Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stand fast

This message is Part five of the Sermon Series on the Armor of God

Stand Fast

Ephesians 6:10 -18 (verse  15)
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness 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. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints"

In our previous study of the breastplate of righteousness, we saw that the wearing of the breastplate gives us a general sense of confidence and of reassurance. You feel you are not as exposed as you were; you are ready; you can rely upon its protection. That is very wonderful - the assurance of salvation!. We also considered how we need to be protected in the realm of our moods and feelings which come and go. There is only one protection, namely, “the righteousness of Christ” Not our integrity, but the righteousness of God which is by faith through Jesus Christ. Imputed and Imparted! Justification by Faith! Yes, and the working but of it, - Sanctification! This is the only protection against our varying moods and states and feelings; against discouragement, depression, and all that the devil tries to insinuate into us in order to mar our experience and to ruin our work and testimony. 

We now come to “And your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” In these words we come to examine yet another piece in this “whole armour of God” which is provided for us as God’s people in our fight in this world, against the devil, and the principalities and powers, the rulers of darkness of this world, and the spiritual wickedness in high places. I would remind us as we come to this next piece that the Apostle is using a figure; and we must be careful not to over-emphasize the material or over literalize it.

This third piece which has reference to the feet reminds us again that the entire personality is engaged in this Christian warfare; and that, therefore nothing must ever be neglected. Nothing is more important in the Christian life than balance. Many of our troubles are due to lack of balance, a fact of which the enemy is well aware. Our faith takes up the whole life, and the whole man; so we have to protect ourselves at every single point.

It is interesting to notice that the different parts have their relative importance. One might be tempted to feel at first that the feet are comparatively less important at least when you compare the feet with the heart. There is the danger, therefore, in the Christian life of regarding certain aspects as comparatively unimportant. But we are told here that we must protect our feet for the obvious reason that they play a vital role. It is important to know that however powerful the chest may be; and however wonderful your loins; if you get wounded in your feet; or if you slip and fall in the battle; you will be an easy prey, for your enemy.

The word the Apostle emphasizes shows the importance of the feet. It is the word “stand”; “withstand”. After all, you stand on your feet. In a sense everything depends on the security and the safety and the good functioning of the feet. In First Corinthians 12, Paul has reminded us that the Christian is like the body. Because of the nature of the body, where there is anything wrong in your little finger, the whole body will suffer with it. The feet are therefore absolutely essential to the body’s welfare. The Christian man is one personality; every part of him counts; so we must not treat any part with disrespect or with any kind of negligence.

Its all about the feet 

Our feet with which we walk along the roads in the dust and the mud and the mire are very important. Have these feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. The best way to understand the meaning of these words is to start with the actual analogy the Apostle used. He was thinking of a Roman soldier. The provision made for the Roman soldier’s feet was a certain type of sandal. Not a boot but a sandal, which consisted essentially of a sole with straps which held firmly on to the feet. These sandals had boot studs underneath.

The first thing to note is that the sandals provided the Roman soldier with firmness of hold, to prevent him from sliding and slipping and falling; hence the studs. But there was another reason for providing him with sandals made of stout materials. A very familiar device in warfare in those days was to place certain traps or gins and spikes in the ground. They would take a piece of wood, or a stick, and chisel it into a sharp point, then they would fix this into the ground with the sharp point sticking up slightly above the ground surface, almost invisible. When an enemy came running along, if he had no good sandals on, these spikes would suddenly penetrate the sole of his feet. This would not only cause severe pain, but it would also cause bleeding, and it might also become infected and put the soldier entirely out of action. It was most important, therefore that the feet should be protected against these traps that were camouflaged and hidden in order to cause this trouble.The third obvious reason for providing these sandals was mobility. Nothing is more important in an army than mobility. It is important that the Christian soldier who is fighting and standing against the wiles of the devil should have his feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace.

We are interested in the spiritual application of this analogy. The term “preparation” is the key to that. The “Gospel of peace” is not difficult to understand, but what is the meaning of the word “preparation” as it is translated in the Authorized Version. There are two main interpretations and both can claim, up to a point, that they are based on the original basic meaning of the word used by the Apostle. The first is that it simply conveys the notion of “firmness”, that the “preparation of the Gospel of peace” means the firmness which is given to us by the Gospel of peace. The New English Bible adopts that meaning in its translation; “to give you firm footing”. But the common idea which is adopted generally, with few exceptions, is something much nearer to what we have in the Authorized Version – “Your feet shod with the preparedness or readiness of the Gospel of peace”. John Wycliffe translation holds this view. But the American Revised Standard Version supplies a good translation, namely, “equipment” “having your feet shod with the equipment of the Gospel of peace”. The Arndt and Gingrich Lexicon use “preparedness”, “readiness” and especially on the idea of “equipment”; Equipment fits more with the passage.

