Equipped for a mission-focused
Journey With Jesus

Sermon for August 25, 2024 – Proper 16

Welcome to this week’s episode, a special rerun from our Speaking of Life archive. We hope you find its timeless message as meaningful today as it was when it was first shared.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3039 | The Songs of Home
Greg Williams

Did you have a trip your family took while you were growing up? Maybe to visit relatives across the country? Or maybe back to a parent’s hometown? Or that one resort or beach town you visited every year without fail?

You develop a certain routine. You might stop at the same hamburger joint, like Melvin’s in Elizabethtown on the way to White Lake, North Carolina. You may fill your car with gas at the same Scotchman service station because you know they have the cheapest prices. You get a feel for the landmarks—the DuPont Plant, the Smithfield pork processing plant, the bridge across the mighty Cape Fear River, and the bait shop right before you enter the FFA Camp at White Lake.  If your kids are young, you might pass the time by playing “I-spy” or singing songs. Our kids still remember that Susan and I would count the cows in the fields on our side of the car riding through the country.

The Israelites had similar travel customs and traditions. Israelites wore a groove between their homes and the temple, making the trip several times during their lives, and they would often sing psalms as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Psalm 84 was one they traditionally sang.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Psalm 84:10 (ESV)

This song might be sung several times along the way, ringing the theme that they were headed to God’s courts. With rising joy as they approached the familiar destination, they would reiterate their central story as God’s people.

Stop for a second and think about this: The Son of God probably sang this song as a kid. Joseph and Mary most likely sang this song as they traveled to the temple to have him dedicated when he was twelve. Some of the first sounds he would remember on earth were these hopeful words over and over:

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Psalm 84:3 (ESV)

These were songs of comfort and longing, songs of home.

We still sing these songs and similar songs as we tell these stories today, as we are on our own pilgrimage. We are not all the way home yet, we are not fully at rest; we are still on the journey.

Jesus journeyed. He knew the fatigue and boredom that would occasionally arise, but he also knew the excitement of traveling with family. And that’s the key. We are the family of God, still on that journey. The blessing is that Jesus journeys with us; he walks with us and he sings with us the songs of his home.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 84:1-12 · 1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43 · Ephesians 6:10-20 · John 6:56-69

This week’s theme is abiding with God. In our call to worship Psalm, David declares how lovely God’s dwelling place is and how much he longs to be with God. In 1 Kings, we see the ark of the covenant, which was the dwelling place of God with his people placed in the holy of holies. In Ephesians, we are informed that we are to be strong, as we have Christ’s power residing in us. And in John, Jesus tells those in the synagogue that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood abides in him.

Armor Up and Stand Firm!

Ephesians 6:10-20 NIV

Any great war movie contains a certain indispensable feature. It is the rousing speech delivered prior to a pivotal battle that is set to take place. Think of movies like “Patton,” “Braveheart,” and “300.” The generals of these armies all gave impassioned speeches with well-crafted words meant to inspire loyalty and courage in their troops. After hearing these speeches, the armies were inspired, focused, and prepared for the imminent battle.

In the movie, Independence Day, a speech was given prior to a battle that did not take place with an ordinary army. And the stakes were no less than the very survival of our species. Their enemies were, in fact, not of this world.

In our pericope today, we will be looking at the most important and inspiring battle speech contained in the Bible. And no, oddly enough, it is not found in the Old Testament. It was written by the apostle Paul, while being chained to a Roman soldier as he was being closely guarded under house arrest.1

The letter was transcribed and was to be delivered to and read by the Ephesian church. It was a battle cry that was meant to inspire courage and loyalty to Christ against another enemy, who is also not of this world. Though these words were penned nearly two thousand years ago, it is a timely masterpiece of our faith meant to ready the soldiers of Christ.

Read, or have someone read, Ephesians 6:10-20.

What we just read was Paul’s crescendo to his letter to the church in Ephesus. His letter covered a lot of ground. He stressed God’s plan of redemption through Christ. He discussed the importance of unity amongst believers. He unpacked the mystery of Christ as the inclusion of the Gentiles. And he thoroughly covered how to walk in love, and what living a holy life in various relationships should look like.

Everything has been said. What more can Paul offer at this point? Chances are, he may never see the brethren again. He may never be able to write them again. Paul wants to inspire them to fight the good fight just as he had. And what he finishes with becomes the most memorable and most quoted part of the entire letter.

