Are You Done Playing Soldier: Rusty Swords and Dusty Shields

Today’s selected passage continues in the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the church which was at Ephesus. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses tent though twenty of the sixth chapter. When you come to this particular portion of Scripture within the epistle you will find the apostle Paul bringing the letter to a close. It’s actually quite interesting the words he uses and the way he goes about bringing the epistle to this particular congregation to a close. If you begin reading with and from the tenth verse of this chapter you will find the apostle Paul beginning by using the word “finally,” thus letting his audience know that the remarks which would come after would be the concluding remarks of the letter. By using the word “finally” the apostle Paul was essentially bringing his audience to the place where they would now encounter his final remarks to them before the apostle would come to an end. It’s worth noting that when the apostle Paul concludes this epistle he does so be instructing the saints in Ephesus to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10). This is actually quite remarkable and quite astounding, for not only does the apostle Paul instruct the Ephesian saints and congregation to “be strong,” but he also instructs them to be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of His might.” Consider if you will how the tenth verse of this chapter reads when you break it apart as follows: BE STRONG! BE STRONG IN THE LORD! BE STRONG IN TRHE LORD, AND IN THE POWER! BE STRONG IN THE LORD AND IN THE POWER OF HIS MIGHT! When instructing the Ephesian congregation towards the end of the epistle he did so be instructing them to be strong, but he would go on to instruct them to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, thus denoting and suggesting that the strength they were to exercise and exhibit in their lives was not a strength which proceeded from within themselves, but a strength that would flow from the life and person of the Lord of hosts Himself. It was indeed, and it was in fact true the apostle instructed the Ephesian congregation to “be strong,” but the command and instruction to “be strong” doesn’t simply stop there. In all reality, I am incredible grateful that it doesn’t stop there, for if it stopped there I am absolutely convinced a number of them would have attempted to search within themselves for the strength and might needed to be strong in the generation they were living.

Perhaps one of the first realities and truths I am confronted with when reading this particular passage of Scripture is a powerful word I believe the Spirit of the Lord to be speaking unto us in this generation. When I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote in this passage of Scripture I get the strong and overwhelming sense the Spirit of the Lord is instructing us to quit trying to things in our own strength. It is true that we have been instructed, invited, and even commanded to be strong, but we were never called to be strong in and of ourselves. We have never been and we will never be called to look within ourselves for the strength, for the might, for the power that is needed to be strong within and throughout the course of our lives. I can’t help but be reminded of three specific passages of Scripture which help to further confirm this reality—the first is found in the third chapter of the Old Testament poetic book of the Proverbs, the second is found in the fourth chapter of the prophetic book of Zechariah, and the third is found in the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Corinthian congregation. If you turn and direct your attention to the third chapter of the Old Testament poetic book of Proverbs you will find Solomon instructing his son(s) in wisdom, and in doing so, he provided him with a very specific set of instructions. Beginning to read with and from the fifth verse of the third chapter we find the following words: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). It is quite clear and quite evident when reading the words which Solomon wrote to his son(s) that they were to trust in the Lord, and to do so with all their heart, but in addition to that, they were to lean not on their own understanding. If I am being honest with myself, I have to admit that one of the hardest things to do is to lean not on my own understanding, to acknowledge the Lord in all my ways, and to trust in the Lord with my whole heart. The truth of the matter is that when you read the words of the Solomon you will encounter the tremendous reality that we are to not lean on our own understanding, we are not to lean on our own strength, we are not to lean on our own might, we are not to lean on any power we think we might possess within and of ourselves. Solomon made it perfectly clear when writing to his son that he was to trust in the Lord instead of leaning on his own understanding and instead of leaning on his own strength. Perhaps one of the greatest questions we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are willing to cease leaning on our own understanding in order that we might be able to trust in the Lord with our whole heart. In fact, I am convinced that until and unless we are willing to lean not on our own understand we cannot and will not be able to trust in the Lord with all our heart.

