I Have Not Found Your Works Complete In the Sight Of My God–Serving. Trinity 21, 2016. Revelation 3:1-13
21st Sunday after Trinity
St. Peter Lutheran Church
October 16, 2016
“I Have Not Found Your Works Complete: Serving”
Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to Him at once when He knocks. Luke 12:35-36
I know that many times I have made reference in my preaching to St. Peter, how he swore to Jesus he would never deny Him, even if it cost him his life; and how soon afterwards he fell asleep in the garden when he needed to be awake, watching and praying with the Lord. Soon after he denied that he knew Jesus or was ever with Him; the rooster crowed, and the Lord, standing in chains in front of the high priest, turned and looked at Peter across the courtyard.
I mentioned this story so often because if it happened to that St. Peter then, it could easily happen to this St. Peter now. I was trying to make sure you are awake before the cock crows.
But even more, it is because St. Peter’s story is my story. I know how easy it is for me to fall asleep when I am supposed to be awake and watching, to be dressed for service, ready when the Lord calls upon me to serve. What I have preached to you I have been preaching to myself.
Peter’s fall happened because he overestimated his own strength and underestimated the strength of those who opposed him—his invisible enemies, Satan and his armies. Peter was full of passion during the last supper, vehemently insisting that he would die before he denied Jesus. He didn’t know just how evil he was in the flesh, how apart from God’s Spirit he would sell out Jesus in an instant to save his skin. He had no idea how strong Satan is, how he is able to shake and shatter every human virtue and resolution—everything in us that is not supported by the Spirit of God. And so, going to Gethsemane clothed in his own good intentions, he couldn’t stay awake to wait on his Lord, or even to prepare himself for the trials that lay ahead.
This also seems to have been the condition of the church in Sardis, which we heard from the third chapter of Revelation just read. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars says this: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God.” (Rev. 3:1-2)
Being awake and being alive are often the same thing in the New Testament. Paul quotes a saying that was common in the early church: “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14) No doubt the church in Sardis had been awake and alive at one point. They had believed that Christ rescued them from their sins and death, and they joyfully served Him, loving other Christians, caring for the needy, proclaiming the Gospel in their city. And they got a name for themselves. “The Church in Sardis is really alive. Have you heard about what’s happening there?” And then, by and by, they came to believe their own press. They prided themselves on being the living church that others said they were. And when your faith and your boasting shifts from Jesus and what He has done for us to yourself and the great things He has done in you—or even worse, the great things you are doing for Him—it’s the same as when Peter was walking on the sea and his eyes turned away from Jesus to the wind and the waves. He began to sink. The church in Sardis also began to sink—into sleep. Since they were a church that was so alive and doing so well spiritually, they drifted into a spiritual stupor. They stopped depending on the forgiveness of sins so heavily, stopped listening so closely to the word of their Lord, stopped being awake and ready to serve.
It’s a striking thing if you read the Epistles of Paul that He frequently begins his letters saying something like this: “And so, from the day we heard [of your faith in Christ], we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy…” (Col. 1:9-11) The apostles were never satisfied when a group of people had been brought to faith in Christ and were baptized that now everything was finished. They continued to pray for them and to provide for ongoing preaching and teaching and pastoral oversight so that they would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” They worked and prayed that their churches would go on to maturity in Christ and not remain babies. Maturity meant the death of the sinful vices and habits that clung to them from their time as idol worshippers. Maturity also means that a Christian grows in the knowledge of God’s Word until he not only knows the Christian faith in all its parts and firmly believes it, but also is able to hold on to it in temptation and teach it to others. Finally, a mature Christian also becomes equipped and competent for every good work—not just the simple ones like faithfulness in hearing God’s Word and coming to the Divine Service, but also difficult ones like seeking out and restoring a brother Christian who has wandered away from Christ into spiritual death.
