Clothe Yourself for Spiritual Warfare

Clothe Yourself for Spiritual Warfare

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching on Ephesians 6:14 in our series through Ephesians on Sunday mornings.  As Paul is coming to the close of his letter to the church in Ephesus and the surrounding cities, he points out the reality that the Christian life is a war—and this war is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual beings surrounding us on a regular basis.

It is extremely important to know your enemy—in any type of war situation.  In modern warfare, before engaging in combat, the leaders teach soldiers about the enemy in order to gain as much knowledge before entering the battlefield.  Since our enemy is not flesh and blood, Paul points out the devil and the demonic band as our spiritual enemies.  Paul says that we should beware of the schemes “μεθοδεία” of the devil.  This particular word is from which we derive the English word methods.  It means cunning and craftiness.  Satan’s schemes are real:

  • Satan blinds spiritual eyes so people can’t see the gospel – 2 Corinthians 4:4.
  • Satan hinders God’s children – 2 Thessalonians 2.
  • Satan deceives the nations – Daniel.
  • Satan opposes the holy angels of God – we see this as he fights with Michael.
  • Satan influences the whole world – 1 John 5.

Satan is a real unique personal being – not a force.

  • Satan is called the anointed cherub.
  • Satan is referred to as the prince of the world.
  • Satan is called the prince of the power of the air.
  • Satan is called the spirit who works in the sons of disobedience.

This is why Paul describes the former lifestyle of the Christians in Ephesus in Ephesians 2:2 by saying, “in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”

  • Satan is referred to as the prince of the demons – Luke 11:15.
  • Satan is called “Satan” – meaning adversary – 52 times in the Bible.
  • Satan is called “the devil” – meaning slanderer or one who slanders.
  • Satan is called the “old serpent.”
  • Satan is called the “great dragon.”
  • Satan is depicted as a “roaring lion” – alluding to his power.
  • Satan is called the “Evil one” in John 17:15.
  • Satan is called the destroyer in Revelation 9.
  • Satan is the tempter in Matthew 4.
  • Satan is the accuser of the brethren in Revelation 12.

This is why Paul said earlier in Ephesians 4:27, “give no opportunity to the devil.”  Moving on from knowing your enemy, Paul points out that it’s essential to clothe yourself for battle by putting on the whole armor of God.  Putting on some of the armor will not be sufficient.  The entire armor is needed for protection on the battlefield.

The first two pieces of the armor Paul addresses are the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness.  First, it’s essential to remember that Paul was writing this letter from a prison in Rome—not a hotel beach resort.  As he penned this letter, he was chained to a Roman soldier.  He understood what soldiers looked like and how they were clothed for battle.  He employs this language with imagery to prove his point about the necessity of being prepared for the ongoing spiritual struggle that all Christians face.

In the culture of Paul’s day, everyone wore a long robe (tunic) as a typical outer garment. Men dressed in this manner which provided for comfort and protection against the dry and often windy climate since almost everyone worked outdoors exposed to the sun and elements.

Soldiers would pull up their robe – pulling up and folding their garments and holding everything together with a belt. They would fasten their belt around their waste and it would not only hold in place the outer garment, but it would also hold other pieces of the soldier’s gear.

Consider the purpose of a belt. It secures. It holds everything in place. In this particular scene, Paul is using great imagery. He is pointing to the necessary attitude of a Christian. The follower of Christ must have a mind and heart that is prepared, ready, sober, and fully committed for battle. A half dressed, loosely dressed, casually dressed, solider would never return from the battlefield. Everything has to be in place, secured, fastened, ready, and held tight for the heat of battle.

The word truth “ἀλήθεια” means, “truth; the quality of being in accord with what is true, truthfulness, dependability, uprightness; the context of what is true.”  The Christian is to be a person of truth, one who embraces the truth, one who teaches the truth, one who loves the truth, one who clings to the truth.  The idea here is that the Christian must be convinced of the truth of the gospel and living it out without hypocrisy as he goes off into the spiritual war.  There is no room for passive or loose Christians related to truth.

Paul moves on from the belt of truth to point to another piece of the armor, a very important piece indeed—the breastplate of righteousness.  The solider would go out to war and engage in battle with a breastplate covering his chest area. This plate would be made of metal often having a cloth or leather underside to add comfort and prevent any arrows from penetrating the plate and puncturing the solider in the vital areas of the heart and lungs. In fact this plate would cover the solider from neck to his thighs. It would cover both front and back of the solider.

