Last week we began studying the last section of Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. Throughout Paul’s letter he has been encouraging the brothers and sisters in Ephesus by teaching them about the many, many, blessings that God has showered upon His people. Paul taught them that they have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3). Paul taught them who they are in Christ…they have been chosen, predestined, and adopted as God’s own people (Ephesians 1:4-5). He has taught them what they are, corporately, as the Body of Christ…He has destroyed the dividing wall that separates people because of race, ethnicity, culture, and every other particularity that we use to divide, and He has made us one Body (Ephesians 2:14-19). He has taught them why they are to go about doing the good works of God…They are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). He has taught them how to interact with those closest to them; husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, employers, slaves, and employees…they are to mutually submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21-6:9). He has alerted them to the fact that their enemy is not any person, but spiritual forces in unseen places. He has shown them how they are to defend against the attacks of the enemy and how they are to engage the enemy with spiritual weapons (Ephesians 6:10-17). Every lesson, every truth, that Paul has so passionately shared with the people of Ephesus is applicable for you and me. You can go to the best schools in the nation, you can gain an Ivy League education, and not learn more relevant, powerful truths than what we’ve learned in the months that we’ve been studying Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus.
I want to spend our last session together taking a closer look at the last two items on Paul’s list of the weapons of our warfare. The vast majority of Bible teachers say that there is only one offensive weapon for the followers of Jesus and it is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Technically that is true, but I’ve attached verse 18 to the Scripture that precedes it for a very good reason. Any army that has all kinds of weaponry available to them, but does not know what particular weapon to use, when to use it and how to use it, is sure to suffer defeat. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are no different. We can have all of the spiritual tools or weapons available, but if we don’t know how to use them, if we are not focused and alert, then we are sure to be defeated. This is exactly where many of us as followers of Jesus are today. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 6:17-18 and then we will talk more. Paul writes,
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. (Ephesians 6:17-18 NIV)
All of the items Paul listed in verses 14-17 are defensive, they are given to us to protect us against the attacks of Satan, but when we come to the “sword of the Spirit” everything changes. The sword of the Spirit not only enables us to defend ourselves against the attacks of the enemy, but it is an offensive weapon given to us by God. Isn’t it interesting that Paul spells out for us what is the “sword of the Spirit?” It is “the word of God.” It is interesting that the word Paul uses here is not the same word that John used in John 1 when he wrote,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 NIV)
The word used by John is the Greek word, “logos.” The word that Paul uses here is the Greek word, “rhema.” The word John uses is the word for “speech, teaching, divine revelation, or knowledge.” It is more of a general term whereas the word that Paul is using in Ephesians is more specific. John MacArthur writes,
The term Paul uses here for ‘word’ is not ‘logos,’ which refers to general statements or messages, but is ‘rhema,’ which refers to individual words or particular statements. The apostle is therefore not talking here about general knowledge of Scripture, but is emphasizing again the precision that comes by knowledge and understanding of specific truths. Like Jesus did in the wilderness, we need to use specific scriptural truths to counter specific satanic falsehoods. That is why Paul counseled Timothy, ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.’ (2 Timothy 2:15) (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 370)
What Paul was teaching the folks in Ephesus and what we can learn from this is that we are to overcome Satan’s attacks by the particular words or portions of the Bible. To be able to utilize God’s Word we have to know God’s Word. In order to know God’s Word we have to spend time with God’s Word. There’s a group of folks who began memorizing Scripture with me at the first of the year. Each week we are hiding a portion of God’s Word in our hearts. I’ve been amazed at the emails I’ve received from some of these folks who’ve run into situations where some of the Scripture they have tucked away has proven to be so applicable for their situation. That is exactly what Paul is talking about when he uses the word, “rhema,” rather than “logos.”
The greatest example we have of using God’s Word in this way is found in Scripture, when Jesus was fasting in the wilderness for 40 days. After 40 days of having nothing to eat, Satan came to visit Jesus. He said,
3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Matthew 4:3 NIV)
For Jesus to perform a miracle and provide food in a supernatural way was not wrong. There are examples of Jesus doing this in Scripture. The very first miracle Jesus performed was turning water into wine at a wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). On at least two other occasions Jesus performed a miracle by feeding more than 5,000 people with a few fish and some bread (Matthew 14:13-21 and Matthew 15:29-39). So, you can see that Jesus performing a miracle to provide food was not what was wrong with the proposition of Satan. What was wrong was that the Holy Spirit had led Jesus into the wilderness to fast and be alone with God. Eating wasn’t part of God’s plan for Jesus at this point in His life. Satan’s proposition would take Jesus away from God’s purpose for His time in the wilderness. Rather than explain all of this to Satan or to try and reason with him, Jesus quoted a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3.
3 …man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3 NIV)
Jesus quoted from the Old Testament over and over again. This was His way of defending Himself as well as ministering to others. Let me give you an example. In Mark 7, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were questioning Jesus. Let’s pick up in verse 5.
5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.” (Mark 7:5-8 NIV)
Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13. Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible again and again and again…78 times in all. Jesus quoted from the Pentateuch, the first five books of Moses, 26 times. He quoted from Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, and Malachi. He referred to the Hebrew Bible, or what we know as the Old Testament, as “The Scriptures,” “the word of God,” and “the wisdom of God.”
