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Not One Jot, Not One Tittle
Be Strong, Stand Firm
What Price A Human Life?
I Can't Breathe
Praise the Lord, O My Soul
The Blood of Jesus
You'll Never Walk Alone
How Changed Are We?
A Sunday Morning's Meditation on Psalm 24
BE STRONG, STAND FIRM
(Sunday, 12 July 2020)
by Ong Kok Bin
Paul is the consummate apostle. Not only is he the faithful servant of Christ, dutifully and obediently carrying out his commission to preach the gospel, but he is also the caring pastor of the flock. The churches that he established throughout his missionary journeys were never left to their own devices. Paul would visit them, sent emissaries to find out how they were doing, and wrote letters to further teach them the word of God, to admonish their waywardness, and to exhort them to greater faith and good works.
The church at Ephesus was one of such churches that the apostle established and Ephesians was one of such letters. In thus far as we can ascertain from the book of Acts, Paul spent the most time at a single place in Ephesus. He was there for some three years (see Acts 20:31; cf. 19:8-10). He had an interesting and eventful as well as a trying time in the city famous for its idolatry and worship of the fertility goddess Artemis (or, Diana). He baptized about twelve of the disciples of John the Baptist upon his arrival in the city. He went to the synagogue, as his custom was, and preached boldly, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God for three months. But the Jews were stubborn and refused to believe. Paul next went to the lecture hall of Tyrannus and taught there for two years. The result: all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them (19:11-12). Some Jews tried to imitate Paul in driving out evil spirits, but they were overwhelmed by the evil spirits themselves. Because of all these happenings, many of the Ephesians, Jews and Greeks alike, were seized with fear and they believed the gospel and openly confessed their evil deeds. Those who practised sorcery and the magic arts gave up the practice and burnt all their magic scrolls. Because so many of the Ephesians had turned away from the worship of idols, in particular, the worship of the goddess Artemis, the craftsmen who made their living through making and trading in artifacts used in the worship of Artemis, lost most of their business. They were furious with Paul and his companions and they stirred up a riot in the city against them. They were prevented from doing any physical harm to Paul and his fellow workers only through the timely and wise intervention of the city clerk.
So, Paul had quite a great adventure in Ephesus. But what is significant to us today is that Paul, through his preaching of the word, managed to convert a significant number of the Ephesians to Christ. But Paul knew that his work was not done. Even after he had left the city, his mind and heart were still with the Ephesians. On his way back to Jerusalem, he stopped over in Miletus and he sent for the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him there. His purpose? To encourage these Ephesian elders to keep watch over the church and be shepherds of God's flock. And, to warn them of grievous wolves, false teachers, who would not spare the flock. These savage wolves of false teachers would distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. Paul was quite emotional about the meeting with the Ephesian elders. He saw the dangers; but he could not be personally and physically present to stand alongside the Ephesians to fight the false teachers. He could only warn and trust that the elders would be vigilant and be able to protect the church from harm. Twice, he mentioned of how with tears, and despite the plots against him, he had publicly and unwaveringly proclaimed the gospel of Christ to Jews and Gentiles alike that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. He had never stopped of warning against falling away; or, giving in to false teachers. [Read Acts 19 & 20.]
Given this history and the intimate relationship Paul had with the Ephesians, we can easily see the concern that Paul had for the Ephesian Christians some several years down the line. In Roman captivity, under house arrest, the apostle Paul still thought of the churches and the Christians he had brought to Christ. He thought of the Colossians, the Laodiceans, the Philippians, and others. And the Ephesians too. He was particularly worried about these Ephesian fellow Christians. About the threat of the false teachers their cunning and deceitful schemes. About the danger of their falling back to their former pagan immorality and idolatry ways. About their pride and the desire to be above others, which would be potentially fatal to the church because this would cause divisions in the church and tear it apart. About their personal relationships: husbands and wives, children and parents, slaves and masters. There were so many concerns hanging over the head of the apostle as he thought about these Ephesian Christians. But uppermost in his mind, he was concerned about their faith that they would give it up and fall away. The devil had so many devices, so many resources at his disposal the attraction of alternative and philosophical teachings, the allurement of the old and easy ways of life, the unremitting call from neighbours and friends to return to the worship of Artemis, the temptation to be big brother with command over a group of submissive followers; so many distractions to take the Ephesians away from the truth of the gospel and from their faith allegiance to God the Father, to Christ the Lord, and to the Holy Spirit the earnest of their hope.
Paul would have said so many words of encouragement and admonition and instruction to the Ephesians if only just to keep them faithful and stay true to the cause of Christ. And he did say so many words of encouragement and admonition and instruction. But would these be enough? Could Paul say more and write more so that he could be sure that his message would get across to the Ephesians and they would heed his words such that they become imitators of God; that they maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; that they reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God; that they become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ; that they speak the truth in love; or, that they be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other; or, that they speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs; or, that they submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. So many instructions, words of encouragement and admonition; and yet would all these suffice? What was missing? What more could be added? What would be an appropriate and clinching last word of encouragement and instruction? Paul must have thought about this as he thought about bringing his epistle to a close.
In the end, Paul chose this one final word of exhortation: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power (NIV) or as in the ESV, Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. And the end objective of this exhortation was that the Ephesians would be able to take [their] stand against the devil's schemes, that they would stand [their] ground, that they would stand firm; not tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
How could the Ephesians be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power? Put on the whole armour of God, the apostle instructed. As Paul mused about what he needed to say further to the Ephesians, he must have looked out of his window and saw his Roman guard(s) a picture of strength in his armour and weaponry, sturdy and disciplined, always standing firm in his ground, as he kept watch over his prisoner. But Paul also saw beyond a standing Roman guard. He saw a fighting Roman soldier, brave and firm in his duty to protect and advance the cause of his country and emperor. Paul must have taken inspiration from the Holy Spirit to use this picture of the Roman soldier to write his final word of exhortation to the Ephesians.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour 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 armour 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 the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Why do we need to put on the whole armour of God? Because we are fighting a spiritual war. We are not fighting a physical war. We are fighting against the devil, not flesh and blood. Our war is against a whole host of cosmic powers, rulers, authorities; against the spiritual forces of evil; against the darkness that is presently enveloping this world. To fight this spiritual war, we need spiritual equipment. We need the armour of God his mighty power and strength.
What is this armour of God? The belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness. Feet shod ready with the gospel of peace. Shield of faith for protection. Helmet of salvation as assurance. And the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, to slay all false teachings and fight off all the savage wolves. And so, we see that the armour of God is very formidable and powerful. But there is one more equipment which is in the armour of God but not part of the Roman armour. This equipment is prayer: praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
Where can we find this armour of God? The truth is we already have it. We only just need to put it on and use it. We have the truth of God's word to fight against all forms of falsehood and false doctrine. We have God's righteousness imputed to us; darkness has been dispelled. We have the gospel of peace which unites all communities, all tribes and all peoples. We have the shield of faith which protects and which wards off all missiles of doubt, discouragement and disappointment which the devil may fire against us. We have the promise of salvation sealed with the deposit of the Holy Spirit. We have the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, which is our weapon to thwart any temptation and any trickery which Satan may aim at us. Above all, we have the channel of prayer, the hotline to God. We have this ready access to God, to call upon him at any time; for sustenance, for strength, for faith, for understanding, for compassion, mercy and forgiveness; for his intervention, pouring unto him our woes and distresses; or even just to say Thank you, God, for all that you have done and given me.
BE STRONG! STAND FIRM! PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD!
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