At the start of his speech, he wants to make one thing abundantly clear — that we are to be strong, but in Jesus, not in ourselves.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Ephesians 6:10 NIV)

The only legitimate strength we are able to exhibit is that which comes from God. It is not something that we can muster up. It is not something that we can enforce by our physical power or knowledge or good intentions. Our strength is our reliance on our Savior, Christ Jesus. This is not to be overlooked as it builds the foundation for the rest of this passage.

The armor of God that we are to put on has already been provided for us. The armor is his strength taking shape in its various forms in our spiritual lives. We do not create the armor; we simply put on what has already been freely given.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, our lives in Christ don’t always resemble a leisurely stroll on a sunny day in the park. Or at the beach, if you prefer. Paul makes it clear that there is an enemy intent on destroying us. There will be battles and struggles in our lives. There will be many things that we will have to contend with and resist. This is our reality.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For 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. 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. (Ephesians 6:11-13 NIV)

From this passage, it should be clear that what we are up against is not something that our physical eyes can necessarily see. So, when we get annoyed by the greater world around us and how things are being run, just know that there is something deeper going on. There are spiritual realities that do not have the things of God in mind.

We might be tempted to think that the bane of our existence is that annoying co-worker, inconsiderate neighbor, or a nagging spouse. But once again, they are not the ones that we are ultimately fighting against. Remember, they are fighting their own battles as well.

No matter who, or what, these forces are that oppose us, we are to consider that we have the very power of God on our side. We have the Holy Spirit that keeps us strong and confident. We are not in this alone. In our weakness, we find his strength.

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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. (Ephesians 6:14-17 NIV)

In this section, Paul gives a vivid description of what the armor of God looks like. And who better to describe it to us than someone who was chained to a real live Roman soldier.

Paul symbolizes the attire of a Roman soldier to that of how a Christian should be equipped in the spiritual realm. The belt represents the truth of the gospel which upholds us. Our breastplate is the righteousness that we have received in Christ. The shoes represent the readiness with which we are to go and to proclaim the gospel. Our shield of protection is the faith of the Son of God. The helmet represents the knowledge of our salvation by grace. And the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

You could write an entire sermon on each of these individual pieces of our armor. For the sake of time, we are going to focus instead on how a Roman soldier would have conducted himself in battle. Since Paul has gone into detail regarding how that armor is used in our spiritual lives, it’s important to consider the other side to Paul’s symbolism to see if there are still some symbols that we have yet to explore in this passage.

The Romans were known for their disciplined and methodical fighting style. When they moved, they were shoulder to shoulder. Their steps were slow and sure. When their enemies’ arrows rained down upon them, their shields were long enough to cover not only themselves but the soldiers next to them. Other soldiers used shields to cover the top of their heads. They were fully encased from top to bottom and front to back. Not a single part of them was unprotected. They were virtually impenetrable.2

Hopefully, you were able to pick up the symbolism between the fighting style of the Roman soldiers and how we are to conduct our lives in the faith. As believers, we are to rely on one another. We are to be unified. We are to stick together. We are to be committed to each other.3 Although our faith stands individually (Romans 12:3), we are encouraged and emboldened when we observe and appreciate the faith of others.

A soldier who decided to go it alone and to fight the battle on his own individualistic terms was quickly cut down. The enemy wants to divide us and to get us to scatter and to convince us that we don’t need anyone else. When this thinking infects the body of Christ, we are easy pickings for the enemy of our souls. We are playing right into his schemes.

Standing firm, then, as Paul puts it, is not about a bunch of individual Christians all diving recklessly into our own skirmishes against the forces of evil. We are to come alongside each other. We are to see where our fellow soldiers have been weakened and find ways to support and shield them, to remind them of the armor that belongs to them. United we stand, divided we fall.

 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6:18-20 NIV)

It’s interesting to note that while Paul goes into detail regarding our armor, he spends even more time talking about and concluding with the importance of prayer. Prayer becomes the punctuation mark to Paul’s impassioned battle speech.

Prayer is our lifeline to the Father. Although, we are never away from his presence, it is through prayer that we gain a greater sense of the mind and heart of Christ. Here we find expression to the very deepest parts of our being. In Psalm 84, King David writes,

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, indeed, it faints for the courts of the LORD. (Psalm 84:1,2a NIV)

We are to pray on all occasions and to continually bring our requests before God. The indication here is that prayer is something worth getting excited about. Our prayers are to be abundant, alive, and expectant. Paul mentions this earlier in this letter where he says,

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. (Ephesians 3:12 KJV)

In keeping with the idea of not just being individual, isolated soldiers, we are to pray for and with one another. Someone once said that we grow closer to those that we pray to, pray for, and pray with. So, there is great power in prayer as we approach our loving heavenly Father and agree together.