Paul’s imagery here is key—before you go out to war and engage in battle on the battle field, you must first have on the breastplate of righteousness.  The word righteousness “δικαιοσύνη” actually has a focus on redemptive action or upright behavior.  In this case—both are in view here in Paul’s imagery.  The point Paul is driving home is that a life of holiness is essential to the Christian life.

The call to holiness is seen in places such as Hebrews 12:14 and 1 Peter 1:16.  Without holiness, no person will see the Lord.  Without the breastplate of righteousness, no solider will survive intense spiritual struggle of the battlefield.  It’s essential to prepare yourself as a follower of Christ for war.  The Christian life is not an easy path to the Celestial City.  It’s a hard path full of many of the devil’s schemes.  Will you be prepared for battle?  Arm yourself.  Clothe yourself for war.

Modeling Expository Preaching at the SBC

Modeling Expository Preaching at the SBC

I‘ve been a Baptist my whole life.  I’ve also been a Southern Baptist—meaning that the churches that I’ve been a member of (3) and pastored have all been associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.  Each year at the annual SBC meeting, the pastors’ conference is held in conjunction with the business meeting.  Through the years as I’ve attended the conference, I’ve had moments of great encouragement and I’ve likewise experienced moments of great frustration.  Why?  As a pastor, I see the value of modeling a proper way of biblical preaching in conference settings—and that has not always happened at the annual meeting.

This year was different.  The conference president and his team decided to invite lesser known pastors of smaller churches who would all work together over the two day meeting to preach through the book of Philippians.  While their decision was met with great doubt, the meeting was profitable on many levels—and at the top was the desire to model expository preaching.

The Word—Not the Man

Outside of a couple of speakers at the conference, I had no previous knowledge of the men and their ministries.  At times, we are made to believe that unless a celebrity is speaking (especially in a conference setting), the takeaway will not be as good.  That is not true.  The point of the conference should be to take-in the Word of God rather than the personality of the speaker.  Too often we attend conferences for the personality of the speaker rather than the Word of God.  We need the Word far more than the personality, the celebrity, and all that comes with the more well known speaker.

Expository Preaching Modeled

Years ago, the SBC leaders and churches found themselves in a massive battle over the Bible.  The main issue was biblical inerrancy.  What emerged from that particular era was a profound commitment to the Word of God.  Expository preaching became the focus of professors at the seminary level and this model has greatly helped the Baptist churches and seminaries of the SBC.  In his excellent book, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever explains:

Expositional preaching is not simply producing a verbal commentary on some passage of Scripture. Rather, expositional preaching is that preaching which takes for the point of a sermon the point of a particular passage of Scripture. That’s it. The preacher opens the Word and unfolds it for the people of God. [1]

Mark Dever is a Southern Baptist pastor.  He and others continue to point out the importance of biblical preaching, but year-after-year the pastors’ conference continues to model something other than biblical preaching.  In order to be good stewards of a conference ministry, it’s essential to model biblical preaching to those who will be in attendance.  Rather than church growth seminar talks and a variety of topical sermons—a conference aimed at glorifying God through expository preaching is refreshing.  When you have seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention who major on expository preaching in their preaching classes and you have an annual meeting that majors on topical preaching—somewhere there’s a disconnect.

I attended the conference in person this year in Phoenix.  I learned.  I am grateful for the efforts of the conference organizers and we should strive to make the Word of God and proper preaching the main point of such events.  My parents once taught me a valuable lesson about diet by saying, “Garbage in—garbage out.”  If we model poor sermons at the annual pastors’ conference of the SBC, we can expect pulpits across the nation to reflect that same approach to the pulpit.

  1. Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 26.


15 Reflections on 15 Years of Preaching

15 Reflections on 15 Years of Preaching

This week marks two milestones in my life and ministry.  Beyond the usual Flag Day celebrations (joke), tomorrow marks my 40th birthday.  However, yesterday marked another special day in my life—the 15th anniversary of my first sermon.  Some things preachers never forget, and I still remember preaching on that Wednesday evening to a small group of people on the same church campus where I serve as pastor today.  My text was Luke 23:26-31.  I remember some of my family members coming to hear me preach for the first time, and I also recall that the sermon was much shorter than I preach today.

Over these 15 years of preaching, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about preaching, about people, and about myself.  I have made my fair share of mistakes and I’m grateful to the churches I’ve served for their patience and support of me during those early sermons.  As I was thinking about my preaching recently—like any other man—I want the skill of my occupation to get better.  I want to preach better sermons and I long to become a better communicator of God’s Word.  If the Lord allows me to reflect back again on my preaching after another 15 years—I hope I will be a much better preacher on that day.

