The Lord's Day Evening
October 21, 2006
“God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians (LIX)
The Full Armor of God (3):
Word and Prayer”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. Please be seated. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me again to Ephesians 6, as we continue through this section on the armor of God.
We've been looking at this great and important and beloved passage for a couple of weeks now. When we looked at the first two or three verses from Ephesians 6:10-12, we said that one of Paul's main concerns was to remind us that we're in a war, so that we're not surprised when we find ourselves in the middle of a fight, and to remind us who we're up against. The battle that we're in is not one that we have the innate capacities or abilities to win, because our opposition is not human, but powers and principalities, the world forces of darkness arrayed against us. And so if our opposition isn't ultimately human, we're going to need divinely supplied spiritual protection in order to engage in this spiritual battle.
And then last Sunday evening, as we looked at verses 13-17 (or at least the first part of verse 17), we noticed the Apostle Paul named five particular parts of armor that he wanted every Christian to put on. There were belt and breastplate, and boots, and shield, and helmet and sword included in this set of armor, and we said that those pictures corresponded to the Christian's need for truth, for righteousness, for the good news of reconciliation, for faith, and for salvation. We held off the last one (which was the sword of the Spirit–the word of God) for tonight, and we’ll take that together with prayer as we look at verses 17 and 18 together. But we emphasized as we looked at those first five of the six pieces of armament that if we're to stand firm in the day of evil, we've got to have truth in our inner parts. We've got to have truth down to our bones. The Apostle Paul is telling us that the truth of God's word has to be so worked deep down in us that we are girded with it, we are wrapped around with it. And if that truth has taken hold of us inside out, then what we are inwardly we will be outwardly, and we will be enabled to stand in the battle that the Lord has called us to.
We also said that the second of these pieces of armor, the breastplate of righteousness, reminds us that we need a life characterized by holiness. It's not only that we understand the justifying work of Jesus Christ, that we've been accepted righteous in Him, but that we're engaged in the life of sanctification – we're growing in grace. And we said that that life of righteousness is absolutely essential for the battle. One of the places that Satan most often wins the victory over us is in attacking us at the point of our conscience, and if we're able to say from time to time ‘Yes, I often sin, but in this case I've done what's right’ there will be some battles we will win against Satan, just because of the sanctification that the Lord has wrought in our experience.
Third, we said that we must have a readiness that flows from the gospel as a part of our equipment, of our armor. Our ability to stand firm is connected to our having experienced the reconciling work of the gospel. In order to resist the assaults of the evil one, we must have a conscious experience of our peace with God and the consequent peace with one another that flows from that peace with God. If that peace is not there, then Satan has yet another area where he may attack.
We also said that one of the important parts of the armor is a living trust in God. We see how the Apostle Paul describes it there:
“…The shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
In other words, to resist the devil you have to have faith in God. Our trust and entire confidence must be in God, because if it's Satan assaulting you, presumably your confidence is not going to be in you. When you realize that it is God's battle and your trust is in Him, then you are able to be confident in the fight that we're in.
And then finally, in verse 17, when the apostle speaks of the helmet of salvation, he's pointing to the issue of assurance–how important it is for a believer to be assured of salvation. The knowledge that we are saved is absolutely essential to the whole project of the Christian life. Show me a Christian struggling with assurance, and I’ll show you a Christian that Satan has a great piece of leverage against. Satan can constantly assault that conscience that is not certain of God's saving love. In order to resist the devil, we need an assurance of our salvation, present and future; and, therefore, the business of resting in the Bible's words of assurance to us in the gospel is a very important issue for the living of the Christian life.
