A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/13/00
Two years and 85 sermons ago (with breaks for summers etc.) we began our sojourn in Ephesians. Today we come at last to the last lap, the final section, the beginning of the end. "Finally," says St. Paul. Finally what? Finally realize that every lesson we have learned is not just abstruse theory, dry theology, high-flown rhetoric, or even principles for a better life; they are issues under contention in a pitched spiritual battle, a life-and-death struggle for the souls of men, the destiny of the world, and the glory of God. Therefore, Paul wants to fortify us for that conflict in this passage. We will try to assist him in that task by considering the Issues at stake, the Enemy who confronts us, and the Armament we are provided with to meet him.
The Issues at stake involve our whole concept of what the Christian faith is. I will look at this concept from three angles which are really three ways of talking about the same thing. First, our Concept of Salvation. Typically, American Christians act as if they think salvation is "about me." I get to escape Hell, I get to go to Heaven, I get to have personal peace, I get health and wealth (in the more blatant versions), and I get to feel good all the time. But the biblical emphasis in general, and particularly in Ephesians, is that salvation is about God. In Eph. 1:6, 1:12, 1:14, the glory of God is the main purpose of salvation, not a side-effect or an afterthought. Not that we do not benefit, but that we are not the central focus, the central issue. God's eternal purpose is to bring glory to his Son by saving sinners and uniting them in one Body, the Church. Everything about salvation is focussed on that end.
The second issue is the Role of the Church. Typically, we act like we think the Church is a semi-optional club for believers, a kind of afterthought to salvation cooked up by God in case we felt the need for a support group. In other words, we think that the Church is "about me." It exists to meet my felt needs, and is to be judged--and pursued or neglected--as it seems relevant to those immediately felt needs. But biblically, and especially in Ephesians, the Church is about Christ. Look at Eph. 2:19-22, 3:8-10, 4:11-16, 5:25-27. God's eternal purpose is to create in the Church an eternal Temple to the glory of his Son, using redeemed sinners as living stones. Through the Church his wisdom will be made known to principalites and powers in the heavenly places. It is the Church that Christ died for. God's purpose is to gorfy his Son, and the Church is the arena in which that glorification takes place. Therefore, the Church is not something added on to salvation because Christians need support--it is central to God's whole purpose from the beginning. The Church does not exist for believers (though it does do them a lot of good), but they exist for the Church. If they do not become load-bearing stones in the walls of the Temple, then to that extent the whole purpose of salvation is frustrated.
The third issue is the Identity or self concept of the Believer. Typically we think of ourselves (rightly) as the children of God. But actually, we act as if we were thinking not of a Father but rather a doting Grandfather in Heaven whose whole aim is to spoil us. Biblically, especially in terms of Ephesians, we are load-bearing stones in the walls of that great Temple to Christ, the Church. In other words, once again the question is whether salvation is ultimately about me, or about Christ.
The bottom line then of the way Paul ends this Epistle, which has been concerned to address specifially these issues, is that these are not principles we can afford to take for granted. They are contrary to our basic fallen nature, which is programmed to believe that everything is about us, and they are opposed, both subtly and openly, by the Enemy of our souls. Therefore, they are going to have to be struggled for.
That leads us to the consideration of our Enemy. It is the Devil and all his minions. What is their objective in this conflict? If God wants to glorify his Son, Satan wants to usurp that glory, or failing that, to obscure and distort it. He was the first person in history to think that it is all about me. Therefore, Satan has a vested interest in the typical views of Salvation, the Church, and the Believer. If he cannot prevent us from becoming Christians, he wants to co-opt us by infiltrating our minds and hearts with the assumption that salvation is ultimately about us. Thereby, he effectively prevents the Church from fulfilling its purpose, which is to glorify Jesus Christ. Instead, it is divided by personal interests, and pitches itself toward the consumer ("it's about me") mentality, offering the world a shallow and twisted version of biblical faith.
The Implications of this Enemy are, first, that we must not expect an easy path if we wish to be faithful to the biblical concept of salvation and the Church. Second, that we must not depend on our own strength or wisdom. To do so is to make it about me again, and to go down to certain defeat even if intellectually we have picked up the right concept. And finally, we must not mistake the victims for the enemy. We wrestle not with flesh and blood. Therefore, we must oppose this shallow and corrupted Christianity at every opportunity and give it no quarter, but always treat its human incarnations with compassion rather than contempt. For, if we are struggling for the Christianity set forth in Ephesians, we must not forget 2:8-10. There but for the Grace of God we would be. These people are victims of the real Enemy, and to be treated as such.
Finally, the Armament God gives us for the prosecution of this war. We will be saying more about that in the coming weeks. For now, just a few preliminary observations. First, only through God can this battle be won. It must be by His armor wielded in His strength, or we shall surely fail. Second, it must be the Whole Armor. We cannot pick and choose what parts of biblical faith we are to follow. It must be the whole counsel of God: the individual and the church; doctrine and practice; justification and sanctification; God's love and his holiness; the intellect and the emotions. If it were about us, we could pick those parts that we liked. But it is about Him, and we have no right to do so.
Are you prepared to fight for a spirituality, a doctrine, a Christian life, a Church that is whole, i.e. that is about Christ rather than us? If not, you will not have them. If so, then be strong in the Lord and in power of His might, and put on the whole armor of God, so that having done all, you may stand.
Here endeth the lesson.