shield, stand with others in the body. If your arm is weighed down, find others who will stand with you and help to steady your shield. He designed us to borrow strength from one another and to stand together as a body.

Stand therefore.

Standing Part 4

Having examined the girdle of truth and the breastplate of righteousness we now need to look at our footwear.

15  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Ephesians 6:15 (NKJV)

In this verse there are two ideas. Our footwear prepares us; it makes us ready to stand in battle. Second, our shoes are made of peace.

While Paul wrote in Greek, he likely thought in Hebrew given his culture and extensive educational background as a Pharisee. The significance is that while we translate the Greek to ‘peace’ in English, the Hebrew word, which carries more meaning, is shalom. To better understand what prepares us, here are some thoughts from a Greek-English dictionary on the meaning of the Greek word peace and a comparison to the Hebrew shalom, which also translates to peace in English.

εἰρήνη eirēnē noun – Peace, harmony, tranquility, health.

When the term was adopted by the Septuagint translators, eirēnē was an inadequate equivalent to the Hebrew shālôm. To have “shalom” in the Old Testament period meant not only to have “peace” as it is understood today; it also meant to feel “healthy” or to be “whole.” “Peace” was a state of well-being. – The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary.

If in Paul’s Hebrew thinking he was referring to shalom then what he was saying is, ‘When we live from a state of wellbeing we are ready to stand firm in spiritual battles.’ To further illustrate this, I have a written out prayer that I regularly use as a template when I pray. One reminder I have built in for myself is as follows, ‘Remember, Jesus is never in a hurry, He walks in His Father, I walk in Him. Spirit, soul and body are designed to live in and from a state of repose.’ This serves to remind me of shalom

I fundamentally believe this. Think of Jesus. He laying sleeping in a boat in a raging storm, in an internal and physical state of repose (Matt. 8:23-26). What happened when the disciples awoke Him?

26  But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. Matthew 8:26 (NKJV)

Notice the last phrase – there was a great calm. Jesus was living out what Paul would speak to in Ephesians 6. Jesus was physically, psychologically and spiritually in shalom and He released what was within Him and it calmed the storm. This is how He calls us to function in spiritual warfare.

We might think only Jesus can do this but I remember Rick Joyner sharing a story that illustrates this point. He was with a friend at an airport near the front of the line, people were tired and angry, the flight was late and it seemed to be overbooked. Just when it seemed things could not get worse two ladies began forcing their way to the front demanding to be put on the plane. Rick said he thought someone was going to punch them. It was then that he said he witnessed a miracle. His friend got everyone’s attention and said, “Excuse me, do you mind if I give these ladies my place in line?” Suddenly peace and calm enveloped the place, Rick and his friend went to the back of the line and everyone was able to get on the plane.

To live in and function out of peace in this way we need to do something. We need to accept that we have this peace in Jesus and apply Paul’s injunctions in Philippians 4:4-9. It means choosing to let go, to stop embracing the things that bring us anxiety and focusing our minds and hearts on things like that which is good, true, pure and right. Paul says the result is peace and that readies us to stand in battle! 

So, lets stand firm in the shalom Jesus left us.

27  Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. John 14:27 (NKJV)

Standing Part 3

In this post we will look at the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14, see also Is. 59:17). A breastplate is essentially a shield attached to our body that moves where we move. It covers and guards important organs, the most important one being the heart. Significantly, it does not protect our heads, we will come to that piece of armour later.

Solomon places a great deal of importance on the need to guard our hearts.

23  Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)

There are two key elements here, understanding the importance of protecting our heart and understanding righteousness. In the OT righteousness and justice are intertwined concepts, the very foundation of His throne (Ps. 89:14). You may have been told that righteousness is ‘right standing with God.’ That is a confusion of means and ends. We have right standing with God because we have been given Jesus righteousness. Jesus righteousness is an expression of His character so right standing is the result of having Jesus righteousness. The ends and means can be clearly seen in the following:

The end:

17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Achieved by this means:

21  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV)

It is when we hold this truth in our hearts (with the heart one believes Rom. 10:9-10) that we can use the breastplate of righteousness. When we know and believe in our hearts we can stand in confidence and walk into battle protected by His righteousness. In spiritual warfare we are battling in the unseen realm but we experience the results in our day to day lives. Practically, using the breastplate means coming boldly before the throne of grace on behalf of ourselves and others, knowing that we are welcome in the throne room because we carry Jesus righteousness (Heb. 4:14-16).

So engage in the battle, embrace the truth of His righteousness and remember that the breastplate only provides protection when we are facing the battle, not when we turn away. Keep facing forward!

