No Other Gods (Exodus 20:1-3)

Today we're beginning to look at one of the best known and most controversial parts of Scripture: the Ten Commandments. These commandments are so well known that they're still being debated and discussed today. The Royal Ontario Museum recently held a lecture series called The Three New Commandments in which they asked three prominent thinkers to analyze and debate the Ten Commandments and share their ideas for a moral code for our own time. Electronic Arts, a popular game maker, commissioned a survey that found that very few people know the Ten Commandments. In fact, over a quarter of 11-16 year olds can't recite a single one of the Ten Commandments from memory. They go on to suggest that "they are now seen as 'outdated and irrelevant to modern life' - so they have asked people to rewrite them to reflect the world we live in today.

So the Ten Commandments are not well known, but they are still being discussed. Why are we going to look at them? Are they really relevant today? Aren't they too negative, and haven't we moved beyond rules?

These are all good questions, and we're going to explore the answers. But let me answer the two main questions. First, are the Ten Commandments still relevant? And Scripture answers: absolutely. The Ten Commandments were given to God's people on a mountain in a dessert thousands of years ago, but they still are very important to God's people today. When Jesus gave what we now call the Sermon on the Mount, he expounded in depth the meaning of a number of these commandments and applied them to today. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must to do to have eternal life, Jesus responded first by listing some of these very commandments (Matthew 19:16-19). The apostle Paul listed recited and affirmed these commands, and concluded that "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). James spoke of these commands to argue that they're a unity. One theologian puts it this way:

There are a few details of the Decalogue that do not apply to us as new covenant Christians, but for the most part the Ten Commandments express principles that will never change, that apply to all times and all situations. The Decalogue presents these principles in general terms, thereby covering all of human life. (John Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life)

But here's the second question: aren't the Ten Commandments too negative? Or to put it differently: haven't we moved on from the Ten Commandments to something more positive? This question is really based on a view of the commandments that sees them as negative, that sees God's commands as a straightjacket that robs us of our freedom. We'd much rather live without rules, except for the rule that we can do as we like.

But nothing could be further from the truth. These commands were not given to take away our freedom, but to ensure our freedom. What do I mean? When God gave these commands to Israel, they had just come out of hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt. They had been in political, economic, social, and spiritual bondage. But God set them free, and now three months later God gives them these commands. He begins by reminding them, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Exodus 20:2). It's in the context of their liberty that God gives these commands. The basic question they answer is: now that God's people are free, how can their freedom be preserved? These commands become the founding charter of God's people, and it's really a charter of freedoms. The goal of these commands is to protect the blessings of the freedom achieved by God when he liberated them from Egypt.

You still may be thinking, "I still don't see how commands lead to freedom." That's often because we see freedom as the ability to choose for ourselves what is best. But as someone has put it, freedom is not the absences of restrictions; it's finding the right restrictions. For instance, a fish is only free if it's limited to water. If you liberate a fish from water, that fish will die. If you want freedom in marriage, it comes from the constraints of love, which involves a mutual loss of independence. But we become ourselves within these boundaries. "Freedom," writes Tim Keller, "is not the absence of limitations and constraints but it is finding the right ones, those that fit our nature and liberate us."

You see this even in this passage. The commands are rooted in two things: God's gracious nature - "I am the LORD your God" - and God's gracious actions - "who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." These are not the commands of a God who is against us and wishes to restrict our freedoms so we live a life of misery. These are the commands of a God who communicates his gracious nature, who gives us his personal name so we can be in intimate relationship with him. This is also the God who has saved us with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Israel then knew of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt; we now understand that we have been set free from an even greater bondage. God gives us these commands as the God who is gracious in his nature, and the God who has saved us.

So these commands are relevant to us today, and they are liberating. They preserve freedom. They are also significant because we read that God himself spoke these words. This is the one occasion in redemptive history in which all the people of God were gathered in one place, and God spoke to them directly from his own lips.

So today, let's look at the first command, which is in many ways the foundational command for all the others. Martin Luther said that this command is "the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which they are directed and measured." In some ways, every command is essentially a different perspective on the same thing. Each of the commands is, in essence, a restatement of this command applied to a different area of life. That means that every sin is a violation of this commandment. When we break any of the commands, we're also breaking this one.

What is the first commandment? Exodus 20:1-3 says:

And God spoke all these words: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me."

I want to simply ask two questions this morning. First: what does this command say? Second, how do we do what it says?

So first, what does this command say?

