“A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike. I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.” – Ephesians 6:10-20 (NLT)
When I was a kid, I used to be really into this game called Warhammer 40,000. It takes place in a science fiction (fantasy?) future where the human race is fighting against a whole bunch of aliens, who are also fighting against each other. Basically everyone hates everyone else and there’s a lot of fighting and dying.
There were a few sides that really stood out: here are the Space Marines, these 8-foot tall super soldiers. Their special power is that they are all super strong, and they wear crazy big armour and carry crazy big guns. Then there are the Orks, who love fighting. Their special power is that they’re all really strong and really mean, basically like an army of Hulks with machine guns. Then there is Chaos: they’re super evil, and their special power is their scary magic, and their crazy big armour and crazy big guns. Then there are the Tyranids, they’re like giant space cockroaches, and their special power is that there’s trillions of them, and they don’t give up until they’ve eaten you and your entire planet, and then they move onto the next planet. And then there are the Imperial Guard. They’re just regular army guys, and their special power is… well, they don’t have one. I guess their special power is they die by the thousands all the time, and there’s always more of them.
My favourite team? For some reason I really liked the Imperial Guard. Each guy isn’t big, strong, or brave, and his weapons are pretty weak, but they do the best they can to fight against all these crazy, scary space aliens. They were my kind of hero, because I like the idea of fighting against the odds and being a suffering hero. It’s not a very healthy mindset, but it has stuck in my head. It drives me to achieve some pretty epic things, but then it puts a lot of pressure and gloom into my head, it makes me unhappy, stressed out, and it actually poisons a lot of things that I do, because I start focusing on being a hero instead of doing the right thing in the right way. I often make things extra hard for myself just so I can play the hero. If I’m not suffering, something’s wrong. And it’s not healthy at all.
But you know what I like about this Bible passage? It is so not like Warhammer 40,000. And it is so not like me.
Firstly today’s passage tells us that yes, there is a war going on. Those of you who are Christians, this is a reality that you must understand. It is more real than anything you see or do. Christians, we are at war. But let me be clear, we’re not fighting a religious war against governments or people, but as Paul says, we’re fighting the old enemy, we’re fighting Satan, the Devil. This guy is doing his very best to mess you up, to confuse you and make you forget about Jesus, and he wants to do this to everybody. If you want to survive as a Christian, you need to know that you are at war.
Which brings us to our second point: How to survive? Put on all those pieces of armour, that Paul listed very carefully above.
We’re at war: suit up, pray that Satan won’t find a weak spot and strike. But Christians, remember that we’re not just fighting a pointless or endless war, like in Warhammer 40,000. We’re not fighting to be heroes. We don’t have to go looking for suffering. Paul explains our war clearly: it involves living for Jesus, helping people know Jesus. There are very specific goals and objectives, and very specific ways to fight this war.
And that’s what I love about this passage: I love how unheroic it is. You remember how I fell in love with the Imperial Guard, how I fell in love with being a hero, and doing everything the hard way. But Paul doesn’t go for that angle here. He doesn’t say “Go into battle and die for the Lord because you know you’ll go to heaven,” or “Fight for God and be righteous and good and holy, and the victory will be yours in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, amen.” There’s none of that. Paul is serious, but he doesn’t try to make things hard, he doesn’t ask Christians to be heroes. This is his logic: There’s a war going on. We’re at war. Here are our enemies. Here’s what to do if you want to survive this war. Keep fighting, and pray for me too. That’s what he’s saying.
Paul’s message is just so different from my attitude. My attitude is: be a hero. You must suffer. If you’re not suffering, you’re doing it wrong. I know my attitude is harmful, and it makes me unhappy, but I can’t get out of it. Because playing the hero is so much fun.
But this passage calls me out on my stupidity. Yes, we’re at war, but you don’t have to be a hero. You don’t have to do things that will get you killed. And Christians, do you know why? Because someone has already won that victory for us. The reason why we don’t have to go looking for trouble and be heroes is because Jesus has already won this war for us. He is our hero. Christians, we are at war. We will be at war with Satan till the day we die. But you know what? The joke’s on him, because he is never going to win. He can try as hard as he can, but Jesus has already won. All we have to do is hold on to Jesus in the meantime. That gives Paul such confidence in this passage. And Christians, that gives us our confidence today too. Be confident in Jesus, don’t be a suffering hero. We are at war. But Jesus is alive. And Satan has already lost the war.
Now one last thing for the non-Christian audience: a lot of this stuff might seem like nonsense. But here’s something I want to leave with you. Let me ask you this: what are you fighting for? We all fight for something. And in a competitive city like Hong Kong, that fight can get pretty monstrous. For me, if I don’t think hard about why I’m fighting, nothing I do is going to work. If I don’t know why I’m fighting, I might as well not fight.
That’s a bit like the logic of today’s Bible passage: you need to know why you’re fighting, how to fight, and what to expect, before you start fighting. That’s what Paul does: he outlines why Christians have to fight this spiritual war, how to fight it, and where it’s headed. Non-Christians, I’d like you to take that onboard as well.
You know, there’s an old saying from Ireland that goes something like this: don’t give a sword to a man who doesn’t know how to dance. You could be the best fighter, the best achiever, the topmost-ranking student in your school, the best employee in your firm, but if you don’t know why you’re fighting, if all you can do is fight, it’s going to end in disaster. So if you’re in the middle of a fight now, and you just don’t know why you’re doing it, please, put down your sword. Think hard about why you’re doing this. And I have confidence that Jesus, who saved me from my heroic idiocy, will come find you there too.