Standing Part 2

I will use the next few posts to describe how we use each of the six pieces of armour Paul identifies in Ephesians 6. The six pieces are below, the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes/sandals of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. 

14  Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. 17  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; Ephesians 6:14-17 (NKJV)

The idea of girding our waist speaks of preparation. We need to be ready for battle and nothing prepares us like a commitment to walking in the truth of His word. I think one reason Paul listed truth first in our spiritual armour is a phrase the serpent used in Eden, back in Genesis 3:1. Part of the challenge was, “Has God indeed said…?” In other words, ‘Is that really true?’ We cannot stand in a spiritual battle without a commitment to truth.

In our recent Federal political issue in Canada witnesses were called to speak to the Justice Committee and more than once there was a reference to someone coming to speak ‘their truth.’ That is a good example of the influence of post-modern nonsense. In our legal system we swear to tell the truth, not ‘our truth.’ We may have different perceptions or memories of an event but there is only one truth about it.

An illustration that has long been popular to deny ‘truth’ is the story of the blind men and the elephant (there are a few versions). In the story 6 blind men each touch a different part of the elephant and describe the elephant differently. One as a rope (the tail), one as a snake (the trunk) and on it goes. The interpretation is often used to deny the ‘truth’ of any particular religious view. Yet it ignores the perspective of the storyteller who can see the truth of what is happening. Truth can be known if we are willing to accept the perspective of the Divine Storyteller who reveals truth.

(For a detailed analysis of the elephant analogy see this link https://www.str.org/articles/the-trouble-with-the-elephant#.XKIF5ZhKg2w)

Scripture contains truth and when we are committed to walk by it we are prepared to engage in spiritual warfare and achieve victory. Part of that preparation is embracing the reality in these verses.

6  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6 (NKJV)

20  But you have not so learned Christ, 21  if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: Ephesians 4:20-21 (NKJV)

Jesus is truth. When we choose and commit to believe His word in spite of what others may say or what we may see we are ready to stand.

Therefore, believe and stand.

Standing Part 1

In Ephesians 6 Paul provides some wise spiritual warfare instructions.

10  Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13 (NKJV)

In essence Paul tells us that we are in a spiritual battle and identifies our opponent. Now while ‘spiritual battle’ sounds nice what does it look like? If we go to a sporting contestant, whether a hockey game or a tennis match we can see opponents ‘battling’ to win. We can see the contest. Seeing spiritual warfare is a different matter. Part of knowing how to fight is learning to discern what is happening in the battle.

I remember almost 30 years ago being very discouraged about something that was happening in the church I was leading. I was sharing my discouragement with my wife on the way home after the service. She spoke some very encouraging words to me. She said, “You always give up.” Her words stung but at the same time they highlighted an unhealthy pattern in my life. I didn’t parse the word and ask what she meant by always or whether that was ‘always’ true. I saw the pattern and in response something inside me rose up with a determination to push through. I made a decision to stand in a spiritual battle. 

So, let me play this out a bit further so we can see the spiritual warfare. Jesus had called me to do something and when there was opposition I felt like quitting. The discouragement didn’t come from some genetic flaw in me, it came from a pattern of thinking, which I was responsible to change. Satan may have inspired others to oppose me and may have put ideas in their minds in terms of what to say or do because he is a master strategist. I don’t remember what the exact issue was, just my wife’s comment and my internal response. Satan knew what to inspire others to say or do that would be effective against me because it had worked in the past.

This is a simple example but whether we are battling patterns of discouragement, anger, feelings of rejection, identity issues or financial or health struggles we can see spiritual warfare being played out. Once we begin to see the patterns in our own lives we can begin to develop a strategy to win the battle. Make no mistake we are in a battle with an enemy who seeks our destruction. This is the first awareness we need to develop – seeing the battle.

In future posts I will begin to look at strategy to win.

How Jesus Sees

7  But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)

The context of this verse is Samuel going to Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons as king to replace failed Saul. If we have been believers for any length of time we are likely familiar with the story of how Samuel saw the stature and looks of David’s older brothers but did not see that their hearts were not right.

Jesus looks at our hearts in releasing us in our anointing and callings. In anointing David He knew David would sin with Bathsheba and could see his other failings when He called him. He also knew that David was and would continue to be a passionate worshipper and would deeply repent of his sin. In the same manner, He knows our past, present and future failings. He is not looking for perfection to anoint our calling or none of us would ever be released, He is looking for hearts quick to respond to conviction.

Our responsibility is to pursue a godly and upright life and to turn to Him when we fail (1 Jn. 1:9). After all look at what the scriptures say.