Building upon this particular reality I must now come to the second passage which is found in the Old Testament prophetic book of Zechariah. If you turn and direct your attention to the fourth chapter of this Old Testament book you will find the prophet Zechariah—according to the word of the Lord—speaking directly unto Zerubabel the governor of the returned exiles and captives within the land of Israel. If you begin reading with and from the sixth verse of this chapter you will encounter the following words: “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it” (Zechariah 4:6-7). With these words the prophet Zechariah was emphatically reminding, and emphatically declaring unto Zerubabel that the work was not carried out by human might, nor was the work carried out by human power. Instead, the work which he was engaged with and involved in was carried out by the very Spirit of the Lord Himself. I can’t help but wonder how many men and women attempt to engage themselves by human might, and even by human power, and they show absolutely no regard for the Spirit of the Lord. I can’t help but be reminded of a powerful passage that is found in the sixteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of Second Chronicles. If you read the ninth verse of the sixteenth chapter you will find Hanani the seer coming to Asa king of Judah and rebuking him for relying on the king of Syria rather than relying on the Lord. This noble seer went on to describe how the Ethiopians and the Lubims were a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen, yet because he relied on the Lord, He delivered them into his hand. This seer would go on to declare that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew Himself strong in behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Hanani the seer went on to declare unto Asa that because he relied on human strength and human might he acted foolishly, and from that moment on he would have wars. Please pay attention to this, for it actually brings us face to face with trusting and relying on the arm of the flesh and human strength and human might rather than relying on the Lord of hosts. What a powerful reminder and lesson Asa’s life presents us with concerning reliance on the arm of the flesh and the strength and might of man rather than relying on the Lord.

The third passage I am reminded of is found in the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth. What began as the apostle Paul writing of a man who was caught up into paradise, and who heard unspeakable words, which are not lawful for a man to utter would transition to the apostle Paul writing concerning his glorying in his own infirmities. The apostle Paul wrote how lest he should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given unto him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure. The apostle Paul goes on to write how he besought the Lord three times that this thorn might depart from him, and yet the Lord would not remove this thorn from the flesh of the apostle. Instead, however, the Lord would provide the apostle Paul with a powerful promise that helps further confirm the words which he wrote from prison unto the Ephesian congregation. When writing unto the Ephesian congregation the apostle Paul instructed them to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might, and when writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul remembered the words which the Lord spoke unto him: “My grace is suffice for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 3:9). Instead of removing the thorn from the flesh of the apostle the Lord not only declare that His grace was sufficient for him, but He also declared how His strength is made perfect in his weakness. This reminds me of the words which David wrote in the eighteenth chapter of the Old Testament book of the Psalms, for within the eighteenth chapter—not only does David recount that which the Lord did on His behalf to deliver him from his enemies, his foes, and his adversaries, but David also writes how the Lord prepared and trained him to engage his enemies, his adversaries and his foes. If you begin reading with and from the thirty-first verse of the eighteenth chapter you will find the following words: “For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a rock save our God? It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great. Thou hast enlarged my steps under me, that my feet did not slip. I have pursued my enemies, and overtaken them: neither did I turn again till they were consumed. I have wounded them that they were not able to rise: they are fallen under my feet. For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou hast subdued under me those that rose up against me. Thou hast also given me the necks of mine enemies; that I might destroy them that hate me. They cried, but there was none to save them: even unto the Lord, but he answered them not. Then did I beat them small as the dust before the wind: I did cast them out as the dirt in the streets” (Psalm 18:31-40). How was all this made possible within the life of David king of Israel? The answer is actually found in the opening verses of the chapter: “I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower” (Psalm 18:1-2). This reality was made possible within David’s life simply and only because he made the Lord his strength, he made the Lord his rock, his fortress, his deliver, and his strength, and trusted in Him alone. Oh that we would take a lesson from David from within this particular psalm and not only trust in the Lord, but also make the Lord, and the Lord alone our strength, our rock, our fortress, our deliverer, our buckler, and the horn of our salvation.

The more I read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus, the more I am completely and utterly gripped by his instruction unto them to “be strong” and to “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might.” The reason this hits me so incredibly hard is because there is not a doubt in my mind the apostle Paul was readying and preparing them for what was about to come and enter in among their ranks. I can’t help but hear the apostle Paul writing unto the Ephesian congregation and pleading with, begging, and imploring them to get ready for what was coming among them. Now, you might be asking what could have possibly come unto and come among them, and why the apostle Paul would need to write such powerful words as “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His mighty.” The answer is actually found in two different places—the first which is in the New Testament book of Acts, and the second is in the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. If you turn your attention to the twentieth chapter of the New Testament book of the Acts you will find the apostle Paul speaking unto the elders of the Ephesian congregation prior to his departure, for the apostle Paul knew he would never see them again. What’s so unique and interesting about the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto the Ephesian elders was the warning he gave them prior to his departure. Beginning with the twenty-eighth verse of the twentieth chapter we find the following words spoken by the apostle Paul unto these elders: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparking the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32). It is quite obvious and evident from the words which the apostle Paul spoke unto these elders that he was not only worried, but he also knew that after his departure would grievous wolves enter in among them and would not spare the flock. What’s more, is the apostle Paul knew that of their own selves would men arise, speaking perverse things, in order that they might draw away disciples after them. The apostle Paul sought to warn the Ephesian elders of what was to come in order that they might be ready and prepared in advance for it when it actually did come. If you journey to the New Testament prophetic book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ you will find that just as Paul had warned and foretold, such individuals entered in among the Ephesian church. Consider the following words which the apostle John recorded Jesus speaking unto the Ephesian church:

“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hates the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; to him that overcometh will I gave to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:1-7).