With thankfulness in our hearts, we trust that he causes us all to stand firm in the faith, fully equipped with the full armor of God. As we look to our right and to our left, we can be assured that we are not standing alone. There is an entire army standing with us. And this army of God will prevail, not by might nor by power, but by the Spirit of God. Brothers and sisters, let us armor up and let us stand firm together!

  1. Paul and the Praetorian Guard – Drive Thru History Adventures. Randall Niles
  2. Fascinating Ancient History Of Roman Shields – Ancient Pages, Richard Carlson
  3. Commentary on Ephesians 6:10-20 – Working Preacher from Luther Seminary

John MacMurray—Year B Proper 16

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Ephesians 6:10-20

August 24, 2024
Proper 16 in Ordinary Time

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Program Transcript

John MacMurray—Year B Propers 16

Anthony: Let’s pivot to our final passage because there’s a lot here to get to. It’s Ephesians 6:10-20. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 16 and Ordinary Time, which is August 25.

John, we’d be grateful if you’d read it.


Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power; 11 put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil, 12 for our struggle is not against 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. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on the evil day and, having prevailed against everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand, therefore, and belt your waist with truth and put on the breastplate of righteousness 15 and lace up your sandals in preparation for the gospel of peace. 16 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. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 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. 19 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Anthony: Amen. Verse 12, I’m quoting it, “for our struggle is not against 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.”

Help us to consider, make an attempt, what the Spirit is inspiring here to be written, within the context of “the strength of his power,” when Paul begins or how Paul begins this pericope. I think it’s important to have that context. What’s going on here?

John: All right. I’ll give it a shot. But part of this one, Anthony, because I think the context is actually back in the pericope where he’s talking about submission, and he brings up husbands and wives and the church and all that stuff.

And so, I think there’s a continuity between this mutual submission idea and the armor of God. And that’s where strength lies. Strength lies in mutually submitting to God and to one another. Like we didn’t look at that passage, but it’s there. It’s in between the two that we did read.

So, I think that’s the immediate context. I also like the fact that Paul used — it would be like you and I using computers to illustrate something that is true or real in our life. And we make an illustration out of it. And he, I think that’s what he’s doing here.

He’s picking up something that everybody’s familiar with, the armor of a soldier that everybody knows. Most of that world is occupied by Roman soldiers. And you look at him and say, yeah you want to protect, guard you with these things, but this isn’t something that you provide for yourself, and I think that’s important. I think that’s key.

What he’s telling us to do is to experience it. Put it on. He didn’t say make it. He didn’t say create it. He didn’t say polish it, develop it. He just said put it on. You have it. It’s there, and what is this that I’m putting on? It’s this perspective of submission to what the will of the Lord is in my relationship with him and with each other.

That makes sense to me. That’s not the way I learned it. Like I said, that’s why I said give it a shot. I’ll stop. Your thoughts?

Anthony: Yeah, I like the fact that you brought in chapter 5 as context. And I heard you say earlier, “what we call chapters.” It’s a letter, right? I mean it helps us read it in the modern day, but boy oh boy, to isolate individual scriptures, which is so what we do and build a whole dogmatic statement. I think it gets us in so much trouble.

And you’ve talked and you’ve alluded to several times having to unlearn things. I’ve had to do the same. I grew up in a legalistic environment, had to unlearn so much because I thought God was aloof. And he was over in his corner, and I was fine because if he came over to my corner, he’d see all the wrongdoing and he wouldn’t want to hang out with me anyway.

So, when we think about unlearning. Let’s take it down to this whole armor of God perspective. What might be still lingering in people’s minds and hearts that they would have to unlearn? And I know it’s, again, it’s an attempt, but anything stand out where people have used this in a way that just falls short of the goodness and glory of God?

John: Oh man, we could go with this in a lot of different dimensions. Yeah, here’s one because the metaphor is of a soldier and the armor that the soldier wears.

Anthony: Yes.

John: We immediately think that it’s a violent task, a warring task, and it is a war task, but it’s not a warring task against another person.

It’s against these powers; this evil one. It’s not another human being. But yeah. Again, you asked me about unlearning. The way it was always presented to me was stand up against this person, condemn this action, condemn this statement whatever, whether you’re talking about politics, but it usually becomes a moral issue.