13  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:13 (NKJV)

Any time there has been a failure in my walk with Him I have not heard Him say, ‘Randy, I am shocked you would do/say/think that. I never knew that was in you.’ Our lives are an open book before Him and in spite of any failings we carry Jesus desire is to bless our lives.

9  For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 (NKJV)

The context of this verse is King Asa trusting in others for victory rather than Yahweh after Asa had already had a revival of true worship because he had listened to the prophet Yahweh sent.

If we think of the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 it should not have been a surprise to Jesus hearers. We rightly make much of how it reveals our Father’s loving heart. Yet in God’s dealing with Israel, and then Israel and Judah as divided kingdoms in the period of the kings, the story of the prodigal is repeated over and over. Even Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings in Judah’s history (2 Kings 21:1-18, 2 Chron. 33:1-20), who is described as more wicked than the Amorites (2 Kings 21:11), was blessed by Yahweh and tuned the nation when he repented.   

We serve the King of kings who loves us, desires to bless us and wants to have us as friends. We can take comfort in this as we pursue His heart and walk out our callings because Jesus is shepherding our lives (Ps. 23).

A desire to bless, honour and release is how Jesus sees.

See Your Calling

26  For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.27  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29  that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30  But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God–and righteousness and sanctification and redemption– 31  that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.”1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NKJV)

There are a few things in seeing our calling. Most important is recognizing that it is about His kingdom, not us. The next is the expression, ‘The Lord doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.’ This runs counter to our culture. I used to work in HR and we were taught to hire the most qualified candidate for the position. That was the practice, though my own focus was always ‘hire to character, train to content and if you get both great.’ I would rather hire someone I need to train but can trust than someone with great skill whose character I am not comfortable with.

In the same way Jesus looks at our hearts first. He also puts us in places where we need to trust Him. Think about Paul the highly educated Pharisee. He was a perfect fit to take the gospel to the Jews. Where was His primary calling – to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).

One aspect of seeing our calling is going where Jesus sends us. The second is that a calling implies a future commissioning. We may know where we are called but Jesus commissions us once He sees our hearts are ready. When we are ready others recognize His work in our lives. Our commissioning may be a formal ceremony, a sense of release in our spirit or an informal acknowledgment from others who recognize the anointing we carry but it will happen if we are found faithful (1 Cor. 4:2).

The Call of Corporate Koinonia (Communion) Part 2

I closed my last post with Jesus prayer in John 17:20-23 for unity in the church. Key to our understanding is seeing that we were included in Jesus prayer.

20  “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;” John 17:20 (NKJV)

Think about this, we can all trace our physical ancestry back to 8 people, Noah, his three sons and their wives or if we want to be more succinct, back to two people in a garden, Adam and Eve. While Ancestry DNA or 23andMe may not be able to make the link, it is somewhere there. In the same way, we can all trace our spiritual ancestry back to the first century. Somewhere in a little Roman province called Palestine (Israel) our spiritual ancestors heard the gospel, were born again and the word spread to others. Eventually it came to us.

This idea of linkage and connection is a key theme in the NT. In fact the NT knows no idea of Christians in isolation. From the Day of Pentecost onward the focus was on community, a reflection of Jesus prayer. Paul said the body grows through relationships – joints are relationships between parts.

16  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:16 (NKJV)

Paul calls us to find our common unity in the Holy Spirit through walking in love for one another. Not the insipid ‘tolerance’ of today but a love that actually seeks what is best for others and calls them to His high standard. 

1  I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2  with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3  endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; Ephesians 4:1-4 (NKJV)

Peter said as His body (there is a unity term, the body of Christ) we are being built into a spiritual house (not houses) and that we are a holy nation (singular).

4  Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5  you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NKJV)

9  But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10  who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10 (NKJV)

Jesus said that He would build His church (His called out ones), not on a man as some teach, but on the revelation of who Jesus is.  

16  Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17  Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:16-18 (NKJV)

I believe that before Jesus returns He is going to see His John 17 prayer answered in fullness – a church moving and flowing throughout the earth in submission to the Holy Spirit as He leads and guides and builds us into the spiritual house we are called to become. I do not know how He will do this, I simply believe that He will, that in the midst of deep darkness His light will shine brightly (Is. 60:1-2). I desire to do my part to join my heart with His to see this realized in the earth. After all it is up to Him and here is what He promised.

13  Behold, is it not of the LORD of hosts That the peoples labor to feed the fire, And nations weary themselves in vain? 14  For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:13-14 (NKJV)

This is our calling! So,

23  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24  And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25  not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25 (NKJV)