Well, that shouldn't be too hard. It simply says that we are to have no other gods before Yahweh. It's very similar to the second command: "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." Somebody has suggested that both these commands are about right worship. The first command tells us to worship the right God. The second command tells us to worship God rightly.

But let's look a bit deeper here. Notice that God does not say that there are no other gods. Scripture does in fact say that in other places, but it's important to notice that this command was given to a nation in which false gods abounded. They had just spent hundreds of years in Egypt, where there were many false gods. We live today in a world in which there are many gods. For instance, in Hinduism, there are over 330,000 deities in the various traditions. We live in an increasingly multicultural setting, and there deities, gods, that are rivals to the one true God as revealed in Scripture.

God says, "You shall have no other gods before me." The words before me has the meaning in front of me. I heard recently of someone who is being unfaithful within marriage right in sight of their spouse. It's not being carried out secretly. It's being carried out openly, right in front of that person's rightful partner. God here reminds us that there is no such thing as worshiping other gods behind his back. God is present, and he knows who or what we worship. We are not to have other gods before him.

So you could summarize this command as a call for singular devotion to God. The issue is exclusive loyalty. We are to refuse all rival loyalties and false gods, and worship God alone. The root of all sin, in essence, is to give the love and worship that rightfully belongs to God to something or someone else. God has entered into a relationship with us, and it is one of exclusive covenant loyalty. Polytheism and idolatry are clearly out of the question.

If you're following along, you may be saying, "That's right. No other gods. No false religions and idols!" You may be thinking you're off the hook on this one because you don't have any idols in your house. You may think this, but you'd be wrong.

The real issue goes beyond little carved statues. You see, the real issue is that false gods not only abound in other religions. They abound all around us. They're very much a part of our world. They're sometimes even part of the church. The modern world has developed many God-substitutes that tempt us to forsake the Creator and to give our heart to other things.

In his Large Catechism, Martin Luther asked the question, "What is it to have a god?" Listen to his answer:

A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the trust and faith of the heart alone make both God and and idol...That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your god.

Let me read that again: "That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God."

Thomas Watson, a Puritan from the 1600s, said, "To trust in any thing more than God, is to make it a god." He then gave a number of examples:

If we trust in our riches, we make riches our god...If we trust in the arm of flesh, we make it a god...If we trust in our wisdom, we make it a god...If we trust in our civility [our moral goodness], we make it a god...If we trust to our duties [good deeds] to save us, we make them a god.

He even says, "If we trust in our grace [instead of God], we make a god of it." He goes on to include pleasures, our appetites, children - anything, really - we can turn it into a god.

You can see the wisdom of this commandment, because it doesn't deny that there are false gods. This world abounds with false gods. Even good things can become rivals for the worship that alone belongs to God. The thing that we often don't realize is that it is impossible for us to live without having an object of worship. The way that we are created demands that something or someone has our heart. Something is at the center of our worship. The only real question is whether we will give our heart to God, or to someone or something else in his place. God says: don't have any other gods before me.

We're going to look in just a minute at why this is a positive command. But I want to pause here and ask you what idol may have your heart. "That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is," Luther said, "really your god." What is your heart clinging to? It could be a relationship, a person, money, your position, your looks, anything. Something is at the center of your life. This world abounds with false gods.

You may ask, "What's so bad about clinging to something else besides god? What's wrong with making money, kids, my spouse - whatever - an idol?" You have to admit, idols are pretty alluring. What's wrong with them? It goes back to the introduction to these commands: "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me." Right in the introduction, God tells us what's wrong with giving our hearts to anyone but him. No other god is really God; no other god is gracious; no other god sets us free from bondage. Because they're not god, they're not worthy of worship. Because they're not gracious, these false gods demand performance. If your job is your idol, you have to continually work to prove yourself to your idol. And because no other god sets us free from bondage, every other god will enslave us. We become slaves of our career, slaves to money, slaves to pleasure. Only when we worship God do we worship the one true and gracious God, the one who leads us out of bondage into freedom.

The command is simply, "You shall have no other gods before me." Now you understand how sweeping this command is. Now you understand why Luther said that this command is "the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed." It's also good news because Luther also said, "If the heart is rightly disposed toward God and this commandment is kept, obedience to the remainder will follow of itself." In other words, if you get this one right, all the rest will follow.

But you also understand how difficult this is. The real question is:

How do we do this?

How do we have no other gods before the one true God?