Well, the last piece of armor that was mentioned in verse 17 was the sword of the Spirit. We read those words last week, but we didn't get to them. Tonight I want to look at both verses 17 and 18, this final piece of armor that the Apostle Paul mentions, and then at his words about prayer. Before we read this passage together, let's pray and ask again for God's help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, we are in a fight. It's a desperate fight. One of the reasons it's desperate is because so often we don't realize we're in it. There are things from time to time in our lives that will shake us up and wake us up to the realities of this battle. We pray that Your Spirit tonight would awaken us to the realities of this battle, and that we would avail ourselves of Your word – the truth in it, commands in it, the wisdom in it, the guidance in it – as we seek to stand firm in the evil day. Lord, bring these words home to us tonight so that we hear and understand them, so that we believe and grow in them. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's word:
“…And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints….”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
In this brief passage that we're studying together tonight, the Apostle Paul is reminding us of two very simple things–things that we have known since we were children in Sunday School, on our mothers’ knee, Vacation Bible School–and that is simply this: If we're going to stand in the fight in which we find ourselves in this fallen world, then we must be people of the word, and we must be people of prayer. And I'd like to think about those things with you for just a few moments tonight.
The Apostle Paul has sketched out a picture of the armor of God in this passage. We've just reviewed it, and we've reminded ourselves that Paul is telling us as Christians that we need armor because we are in a fight. And yet as we've already admitted several times over the last few weeks, one of the challenges for us is that we don't realize the fight that we're in. I think all of us who have heard the news over the last week or ten days have been deeply touched and moved as we have heard the descriptions of what went on in that Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. No parent can be unmoved by the horror of what unfolded in that place, and it's apparent to all of us when we hear news like that–and we don't just hear news like that happening in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; we hear news like that happening in west Jackson and all over our country–it's very apparent to us, isn't it, that there's a fight going on in our culture. There's a real fight, and it involves our children, it involves our way of life, and it touches us in the places that are most precious to us.
One of the sad things is that we don't realize that there is just as much of a fight going on even if something of that tragic and traumatic nature is not happening every time our children go out the door on Monday morning. That fight with powers and principalities, a fight that serious is going on every day. The evil one is trying to rob grace from the hearts of our children; he's trying to rip Christ from the hearts of our children; he's trying to turn them inside out so that they think wrong; they think right is wrong and wrong is right, so that their priorities are upside down, their commitment to the word of God is nullified. There is a fight that desperate, that dire, every day of our lives. That's what the Apostle Paul is trying to convince us of here. It's not just that when some tragedy of that sort takes place that there is a fight engaging. That fight is engaged at all times. It was engaged during the Eisenhower years. It was engaged during the Hoover years. It was engaged during the Jackson years in the nineteenth century, and it's engaged today. It's not contained to one particular time or cultural moment. This fight is an ongoing fight. It has existed from the time that the Lord Jesus Christ was exalted on high, having led captivity captive and poured out His word and Spirit on the church, whereby He rules the world until the day that He returns again. As long as Satan is prowling about like a roaring lion, this fight is on. And just as every ounce of our parental love and protective instinct wanted there to be some armor that could have protected those five little girls, so also Paul wants to make sure that we are armored against an assault that is just as real as that assault was. And that's why he gives us these five things.
That's why it's really worth meditating…taking up a great exposition of this passage and just meditating on it over the course of weeks and months. Pick up Lloyd-Jones, and read through his long exposition of this passage. Pick up William Gurnall's The Christian in Complete Armor and read through his exposition of this passage. Pick up John Stott's volume from The Bible Speaks Today–it's found in The Book of Ephesians–and read through this passage and make this passage your own. Pray that God would arm you with these armaments.
But tonight I just want to look at this last piece of armor, and then this pervading call to prayer that is supposed to suffuse our taking on every part of the armor of God.