Being eager to serve the Lord and do good works that please Him, however, doesn’t belong to Christian maturity. It is the everyday dress of a Christian. Every day a Christian is to remember his baptism, that he has died with Christ and been raised from the dead with Him; and assured of the forgiveness of sins he is to go into the day to serve Christ by serving his neighbor. He is to go do what God has called him to do not as a job but as an honored position of responsibility and trust from God. And he is to be awake to the Holy Spirit’s promptings as he opens our eyes to opportunities to serve our neighbor.
But often Christians are asleep. We go about our daily work because we have to, and we don’t see the need of other people nor our ability to assist them. This often happens because you are so wrapped up in your own problems that you can’t think of anything else. Sometimes it happens because you think that you are doing all you are required to do already, or even that you do more than is required. In both cases you are asleep. The sun has risen. Christ our righteousness is risen from the dead, and even if you don’t have the answer to your problems, He proclaims that His victory over all the sin and suffering in the world is yours. And the brilliant light of Christ also makes clear that our works are not yet complete in the sight of God until we have become like He is, until we do not ask what we have to do, but joyfully serve everyone who is in need without thought to ourselves.
We are justified before God apart from our works only by faith in Jesus and His perfect works. God counts us righteous while we are still sinners. Yet you should not think that it is God’s purpose to declare you righteous but leave you in the sinful flesh. Only those who put off the sinful flesh and put on the new man, Christ, will enter eternal life. That will happen at the resurrection. But the Christian life is one lived putting off and burying the sinful nature each day, and putting on Christ by faith.
The end result of not doing this is not just sleep but death. It happened to Peter. First he fell asleep and did not stay awake, ready to serve Jesus, praying together with Him. Shortly after he denied Jesus and fell into spiritual death.
It also happened to the church in Sardis. Jesus said, You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. They became satisfied with themselves, took off their white robes and went to bed. Not everyone in the church did this; there was a remnant who Jesus says have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. (Rev. 3:4) But the others were not worthy to walk with Christ in white robes. They quit even though their works were not complete in the sight of God; they had not continued to watch for opportunities to accomplish the works that God had prepared for them to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). When a Christian does this, he falls from faith in Christ and becomes spiritually dead. And when it becomes the norm in a congregation, Jesus calls that congregation dead, even though there are still some living members in it.
Are we awake? Are we alive? Or have we become like the church in Sardis—convinced that we are living and doing all that is required of us, and therefore permitted to take off our work clothes (which are also our white robes and wedding garments), put on pajamas, and go to bed?
On one hand it can’t be denied that there are many people at St. Peter who work very hard. They serve in all kinds of ways. They make coffee on Sunday, put on dinners and potlucks, attend a lot of meetings in evenings when they could be relaxing. They count the offerings, put together the epistles for mailing, put together the budget for the annual voter’s meeting, pay the bills, get bids to repair the roof, mow the lawn at the cemetery, ring the bells, usher people to the communion rail, record the services for the radio, help distribute the body and blood of Christ. They teach Sunday School, spend hours preparing to host VBS, inviting people to come and recruiting workers; they plan and put on events for the church’s youth. In a few days a number of people will put in countless hours buying, cooking, carving up turkeys, setting tables, sweating over the stove, clearing dishes and washing them, as well as selling crafts at the bazaar that they have spent hours and days making. Those of you who do this work know that I am not getting anywhere near all the work that is done at St. Peter, and I apologize for those I’ve left out.
This is all serving. No one gets money or honor for doing these things, and they are done not simply for themselves but for the whole church. And many of the people who do these things have been doing them for decades without much help and with little praise. No one has a potluck in their honor, as was done for me last week. And maybe we should. Those of us who aren’t involved doing these many tasks often aren’t fully aware of them and certainly don’t appreciate them as we should. However, the Lord is fully aware. I know your works, He says.
And He will honor and reward those who serve Him—that is, those who believe that Jesus has served them with His life and who serve Him and His church because they rejoice in His service.
Even though your reward is with the Lord, I thank all you who serve like this, for the way you have benefited the little flock of Jesus in this place. It is often the case that there are many weak Christians in the church who do not serve, and many of you have carried the burden for many years so that your weaker brothers may still be able to come into this church and be built up by the gracious word of Christ.