The really bad news is that nobody has been able to do this. This is really bad news, because this is "the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which they are directed and measured" as Luther said. But if we are honest, we all have to admit that we consistently put other things and other people before God.

It gets even worse. When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment, he responded by giving us the first commandment in a positive form:

Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

The first and greatest commandment is total devotion to God. It's exclusive loyalty. But we're hopeless at doing this. We consistently give our hearts to other things and other people.

That's why Jesus responded with a challenge one day to someone who claimed to have kept all the commandments. The man asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reminded him of the Ten Commandments, and the man said, "All these I have kept since I was a boy" (Luke 18:21). But then Jesus said, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me" (Luke 18:22). We read that the man became very sad and walked away. Why? Because Jesus had put his finger on the one thing that he loved more than God. Jesus had identified the idol in his life, and this man was unwilling to make a break with that idol.

Jesus then said, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:24-25). The people who heard this responded, "Who then can be saved?" (Luke 18:26). This is one of the best questions. What hope is there for people like us who tend to put all kinds of things ahead of god, who break the first commandment regularly, who put all kinds of gods before him?

It's at this point that Jesus gives us hope. "What is impossible with human beings is possible with God," he says (Luke 18:27). There isn't a person here who is capable of dethroning all idols and giving his or her heart to God alone. It's impossible. But what is impossible with us is possible with God.

It's this verse that gives idolators like us hope. The only person who ever kept the first commandment perfectly is Jesus. He loved God and his neighbor so perfectly that he was willing to go to the cross and give himself in love to do God's will and to save his enemies. On the cross, Jesus took the punishment for our idolatry. And he's not only offered us forgiveness, but he's given us new hearts that are being transformed so that we will one day love him with total devotion.

What's impossible with us is possible because of what Christ did at the cross. He has changed the first commandment from being a command - "You shall have no other gods before me" - to a promise - "You shall have no other gods before me."

So Father, take us to Jesus this morning. We realize this morning that we are incapable of keeping this command. We are all idolators. We all put other things and people ahead of you. And in breaking this, the first and highest command, we are breaking in one sense breaking the others.

But what is impossible with us is possible with you. Thank you for Jesus, who bore the punishment for our idolatry. And thank you that you give those who trust in Christ new hearts, so that they shall have no other gods before you. We look forward to that promise being fulfilled; even now, set us free from idols. We pray in the powerful name of the one who died to make this possible. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Accept One Another (Romans 15:7)

When I look around on a Sunday, I'm often surprised by how different we are. Within some churches, people look pretty similar. That's not the case here. We come from different socio-economic levels. We come from different cultures and ethnic groups. We are all different ages.

What are some of the problems that we may encounter because we are all so different? (take notes)

This isn't a new problem. I'd like to tell you about the church in Rome around 57 A.D. The church in Rome had a major issue, and they weren't alone. The church had two main people groups.

Jews - The Jews could look at their history and rejoice that they were God's chosen people. Generations of Jews could read the Old Testament promises of the Messiah and the salvation he would bring. Now these Jews could rejoice that the Messiah had come, and that his promises had been fulfilled. God had kept his promises to Israel. Evidence suggests that the church in Rome had been founded by Jews and was dominated by Jews for the first two decades.

Gentiles - But some Gentiles had come to believe in Jesus Christ as well. In Rome, something unexpected happened. Comparatively few Jews had responded to the gospel, while many Gentiles did respond and become part of the church.

In 49 A.D., the Roman emperor expelled all Jews from Rome. All at once, every Jewish Christian had to leave the Roman church, and only the Gentiles were left. By the time Paul wrote this letter, many of the Jewish people had probably returned. But they came back to a church that had become a Gentile institution.

You could feel the tensions. Jews saw themselves as God's holy and chosen people, but now Gentiles had taken over. The Jewish believers had beliefs that came from their Scriptures and from their culture about food and holy days; the way the Gentiles acted violated many of these beliefs. The tension between these two groups simmered and sometimes boiled over.

We read in chapter 14 that both groups were criticizing each other. One group - the Jewish believers - said that the Gentiles were living in a way that made people question if they were really Christians. The other group - the Gentiles - accused the Jewish believers of holding on to silly prejudices. The controversy really came down to three issues:

  • whether or not you could eat anything or whether certain foods are prohibited
  • whether some days are holy or whether every day is alike (like the Sabbath)
  • possibly, over whether or not it is right to drink wine

Bottom line: there was real tension between the Jewish believers, who were trying to keep themselves pure from idolatry, and the Gentile believers, who think that such requirements are ridiculous and a holdover from Judaism.

