Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Got Strength?

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 
Ephesians 6:10 (ESV)

Some years ago our family was invited to a work party at a friend’s farm nearby. The kids were all small, ranging from 3 to 10 years or so. We enjoyed being on the farm and took some time to pet the animals, something we rarely got to do. Just so you know, despite what the movies may depict, animals are not necessarily very huggable. Goats are no exception. We were in a pen with a number of small goats. They seemed cute and pretty harmless. But we found out otherwise.

Our curiosity turned to horror as one of these cute pint-sized goats suddenly reared up on its hind legs in front of our pint-sized son only to launch itself head first right into our sons chest like a linebacker ready to knock the snot out of an unsuspecting tailback. That cute goat sent our cute huggable son sailing backwards through the air right onto his can. He was shocked but relatively unharmed. We quickly ran to his aid. He seemed to recover well and enjoy the rest of that time, at least until the goat got out again. When that happened, you should have seen how fast he ran and jumped behind my wife and me, holding onto our legs for his life. It was comic but also instructive.

You and I are like my son in the story. The challenges of this life, including the devil and his legions along with our enemies of the world and our sinful nature are like that goat. We aren’t meant to face them on our own. We can’t stand on our own, but must run to the shelter and strength of our heavenly Father. That is what Ephesians 6:10 is about.

The original hearers needed the force of this verse. You see, the Ephesians lived in a challenging environment. Ephesus was a large and prosperous city of about 250,000 people. It housed one of the 7 wonders of the world, the great temple of the goddess Artemis or Diana. The city was a spiritual center for the worship of this false deity and much of its economy came from the religious tourism to the great temple. Ephesus was a city steeped spiritual darkness and the occult. Its people lived in fear of dark forces, constantly trying to find ways to ward off evil. They thought that if they just had the right incantations and could name the right deities in their prayers, they could ensure their safety from evil forces and blessings in their endeavors. This city in its spiritual darkness was a very unfriendly place for new Christians.

Things haven’t changed all that much since this letter was written. We are not living in a world that is free from such evil. I don’t think we have to look very far to see this. The 20th century was full of genocide and evil beyond imagination. The 21st doesn’t necessarily hold much promise to be better. The crime stats and the plethora of social and psychological ills we face seem to say that evil is alive and well. We as individuals and as churches often deal with real spiritual evil that seeks to ruin our faith, overwhelm us with discouragement and divide us with bitterness and selfishness.

There is still spiritual darkness all around us. The devil is still active. It would be wrong to think that somehow we are now past the devil’s attacks, somehow past the world’s corruption, somehow past the reality of our indwelling sin. The evil one still controls much of the world. 
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  
1 John 5:19 (ESV)
The devil still holds considerable power in this world, especially over those who walk in rebellion against God. He is allowed to work among them and from his kingdom of darkness to continue to oppose God’s people. We see his attacks in many ways. I encourage you to take time to read this excellent post on his schemes here.

And so, in light of our enemies, Paul calls us to be strong in the Lord and the strength of this might. A better way to phrase that might be “Finally, be strengthened in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The idea here is that the strength is something you receive from God, not yourself. It isn’t so much about being strong as finding yourself strengthened. Technically, the verb is a passive imperative. That means we are commanded to receive this strength.

Still struggling to get that? It is kind of like if you were a new swimmer and were trying to float in water and kept sinking no matter what you did. But say a lifeguard came along and told you to take a big breath and hold it. Suppose as you breathed in and lied back the lifeguard said, “Now float!” With that big breath, you would be able to float. Where did that ability come from? From trying to float harder? From putting mind over matter? From just believing hard enough? No, it came from the air now in your lungs. You would be able to obey the lifeguard's command not because of your own power but because of the power of the air you inhaled. Similarly, here it tells us to be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might. We are simply breathing in God’s strength to float where we would sink otherwise.

 And this letter tells us over and over again how we have free access to this air, to the strength of God’s might! In chapter 1, Paul prayed that the Ephesians might know..
 ..what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.                                              
Ephesians 1:15–23 (ESV)
And he tells them the root of this great power is what Christ has done for them to rescue them from their enemies as described in chapter 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 
Ephesians 2:1–9 (ESV)
We have so much in God through Christ! In Him we are chosen, forgiven, rescued, kept, loved, sealed, empowered, holy, useful, transformed and more! And in him we have all the strength and power and resources we could ever need for the battle. We have an endless supply of weapons and energy to continue. He is with us and for us and gives us all of his power. So, you can’t do it on your own but you can do it in Him. So breath in the great power of God and float!
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 
Ephesians 6:10 (ESV)
You can listen to the entire message on this verse here.

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