Tag Archive: Ephesians

  1. Shielded & Settled

    Learning to Stand, part 3(Eph 6:16)

    I have always had problems with faith.

    I don’t mean that I struggle with the substance of what I believe; in truth I find the christian worldview deeply compelling and intellectually well-founded.

    And I thoroughly endorse the insights of Matthew Bates that ‘faith’ in the New Testament most often refers to ‘allegiance’ to Jesus (“Salvation by Allegiance Alone; Rethinking Faith, Works and the Gospel of Jesus the King”).

    No, my issue is more with the way that we as christians often talk about ‘having faith’.  To me at least it has always seemed to imply making an intense mental effort to convince myself that something WILLhappen, and then straining to suppress any lurking thoughts to the contrary.  If that specific something then turns out notto happen, then clearly I didn’t ‘believe’ hard enough!

    So now I have guilt (as well as disappointment)!

    I’m not convinced that this is what Paul meant when he encouraged us stand firm, holding up “…the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.”  Yes, there have been times when I have had a simple and settled conviction that the Spirit of God was going to work is a certain way.  But this was never an intense effort at ‘believism’; merely a peaceful confidence in something that I sensed God has assured me about.

    But undergirding this is a much more fundamental sort of faith.  It is the robust assurance that my God is ‘a good, good Father’ and that I am truly – and unshakably – loved by him.  Like any good father, he loves to give good gifts to his children, and I know that he enjoys receiving my requests.  He does not require me to perform mental gymnastics to convince myself that he will respond to my prayers.  Or to persuade him.  Kindness is his nature.  Yes, there are occasions when in his wisdom he knows better than to give me what I ask. And in many situations – more than we understand – there are complex dynamics at play that at times constrain what is immediately possible (even for the sovereign Lord of the cosmos).  But I believe – I have faith – that God is ‘for me, not against me’.

    Once, long ago, the Creator was accused of being a manipulative and freedom-hating killjoy, who had no desire to see his creation to flourish.  It was an attempt at character-assassination.  As others have observed, the whole of the biblical story (and most especially the cross) can be seen as God’s response to this accusation.1

    Those malicious lies – like fiery arrows – still get aimed at me.  But I refuse to swallow them.  Whatever happens, I have faith in the loving-kindness of God, who will work creatively and over the long term, to bring good from every situation.  That settled confidence in my Father’s unwavering goodness is the shield that enables me to stand firm.

    1Sigve Tonstad: God of Sense and Traditions of Non-Sense

  2. Footwork

    “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
    who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’
    (Is 52:7)

    Based on this verse I used to tell friends that my feet were supremely beautiful. Sadly, they are entirely average.

    However, Paul seems to have had this passage in mind when he encourages us to: Stand firm…putting on your feet the readiness of the good news of peace…” (Eph 6:15). [At least I think it’s supposed to read something like that; translators seem unable to agree on exactly how to render Paul’s words, and commentators agree even less on how we are meant to understand them.]

    Keep in mind that Paul is urging us as disciples to mature in areas of character that will enable us to withstand the assaults of the enemy. So for me the key word here is ‘readiness’. Whatever other meanings may lie behind these words, I tentatively offer this as wisdom:

    “My readiness to move impacts my ability to stand.”

     If I strive to be quick to respond to the Spirit’s promptings, attentive to his whispers and eager to follow his subtle directions, then that pattern-of-obedience will serve to protect me, minimizing vulnerabilities that the enemy seeks to exploit.

    But I need to train myself to develop this habit in the small things:

    That barely registered sense that I should pray for this person, or take a moment to message that friend.
    That nudge to take a detour on the way home, or to pause to take note of what is happening around me.
    That almost imperceptible ‘check’ that makes me hesitate before sending the email, or causes me to hold my tongue in that conversation.

    The little things that may be nothing more than my normal judgement and my human imagination. And only the Master will ever know one way or the other.

    And yet my readiness to follow such prompting, to step out (or step back), to speak up (or shut up), in response to this ‘still-small-voice’, that is something the Master values highly. And the enemy detests deeply.

    Because when I grow sluggish, half-hearted and careless in my response, then I become vulnerable.

    For most of his life King David embodied an exceptional eagerness to follow the Spirit’s impulses, whether in passionate dancing or obsessive restraint! Except – tragically – once. On that occasion David chose to stay at home, passive and inactive, at the time ‘when kings go out to war’. It ended horribly, and the man who could stand up to giants failed to withstand temptation.

