Watching the Taliban retake control of Afghanistan has left many feeling defeated. We have watched women and girls disappear from the streets again in fear they will no longer be able to work, receive an education or leave the house without male accompaniment.
We in the West fear similar attacks to those planned in Afghanistan twenty years ago which took place on 9/11 in America which left almost 3000 dead and demolished the World Trade Centre.
Moslem terrorists continue to attack targets across our cities and throughout the Western world. The persecution of Christians across Northern Africa and the Middle East is much worse.
This week there has been an admission that going to war with those who want to build an Islamic state doesn’t work. We cannot overcome terror with more terror or deeply held convictions with hostility.
Paul’s last words to the church he loved were by letter showing us how we can overcome evil and continue sharing the good news of Jesus in a hostile world. In prison in chains, Paul knew he was probably going to lose his life as a martyr in Rome. Paul also knew there would be many more persecutions to come and there was a need for Christians to be strong however much pressure they were placed under. He signs off with the command, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”
Christians were a tiny minority in a pagan, multicultural city. Their lifestyle set them apart from the immorality and sacrifices to other gods made by most of the population. Their behaviour, like Paul’s could be construed as dangerous for the well being of the Empire for one of the gods the people sacrificed to was the Emperor himself. Christians have a different Lord and allegiance.
If they were to avoid giving in to the cultural norms of society they needed inner strength. With the loss of their leader and founder, the church could have given up. They were weak in comparison to those around them. They were not learned like the Greeks or powerful like the Romans but providing they remained “in the Lord,” faithful, prayerfully listening and receiving from him, they had his power to draw upon.
They had received the same power they had seen set many people free from evil and bring extraordinary healings through Paul’s ministry.
Earthly weapons of warfare would kill those they were called to love. Many earthly battles have been fought in the name of Christ and the outcomes have been far from a witness to the might of God.
The crusades when Moslems and Christians fought each other have left us with many political problems almost a thousand years later. Bernard of Clairvaux used language now used by the Taliban. “Expiate your sins by victories over the Infidels, and let the deliverance of the holy places be the reward of your repentance." "Cursed be he who does not stain his sword with blood."
Bernard’s preaching left many widows in France. The Moslems won anyway and he had the audacity to blame this on the sins of the crusaders.
When we hear Moslem Terrorists calling us infidels and blowing themselves up because they have been promised rewards in Paradise, we need to remember we face evil in the strength of the Lord’s might. Going to war should be a last resort to protect those who would otherwise lose their lives.
Paul writes, “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.”
If our battle was against humans we could defeat them with firearms but it is not.
When we think of genocides across the world we wonder why they happen. In our complex world it is difficult to keep a clear conscience and discern good from evil. We often don’t recognise the ogres of greed and despair within our own lives. We fail to see the faceless evils of the world economy and our money driven society which are leading to the destruction of our planet and life as we have known it.
Empires rise and fall causing many to die in bloody warfare. Though past Empires no longer exist, the powers of evil behind them still influence those who have a lust for money sex and power. People are still deluded by the gods of fame and celebrity.
Paul points to the power of evil we cannot see. We are to put on the whole armour of God, so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Wherever evil comes from, demonic forces, other people or from within ourselves, we need to be constantly on guard and ready to fight it.
Paul uses an extended metaphor based upon the armour of the Roman soldier guarding him to show us how. Paul was cut off from those who loved him, imprisoned and unable to preach, heal or set people free in the name of Jesus. The Roman guards seemed to have all the power.
However, Paul shows us how to equip ourselves with more powerful armour composed of truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and prayer.
He tells us to stand and fasten the belt of truth around our waist. Paul was suffering and would be executed for the truth. He couldn’t offer incense and say the Emperor was Lord because it wasn’t true.
In our post modern, multi-cultural culture where all religions are taken seriously and everything is considered to be relative we need to remember that truth is absolute. Paul knew Jesus had lived and died to forgive him. He had experienced and spoken to Jesus on the road to Damascus when he wrongly believed believers were subversive and was persecuting them. He had experienced the power of the Holy Spirit reaching out to others through him.
Jesus is Lord even though it might sound bonkers to our neighbours. We need to stand on that truth. In a world where it is difficult to discern what is true and false, we need to be people of integrity who fight for truth. We cannot build our churches or society on lies.
We are to put on the breastplate of righteousness. Through Christ, God’s righteousness dwells within us. Those who accuse us whether human or demonic can kill our bodies but they cannot condemn us because Jesus cleanses us from sin and makes us holy within.
As shoes for our feet we are to put on whatever will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. We are called to speak about Jesus to others. When we walk the walk, we must talk the talk. Jesus brings us peace and reconciliation with God as the burden of past sins are lifted and peace with others. We love and listen to others whatever their beliefs, engaging in a dialogue in which we share God’s love in Christ.
“We are to take the shield of faith with which we will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”<sup></sup>
Roman shields were leather, wetted against incoming fire, and large enough to cover the one who carried it and one-third of the person beside him. Roman soldiers used to defend themselves by standing in a circle with their backs to one another which meant the arrows couldn’t reach them.
The church, armed with faith is able to face assaults. Clinging to Jesus when all around seems dark, enables us to look forward to a time when there will be no more evil or death in the world
We are to, “Take the helmet of salvation.” We were saved, we are being saved and we will be saved because Jesus suffered for our sins and the sins of the whole world. We can have confidence in what he has done and trust him to take us safely home to be with him.
The only piece of armour Paul mentions which is used for attack is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We cannot convince people of the truth of our message by are arguments and love alone. Jesus draws people to himself through the Holy Spirit who makes Jesus real and guides us into truth. He speaks through us and for us. Therefore we are to pray in the Spirit at all times and keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. We may not necessarily see what God is doing but he uses our prayers to bring in his Kingdom of justice and peace.
We fight against evil by remaining in Christ and equipping ourselves with armour composed of truth, righteousness, the good news of peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and prayer.
When we do so we will see world situations change and those we are praying for make Jesus their Lord and Saviour.