And so you have:

  • conflict
  • pride - a condescending attitude toward the other group
  • lack of love
  • bad testimony

The easiest thing in the world would have been to split.

These are the same problems that we have today when churches divide over issues.

What Paul Says

Paul never actually deals with who was right and who was wrong, because the real issue wasn't the issue. The issue wasn't one of sin or false teaching, which he would have condemned. The issue was more one of pride and lack of love.

First, stop condemning each other (14:1-12). In the first part of chapter 14, Paul does two things. First, he gets the issue out on the table. Then he says: stop judging each other! He gives two reasons. The Romans are all fellow slaves of Christ, and God alone has the right to judge his people.

This is more subtle in our day, but we still have a tendency to do this - to look down on people who are different from us. They like this music; they dress this certain way; they are too in touch and they are too out of touch. Paul says to stop all the judging. If it's not an issue of blatant sin or false teaching, then stop pointing the finger.

The principle: we must sometimes agree to disagree over some matters. If the matter is not prohibited by Scripture, and is not against sound theological reasoning, then we should not criticize other believers or break fellowship just because we don't like it.

Second, be loving instead of selfish (14:13-23). Here Paul addresses the group that thought that there was nothing wrong with eating meat. Paul really agrees with them, but he says there is a bigger issue: one of love.

If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother or sister for whom Christ died...Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.(Romans 14:15, 19)

"Have it your way" - but what about when having it your way really irritates others? Then be loving instead of selfish.

Finally, receive each other to the glory of God (15:1-13). Paul says in Romans 15:7:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

What does this mean? It means that we recognize each other as true brothers and sisters in Christ; to welcome them into our worship services and to give them full place along with other worshipers. It means that we welcome them with our hearts, not grudgingly. It means that we recognize that God has worked in history to create a people composed of both Jews and Gentiles - that God has broken down every division that separates us. As long as we belong to Jesus, we belong together.

This is one of the things that showed people the power of the gospel - that Jews and Gentiles could receive each other. Just like today. The fact that we receive each other despite all these things testifies to the power of the gospel. When we split because of these things, we may as well say that the gospel has no power.

But notice what Paul says: accept one another, just as Christ accepted us. How did Christ accept us? Verse 3 tells us:

For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."

Jesus didn't please himself; he lived a life of love and sacrifice. When we were sinners, he accepted us by sheer grace. How can we withhold that grace from others when we have experienced it?

Here's the bottom line in verses 5-6:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why we want to be a church in which young and old worship together, where all the divisions that bug us are overcome: so that we can testify to the power of the gospel, and so that "with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

Spiritual Warfare (Ephesians 6:10-20)

Throughout the past months, we’ve been looking at the book of Ephesians. Ephesians is one of the profoundest books in Scripture that applies the gospel to all of life. Although there are many themes and topics that Paul writes about, the big two are these:
  • God is redeeming all things and bringing them back to unity under Christ; and
  • The church is God’s new humanity, his pilot project in restoring all things
There are lots of things that you can say, but they really boil down to this: God’s eternal purpose in bringing everything under Christ is unfolding just as he planned, and the church is central to what God is doing.As we close Ephesians, I think that Paul is anticipating a danger that we all face. Sun Tzu wrote an influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy called The Art of War in which he said:
All warfare is based on deception. Therefore, when capable, feign incapacity; when active, inactivity. When near, make it appear that you are far way; when you are far away, that you are near. Offer the enemy a bait to lure him; feign disorder and strike him. Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.
All warfare, he says, is based on deception.What does this have to do with us? According to Paul, everything. Paul writes in verses 10 and 11: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”Paul is saying that we have an enemy who engages in deceit and who has all kinds of other schemes. The word schemes there actually has the idea of deceit.In essence, Paul is saying that God’s eternal plan in reconciling all things under Christ, beginning with the church, will not go unopposed. And at the end of Ephesians, he says that there are two things we need to do to respond. First, we have to recognize the nature of our battle. Second, we must use God’s resources in the battle.

The first thing we must do, according to Paul, is to recognize the nature of our battle.