And I’m not saying that it’s not that morality is not involved here, but I don’t think that’s the primary thing that’s going on. That’s why I went back to chapter 5. I think the primary thing is this living in submission. But that would be one thing is our tendency to violence with something like this.

The other thing I already mentioned was our tendency to think that we somehow create this armor or make the armor better by how we improve or what we do. There’s none of that here. It’s just, you’ve made too much of this, just put it on. Live a life that’s worthy of the calling.

And look at the things that he’s telling you to put on. Has he not talked about these things earlier in this letter? Truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith, these are all there.

That’s a couple things that I would say that I’m still unlearning. Because the problem with learning something a certain way for me, Anthony, especially when it’s the first time you learn something, it never really goes away.

It’s like your default button. It’s always there and you can always go back to it because it was the first time you heard it. And I have to remind myself or listen to the Spirit reminding me.

I loved what you said earlier that your life is becoming more and more of just simply trying to listen and hear and become aware of what God is doing so that you can participate in it. You can be a part of it.

I think that’s much closer to what life actually is supposed to look like than the way we typically do it. I’m going to get myself girded up. I can tell you, I can remember youth sermons, and the title of the sermon was, Gird Yourself Up. And again, I get it because Paul has said, put this on.

But the emphasis was all about what you do, and you make this happen. And I’m like, yeah, I tried that, and it didn’t work.

Anthony: That’s right. And we have a bent toward violence. And this is why it’s so important to know the context is Jesus the Christ, because you can read the Old Testament and get so askew of who God is because of the violence we see there.

But it’s the same God in Jesus Christ that told Peter to put down his sword. It is the same God nonviolent at the cross. This is the God revealed in Jesus Christ and man, there is so much unlearning that goes on with that. And that’s why we keep coming back to the gospel. And this is why we bear testimony, bear witness to it because it is so easy to go back to the default setting of retribution

And this is not a God who is of retributive justice. He’s redemptive justice. He redeems things. And so it’s so important to look to him as we talk about what can be abuse, to look like a very aggressive, violent thing toward other people. But that’s not the God revealed in Jesus. It’s just not.

The beauty is as we share these gospel texts, we have listeners all around the globe that are preaching and teaching, and they’re Bible students. And it’s so interesting how, when I give a sermon, I think this is the point and somebody has heard something else that has been inspired for them. And that’s the beauty of this.

And so, I think there’s a lot that’s good news that we’ve already talked about. Thank you for being with us, John. You are a beloved child of God. You’re fearfully, wonderfully made in his image and likeness. And it’s a joy to know you as a brother, keep doing what you’re doing.

And I want to thank our podcast team. They do such a great job. As we talked about in these passages of Ephesians, nobody can do it alone. I can’t do it alone. Reuel Enerio is just a terrific podcast producer. He’s a digital content creator. My wife, Elizabeth, does the transcript so you can read every word that John said and hold him in account, call him up.

And I’m just so grateful that you’re here, John. And as is our tradition on Gospel Reverb, we like to close in prayer. And I’d invite you to say a word of praise for us.

John: Absolutely. Before I do that, Anthony, thank you for having me and I’m honored and privileged to be able to do it and talk about it. I’m always stunned when someone says, “John, what do you think about this?” And really, you want to know what I think about this. So, thank you very much.

Let’s pray.

Father, you are good and you’re good all the time. You know no other way of being; you can’t be any other way. And for that, we need to be reminded.

And so thank you for reminding us this morning through these texts of your goodness, your love, your humility, your gentleness, your kindness, your forgiveness — all of these things. And the way that you treat us, the way you relate to us, all of us, you don’t show favoritism or prejudice towards anyone. This is true for everybody, and I’m so grateful that it’s true for me, and I’m learning it.

And I pray that you’ll take our words this morning, take your text, and as Anthony prayed earlier at the beginning, that what we need to hear, each of us, the Spirit, you would take that, and just remind us. Don’t let us go until we get it, pound us, and the ones that we’re doing well in, ah, sometimes we need some encouragement. And so, help us with that, as well to know that this is a good thing. Keep going.

We are so grateful that you not only offer us direction and guidance like this in our lives, but you provide it. So, we trust you. We worship you. We love you. And we thank you for today, in Jesus’ great name.

Anthony: Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • How can we tell if we are trying to accomplish something by God’s strength or our own?
  • What would be some examples of warring against flesh and blood?
  • How can we keep ourselves from feeling alone in our struggles?
  • What are some ways that we can come alongside others who feel weakened in their faith?
  • What would an exciting prayer life look like?

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