Yet, though many of you have served for many years, don’t ruin it by becoming like the church in Sardis, by becoming content and self-satisfied. How much is a Christian required to serve? We are called to serve as our name indicates—Christians, little Christs. We’re called to serve as Christ served—to serve everyone with all we have.
That sounds like an enormous burden, and it is if you stare at it and not at your Lord. His burden of service was so heavy that it killed Him. But He did it, not staring at the heavy burden and grumbling, but for the joy set before Him (Hebrews). He had before His eyes not the pain and difficulty and thanklessness of the service to which God called Him, but the joy of victory when the work was finished, not only for Himself but for all His brothers.
We are not called to the service of redeeming the world with our blood. We are called to bear the portion of service He assigns each one of us—some more, some less.
First and foremost we are called to serve Christ and our neighbor in our earthly callings—as mother or father, son or daughter, husband or wife, worker or employer, citizen or ruler, pastor or hearer. When we serve in these callings from God, which are often not much to look at in human eyes, God calls us to see them as divine callings, and to serve in them not merely to get a paycheck or to keep people from criticizing us, but out of love for Him. And even though these callings are humble, they are not easy. The more seriously you take them, the more difficult you realize they are; the more you need the strength of knowing your sins are forgiven to keep going, the more you need prayer to accomplish anything.
Secondly we are called to serve in our church, and put the gifts God has given us to work for the good of the entire body of Christ. And for this we need to be awake; we need the Spirit to enlighten us to see the needs around us and give us the willingness to try to help those people in need.
And it is this need to be awake where, with all the serving that goes on in St. Peter, we are weak. There are those who do not serve at all in the church, and there are those who do, but all of us are, to one degree or another, not awake to the suffering which the Holy Spirit would use us to alleviate, both inside and outside the Church.
For instance, how many who are here today are aware that there are several chairmanships on the church council that have been vacant for years? One of them is the stewardship committee. We didn’t stop needing workers to help teach stewardship and motivate the congregation to give generously to the Lord’s work, yet we have no one willing to serve as its chairperson.
We also are in need, and have been for some time, of workers who will strive to bring back, or at least warn, those members of St. Peter who have been absent from God’s house. If we were awake to their spiritual danger, that many of these people who are the responsibility of this congregation to care for are on the road to damnation, we would not leave this to someone else to worry about.
And that leads to the need of our community. Many people have bemoaned the terrible condition of our neighborhood, how it is full of crime and poverty. But we have not been awake to the Holy Spirit’s leading. He would lead us out with Jesus into the poverty and crime to serve. Not that He expects you to go out with a cane or a walker and go knock on doors—although imagine what a witness that would be! But there are other ways to serve. There is planning that needs to be done. There is simply the willingness to allow the church to be open to serving people who are, perhaps even through their own fault, crushed by poverty, degraded by an environment where sin flourishes.
The willingness to serve and the joy of serving in thankless and difficult circumstances, as well as the watchfulness to recognize opportunities to serve, is not something we can manufacture. It is a fruit of hearing the word of God with faith and of learning to pray. Without this all serving becomes mere duty and gradually loses the love that it is meant to express.
Through faith in Jesus we become servants of Him, of one another, and of all who are in need of grace and help, just as Jesus became our servant and gave His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:27). To serve with Jesus is to conquer our sinful nature, the world, and the devil. And our Lord promises that those who conquer, believing in Him, and growing in service to others, will be clothed in white garments, and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels. (Rev. 3:5)
What a day that will be, when Jesus acknowledges you by name before the Father on His throne and the gathered angels! Today, before the same company of heaven, He does it ahead of time, inviting you to eat His body given for you and drink His blood, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria
And in the might of His strength.
- Paul here uses quite emphatic words.