Paul writes in verse 12:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
What does Paul mean here? He’s already given us a hint in verse 11 when he mentioned the taking a stand against the devil’s schemes. What Paul is saying here is that we are in a spiritual battle with God against Satan. We have an enemy who has all kinds of cunning strategies, who will attack us in surprising ways. We will not be able to withstand his attacks on our own. We are in a battle, and we must be prepared.If you go to the average church, you will not hear a lot about this. We talk about our churches as families or hospitals. In most churches, there is more danger of getting bored than getting wounded. In churches where there is fighting, the fighting is infighting. It’s easy to forget that there really is a battle, and that we are participants in a battle. One of Satan’s schemes is to lull us into complacency so that we forget there is a battle.It’s scary enough to think about this battle, but it gets worse. The word that Paul uses is struggle. It’s actually a wrestling term. When I think of battles these days, I think of wars with guided missiles and all kinds of technologies. That’s not the type of war Paul talks about. The type of war we’re engaged in is hand-to-hand combat. We are hand to hand with evil, face to face.And who does Paul say we are struggling with? Not flesh and blood. It’s not that the church does not encounter human opposition, but Paul says that the struggle goes much deeper than that. Paul says that our struggle is with “rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Our enemies are not human, he says, but demonic.We don’t know as much as we’d like to about what Paul describes here, whether he is referring to different ranks of evil spirits. We John Stott notices that they have three characteristics.One: they are powerful. They are rulers and authorities, powers and forces of evil. They do have power. When Satan tempted Jesus, claiming that he could give him all the kingdoms of this world, Jesus didn’t argue. Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). We know that Satan was defeated, but he is unwilling to concede defeat, and has not yet been destroyed. So Satan continues to wield power.Second, they are wicked. Paul says they are the powers of this dark world, forces of evil. Jesus said that Satan is a murderer and a liar from the beginning (John 8:44). Peter writes that he is prowling like a lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Stott says:
If we hope to overcome them, we shall need to bear in mind that they have no moral principles, no code of honor, no higher feelings. They recognize no Geneva Convention to restrict or partially civilize the weapons of their warfare. They are utterly unscrupulous, and ruthless in the pursuit of their malicious designs.
Third, they are devious. They rarely attack openly. They try to catch us when we are not expecting it. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” Satan and the powers of evil do not always attack us openly. They also like to lull us into complacency or discouragement or error. In The Screwtape Letters, the fictional demon Screwtape writes, “Our policy, for the moment, is to conceal ourselves.” These forces are powerful, wicked, and devious.This is our battle. Paul has outlined God’s purposes in chapters 1 to 5 of Ephesians, and in chapter 6 he reminds us of the existence of a devil who is opposed to those purposes. In a minute, he’s going to tell us how to respond, but first I need to pause here and ask if you’ve really grasped that we are part of this battle against the cunning and powerful forces of evil.Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote:
I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and his ‘fiery darts’. And, of course, because we are not aware of this we attribute all temptation to ourselves. So the devil in his wiliness will have succeeded admirably. We become depressed and discouraged, we feel that we are failures, and we do not know what to do...
The first thing that Paul says in this passage is that we are in a spiritual battle, and this is our enemy.

But secondly, he reminds us of the resources that we must use in this battle.