As I was reflecting on my time in the pulpit ministry of the local church, here are 15 things I’ve learned and things you should know too if you regularly preach the Word or if you want to know how to pray for your pastor.

  1. Preaching the gospel is a sobering privilege.
  2. Family is important.
  3. Time matters.
  4. Expository preaching is the best method of preaching.
  5. Prayer and preaching belong together.
  6. The Holy Spirit is needed in the preparation of a sermon.
  7. The Holy Spirit is needed in the delivery of a sermon.
  8. The Holy Spirit is needed after delivering a sermon.
  9. The goal of preaching is the glory of God—not to glorify the preacher or his stories.
  10. The gospel is the main thing, and it should be preached in every sermon without allegorical interpretation.
  11. Not everyone will appreciate serious minded preaching.
  12. A unified church staff is key to a preacher’s sermon preparation and preaching.
  13. Preaching is a necessity for the local church and will never be replaced until Christ returns.
  14. Preaching is not teaching, but preaching will involve teaching.
  15. I’m daily reminded that my wife has been my best friend, best encourager, and honest support for the past 15 years.

Time and space will not allow me to explain each of these fully here, but think about each one carefully. I’d love to get coffee with you and talk about each one for an hour or more.  Perhaps point number nine must be consistently revisited because preaching is not about the messenger—it’s all about God.

1 Corinthians 1:18 — For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

The Church’s Prayer

The Church’s Prayer

Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to preach from Matthew 6:5-15 on the subject of the church’s prayer.  We are currently studying the subject of prayer in our Sunday school classes, so the point of the sermon was to reinforce what we’re learning in those classes.  While it’s often referred to as the Lord’s prayer, a closer look points to the reality that the Lord was teaching the church how to pray.

D.A. Carson opens his book, Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reform by saying:

I doubt if there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn.

What is both surprising and depressing is the sheer prayerlessness that characterizes so much of the Western church.   It is surprising because it is out of step with the Bible, which portrays what Christian living should be; it is depressing because it frequently coexists with abounding Christian activity that somehow seems hollow, frivolous, and superficial.

Jesus begins with the model to avoid in prayer.  He provides a couple of examples regrading prayers of hypocrisy.  In one example, Jesus points to the hypocrites who stand in synagogues and on street corners in order to be seen by others as they pray.  Then, at this point, Jesus instructed His followers to go into a private location and spend your time in prayer.

Jesus went on to point out the incorrect method of using great swelling words in order to impress those who are listening.  Have you ever been in a church service where you felt like the person charged with leading the congregation in prayer was going overboard to impress others?  This is something we must avoid as we engage in public prayers.  James Montgomery Boice once spoke the following words to his congregation:

I believe that not one prayer in a hundred of those that fill our churches on a Sunday morning is actually made to Almighty God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. They are made to men or to the praying one himself, and that includes the prayers of preachers as well as those of the members of the congregation. [1]

Jesus moved on to talk about the correct method of prayer.  He began with the vertical aspect of prayer by pointing to the Father in heaven and reverencing His name.  The name of God is to be reverenced—there is no other name higher or greater.  While our prayers are often more horizontally focused, we need to learn to be more connected to who God is and what God has accomplished in our prayer time.

In the model prayer, Jesus teaches the importance of requesting God’s will to be accomplished.  Two aspects are pointed out—God’s kingdom and God’s will.  We learn to pray with an eschatological focus and a present focus.  We learn to look ahead and to look at our lives as they are presently.  The point is that we should ask for God’s will to be accomplished on earth—right now—as it is in heaven.  It is our duty to become more aligned with God’s will and trust Him no matter what.

In that same vein, we are instructed to be needy.  We are to pray for our daily bread and this is important because no matter how much money we have or how many luxuries we enjoy in this life, we must remain needy.  God wants us to continue to see ourselves as needing Him for the basic provisions of life.

Moving on to the spiritual realm, Jesus points His followers to their need for the forgiveness of sins.  This is a conditional prayer that is revisited in verses 14-15, but the point is clear—we need the forgiveness of sins on an ongoing basis—not just at the moment of our justification.  At this point, Jesus points His followers to their need to pray for God to deliver them from the temptation to sin.  Before sin actually occurs in the life of a Christian, there is a need to rely upon God for strength to overcome temptation.

Last of all, Jesus points out what life looks like after prayer.  Prayer in action is a life of forgiveness.  We are brought to a point of humility as a result of spending time with God in prayer.  Therefore, we’re willing to let go of bitterness, holding grudges will pass away, and we will extend genuine forgiveness to others.  However, Jesus makes the clear point that if a person is unwilling to forgive others, no amount of prayer will be good enough for them to receive the forgiveness of sins from God.

