August 22, 2021

“The Best Defense”

(From Ephesians 6: 10-20)  

   Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 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. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

     In the year 1799, two years after serving as the first president of our infant nation, George Washington   wrote a letter to his colleague John Trumbull. Trumbull was a man who had served under him in several commissions during the Revolutionary War, and who had painted several portraits and historic depictions of both Washington and major events of the war.  The French had acquired land in both Louisiana and Florida, a situation which Washington viewed as both an impending evil and a threat to our nation.  In summing up his concerns regarding the acquisitions themselves, as well as the apparent blasé response of the Congressional Representatives to this imminent danger, Washington wrote this message to Trumbull:

“It is unfortunate when men cannot, or will not, see danger at a distance; or seeing it, are restrained in the means which are necessary to avert, or keep it afar off. I question whether the evil arising from the French getting possession of Louisiana and the Floridas would be generally seen, until it is felt; and yet no problem in Euclid is more evident, or susceptible of clearer demonstration—Not less difficult is it to make them believe, that offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defence.”

These words of strategy, penned from Washington’s military perspective, have been credited as the original source of the life lesson that teaches “the best defense is a good offense”.  

     I suspect that many people might feel that these words based on military strategy challenge our more commonly held Christian moral directives.  As followers of Christ Jesus, we who are Christians hold fast to both his moral teachings and his own life actions as our compass for living.  For example, among Jesus’ teachings are the beatitudes, or blessings, Jesus taught his followers, he taught that those who were peacemakers were blessed.  “They shall be called sons [children] of God,” he declared in Matthew 5: 9.  We understand this teaching to mean that those who make and keep peace are the blessed children of God.  Although we may romanticize the role of the peacemaker or peacekeeper, ensuring peace is not a passive activity.  Peacemaking/peacekeeping is a well-planned mode of action that is taken in response to the circumstances that threaten peace.  Those who provide for peace may be pressed to do so by employing   defensive and protecting actions, as well as proactive and offensive means.

     By means of his outward actions, Jesus chose to adopt what may appear to be a passive response of supplicating to those who arrested, tried and sentenced him to death upon a cross.  Yet, such an assessment of these events could not be further from the truth.  Jesus chose both his words and actions in this situation   to align them with God’s great plan for our salvation.  Jesus’ response, as well as his life, teaching and healing ministry, were all part of God’s well-devised plan to enter into the midst of sinful human history.  God, in Jesus, provided atonement for sin, as well as the means for receiving eternal life through believing in him.  Jesus was always in control of his circumstances, even when they involved the self-sacrifice of his horrific death upon the cross.  Just as the words of a popular Hymn remind us- “He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set him free.  He could have called ten thousand angels; but he died alone for you and me.  He died alone for you and me.”

     The times were truly perilous for Jesus and his Disciples as they travelled in ministry throughout the regions of Galilee and Judea.  With many now out to get them and his time among them growing short, Jesus knew his followers needed to be vigilant and to follow his well-planned strategy.  His words to them in Luke 22: 36-38 even appear on the surface to imply that the use of weapons may be called for as they moved forward on their journey.  Jesus said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”   Yet, in further context, only a short time later Jesus rebuked his very followers for raising a physical sword to cut off the ear of a high priest’s slave, and Jesus healed him.  Biblical scholars understand Jesus’ reference above to the gathering of swords to be metaphorical, calling on them to gather the weapons/swords of the Spirit’s power for their ongoing journey.  Canadian Coalition of the Gospel contributor, Paul Carter, refers to this spiritual preparation process of Jesus as “keeping the sword of the Spirit half-drawn at all times.”      

    The author of Ephesians has shared a similar recommendation to his readers, as we discovered in our lesson for this morning.  This section of scripture, often referred to as “The Whole Armor of God,” describes the spiritual preparation that is needed for believers to contend with the “wiles of the devil”.  These are not merely physical and tangible enemies, but cosmic powers, principalities, and spiritual forces in the heavenly places, as the author refers to them.  In sound military fashion, elements of both personal protective defense and proactive offense are required to successfully contend with this evil.  A lasting reign of peace is not possible without employing the “whole spiritual armor of God.”  Let’s take some time to  

explore this armor of God, so we may know how to access it for use against the evil of our world today.

     First, according to the author, we need the belt of truth fastened firmly around our waist.  Satan and his emissaries are liars, seeking to destroy us with the lies they tell.  Both knowing a speaking truth of God’s great and unconditional love and grace for us will guard us against the lies they tell us and try to coerce us to believe.  Next, we need the breastplate of righteousness.  Breastplates protect the heart; so, filling our hearts full of that which is good and right will protect them from the evil Satan has placed in the world to threaten and conquer them.  The shoes for our feet should be those which prepare us to proclaim the gospel-the good news.  Proclaiming the good news about Christ Jesus with others is how we gain new partners to share in our spiritual cause on behalf of the world.  Some will wear casual loafers, as they walk through rough terrain sharing psalms, hymns and prayer.  Others will wear patent leather and cordovan, as they enter the world’s mansions and high estates with the good news of Christ.  All who hear and believe are welcome spiritual coworkers.

     A shield is agile, and it protects believers against the blatant arrows of attack Satan and his cohorts hurl at us.  For this spiritual task of shielding, faith is needed.  A strong, agile and ever-growing faith that the gospel message is the good news for us will keep us from falling victim to the arrows of self-doubt, self-loathing and fear Satan so often sends to discourage and destroy us.  To insure this protection, the helmet of salvation protects our minds and thinking; reminding us always that it is God who judges, and not Satan.  God is love, perfect love, offered to us as an unconditional gift of God’s grace.  God so loved us that God sent us Jesus, so that all who believe may have new, abundant and eternal life in and though him.  The message of salvation is he helmet we employ to guard ourselves against Satan and his emissaries. 

     Finally, the author of Ephesians follows Jesus’ method of spiritual vigilance in recommending that believers proactively keep a sword at the ready and, as Paul Carter recommends, half-drawn at all times.  A sword can serve as both a defensive measure in resisting an attack, and as a proactive and offensive means of averting one.  It was true in Jesus’ day, in the days of the early Church, and it is true still today, that we need the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to contend with all of the sources of evil we find in our world today.  It is the Spirit that we believers have with us and in us at all times, and thus, in all the places we may ever find ourselves.  The Spirit is our Advocate, Teacher, Comforter, and Protector.  Amid all other means of spiritual protection we can employ in this world, the Holy Spirit Jesus sent to us is the greatest.  The Spirit’s power for living is a part of God’s good plan for us and our care until Christ comes gain in final victory over Satan and all the powers and principalities that threaten us.  The Spirit’s power intercedes for us, even in our moments of greatest weakness, if we are proactive and intentional in seeking and trusting that power.  It provides both the protection and the offensive action that is needed to survive Satan’s attacks.  What, then, is the best defense for followers of Jesus Christ?  It is actively and intentionally living out God’s plan for our lives under the constant care and protection of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is our best means of defense and the  most trusted sword of offense in every time of need. Amen.

Hymn- “God of Love and God of Power”

(words: G. H. Kennedy, music: J. Neader)                                                                                                      

 God of love and God of power, grant us in this burning hour grace to ask these gifts of thee, daring hearts and spirits free.  God of love and God of power, thou hast called us for this hour.