This is certainly unclearly spoken, and it is neither good German, Latin, nor Greek, but instead quite Hebrew. Still we must retain the words, because he had reason to talk this way. He saw and thought farther than we do in the way we are accustomed to talk. We said it with more words according to our way like this: “Stand firm, and hold on, that you do not become lazy and lax, nor become delinquent in that which you intend to do. And each should do and think that this is the teaching of God’s Word, which it has commanded, and is to God well-pleasing, a true service of God, and so on.” But this is said much more strongly and nobly, that he says, “If you do this, then you are strong in the Lord.” And he adds to this further, “In the might of His strength,” that is, in our German, “in His mighty strength,” or “in His great power.”
- We have need of two powers: a power for defense and a power for victory.
But for this reason he puts the two parts forward, “be strong” and “in the might of His strength”, to indicate that there are two powers which we must have. The first is that we remain firm in that which we should believe and do, and not desist. That is called “being strong” for yourself. The second is that one not only firm and well keep safe what we already have, and protect himself, rather also that one resist, that we not be taken, and our foes be beat back, so that we afterwards stand. Like a captain in a city—he needs not only to keep the city safe and have everything in his keeping, that the city might not be conquered and overcome. Rather also, he needs to be able himself to strike back against the foe, and rout them, and beat them into flight. The first serves to the end that I might not be overcome; the second, that I overcome the foe and become victorious over him. The first is a power of defense, but the second is called a war-power and a power for victory, which not only for himself stands and is strong, but can also sally forth and undercut the foes. The second requires much greater armament than the first.
- Both must come from God.
Therefore he calls it a might of divine strength, or the mighty strength of God. For we have such tremendous, mighty foes against us, namely the spirits in the air (as he will say), which are above us, and we beneath them, and one of them is stronger than all men. And they mean business against us, and set against us with all powers, where they see that we have the faith and want to strengthen ourselves in it. Then they direct all weapons, guns, and arrows against us, in order to overthrow such firmness. Because they do not gladly let us come to the point that we begin to grasp the word and believe, but much less that we remain with it, and that we arm ourselves against them and hide ourselves away, that they should not find us out and destroy us. There are very few such people which bear up until the end under such blows against them, and gallantly win the victory, even if they begin very well. But in the struggle, when the devil presses them hard, and continues without ceasing, they let him make them tired, and do not continue to stand. For it is finally not possible for a man to persist where this mighty strength of God does not come to enable one to withstand these unremitting storms of the foes, and to beat them back.
- How a preacher must be armed with these twofold powers.
You may now show examples of this through all manner of stations. For instance: for a pastor and preacher it is not enough that he be certain of his doctrine, and faithfully carry out his office without regarding what would hinder him—poverty, being despised, unthankfulness, and all manner of opposition. But instead it also belongs to his office that he can face the devil, confute and rebut false doctrine and error, as St. Paul requires both parts in Titus 1, that a bishop should not only be so skilled that he holds to the word, both to teach and exhort, but that he also be mighty through the same saving doctrine to punish those who speak against it, and to stop the mouth of the unnecessary washers (Anabaptists?). Because it never fails that as soon as the Word and doctrine will be purely and clearly handled, the devil will send his messengers and sow his tares. There one must fight that they be put down and the error eradicated. Even though it is not possible that one can so stop the mouths of the devil and his rotten-spirits, so that they quit and keep silence, still it is enough that one so drive them, and turn around their thing, that they cannot preserve its appearance, and thus deny them some souls and get back some from out of the error. Because Christ Himself had his Pharisees and Sadducees whom He could not entirely silence nor convert; still He so turned them around and drove them, that they could not muster anything [against His teaching]. Such people Christianity also must have, who can strike down the adversary and the opposition, take from the devil his weapons and armor, that he be put to shame. But strong warriors are required for that, who have the Scriptures in full might, and can turn around their false interpretation, and know how to take their own sword, that is, the same passages of Scripture which they use, and with them to strike them on the head, so that they bounce back. Not all can be so skilled so as to contend for the doctrine and the articles of the faith. Therefore they must have preachers and teachers, which daily study in the Scriptures, and handle them, that they before all others can debate and fight. Nevertheless every Christian should be so armed, that he is certain for himself of his faith and the doctrine, and that he ground himself with passages out of God’s Word, so that he can persist against the devil, and also fight himself when he wants to guide someone else, and so help preserve and contend for the doctrine.