The apostle Paul knew that grievous wolves under the guise of false brethren, under the guise of false apostles, under the guise of false teachers and prophets would enter in among them. The apostle Paul knew that there would be tremendous danger among the flock by those who would seek to turn them away from the faith. In fact, this reality is further echoed in the fourth chapter of the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy who at this time was the overseer of the Ephesian church and congregation. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of the first epistle he wrote unto Timothy: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to securing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained” (1 Timothy 4:1-6). What’s more, is that this reality is further expressed in the third chapter of the second epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy. Beginning with the first verse of the third chapter we find the following words written by the apostle: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthanksful, unholy, without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-7). Even when speaking directly unto the church which was in Ephesus Jesus confirmed that such individuals which the apostle warned about had crept into the church, for Jesus spoke of how they could not bear them which were evil, and how they tried them which claim they are apostles, and are not, and found them to be liars. If you continue on in the letter which Jesus would have delivered unto the church in Ephesus you will find that those present within this church hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which were a group that had crept in an infiltrated the church in order to lead men astray with false doctrine and false teaching.

I am convinced that we must recognize and understand the warning and words of caution which the apostle Paul spoke unto the Ephesian elders, as well as what he wrote unto Timothy, and even the words which Jesus spoke unto the angel of the church of Ephesus, for it shines a tremendous light on that which the apostle Paul writes in the sixth chapter of this particular epistle. If you read the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation you will find that he declared unto them quite emphatically that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the ulcers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in this places. Oh, please don’t miss the incredible significance and importance of these words, for that which the apostle was writing and declaring unto them was that they were not wrestling against those false brethren which crept in among them in order to infiltrate their ranks. The apostle Paul was declaring unto them that they were not wrestling against those false teachers and false apostles who had crept in among them in order that they might lead men and women astray with another gospel and another Jesus. It is quite obvious from the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation concerning them not wrestling against flesh and blood that he was attempting to bring them to the place where they truly understood and recognized what was taking place among them. That which the apostle Paul was writing and declaring unto the Ephesian Church and congregation was that the battle they found themselves engaged in and facing was not against man. The conflict they found themselves engaged in was not against man, nor was it against flesh and blood. What’s more, is that I can’t help but get the strong sense the apostle Paul was instructing the Ephesian church to look beyond flesh in the midst of the conflict, and to look beyond the natural in the conflicts they might have regularly faced and experienced. The apostle Paul was quite clear that they were not engaged in conflict and battle against flesh and blood—despite the fact that at times it might have seemed and felt like it was. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if certain members of the Ephesian congregation saw the conflict as with natural man, and attempted to engage man in conflict. The problem exists when we regard man as being the underlying cause of the conflict and struggle we find ourselves in rather than looking beyond the natural and seeing what is truly going on and taking place.

As I am sitting here reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the Ephesian congregation, I can’t help but find myself absolutely gripped and captivated by the fact that not only does he emphatically declare unto them that they did no wrestle against flesh and blood, but he went on to declare unto them where the true struggle and conflict lies. In the eleventh verse of this passage of Scripture we find the apostle Paul instructing them to put on the whole armour of God in order that they might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. Pause and stop right there for a moment and understand what the apostle Paul is truly writing and declaring unto this church. The apostle Paul is instructing them to put on the whole armour of God—not so they could engage in conflict and struggle with each other, but so they could stand against the wiles of the devil. The apostle Paul did not instruct the Ephesian congregation to take up the sword of the Spirit so they could use it to engage themselves in conflict against their brother or sister. The apostle Paul did not instruct the Ephesian congregation to put on the whole armour of God so they could be able to stand in conflict with and against their brothers. In fact, I am convinced that one of the devil’s greatest tactics, strategies and snares is to have us engaging each other in conflict, struggle and battle. What’s more, is I would even say that the devil would have us thinking that false brethren, false teachers, false apostles, false prophets are the real enemy and adversary, while he himself remains hidden in the shadows. I am convinced that one of our greatest downfalls is engaging in the wrong battles in the light while our real adversary remains hidden in the shadows watching as we tear each other down in conflict that should be engaged in on a spiritual level. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in his second epistle which was delivered unto the Corinthian congregation: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). I believe that we have spent more time engaging in conflict on the wrong front and with the wrong enemy while the real enemy and adversary remains concealed in the shadows unnoticed and untouched. Remember the words which the apostle Peter wrote in the fifth chapter of his first epistle: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (1 Peter 5;8-9)? Remember also the word which James wrote in the fourth chapter of the epistle he authored: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you” (James 4:7-8).