How do you pray?  Why do you pray?  When do you pray?  Do you pray?  These are important questions to ask yourself as you examine your own prayer life.

  1. R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 150.


We Are Slaves to a Higher Master

We Are Slaves to a Higher Master

Yesterday I was privileged to preach from Ephesians 6:5-9 as we continue to press on toward the end of our series through Ephesians.  As Paul provided practical instruction on how to live in holy and Christ-honoring relationships in the family, at this point he begins to widen the circle to look outside the immediate family to external relationships.  He begins with the closest group on the outside of the family—slaves.

It’s estimated that by the time of the letter to the Ephesian Christians, the city of Ephesus was approximately 33% slaves.  While there were periods of slavery throughout time in the Roman empire that were harsh and cruel, filled with mistreatment and abuse—by the time of the early church, that type of behavior had been curbed by new Roman law that protected slaves as citizens.  Slavery was a workable system that was not only protected under Roman law, it had long been governed under God’s Law as is evidenced by the language of Exodus 21.

The reason that we don’t see liberation sermons and texts devoted to calling down slavery is because by the time of the early church period, slaves were viewed on a respectable cultural level and the system was respected among the people—including slaves.  It would be an incorrect method to read the slavery mentioned in Ephesians through an American slavery lens.  For instance, slaves in the days of the early church were given education privileges, opportunities to own property, the freedom to own their own businesses, the option to buy their own slaves, and it was often the case that slaves and masters were difficult to distinguish apart.  Perhaps this is the main reason why we don’t see the condemnatory language toward slavery in the New Testament.

With such a large number of slaves and slave owners, the occupational structure of their system needed to be addressed by Paul.  The church at Ephesus would have been populated by slaves and slave owners, and how they treated one another outside the church assembly mattered.  In fact, it would say much about the sincerity of their salvation.  Paul was pressing the church at Ephesus to go beyond a profession of faith to a reflection of their faith in their various different circles of life.

The Responsibility of Slaves

The slave was like an employee of the slave owner.  They worked and had specific job responsibilities to carry out,  Paul points to their need to obey.  He uses the same word found in reference to children obeying their parents.  He then pointed to their need to do so with fear and trembling.  This was a circular phrase that circles back to their rightful relationship with Christ. Slaves were to obey their masters in such a way that they demonstrated a proper fear and respect of Christ.  This attitude produced a proper reverence for their earthly masters.

The sincerity of their salvation was to be reflected in the sincerity of their service to their master.  They were not to work with eye-service, a term likely coined by Paul for the purpose of describing those who work hard while the master’s eyes are watching only to slack off when he turns his back.  They were not merely working to please an earthly man.  They were working before the One who never closes His eyes, never takes a break, never walks away, never goes on vacation, never clocks out and goes home.  Their ultimate service was to Christ Jesus.

The Responsibility of Masters

The responsibility of the Christian master was to go beyond Roman law to the Word of God.  To lead out of love—not fear and intimidation.  The one who uses threats to produce service is a poor leader.  This was what Paul was pointing to in his letter to this church.  Masters were called to lead out of good will toward their slaves—being encouragers rather than discouragers.  William Hendriksen writes, “In other words, ‘Let your approach be positive, not negative.’ Hence, not, ‘Unless you do this, I will do that to you,’ but rather, ‘Because you are a good and faithful servant, I will give you a generous reward.’” [1]

Finally, Paul points to the fact that both masters and slaves have a higher Master who will one day judge all without partiality. We will all have our time before the throne of God – before His majestic and sovereign throne we will be judged. However, as we see here in this text, there is a purpose in all submission and authority roles. It points to Jesus Christ.  Ultimately the ground is level at the foot of the cross (Gal. 3:28).

While it may be difficult to find application to a slave-master context in ancient Ephesus to our present day relationships in our culture—the most natural bridge would be to examine the relationship between employee and employer.  How healthy is your relationship with your boss?  Do you perform labor as unto the Lord or unto an earthly boss?  Do you perform your duties out of a sincere heart or is your labor based on eye-service and people-pleasing?  If you’re a business owner or boss in your place of employment, you should apply the words of Paul to masters to your own role as a leader.  Do you lead out of good will toward your employees?  Are you a burdensome leader?

Remember—we are all slaves to a higher master.  It is our goal to hear these words in the end:

Well done, my good and faithful servant (Matt. 25:21).

  1. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Ephesians, vol. 7, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 265.