- But a Christian Should Firmly Abide by His Calling
Therefore, as one must, through the Word make himself firm and certain in the Lord against the attacks of unbelief or the despising of the Word, so also we have here to bring it about, that we strengthen ourselves well with the same Word of the Lord, which is our only strength and armor (as we will hear), that we remain firm in our calling. For we know that God included our station and work in His command, is well-pleased with it, and that we could do nothing better. So each servant or maidservant in the house should look upon their station and work, as that God has called them to it, so that they faithfully serve their masters and say, “I know that my station and work pleases God well, and that there is no more precious work on earth.” The reason? Because God has commanded me no other. Therefore I want to remain in it, and not allow myself to be torn away from it to another, nor to be swayed to impatience and unfaithfulness. Likewise a pious wife, if he is a Christian, and knows and believes God’s Word, and afterward waits upon her station—she does the most precious work on earth. She must not seek something else, nor go into a cloister or become an anchoress, but instead firmly remain with her calling, and say: “My Lord Christ has suffered for me, and through His death has relieved me, and redeemed me from sins, made me righteous and blessed. And He requires nothing more of me than that I should believe this, and calls me afterwards to wait diligently upon my office. Here I want to remain.” See! If each in his station or office strengthened himself and made himself firm upon the Word of God, then everything would go right and well, and we would have a paradise, yes, a kingdom of heaven here on earth, and each could do his work with pleasure and joy, without all trouble and care. On the other hand, wherever this certain and firm understanding is not found, there a person does his work maliciously and with displeasure, and gets blows and misfortune as his wages, making for himself both an ungracious God, and a sour life.
But such strength is quite rare in the world. For how many are they now, who so take up the subject, that they be certain of their faith and life in their hearts, that they can firmly hold to them and despise all other things? Yes, the whole world does not come to this point that they intend to have God’s Word and to live according to it. It is desired nowhere, rather despised in the highest degree. The majority live according to their insolence toward God’s Word and strengthen themselves only in their wickedness and devilish ways…But we talk now of those which would gladly be Christians and who are serious about the Word, which have trouble and labor with it and must defend themselves with all might so that they do not also get into such ways, that they do not regard the word or faithfully wait upon their calling.
As the devil cannot let faith go unattacked, so that he may tear us away from the Word, so also can he not leave our life in peace either, and he has no rest until he makes you falter. He drives such thoughts into the heart that you should find your station tedious, not desire it, and become impatient with it. Whoever now here is not armed so that he can stand fast, nor knows how to defend himself with the Word, the devil soon overcomes, as he did the others, which he totally rules with lack of desire and boredom in their stations. He lets no one find pleasure in his station and work. Even the heathen lament this, because they saw and felt it everywhere, what a noxious plague it is, that no one lets himself be satisfied with his office and station, but instead always gapes after another and holds it to be better. As they say, an ox would gladly be a horse, and again the horse an ox; a farmer or townsman would gladly be a nobleman, the nobleman a prince, the prince emperor, etc. Out of displeasure with one’s calling follows unfaithfulness, that no one his commanded office and work diligently waits upon, but instead despises it and either undertakes another, or cheats his neighbor in it and does him wrong.
7. How This Must Happen in the Preaching Office and Other Stations
As, for instance, he who wants to be a pious preacher or pastor. He has his hands full that he rightly carry out his office, preach pure and clear, exhort, pray, and watch, that the devil not secretly cause sects and hinder him in his office, or allow him to be made sullen and impatient by the unthankfulness of the world and evil mouths. In addition to this he has to beat back the devil and the flesh for his own person, that he remain in the faith, etc. Likewise in other stations, each must first learn God’s Word, and not despise it (as the majority of the world does). Then let him see what his station demands. There you will find enough that hinders and fights you, both in regard to your faith and your office. Therefore you must arm yourself against this, and think, “This is what is required of me to believe, and to live as a husband or wife, son, daughter, mayor, lord, servant, maid, etc. Here I want to remain, and not let anything hinder me, or irritate or scare me off from it.”