In the eleventh verse of the sixth chapter of this epistle the apostle Paul writes unto the Ephesian congregation instructing them to put on the whole armour of God that they might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. In the twelfth verse of the same chapter the apostle Paul goes on to declare that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, and that we instead wrestle against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Moreover, in the sixteenth verse—when writing and speaking concerning the shield of faith—the apostle goes on to write of the fiery darts of the wicked. Within this final section of the epistle the apostle Paul not only writes of the wiles of the devil, but the apostle Paul also goes on to write of the fiery darts of the wicked, thus bringing us face to face with the reality that we dare not and should not attempt to engage ourselves in conflict and battle with our brother or sister. The apostle Paul makes it perfectly clear that our struggle, our conflict, our battle is in the unseen and spiritual realm, and is against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in high places. We must recognize and understand that the armor was not given unto and provided to us so we could use it against each other. The word of God is indeed and is in fact the sword of the Spirit, yet it was never meant to be used against flesh and blood. In fact, consider what the author of the epistle unto the Hebrews wrote concerning the word of God in the fourth chapter: “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the divine asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:12-13). We have been given the sword of the Spirit—not to use it against our brother and sister, but to use it in the spiritual realm. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews clearly states that the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit is used on a much deeper level—a level which is unseen to the natural eye. The author of the epistle of the Hebrews wrote concerning the word of God that it is sharper than any two-edged sword, and that it pierces to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, thus denoting and suggesting that the sword can never, should never, and must never be used in the natural and physical realm of flesh and blood. Can I be honest and declare unto you that if you don’t know how to properly handle the word of God which is the sword of the Spirit, you should not pretend that you do, and you should not attempt to use it. I would like to present you once more with the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto Timothy in his second epistle: “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). One of the greatest dangers in the house of the Lord today is men and women who are completely ignorant when it comes to handling the word of God, and who use the sword completely and totally carelessly and recklessly. What’s more, is that much damage and carnage has been committed in the house of the Lord when men and women have used the sword of the Spirit unlawfully against flesh and blood, and as a result have cut down their brother(s) and sister(s) instead of using it against the real adversary and enemy.

There is so much that is found and contained within this passage, and we must diligently strive to understand exactly what the apostle is writing and speaking—not only unto the Ephesian congregation, but also unto us. While the apostle wrote int his epistle how we have been made to sit down with Christ in heavenly places, and that we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places, the apostle Paul also writes of spiritual wickedness in high places. Some translations actually use the word “heavenly” instead of high places, thus speaking of spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Stop for a moment and consider that reality—the reality that in the same place where Christ has been set down at the right hand of the Father, and in the same place where we have been made to sit together with Christ, there is the presence of spiritual wickedness. Please don’t miss this important reality, for even though we have been made to sit down in heavenly places, being seated in heavenly places doesn’t mean stagnation or inactivity on our parts. What’s more, is that being seated in heavenly places doesn’t mean that we aren’t still engaged in spiritual wickedness in those places. I am convinced that there are countless men and women who absolutely love the reality and concept that we have been seated in heavenly places, yet they are completely and totally oblivious and unaware of the spiritual wickedness that is present there. In fact, I can hear the Spirit of the Lord crying out and pleading with men and women to quit trying to pretend the struggle doesn’t exist. I am firmly convinced that we can be seated in heavenly places, and yet acknowledge the fact that even though we have been made to sit together with Christ in heavenly places, we are still engaged in a struggle against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Please don’t miss this, for these words bring us face to face with the realm and sphere where we should be doing war—heavenly places. We have been made to sit together with Christ in heavenly places, but in such places we are to engage in conflict together with our brothers and sisters against the spiritual wickedness that is present there. Furthermore, I would dare say that until and unless we are seated together with Christ in heavenly places we will be completely and totally unable to engage the spiritual wickedness that is present there. If the only reality we know is the physical and natural realm, then the only place we will be able to engage in conflict and warfare is in the natural realm, and more often than not we might find ourselves engaged in conflict against flesh and blood rather than spiritual wickedness. The armour of God was never meant to be used in the natural and physical realm, and even though we are seated together with Christ in heavenly places we do not do so naked and unclothed, for we are called to put on the whole armour of God. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we are putting on the whole armour of God, and whether or not we are taking up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit. The question I would leave you with is simply this: WHERE ARE THE REAL SOLDIERS OF CHRIST AT? WHERE ARE THOSE WHO ARE TRULY READY AND CLOTHED FOR BATTLE INSTEAD OF SIMPLY PRETENDING THEY ARE?

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