Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18; Ps 34 15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
Today’s three readings have sufficient material for sermons covering a month of Sundays; however, you may be glad to know that I will comment on only one theme this morning.
In just seven weeks we will be commemorating the centenary of the ending of the First World War. As the words of St. Paul reminded us, we are still at war today, but many fail to recognise it.
C. S. Lewis wrote a book about imaginary letters between the devil and his lieutenants called the Screwtape Letters. Lewis says in his introduction to the book, that the general public prefers either to ignore the forces of evil altogether – to pretend they don’t- exist’ and to use cartoon images of a ‘devil’ with horns and a tail as an argument to that effect. ‘You can’t possibly believe in that nonsense’, so how can you believe in a devil at all?’ The other extreme is to take an unhealthy interest in everything demonic, which can be just as bad in the long run.
What we have in the present passage and what l believe is required again and again as Christians, is face the daily and yearly battle for the kingdom, with a sober, realistic assessment both of the struggle we are engaged in and of the weapons at our disposal. It is, of course, a surprise to many people that there is a ‘struggle’ at all. Yes, they think, we find it difficult from time to time to practise our Christianity. We find it hard to forgive people, to pray regularly, to resist temptation, and to learn more about the faith. But as far as they’re concerned that’s the end of it. They have never thought that their small struggles might be part of a larger campaign.
In the letter to his friends in Ephesus, Paul writes that they should keep alert and arm themselves against the wiles of the devil and that is still good advice for us today. Paul warns them that, ‘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. The problem with that is you can’t see the spiritual forces of evil. During the last war it was easy. The German aeroplanes had black swastikas on them and the German soldiers wore grey uniforms with funny shaped tin hats and anyway the whole country was united in fighting them.
But in today’s war we can’t see our evil enemy, we can only recognise the evil effect the devil has on other people, or on the way he tempts us from the straight and narrow path as we try to follow the will of God. And today, not only is the country not united in fighting evil, but sometimes even the churches seem divided!
But even if we can’t see our foe, Paul does give us some very practical advice. We must put on the armour which has been provided by God. Firstly he says fasten the belt of truth around your waist. That is very important. The primary thing about the Christian message is that it is true; if it isn’t, it’s meaningless. It isn’t true because it works; NO, it works because it is true. Never give up on the sheer truth of the gospel. It’s like the belt which holds everything else together and in place. And we should be true in all we say and do. On the television we see advertisements in which lying is seen as the norm – I’m thinking about the advert where a hostess passes off a bought ready meal as her own cooking.
And put on the breastplate of righteousness. The Revised English Bible says
for a breastplate put on integrity; we all know what is right and wrong, so we should do good and seek the moral high ground. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. REB says let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing; Jesus proclaimed a Gospel of peace, yet he did not budge when things got tough, and he was prepared to stand firm – even against physical force when necessary.
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. If we have a strong faith in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then we can be sure that he will help us resist all that the devil can throw at us. Take the helmet of salvation, GNB says accept salvation as a helmet. The devil tries to put doubt in our minds,
but if we know, if we really, really know, that we are saved, and that Jesus really loves us and that he died on the Cross for us, then the doubts sown by the devil will never be able to take root.
Ok, so that’s the armour, but how do we attack? Take the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you. God has given us the Bible, His Holy Word, as a great spiritual resource to help us defeat evil. It gives us great strength and encouragement and we should read it every day. And Paul goes on in his letter to the Ephesians to remind them that they also have another weapon which is prayer. God is spirit and we have been told to worship God in spirit and in truth. So Paul says – Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. And we know that in prayer we can ask God’s help not only for our own fight against evil, but also for our friends and family, and not only for our friends and family, but for our town and for the whole world.
We are told that with Christ’s death and resurrection he has won the victory, yet we still appear to see evil overcoming good all over the world.
How can this be? The only way I can think of explaining this is to liken it to winter in 1944-45. The war in Europe was virtually won yet because the allies let their guard down, the Germans had one last push, the Battle of the Bulge. It was their one last offensive, it cost many lives, it may have prolonged the war, but it was defeated, and by May of 1945, it was all over.
Have we as Christians let our guard down? Perhaps the devil is having his Battle of the Bulge. But he has already been defeated and Christ will come in Glory.
So next time you see a film or a programme about the war on the TV, remember, that we too have a war to fight against evil, and we have God’s armour to protect us if we will only use it. Sometimes we may have feelings of being restricted or let down, or inadequate. Remember that Paul was in prison when he wrote this inspiring letter to his friends. So take heart, never give in, and never forget to use our God given weapons of prayer and reading the Bible. They will Inspire us to tell the world of Jesus’ love for all and spread God’s kingdom and at the same time enable us thwart the devil and all his evil ways.