    Jesus concluded one of his stories with the words: “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready… (Lk12:38)

    Master, help me to develop and maintain an eager readiness, with feet that – beautiful or otherwise – are always prepared, constantly alert and quick to step forward.

  3. Bracing Integrity

    Learning to Stand, part 1 (Eph 6:14)

    First some background:

    We met together before prayer-walking around the area, and were exhorted to view what we were doing as spiritual warfare. Which it often is. But I struggled a little when a friend – predictably using language from Eph 6 – then encouraged us all to pause to ‘put on our armour’. Err… What was I actually supposed to do at this moment? What exactly was I meant to be praying for, or claiming, in that instant when I tried to ‘put on the belt of truth’?

    I have no doubt whatsoever that the Spirit was at work during those times, though I now question whether we really understood what Paul was intending by his extended metaphor concerning a soldier’s equipment.

    I’ve come to believe that Paul is principally encouraging followers of Jesus to work at developing:

    Disciplines of Thinking,

    Habits of the Heart,

    and Patterns of Behaviour

    that will enable us to withstand the assaults of the evil one and his minions. Certainly, these things will also make us potent to ‘tear down strongholds’, but the primary purpose is to enable us to stand. And such character formation is unlikely to emerge out-of-the-blue in response to a brief prayer.

    So…

    “Stand firm therefore, girding your waist with truth.” (‘Girding’ is SUCH an under-used word!) What is this ‘truth’ that will help ‘brace’ us; that will enable us to ‘hold together’ when under pressure? The main idea seems to be our own truthfulness & integrity; an authenticity, honesty and consistency in our relationship with God and with others. God “desires integrity in the inner man” (Ps 51:6). Jesus was scathing about those who cultivated an image of spirituality that was not matched by the reality. And personal integrity mattered enormously to Paul (eg: 1 Cor 4 & 2 Cor 6).

    But why is this relevant to spiritual warfare?

    Because our enemy is above all ‘the accuser’, perpetually trying to undermine us by levelling charges of inconsistency and hypocrisy. And we provide him with ample ammunition if there is a lack of integrity in our lives.

    If we are unsure of how we stand with God, then we will struggle to stand against our enemy.

    Hence the Spirit works to shape us into people of genuine authenticity, and thereby give less ground for the enemy’s accusations. As our lives become increasingly braced with integrity, so we become less vulnerable; more able to stand.

    Guard me, Helper of my Heart, against the little deceits and the overlooked inconsistencies in my life; my tendency to allow others to see me selectively, and hence assume that I am more ‘spiritual’ than I am.

    But (my own heart quickly objects) I still persistently fall short. Surely my life can never align perfectly with my declared commitment to Jesus.

    But then I hear these words: “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask…” (1 Jn 3:19-21).

    Whatever accusations and insinuations are hurled at us, the unshakeable truth remains that – even while integrity is still being formed in our lives – we stand on forgiven ground. And we need to hold this ground.

    Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.

    (1 Cor 15:58)

  4. Standing

    “…that you may be able to stand…to stand your ground…and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm therefore…” (Eph 6:10ff)

    The New Testament is full of references to our ‘posture’ as disciples; sitting, walking, resting, straining, kneeling, striving, running; even falling. But perhaps more than anything else, at least for now, I sense that the primary encouragement from the Spirit is to stand.

    Stuff happens, and we get battered. Some may be the result of our own weaknesses and some from the weaknesses of those around us, for we can never love without being vulnerable. Some stuff assaults our minds and emotions, and some attacks our bodies. Some is just the fallout of living as not-yet-resurrected people in a still-deeply-broken world, and some is actively provoked by the powers that still seek to dominate. Whatever the immediate source, such powers will always and without fail try to exploit the stresses that assail us. “For our struggle is not against flesh & blood…”, and we are not unaware of the schemes of our enemy.

    Whatever the contested space that we occupy at this moment, individually or together, the Spirit persistently whispers, (and sometimes shouts): “stand”.

    And he offers us guidelines and instructions on how we can stand; the attitudes and actions, the habits and behaviours, that will enable us both to stand, and to withstand when days are difficult.

    Helper of my heart – of our hearts – give us understanding of those things that will strengthen us, reinforce us, sustain us so that “having done everything” (and despite everything done to us) we remain standing for the king.

    [With this in mind I’d like to try to unpack aspects of Eph 6:10-20 in a few blogs over the coming weeks.]