8. A Great Seriousness is Required for This
See! For this reason St. Paul uses just these words: “Be strong in the Lord.” Otherwise he had just as well said with plain words (as he otherwise speaks, and as we take care to speak, when we make known the doctrine): “Each of you see to it, that you rightly believe, and do what is commanded you [in your vocation.]” But here he uses such mighty words: “Strengthen yourself,” or “Be strong” with care and not without reason, namely, because, as said already, whoever wants to remain with this doctrine and his office must arm himself and be vigorous about it, because it is not a thing that goes so easily and accomplishes itself without hindrance and opposition. Instead, it does not happen without tribulation. Therefore it is necessary that one wake himself up and be brave, and not listen to anything else…
9. For this One has Need of God’s Power
Because he does not want such lax Christians, who bring away nothing more from [his preaching] than to know it and be baptized [?], and do not think how they may bring it forth in life. He wants them to understand that the doctrine must be lived and done. Therefore it requires strength, and such strength which is of God, not of the world nor flesh and blood. It requires divine strength that a person, informed by God’s Word as to how he should stand before God and live correctly, who thinks, “I want to remain with this and hear and listen to no other”—that that person could stand if some rotten spirit came and wanted to pervert the doctrine and understanding of Christ, or if some idle tongue wanted to draw and tear him from his commanded office and works. For the devil leaves no one without affliction and tribulation, if not through the world, then inwardly, in the heart, through his promptings, false thoughts, and through our own flesh. Because the devil does nothing else than fight and hinder you, so that you do not remain with the pure doctrine. He is afraid that a tree will grow out of the little root [of your faith in Christ.] Therefore it is before all things necessary, that as soon as you have begun to believe, you strengthen yourself and become firm—not otherwise than through the Lord, or in the Lord, that is, the Lord’s strength. You will not find this in your bosom nor in the world, because it must be a strength and power that stands not only against the world’s might and power, but also against the devil’s, who indeed is a mighty lord and emperor in the whole world, as we will hear later.
10. Which before the world appears weak, and yet does great things
But it is a particularly wonderful strength, although it is nothing in the eyes of the world, because it does no more than ground itself on and hold to the bare Word. I mean, if it is to be so great a strength, it must have another foundation than to be built on a strong rock, or to hide in a firm castle. The world calls it “strengthening yourself” when you put on a good suit of armor, when you are armed and secured with a gun. But all this counts for nothing against this foe, the devil. Instead it must be a spiritual, eternal strength, which grasps the Lord Christ in His Word through faith. And even if it does not appear to the eyes how strong He is, yet He is man enough that whoever clings to him can defy the devil and all his might and power, because He remains with those who are His. Therefore, Paul says, if you want to be strong and unconquerable, then let the Lord Christ be your strength. Grasp him well, and practice yourself well in Him. See that He is well-known to you, and you keep his word pure, that you with all diligence learn it, and daily drive it into your heart so thoroughly that your heart and God’s Word become one thing, and the matter become as certain, and much more certain, than your own life. When you have that, then you are right strong and firm, so that you cannot be overturned, and could remain secure, whether the devil comes, or his messengers, whether enthusiasts or the Pope’s gang. Then you yourself will teach and lead others, or raise up something new.