In Titus 3:1 Paul uses the same word when he said: “Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work”. Equipment includes both the idea of preparedness and also the element of stability and steadfastness.

Why does Paul tell us that we must have our feet shod with the preparedness, the readiness, the equipment of the Gospel of peace? 

There are some who say that what is meant is our readiness to take the Good-news of the Gospel of peace and of salvation to others; that it means that as Christians we should be ready to emphasize; always ready to obey the command to go and preach the Gospel. This interpretation was suggested by those Bibles which have marginal references which direct to two portions of Scripture. The first is in Romans 10:15: “How shall they preach except they be sent? as it is written; How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things” – a quotation from Isaiah 52:7. So in the marginal reference, you will find opposite feet in Romans 10:15, Isaiah 52:7. And so, the notion comes in of being ready to run with the Gospel, the good news of peace with God through the blood of Christ.

This interpretation does not fit in with the passage and therefore should be rejected. Paul is here dealing with one thing only; our fight and conflict with the devil. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities and powers”. His whole objective is to enable us to “stand against the wiles of the devil”. He is not thinking of evangelizing; he is picturing a Christian who is being attacked night and day by the devil and all his powers, and warning him that if he is not filled with the power of God, and if he does not put on this whole armour of God, he will be defeated. It is a defensive warfare. How can the question of evangelism possibly come into this matter of defensive warfare? We must learn never to interpret a word or a phrase without being sure that the interpretation fits the context. Do not isolate it and think of possible meanings or uses; everything must be taken in its context. The moment we adopt this method here, you see that that particular interpretation of “preparedness” and “readiness” and “eagerness” is altogether wrong. Indeed, it is quite misleading – it makes you forget all about the devil and the principalities and powers. Most heresies have arisen because men have lifted a word or a phrase entirely out of its context and elaborated a false theory or a point of view out of it.

Since the Apostle is talking about our fight against the devil, our interpretation of his words must include the following principles. 

The first is firmness, confidence, a sense of assurance. If you are engaged in a mortal conflict with a powerful, wily enemy, you must guard against falling and slipping by making sure that your feet are well shod. You have to be quite sure that you know what you are doing, and where you are standing. Your feet must have firm grip. This means that you must resolve to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, come what may. You must not come into the Christian life and continue in it half heartedly, half in half out, desiring benefits but objecting to duties, wanting privileges but rejecting responsibilities. You have to start by being firm and solid and resolute and assured. That is what the sandal connotes. Paul had this in mind in First Corinthians 16:13: “Stand fast in faith”. The problem with the Church today is that there are so many whose feet are not shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace; so many are slipping and falling. Men are no longer standing, they are no longer resolute, they no longer know what to believe and they do not hold to what they believe come what may. Compromise is all too common. They have not got their feet shod with the equipment of the Gospel of peace. This is applicable to Churches as well as to individuals.

I wish to pause to ask a number of questions:
Do you know what to believe? 
Is there anything for which you are prepared to stand? 
Do you really believe that the Bible is the Word of God; divinely and uniquely inspired and inerrant?  
Are you ready to stand on that truth? 
That is what is meant by putting on the sandals. Are you ready to stand for the Deity of Christ?; for His virgin birth?; for His miracles? Are you ready to stand for the substitute, sacrificial atoning death of our Lord? Are you ready to stand for the resurrection of Christ as a literal physical fact? Are you ready to stand for the Person of the Holy Spirit? Do you know where you want to stand; do you know your position? How can you fight the enemy if you do not know your position? Have you a definite position? Are you prepared to stand in it, and say, I will never yield; I will never move from this, I will be a good soldier; I shall die at my post? The moment you begin to compromise on this Word of God, you will soon be slipping and sliding both in doctrine and in practice. The problem with compromise is that it is like lying –once you begin you find it difficult to stop, because you have to lie to cover the earlier lies.

As Paul says in Second Corinthians 1:19: “the Gospel of Christ is not yea and nay at one and the same time, but in Him, Amen unto the glory of God by us” And that means, we should add our own Amen to this Amen; to his great “Yea”. Stand on it, at all costs.

Our standing applies not only to doctrine; it applies to the whole life. Once you have come into this life you have to take your stand unflinchingly on the Lord’s side. When you notice how different this new life is from your old life, you must be prepared to say “Here I stand, no going back!”