I. If we are to engage the spirit of this age we must be people of the word
If we're to engage the spirit of this age, if we're to resist these evil days, if we're to stand firm against these assaults of Satan, Paul says that we are to be a people of the word. Look at what he says at the end of verse 17: “…And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Now, every Christian knows the reality behind this particular command. Paul says make sure that you are armed with the word of God, for it is the sword of the Spirit. Every Christian knows that it's the word of God which calls us to faith in Christ. What does the Apostle Paul say? “Faith comes by hearing.” It's that word of God that calls us to faith; it's that word of God that calls us into His family. We've been seeing this since the Old Testament. Abram, an idolater from Ur of the Chaldees–deepest Iraq–is called by what? “The word of God” in Genesis 12, to become the father of the faithful. Jesus, walking amongst the children of Israel, a people who had failed to heed the message of the prophets for hundreds and hundreds of years–and what does He do? He calls to them with the word: “Come, follow Me.” And by that word He calls them into discipleship, He calls them into salvation, He calls them into service, He calls them into growth in grace. Every Christian understands that. It's the word of God that calls us to salvation to God, to Christ, in the gospel.
But it is also the word of God that builds us up. The Apostle Paul has made that clear. Turn with me to his letter to Timothy, the second letter, the passage that we were looking at this morning is at the beginning of II Timothy 3; the passage in which he speaks about the word of God is at the end of that same chapter, II Timothy 3:16:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul says it's not only that the word of God calls us to salvation, it is that the word of God is there to build us up. It is there to equip us. It is there to correct us, to instruct us, to challenge us, to rebuke us, to change us; to build us up into what God intends us to be in Jesus Christ. The word of God builds us up, and so the Apostle Paul says it is the essential component of the Christian's battle against these principalities and powers that are arrayed against us that we possess the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Listen to what Charles Hodge has to say about that particular word from the Apostle Paul:
“The only offensive weapon of the Christian is the sword of the Spirit, meaning the sword which the Spirit gives, that is, the word of God. There is nothing to limit this expression. It is that which God has spoken: His word, the Bible. It is sharper than any two-edged sword. It is the wisdom of God and the power of God. It has a self-evidencing light. It commends itself to the reason and conscience. It has the power not only of truth, but of divine truth.
“Our Lord promised to give His disciples a word and wisdom which all their adversaries would not be able to resist; in opposition to all error, to all false philosophy, to all false principles and morals, to all the sophistries of vice and sin. To all the suggestions of the devil, the soul's simple and sufficient answer is the word of God.” [Remember David's saying, “The word of God makes me wiser than my enemies.”] “This puts to flight all the powers of darkness. The Christian finds this to be true in his individual experience. It dissipates his doubts; it drives away his fears. It delivers him from the power of Satan.
“It is also the experience of the church collective. All her triumphs over sin and error have been effected by the word of God. So long as she uses this and relies on it alone, she goes on conquering; but when anything else — be it reason or science, or tradition, or the commandments of men — when anything else is allowed to take the place or share the office of the word of God, then the church or the Christian is at the mercy of the adversary. ‘In this sign conquer,’ the Apostle may be understood to say to every believer and to the whole church. In this sign, in the word of God, conquer.”
You know, that's what Luther has you singing about in the great hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Why don't you take your hymnal out and turn with me there. It's very interesting what Luther does. He combines Psalm 46…there's a sense in which A Mighty Fortress is just a paraphrase of Psalm 46. Turn to 92 in your hymnal. He takes the ideas both from Psalm 46 and from Ephesians 6, because he pictures the battle of Psalm 46 as the battle of the Christian against those principalities and powers.
“A mighty fortress is our God;
A bulwark never failing.
Our helper He amidst the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe.
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.”
I couldn't have done a better summation of Paul's message in Ephesians 6:10ff than that!
“Did we in our strength confide,
Our striving would be losing
That is exactly what Paul is saying: ‘You need the armor of God. Striving in your own strength will not work. You need a divinely supplied armor of God.’
“Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is He!
Lord Sabbaoth His name;
From age to age the same;
And He must win the battle.”
And so he reminds us there that the battle is the Lord's and the Lord Jesus Christ is fighting for us.
And then he says:
“And though this world with devils filled
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo! His doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.”
And then he says:
“That word, above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth.”
Isn't that a beautiful meditation on the truths of Psalm 46, and of Ephesians 6 — this battle that we're against? “That word” – the word of God – above all earthly power abides, no thanks to them. That word will win the victory.
