Lent – Day 40: Saturday, 3 April
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. 13 Therefore put on the full armour 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 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.
Paul reminds his listeners that there is a spiritual battle going on. The world will not see it, though it may be entwined in it. Few would disagree that the supply of illegal drugs, human trafficking (with its links to prostitution, pornography and slavery), gambling and knife crime are a blight on our world. How about instances of corporate greed, stock market speculation and asset stripping? What do we say to international corporations that make billions and still avoid their tax responsibilities? And what is going on when people’s faith and religion are being twisted and distorted by extremists? The Church has to come clean before God in terms of its witch-burnings and inquisitions of the past, and its more recent failures around safeguarding.
Could there be dark forces that lead us and others astray? Could we be influenced by “the Spirit of the Age”? Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the earth. He could not offer them if they were not his to offer – Jesus knew who he was dealing with.
There are strong voices of humanism that are seeking to prise away any faith-based connection with the establishment – bishops in the House of Lords, collective worship in schools, for instance – that they see as unwarranted religious privilege. Their arguments are persuasive. There are scientists who promote their atheism as scientifically-proven, and philosophers who make cogent arguments against “religious superstitions”.
Paul, who knew only about his world, does challenge us today with the words he has written in verse 12 above. He describes an empire of darkness and evil. There’s a war going on, and we need to be kitted up for it. He lays out his kit list. He believes these are necessary items for the fight.
Let’s take just one item – the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, the Bible. Jesus used this when he was tempted by Satan. It is our only source book – trust nothing that is handed down that does not have its basis and continuing expression in the Bible. Any traditions that cannot be justified in the Word are to be treated with caution. The Holy Spirit, the provider of the kit we need, will arm us appropriately, but could the Holy Spirit prompt me with words from holy scripture if I have not bothered to read and learn them? Soldiers need drill.
Almost as a throwaway line, he tells us to pray in the Spirit at all times. I believe we should do as Paul suggests, and just do it.
How well does Onward, Christian Soldiers match Paul’s words?
Is Paul serious in saying that we should all be praying in the Spirit at all times?
How much do you trust the Bible?
How well do you know your Bible?
Father God, I pray that the message of Easter becomes clearer by your Holy Spirit’s prompting, and that I turn every aspect of my life to the purposes of the Good News of the Kingdom. Inspire me and my Church fellowship to proclaim Christ Jesus to our neighbourhood. In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.