Are your feet shod? That is the great need of this hour; it is the call of God, I believe, to the Church and to every Christian at this present time. God is looking for people who will stand. It was so in the days of Gideon when He reduced the host of Israel from 32, 000 to 300 men whom God could trust. He knew these 300 would stand, that they would never quit, that they would never compromise. What God wants today is a man or a woman who is prepared to stand, whose feet are shod with the equipment of the Gospel of peace. He knows that He can rely on such that they will stand no matter the odds. Can God rely on you? Are you standing? Do you propose to stand? Are you ready to stand? Remember you cannot serve God and Mammon. You cannot have one foot in the Church and the other in the world. You may think you can, you will soon find that you cannot. You will be defeated and you will be miserable and when you face God in judgment you will be ashamed of yourself. The Hymn writer says “You that are men, now serve Him against unnumbered foes; Stand up for Jesus!”

The second great principle is watchfulness, that is, alertness. In the words of the Hymn quoted earlier, it says: “When duty calls, or danger, be never wanting there!”

In First Corinthians 16, Paul says “You watch, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong”. His first word is “Watch”. Our Lord says “Watch and pray!” Why? “Lest you enter into temptation” Watch and Pray! This precept runs through the New Testament. Paul also writing to the Colossians says “Walk circumspectly! Watch where you place your feet; – this is because of the traps and the spikes set by the enemy whom we are confronting. This is emphasized for many reasons: first, the enemy we are confronted with is restless and ceaseless in his activities. Peter describes him as a “roaring lion continually walking about looking for whom to devour” When I first entered the Nairobi National Park in Kenya, I saw two hungry lions walking about freely. It helped me to understand this passage – Peter says, that is the picture of the devil as a roaring lion, roaming about, seeking whom he may devour. The Hymn writer says “Gird your heavenly armour on! Wear it ever night and day”

Another element is the unexpectedness of his attack. You never know when he is coming, where it is coming from or how it is coming. The Bible warns us: “Let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he falls” Beware of the unexpected.

Another most important consideration is the subtlety, and the wiles of the devil. “Ambushed lies the evil one” says the Hymn. In Ephesians 4:14 Paul says “Henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness; whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” It is the devil who uses men to produce “cunning craftiness”. False teachers abound today. You must not believe everything at its face value; you must not assume that if a man does not say something outrageously wrong, he is a fine evangelical. That is what is happening today; there is no discrimination. It is because Christians are not ready, they are not watching, they are not prepared for the subtlety of the devil’s tactics.

In Second Corinthians 2:11 Paul writes: “We are not ignorant of his (Satan’s) devices” Paul was writing then about forgiving one who has wronged them; he says his reason was not only for the man’s sake, but because he knew the devil is ever ready to come in and take advantage of the situation. Do we know his devices? If you want to defend yourself, get your feet shod with the preparedness of the Gospel of peace. You must always be alert and always watching; always aware of what the enemy is doing.

But we must not only be aware of Satan’s subtlety, but also of his changing tactics. Sometimes he changes his own appearance. He is not always like a roaring lion. In Second Corinthians 11:14 Paul says that the evil one can appear “transformed into an angel of light”. Drawings and imaginations can sometimes be very deceptive. The devil does not always appear ugly, foul, harsh and cruel as we have been made to believe. He sometimes appears as the very nice fellow you spoke to only yesterday.

The devil also changes his methods. Sometimes he comes to you opposing you violently and condemning you. The next moment he will come flattering you. Sometimes he will inflame your passions to drive you into sin; the next time he comes in a very enticing manner. All he needs is to achieve his objectives. The devil contradicts himself, he does not mind doing so. Sometimes he attacks the Scripture; the next moment he will be quoting it. One moment he tells us we are no good as Christians in another we are such wonderful Christians that we do not need the blood of Christ any more. In one moment you are not doing enough to justify your salvation, in another you are over-working yourself; take care of your health and do less. Shod your feet in the preparedness of the Gospel!

Nothing matters to the devil as long as he can get us into trouble. One moment he comes and fills us with doubts about truth and about the faith; the next moment he comes and fills us with credulity which makes us ready to regard anything as a miracle. He drives us to extremes.

We must, for some of these reasons, always “be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” We are fighting against the wiles of the devil and the principalities and powers, and the devilish ingenuity of it all – the camouflage, the appearances, the guises and the quick changes. There is only one safe defence; always be ready, always be on the alert! “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” That is, at least, the beginning of what is meant by “having your feet shod with the equipment, the preparedness, the readiness of the Gospel of peace”

May the Lord make us wise in this very important matter!

Read other posts in the series: The War You Must Win

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