So the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian, bury the word in your heart.’
How many of you heard John Blanchard just a couple of weeks ago? Oh, friends! Get that tape, or MP3 or CD, from Wednesday night–when was it? The first Wednesday night of this month, John Blanchard was with us and he was preaching from Lamentations, and it was…I've never heard John better. I've heard John since I was a teenager, and I've loved to listen to him preach from that time, and he's never been better. But one of the wonderful Vance Havner quotes that he gave to us was this: “Show me a Christian whose Bible is falling apart, and I’ll show you a Christian who isn't.” Isn't that beautiful? “Show me a Christian whose Bible is falling apart, and I’ll show you a person who isn't.” If your Bible is falling apart, if the word has been worked deep into your bones, into your being, you’re not going to fall apart in the day of battle. Paul's saying that to you here: Put on the word of God, so that it's part of your armor. That's why we teach it every chance we get–Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, Sunday School, discipleship groups. Wherever we can, we want to be in that word…not just so you’ll know more stuff, but so that you’re armed for this battle.
II. If we are to engage the spirit of this age we must be people of prayer
And the second thing that Paul says, and I want you to look in verse 18 to see where he says it, is simply this: If we're going to engage the spirit of this age, if we're going to stand in the evil day, if we're going to be able to stand firm against the assaults of the evil one, then we need to be a people of prayer. Look at what he says:
“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.”
Did you catch the four all's in that passage? Four all's in that passage: First of all, Paul says pray all kinds of prayers, at all times; go on praying…or we could put it this way, “Pray always”…for all the saints. Let's think about each of those four things that Paul says.
First of all, “With all prayer. Paul is saying to us here, and he hints at it even with the way he says it. He says, “With all prayer and petition….” He mentions two kinds of prayer. He's saying don't forget to avail yourself of all the kinds of prayer.
There's adoration. You know, sometimes the battle is won and lost in your prayers to God in the words of adoration, because small thoughts of God are the root of distrust of the greatness of God in your situation. You remember how Brad introduced Psalm 86 this morning by saying that one commentator had said that it was “David resting his head on the pillow of God's sovereignty.” You see, big thoughts of God lead to big comfort in the big God who comforts us, and so small thoughts of God do what? They rob us of comfort. And so Paul is saying with all kinds of prayer, when you’re in the battle you need to go into prayer with big thoughts of the living God, so don't skimp on the adoration.
And don't skimp on the confession, because there so often the battle is won and lost. To go to God…you know how it is when your little brother is about to rat on you and you know it's going to be bad. And so what you decide to do is you make a pre-emptive strike, and you go tell Mom and Dad what you did before little brother does. And what does it do? It takes all the sting out of what little brother is going to tell to Mom and Dad, because you've already done it. “Mom and Dad, I need to tell you something.”
When Satan is saying to you, “You miserable hypocrite,” beat him to the throne of God. “Lord, I need to tell You something. I'm a miserable hypocrite. I deserve hell, but You've given Your Son so that I won't get what I deserve. And Satan's accusing me right now, and I need some assurance of Your love and mercy and grace.” Beat him to the throne of grace! It robs all power of Satan holding that over your head–“You miserable hypocrite”–“Yep, I am, but I'm God's miserable hypocrite, and I'm running to Him right now and I'm confessing that, and I'm asking Him to help me hate that sin like He hates that sin. And I know, Satan, that you’re not concerned about my sin. In fact, you’d like me to be confirmed in it. You’d like me to live in it. You’d like me to die in it, and you’d like me to spend eternity in it. But right now you just like to accuse me with it, but I'm going to beat you to the throne of God and I'm going to confess it with all prayer: adoration and confession, and thanksgiving.”
