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.

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.
Honor Your Father and Mother

Honor Your Father and Mother

Yesterday I had the opportunity to preach from Ephesians 6:1-3 as we continued our series through the book of Ephesians.  Although it was Mother’s Day, we were able to point to the necessity of obeying and honoring mothers for their sacrifice and faithful discipleship.  In a day where obedience is ignored and honor is downplayed, the Christian community should major on these responsibilities for the glory of God.

Our culture has successfully attacked marriage and continues to redefine the family to fit into a set of pagan parameters.  When only 50% of households have a married couple and divorce continues to rise, we find a depraved culture seeking independence and self-autonomy and at the heart of this problem is an anti-authority mindset.  This is why fathers and mothers should take seriously the responsibility of discipleship in their homes.  If parents don’t teach the Word faithfully in the home and expect submission to authority, how will the children learn to submit to God?

Fourteen thousand is a large number, but it’s increasingly large when you consider that it’s the number of seat hours for a student who goes through the public school system.  God has given the responsibility of discipleship to the parents, and Christian parents will have to undo those hours by faithful gospel teaching and instruction in the home.  As children build their worldview, it’s essential for them to learn to see the world through a gospel lens as opposed to a lens of secular humanism.  Paul points to the responsibility of parents by echoing the voice of Moses from Deuteronomy 6.

I remember a guy from middle school who always dressed in dark shirts with strange graphics and dark messages.  He had shirts that were not exactly purchased at Wal-Mart and it took some effort to get those back in the day especially since we didn’t have the reach of the Internet when I was in the sixth grade.  One of his shirts read “Anarchy.”  The idea of no authority is a pleasant thought to many people who have a rogue attitude toward authority figures — but that type of thinking is listed in Scriptures alongside other serious sins such as murder and sexual misconduct (2 Tim. 3:1-5; Rom. 1:28-32).  Authority is not a bad thing, but we learn authority under the faithful teaching of Godly parents.

Paul quotes the fifth command from our Ten Commandments and adds a commentary regarding the blessing that comes to those who follow it.  Land and rest was always a promise for the ancient Israelites in the wake of the Exodus, but as things progress we see that Jesus is actually the fulfillment of all blessings.  Children who learn to submit in their homes will learn to submit to God.  Voddie Baucham is on target as he says, “We do marriage according to Dr. Phil, raise our children according to Dr. Spock, govern our sex lives according to Dr. Ruth, and only run to Dr. Jesus when things have gotten so bad we can’t find another doctor to help us.” [1]  In order to disciple our children in the right direction, we need faithful mothers who take parenting seriously.  Praise God for our mothers!

  1. Voddie Baucham, Family Driven Faith, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 35.


Why Should Husbands Love their Wives?

Why Should Husbands Love their Wives?

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach from Ephesians 5:26-33 in our ongoing series through the book of Ephesians.  As we recall, Ephesus was a vile and wicked city.  With the temple of Artemis as a central attraction, the people would often engage in sexual perversions through temple idolatry and pagan worship.  This led to a downgrade of marriage.  Broken marriage vows were normative in Ephesus.  That’s why Paul was addressing this letter to Ephesus and the surrounding churches in other cities—as a means of putting on display the gospel through faithful covenant keeping marriages.

While Ephesus was horrid and overrun with idolatry and sexual promiscuity, Paul desired for the church in the city to exemplify what Christian doctrine through their marriage relationships.  These are valuable lessons for us to consider in our culture as well.

Love of Sanctification

As we look at the hinge between Ephesians 5:25-26, we see the familiar purpose clause used by Paul. This indicates the overarching reason for husbands loving their wives like Jesus loves the church in a sacrificial manner. The purpose is delivered in three clear purpose clauses:

  1. That he might sanctify her
  2. That he might present her to himself
  3. That he might enable her to be holy and blameless

What does this mean?  Paul is simply delivering the purpose behind the command that’s given in Ephesians 5:25.  While husbands are given a weighty command, Paul seeks to explain the purpose that drives it.  In the verses that follow, Paul outlines the responsibilities of the husband in cultivating his wife in godliness.

In sanctification, Jesus washes the church with the water of the Word.  This is analogous of the Jewish bridal bath prior to the wedding.  As the bride would be cleansed and purified—not only in a symbolic manner, but in a literal and physical cleansing, so Paul picked up that type of language and used it in the realm of spiritual cleansing.

In the presentation, Jesus presents His own bride to Himself having cleansed her.  While in Jewish customs, the friend of the bridegroom would be charged with the presentation, it’s Jesus Himself who presents His own bride.  Likewise, He presents her without spot and blemish—holy and blameless before Himself.  The goal in God’s electing love (Eph. 1:3-4) is that the church would be holy and blameless.  The same goal is mentioned in Ephesians 5:25-27 regarding Jesus’ atoning love.  God has a purpose for our lives and that purpose is holiness.

All of this work of Jesus in the sanctifying love of the church is applied directly to the husband’s relationship to his own wife.  What a tremendous and weighty charge.  This means that the husband should be discipling his wife.  What she is reading matters.  The things she is watching on television matters.  The choice of music and other entertainment outlets matter.  While the husband isn’t called to treat his wife like a child by restricting her from Internet usage and certain television shows, he should be leading her away from carnality and toward more healthy choices.  Replace shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette with other options that uphold the sanctity of marriage and the purity of the marriage bed.

While it’s extremely easy for husbands to plan and organize a fun vacation time with beach activities, boating, skiing, and other fun adventures for 7-10 days each year, it’s often difficult to plan and organize spiritual advancements.  In other words, how many husbands plan and organize a good gospel conference for his wife to glean spiritual truths over 2-3 days?  How many husbands try to free up their wives on Saturday so that she can go in the morning and meet with faithful women over coffee and talk about the gospel?  In short, all wives need to be discipled and cleansed with the gospel.  The only way to do this is for the husband to love his wife as his neighbor (see Lev. 19:18; Luke 10:25-37).  Peter O’Brien comments:

Christ gave himself to the church to make her holy by cleansing her. This cleansing was effected by a spiritual washing brought about through Christ’s gracious word in the gospel. His love for the church is the model for husbands in its purpose and goal, as well as in its self-sacrifice (v. 25). In the light of Christ’s complete giving of himself to make the church holy and cleanse her, husbands should be utterly committed to the total well-being, especially the spiritual welfare, of their wives. [1]

Love of Physical Intimacy

As Paul finishes this section on husbands and wives, he points to the creation mandate for sexual intimacy (leaving and cleaving) and points out how the two become one flesh.  While this is a mystery regarding Christ and the church, Paul points to the relationship of the husband and his wife as an extremely strong bond—one that transcends all other earthly relationships.  This is why divorce is so heart shattering.

As we consider the relationship between a man and his wife – the union that occurs between the two individuals in their physical love for one another makes them one. Yes, one in mind and heart or even one in purpose—speaking about unity, but it certainly means one physically.  Through the physical love of a husband and his wife – they become one flesh – and this bond surpasses all other relationships.

  • It’s a greater bond than mother and daughter.
  • It’s a greater bond than father and son.
  • It’s a greater bond than the best of friends.

When we consider how this mysterious and high love is depicted between Christ and His church – we will be less likely to open the eye gate to pornography and to cheapen the marriage bed.

Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

May the world hear our preaching and see our gospel put on display through the faithful covenant keeping marriages within the local church.

  1. Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 423–424.