Address the camera on a stand I’ve got set up in the front row for my boys.
In case you can’t tell from my face, I’m old. I grew up in a very different time and place. So help me understand. Do high schoolers still actually get in fistfights? Or do you just harass each other online and call that bullying?
Ok, let me give you a glimpse into the kid Jim Smith- so we moved at the end of every school year, so I was never the insider at any school. Never had some big list of friends, because I knew we’d reset the next year.
But when I was in grade school, we moved to LA/Simi Valley. There were some RIOTS back in the 90’s called the Rodney King riots- and racial tensions were super bad. And just overall, back then it wasn’t bullying if it wasn’t physical. Kids not liking you didn’t count. Kids saying mean things was just a thing kids did. And into that very violent, physical world, walked 6th grade me- scrawny nerd, GIANT glasses, chess aficionado- future speech and debate legend, future IT wizard, comic book nerd back before you could make a comic movie and have it break box office records.
I was a prime candidate to get beat up on the regular. And for a season of life, that’s exactly what happened. So I joined karate. The karate kid had just come out, and I was living in the dream that if I just waxed enough cars, I’d be ready to beat up the whole world.
But I happened to sign up for a literal lunatic of a dojo. My sensei was one of those guys that never really left Vietnam, and instead of the YMCA/Karate for Kids stuff, this guy thought he was preparing us to fight to the death. He used to “warm up” by punching a solid brick wall till his knuckles were bleeding profusely, then turn around and teach the class, because he wanted to (and I kid you not) “Build up immunity”.
I mostly just trained and trained. Getting ready for a fight that never came- see I wasn’t getting into fights, because a fight meant I was fighting back. I mostly just got picked on, got my stuff taken, got pushed down etc. But with enough time training, eventually, got to a point when I just wasn’t afraid of a fight anymore. Stopped spending recesses and lunches in the classroom or bathroom. Wasn’t picking for a fight, but wasn’t spending my life avoiding it. I knew I’d lose, but I knew I’d hurt the other guy too, just enough to make him find someone else. (NOT your example here, just a story of my childhood, remember that).
Then around 5th grade, I got a foster brother, kid who’d been through some really really hard things in his life, and I looked at him like he was the brother I never had- because I had two sisters, and they were no good, but finally, a brother! I loved this kid a ton- he was just a year behind me age wise, but he was socially off, had all sorts of easy to push buttons that made him easy to bully. But I wanted to stand up for him. He’d had a hard enough life, he didn’t deserve it!
At school he kept getting picked on, and I didn’t want him living what I lived through, so I went to talk to the bully. Bully’s aren’t known for their ability to talk rationally through life’s problems, so I don’t really know what I expected to have happen, but I ended up fighting the kid. Now I’m not encouraging you to go beat the snot out of a bully, BUT I’ll say that should the situation ever arise where you have to MAN is it gratifying. Years of being bullied and pent up rage, at least 5 years of training for the fight that wasn’t coming, and the righteous anger that comes with defending the defenseless- it all came out on poor travis dekkam’s face. I pounded him like he stood for every kid that had ever beat me up, and knowing dang well that if I didn’t truly scare him, my brother, not me, would be the one to pay. (again, don’t go get in a fight and say that was the advice you got at riot- if you’re going to only pay attention for a little bit, save that for later).
Where am I going with all this? We’re going to read the last chapter of Ephesians here- since that’s where the current series has led us:
We’re starting in verse ten- right after it tells us to obey our parents, and how to handle our slaves….
The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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. 13 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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 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. 19 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, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
23 Peace to the brothers and sisters,[c] and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
So let’s talk about how we view this armor of God. Because here’s the problem. So many kids showed up at that dojo where I trained who wanted the belts- that was the big deal back then- parents coming in- “how fast can my little johnny get a black belt” and my sensei, apparently really wanting to keep living in a van down by the river, would say “I don’t give blackbelts to anyone under 18. It’s like telling someone they’ve got a gun when you know it’s not loaded. A black belt means they can defend themselves against anyone, but until you can defend yourself against a fully grown and trained adult, they don’t have what that belt means.” So then they’d leave, go to the local chain karate dojo that wanted to make money, and 6 months later the kid would have their shiny belt.
And I wanted to actually train. To actually be ready- because my karate wasn’t because I wanted to feel hardcore, have a bragging right etc. I knew we’d move again, and no one would care if I had some karate belt. My bullies were real- so my training had to be too.
And in this passage, Paul is talking about how to train in Godliness, and he starts by talking about WHY we train-
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 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. 13 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.
Our struggle as believers isn’t against the physical world- not that we’ve always done a great job at remembering that- we seem bent on fixating on controlling or hating the physical world- but Paul calls us to so much more than that- we are told to be strong because we’re up against IDEA’s, AUTHORITIES, and the literal forces of evil in this spiritual realm!
This word- STAND your ground, so that after you have done everything you can stand. That same word in greek is elsewhere the same word we translate as ABIDE, REMAIN, PERSIST in the lord. It’s the image of giving all you have, pouring it all out, so that in the end, you’re on the chaotic battlefield, not ready for more of a fight, but to remain in Jesus. To still be HIS, when it’s all said and done.