You know, one old saint said, “When we pray we act like men, but when we praise we act like angels.” Do you go to God with thanksgiving and praise Him? So often it's in the very act of thanking God that you remember how many prayers that God has already answered for you, and it gives you hope that He just may well answer that hopeless petition that you’re getting ready to lift before Him now. So in the very act of thanking Him, what happens? You’re encouraged to go to Him again and ask again.
And supplication. Don't forget to pray for one another, to petition for one another. Samuel Rutherford said that he had found throughout his whole life that he never ran an errand to the throne of grace (he never started to pray for someone else) when he didn't fetch back a blessing for himself. He never ran an errand to the throne of grace when he didn't fetch back a blessing for himself. He never started to pray for somebody else without realizing that he had himself received a blessing from the living God, even though his purpose for going to God in prayer was to pray for somebody else. And so the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Christian, don't neglect any aspect of the arsenal of prayer. With all kinds of prayer and petition, pray.’
And then, of course, he says “Pray at all times.” You remember that Christian who was described like this: “He lived a life of prayer, interrupted by seasons of prayer.” I love what Lloyd-Jones says. He says, “The one urge that a Christian must never resist is the urge to pray.” You know there are times when you've got to resist dessert, and resist seconds, and resist looking, and resist jealousy. But prayer–you never have to resist it. Whenever the urge, the thought of prayer comes into your mind, pray! Pray at all times.
And persevere in prayer. Keep on praying. “With this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition.” Don't stop praying. You know the little sign with the frog, and his hands are around the crane's neck as his head is already being digested and the rest of his body is outside, and it's got the little Churchillian quote: “Never give up!” Well, that's what Paul is saying. Don't stop praying. Never give up.
And pray for all the saints, because there's not a single saint who doesn't need prayer. You know, one of the striking things we're going to learn in a couple of weeks when we come back to verses 19 and 20, is that the Apostle Paul himself asks you to pray for him–or, as it were, he asked the Ephesian Christians to pray for him. Now, if the Apostle Paul, who had been taken up into the third heavens and had seen things that were not permitted for a man to say, who had met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face and had Him speak to him on the road to Damascus needed prayer, then you and me need prayer, and we need to pray for one another!
The Apostle Paul says pray with all kinds of prayer, at all times, keep on praying, and pray for all the saints; because that's the only way that we're going to win the battle and stand firm in the day of evil. There is nothing like prayer to knit our hearts and our desires to God, and there is nothing like prayer to remind us of how dependent we are on Him.
As I was surfing around for quotes and commentary on this passage, I came upon this C.H. Spurgeon quote from Morning and Evening. He says this:
“What a multitude of prayers we have put up from the very first moment we learned to pray. Our very first prayer was a prayer for ourselves. We asked God that He would have mercy on us and blot out our sin. He heard us. But when He had blotted out our sins, we had some more prayers for ourselves. We had to pray for sanctifying grace, for constraining and restraining grace. We've been led to pray for a fresh assurance of faith, for a comfortable application of God's promises, for deliverances in the hour of temptation, for help in the time of duty, for aid in the day of trial. We've been compelled to go to God for our souls as beggars asking for everything. Bear witness, children of God: You have never been able to get anything for your souls from anywhere else. All the bread your soul has eaten has come down from heaven. All the water which it has drunk has flowed from the Living Rock, Christ Jesus the Lord. Your soul has never grown rich in itself. It has always been a pensioner upon the daily bounty of God, and hence your prayers have ascended to heaven for a range of spiritual mercies all but infinite. Your needs are innumerable, and therefore the supplies have been infinitely great. Your prayers have been as varied as the mercies have been countless. Therefore, don't you have cause to say, “I love the Lord, because He has heard the voice of my supplication”? For your prayers have been many, but so have been God's answers to them. He has heard in your day of trouble; he has strengthened you; He has helped you even when you dishonored Him by trembling and doubting at the mercy seat. Remember this, and let it fill your heart with gratitude to God, who has thus graciously heard your poor, weak prayers. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all of His benefits.”
Our Lord and our God, make us people of the word and of prayer. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away.