Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three guys who died in a car crash and all went to hell. One was a Catholic, the second was Lutheran, and the third one was Baptist. (Don’t ask me how these three CHRISTIANS ended up in hell instead of heaven!) The devil approached and said, “If you survive my flaming whip, you can go to heaven.” Eagerly, the three guys accepted the challenge. The devil then added, “Oh, and you can put on anything as protection from the whip.” The Catholic went first. He put on a very thick layer of armor and stood still. The devil whipped him with his whip and it went right through him, splitting him in half. Next went the Lutheran guy. In keeping with tradition, he put on nothing and simply stood there, stark naked. The devil was confused but whipped him as hard as he could and nothing happened. He whipped him again and again but still, nothing happened. Next, the Baptist went up and when the devil asked him what he wanted for protection, he simply responded, “Can I put on the Lutheran guy?!”
Aaah, Luther would be so proud! Not only did his faithful follower boldly stand up before an evil entity, but a Catholic was easily destroyed by that entity despite his thick armor. And the Baptist only stands to benefit from the Lutheran’s bravery…a perfect joke all around! I know, I know, denominational squabbling only serves to tear down the body of Christ but hey, I’m a Lutheran…a healthy oppositional defiant disorder is in my blood! And besides, all three men did respond well. We are encouraged to put on armor before going to battle against the devil and whether we have that armor on or not, it takes courage to defy the devil. Courage and a little cleverness as that Baptist illustrated.
And while I can’t tell you if heaven or hell awaits you in the next life, I can assure you that you don’t need to wait until then to encounter God or the devil. Both God and the devil are among us in this world, battling it out to claim our souls for all of eternity. You better believe there is a great battle being waged in this world. God fights for life and peace and harmony while the devil fights for nothing but death and violence and disharmony. Wherever there is new life and peace and harmony, God has beaten the devil and his crafty ways. But where there is death and destruction, the devil has prevailed. And we exist within that battle, given the opportunities to fight alongside God or the devil. Unlike in the next world, we get to choose who our masters will be in this world. Do we choose to live in peace and harmony or do we choose to die in violence and discord? The choice is left up to us who we will serve but know that whoever we choose to serve in this world will likely be who we serve in the next world. And don’t expect either God or the devil to give you an opportunity to change your master like in that opening joke. Once you’ve committed, you’ve committed all the way.
Which makes it all the more important to choose the right master in this world. Well, if not right then the one you’re willing to serve for a loooooong time. A lifetime is short compared to eternity. We’ve each been given this opportunity to exist outside eternity and within time as a chance to choose our eternal masters. We can see the work of both God and the devil in this world and then choose which one we’d like to align our own work with. This world is one big demonstration and battleground for the two great masters to show us their power. So which one do you choose to serve and fight alongside?
Obviously, I’ve made my choice a long time ago so I’m a little biased but allow me to promote God’s side a little. Getting back to our reading for this morning, Paul closes out his letter to the Ephesians with a great encouragement to stand firm against the wiles of the devil. He reminds them that God blesses us with a full set of armor to protect us from the devil: a belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of readiness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and a sword of the Spirit. All parts of the armor serve to either protect from or attack the devil. Does the devil give us anything to protect from or attack God? Of course not because we don’t need protection from God and there is nothing we could use to attack God, at least nothing that would have any effect on God. The devil gives us nothing because it has nothing to give. And when God acts, it is meant to be so protection is unnecessary. God’s acts are for the best in the end. The devil’s acts, on the other hand, are rarely if ever for the best. No, the devil’s acts are invariably for the worse. They serve no one’s interest other than the devil’s. The devil doesn’t care about you or me, he only cares about himself and defying God. So the devil gives us nothing, nothing of value, and isn’t really fighting alongside us. No, he’s a weak coward who can’t fight God so he manipulates us into fighting God for him. God loves us yet allows us to resist his love for us and listen to the devil.
God’s love is far greater than anything the devil has to offer. God gives us armor because He wants us to defeat the devil and He wants to fight alongside us. His power is mightier than the devil and He always wins in the end. Just as the house always wins in gambling, so, too, does God always win in the battle against the devil. Recall the wisdom of Hebrews that says, “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (4:12) God’s word, full of life and love, cuts through anything the devil has to offer.
Make no mistake about it, there is a battle being waged in this world. It isn’t between denominations or countries or families or religions. No, it’s between God and the devil for our souls. Heed the wisdom of scripture. Peter writes in his first letter, “discipline yourselves; keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” (5:8) The devil doesn’t care about you or me, only himself and defying God. Take comfort in the words of James that advises, “submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (4:7) God is mightier than the devil. Simply put on his armor and give thanks for it. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.