What an image.
It’s not about us being awesome. Not about us being better than the enemy. It’s about us giving all we have, and when it’s all said and done- we persist. We abide in Jesus still. We REMAIN.
But here’s where it gets to be a let down- so many sermons I’ve heard, bible studies done, and they all spend all the time talking about where it matters that each piece go to a certain place-
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish 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.
The BELT OF TRUTH. It does sound so neat- and there are some cool things to ponder- like how in all the armor of God the only offensive weapon is the word of God. What God says, not what I say, that’s the only thing I can bring to the enemy, rather than every other piece allows me to just withstand the enemy. There are some cool ideas like that to be drawn from the passage. But this isn’t that message. For so many believers- not based on your age, but on your love of God and how we live it out- we need to even get an idea of what training can look like.
So rather than dissecting the locations of the items, let’s talk about what it means to grow in the things that make up this set of armor. In small group tonight, I want us to ask ourselves if we’re really growing in these. Not just endorsing the idea of RIGHTOUSNESS, but am I becoming more righteous in my life? Am I growing in my understanding of the TRUTH? Am I living READY to share the GOSPEL OF PEACE? How does one even grow their FAITH? How do I allow my SALVATION to PROTECT ME? How do I keep my sword ready by knowing the WORD of God?
I’m going to give some ultra basics on these,
righteousness — certain struggles are bypassed if we live good godly, holy lives- I don’t lie- so I don’t have to struggle to keep my stories strait. I don’t keep enemies, so I don’t have to look over my shoulder to see how they might undermine me. I
gospel of peace — If the gospel is a checkmark of a thing you did or accepted once, but you’re not living ready with it, how will the lives of those around you be changed?
salvation –How is salvation a defense?- do we believe what God says about us, or the word? So much depression, anxiety, envy and striving comes from not being protected by the fact that JESUS DIED FOR YOU. Knowing it, letting it protect you- that’s how you stay defended from the lie- that you’re ugly, not enough, not funny, not worth it. If Jesus died for me, then my life matters, no matter what lies creep in. If you don’t live protected by your salvation, envy, strife, rivalry and self doubt and self loathing all stand at the ready to fill that void
The sword of God’s word- if you don’t know the word of God, someone can easily convince you of wrong ideas.
What I really want to hear is our small groups grappling with if we’re even growing in these things at all, and how can I? Ask your friends who you envy their faith, ask your small group leader- people who love you give the best warnings about holes in the armor, gaps in our defenses. Most of your small group leaders can give you the real nitty-gritty on where you’re likely to encounter struggles based on our lack and need- . How will you remain fervent in the basics? If my faith is weak, because I’m not living it out, pondering the thoughts of God accept for 20 minutes once a week on wednesday, do I really expect to have the sort of faith I pretend to want?
20 minutes once a week is a start, no doubt, but you’re not ready to stand up to evil in this world, (and I don’t think any of us doubt there is true evil in this world) on 20 minutes a week. I think so many believers see enemies where we should see friends, and see friends where we maybe should see opposition, all because we aren’t even close enough to Jesus to see the difference.
And this doesn’t just matter for you- think to the old time shield wall in movies like 300- row after row of shields all tucked in together, and they’re stronger than just a bunch of people holding thier own shields. The people of God are called to live righteous lives, protected from the lies of the age, living in the word of God- but not just as a sea of individuals, but as a counterbalance to culture itself! SO we do these things not just for ourselves, but because we’re stronger together!
Lastly, and the reason why we know we wont win:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
We aren’t doing all this preparing so WE can overcome anyone, so WE can win any fight. In the end, the best training, the best growing, the best understanding- it all drives us to the point of seeing our need for FAITH. Our need for JESUS to be the one who saves. We won’t be getting STRONGER- we’ll be getting more and more comfortable recognizing that any power we have comes because we are claimed by Jesus. We rest in HIM and the fact that HE WINS. We aren’t cosmic warriors slaying evil- we’re just using this ARMOR of God because we only need to withstand, to persevere, to LAST until the LAST. Because in the end, Jesus wins. Every knee will bow, one day to the rightful king of this universe- and for some, that’ll be the greatest sorrow ever. As they realize they put their hope in the wrong places. But if we have spent this life perfecting relying on Him, that moment will instead be the greatest joy- as we cry out “THATS MY KING!”
That’s why the only offensive weapon isn’t what we say, but what God says- because our goal is to do what paul said as he wrapped up this letter:
23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
One day, there will be a peace that overcomes all pain, all suffering, all hatred, all war, all endless striving- because Jesus wins. Paul wishes peace upon God’s people, and encourages undying love- because that’s what our hope is in.
But if your hope is in that, let’s get ready to persist, to remain, to in the end, STAND. And that starts with a good hard look at these list of qualities, and asking if we’re seeing God increase them in our lives. So let’s go to small group and talk through them together.