Verses 10 and 11 say, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.” And then verse 14: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”If you’re scared by the idea that we are in a spiritual battle, that we’re in hand-to-hand combat with spiritual powers that are powerful, wicked, and devious, then you’re smart. Left to ourselves, we’re both overpowered and outmaneuvered. We don’t stand a chance. But Paul reminds us that we haven’t been left to our own resources. He says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God.”What we see here is that Paul gives us an image for the whole Christian life as spiritual warfare. And the way to respond is to use the Lord’s resources: the Lord’s strength, the Lord’s power, and the Lord’s armor. God supplies all that we need in this battle, and it’s more than enough.We could spend weeks unpacking what’s in these few short verses. Martyn-Lloyd Jones took 26 chapters - 736 pages - to unpack the passage that we’re covering this morning. One day I hope to return and cover this passage in more depth, looking at the various pieces of armor that Paul lists for us.But I want to especially highlight one thing that we sometimes miss when we read this passage. Whose armor is this? Verse 13 tells us that it is the armor of God. I don’t think this simply means that it’s armor that God provides for us. It actually goes much further than that. The prophet Isaiah gives us a fascinating picture of God who is offended by sin. He looks around to see if anyone is able to do anything about it, but there is no one. So here is what God does:
He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak. (Isaiah 59:16-17)
This is amazing. God himself puts on armor and goes to battle against his enemies. What does this mean? It means that the Jewish people came to understand that God himself would intervene in this world and on behalf of his people. God himself would come and win victory over evil.And that’s exactly what happened. God himself came in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us images of his victory over Satan. For instance, he said that Satan is like a strong man who has been tied up, and his house is being plundered. He said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). In other words, Satan is being defeated. His authority and power has been broken.And at the cross, God struck a fatal blow against the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of “this present darkness.” Paul tells us in Colossians that Christ “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And Jesus now sits at God’s right hand, having struck a fatal blow against Satan and all evil powers.But - and this is important - Satan is fatally wounded, but he’s not dead yet. His defeat has been accomplished, but he’s in his dying throes. He still continues to send his flaming arrows our way. You may have seen a hockey game with a lopsided score with the clock running out. The losing team has no chance of winning, but there’s bad blood between the two teams. Fights break out in those dying minutes of that game. There’s no way the losing team can win, but they can make it miserable. Satan is like that. He’s been defeated, but he’s still fighting in the dying minutes of the game.So, Paul says, we must strap on the armor that belongs to God and take our stand based on what God has already done for us in the gospel. We’re to put on:
  • the belt of the truth revealed in the gospel;
  • the breastplate of God’s righteousness - putting on “the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24);
  • the shoes of readiness to tell others about what God has accomplished through the gospel;
  • the shield of faith, which means we latch onto God’s promises in the middle of the battle;
  • the helmet of the salvation we have received from God - to live in light of the fact that God has rescued us from death, wrath, and bondage through his salvation; and
  • the sword of Spirit, which is the word about the gospel that comes to us through the Spirit’s power.
Together, God has given us six pieces of his armor that all come back to the gospel. What he’s given us is enough, and yet we have to take up each piece of armor and stand confidently against all the powers of evil. God’s provided the armor; we just have to use it.So, Paul is saying, we face a spiritual battle against enemies who are powerful, wicked, and devious. And the only way we can stand against the enemy is to use the Lord’s resources. We can’t rely on ourselves. If we do, we’re dead. Jack Miller wrote:
What we fail to see is that reliance on people, their capabilities, their keeping their promises, is a demonic faith, a cooperation in heart with the powers of darkness. We join the enemy, Satan, when we fail to rely on the promises of God to move on our behalf.
Satan’s strategy is to get us to rely on ourselves or to lose confidence because of his evil power. But Paul says we must stand against Satan because we are relying on God’s power and the gospel. “Satan is no match for my Jesus. No match at all. One word from Jesus and the whole host of hell must flee” (Miller).Paul closes with an appeal for us to pray. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people” (Ephesians 6:18). Paul says this is how we are to pray: at all times, with all kinds of prayers, with all perseverance (“always keep on praying”), and for all of God’s people. This is compared to how we normally pray: sometimes, with some prayers, with a little perseverance, and for some of God’s people.Theologian John Frame writes:
Our only offensive weapons are the Word of God and prayer. This may seem a puny arsenal to the rulers of this world, but God tells us it has more power than any of those rulers. People sometimes say mockingly, “Well, we can always try prayer.” But God’s weapons are more powerful than anything in the mockers’ arsenal. A gun will subdue a man, but only the sword of God’s Word, wielded in prayer, will subdue Satan. (Salvation Belongs to the Lord)
Somebody else said, “The devil trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.” When we are prayer-less, it shows that we are relying on our own power and have not put on the armor of God. But when we recognize the conflict we’re in, and when we respond by using God’s resources through prayer, then we will be be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Lloyd-Jones said, “There is nothing that is more urgently important for all who claim the name of Christian, than to grasp and to understand the teaching of this particular section of Scripture.” There is nothing more important than understanding the nature of the battle, and understanding the resources we have in the Lord to respond.This is why the two most important things we can do as a church are to continually dwell in what God’s Word tells us about the gospel, and then to rely on the Lord’s power through prayer. Everything else flows out of these two. Without them, nothing else matters.So friends, be strong in the Lord. Understand what we’re part of: we’re part of what God is doing in uniting all things in Christ. Realize that this will not go opposed. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.Let’s pray.
Father, some of us have not realized the type of battle we’re in. We are in a battle that we cannot win if we rely on our own strength. Yet our battle is against a defeated foe, and we cannot lose the battle if we use the resources that you have provided for us.Forgive us for relying on our own power. I pray that we would not only grasp the resources that you have provided for us through the gospel, but that we would use them as we pray.May every person here understand what Jesus Christ has done to save us from sin and death, and to reconcile us to God and to each other. May every person here repent and put their hope in Jesus. And may we as a church massage the gospel into all of our lives, and rely on your power. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.