6. What “Be Strong in the Lord” Means
This is so much as to say, be so minded that you hold fast and remain with that which you have received, and each carry out his faith and his office well, and not follow or give in to the devil’s promptings or his own flesh and the world’s enticements. Guard yourself, that you do not allow yourself to be hindered, nor to be made tired and faint, that you let up from your faith and office, or become lazy and sluggish. It is necessary to be strong and fight, because we have such a foe (as we will hear) who everywhere attacks and harries us with all his might and powers, and without ceasing [attacks?] with evil thoughts and poisonous, destructive tongues, and [bruises?] both the ears and the heart, in order that we should not regard the word, nor with seriousness carry it out. [He works] that in our station or office we become careless, inattentive, depleted, and impatient, until he brings it about that you no longer stand firm, but instead, loose and unstable, stagger here and there, and fall from one thing to another, both in doctrine and life. To be strong in the Lord means to stand firm and fixedly, and to hold to the doctrine which you have received from the Lord, which teaches us how we should believe in Christ. And thereafter we should so live, that each one serve his neighbor in his station and calling, and faithfully and diligently wait upon [our office.]
Edifying Treatment of the Armor and Weapons of a Christian
Preached by Luther in 1532
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take up the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:10-17
- These words comprise an exhortation.
This is the last part of the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, and it is not teaching how they should believe and live (which he has already done before in the whole Epistle.) But instead it is an exhortation, that, because they have the doctrine of faith, they see to it and know what each one should do as a Christian in his station, and that they remain in the same, and not turn from it in anything.
2. Likewise a battlefield sermon by Paul.
And he does like a pious, true captain, who addresses his people in battle formation. He preaches a battlefield sermon, and exhorts that they stand firm, that they should fight boldly and bravely. It could easily be called “An Army Sermon for Christians.” Because he shows here that those baptized into Christ, who want to hold on to Him, must and should be warriors, always armed with their shield and weapons; he shows that the station of a Christian is not an idle one, nor one of peace and security, but that it consists in always being on the battlefield and warring.
3. Because Christians are surrounded by nothing but foes.
Because we do not sit here in quiet, like a farmer, townsman, or craftsman in a city, where he lives in peace and has nothing to fear. Instead we lie in a dangerous place, in the middle of foes and murderers, who mean business with us, and who want to take our treasure if we make a mistake, so that we are not secure for a moment from them. Therefore, whoever wants to be a Christian must understand that he marches under his Lord’s banner, and while he lives here, without ceasing, he stands on the precipice, and the foe watches him at all times.
4. Therefore they have need to be awakened to the fight by means of God’s Word.
Since daily we stand and live in such danger, it is necessary that one awaken, drive, and push us through God’s Word, as through our army-drum, so that we do not snore or become lazy and lax, but rather always be and remain awake and armed. For it is not enough, that we have the Word and knowledge of faith and life, but it takes constant care and diligence that we keep both, that the devil not tear away the doctrine, nor change and falsify it, or lead you away from your station, nor bait and lure you from it through the evil mouths and example of the world, yea, even through your own flesh. As the wise say, it is as great an art to keep the goods one has already won as to win them in the first place, and requires no little labor and diligence. Just as it belongs to a good house-father not only to acquire money and goods and bring them home, but when he can and does do that, that he also keep them safe in the house. These two virtues must both be together, otherwise everything is lost—trouble, cost, and labor which one spent to acquire the goods in the first place.
5. How Paul carries out this battlefield sermon.
Thus St. Paul wants to say in this text, in summary: Because you have now become Christians and renounced the devil, and have been brought again to your true Lord, and know and have received everything that belongs to being a Christian, so see to it, and let it be from now on, that your only care be how you may remain in these things and not allow yourself to be taken away from them, whether by might or by deception. Nor allow yourself to be made lazy and tired with regard to these things, because you have an evil and tricky foe against you, who does not sleep for a moment nor take a holiday. With all malice and with every art he tries how he may hinder and fight you in your faith and office, in order that he may catch you and bring you into submission to him again. Also he has helpers in his world and your own flesh, which you bear around your neck, and always draws you back, that you should become secure and inattentive, and neglect to be awake and to struggle. Therefore Paul now begins with such words to cultivate people of war, to address and to exhort them, that they gallantly stand and fight, and says, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.”