Jesus not only used the Old Testament to defend Himself; He also used it to minister to the needs of people. After Jesus was crucified and resurrected many of His followers were unaware–despondent and weary. A couple of them were walking down a road on their way to Emmaus one day. Their heads were hanging down. They had put all of their hopes in Jesus. They just knew that He was the long expected Deliverer from God, but now He was dead. While they were walking and talking a Stranger comes up alongside them on the road and begins to quiz them. They said, “Haven’t you heard?” The Stranger said, “Heard what?” Then they began to tell Him the story about Jesus. After they finished telling the Stranger the details, Jesus, said,
26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:26-27 NIV)
Did you notice that? Jesus didn’t try to convince them by reason or logic that everything that had happened was part of God’s plan—He began with Moses and the prophets and explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures. After Jesus finished having a meal with them and explaining the Scriptures, He was gone. Then we read in Luke 24:32,
32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32 NIV)
Their hearts were on fire as Jesus opened the Scriptures for them. What an amazing, powerful story for you and me. Throughout Jesus’ ministry He used the Word of God to teach, rebuke, correct, and train His followers and others. By using the Word of God, Jesus set an example for His followers, and they were taking notes. The Apostles quoted the Old Testament 263 times in the letters they’ve written which are included in the New Testament! The Apostle Paul quoted the Old Testament 93 times!
God’s Word is powerful my friend. God’s Word is a light and a lamp to us in a dark world. The writer of Hebrews tell us,
12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)
In Isaiah we learn that God says that His Word will never, no never, “return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV) Why is so much made of God’s Word in Scripture? Why are we, as followers of Jesus, so adamant that there is no other authority, no other guide, no other comfort, and no other counsel for us other than the Word of God? That’s a great question.
In our day there has been a growing trend in society, and sadly in the Church, to diminish the authority of the Word of God. Unbelievers place ultimate authority for life in one’s “own truth.” Just last month Rihanna was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine. One of the questions they asked her was about Chris Brown, the boyfriend who beat her a few years ago. Rihanna and Chris are back together again. Seems crazy doesn’t it? If any of you saw the pictures of Rihanna after Chris physically beat her you would wonder if Rihanna has lost her mind to go back to him. Rihanna responded to Rolling Stone’s question by saying that she basically reconciled with Chris for her own happiness. She says,
I wasn’t going to let anybody’s opinion get in the way of that. Even if it’s a mistake, it’s my mistake. After being tormented for so many years, being angry and dark, I’d rather just live my truth and take the backlash. I can handle it… (Rolling Stone, 1/30/13)
“My truth.” That’s it. That’s our ultimate authority. I’ve got news for you. Your truth isn’t the Truth and therefore it is false and you are sure to mislead yourself.
There are others who are followers of Jesus, attend church on a regular basis, but they believe that Scripture plus something else is our final authority. The “plus something” could be tradition, experience, the Church, etc. Whatever configuration they come up with, that is what they say is their final authority. The Church and tradition are important, but where they deviate from Scripture they must change. Have you noticed some of the teachings that have been coming out of the Church lately? It’s not rooted in Scripture I can tell you that. And then there is “tradition.” Do you know what tradition is? “Tradition” is those things that are most important to the particular groups of Jesus’ followers. It’s the Baptist way, the Presbyterian way, the A.M.E. way, or the Pentecostal way. Any “way” that deviates from the teachings of Scripture is not the THE way and will eventually lead you astray.
Martin Luther stood up to the traditions of the Catholic Church because he saw them as opposed to the teachings of Scripture. The pressure was turned up on him when the Pope threatened to excommunicate him on June 15, 1520 if he would not renounce his teachings. Luther wouldn’t budge.
In April of 1521, Luther was told to appear before the Diet of Worms, a gathering of secular authorities which included Emperor Charles V. Luther was given another chance to renounce his teachings. If he was found guilty of heresy he would be declared an outlaw and anyone who found him could kill him without penalty. Luther asked for a day to think about it. The next day he appeared before the Emperor once again. Luther spoke to the Emperor and all of those gathered. He said,
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
There is no higher authority for the believer than the Word of God. Why? Because it is God’s Word. So many people today say, “Well, you know the Bible was written by people.” There is an element of truth to that statement, but it is only a partial truth. We read in 2 Peter 1:20-21,
20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NIV)
It is the Word of God. God used people to write down His Truth, but make no mistake about—it is His Truth. It is the first and last authority for any person who desires to follow Jesus and walk in God’s will for their life. James Montgomery Boice tells a powerful story about the French philosopher, Emile Cailliet, who eventually settled in America and became a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. Emile had received a great education, but an education that left God out of the curriculum. Even though he had the best education that money could buy, Emile had always felt like something was missing from his life. He finally came to the conclusion that what he really needed was a “book that would understand me.” He didn’t know a book like that so he decided that he would write one. As he came across moving passages in his studies he would copy them down, index them, and then be able to read them whenever he was despondent.
The day came when Emile finished his book and went outside to sit down and read the book that would understand him. His hopes were high, but as he read a feeling of disappointment came over him. The book didn’t work, and the reason it didn’t work, as he then realized, was that it was his own making.
At that time his wife came up to him with a Bible. He had never seen a Bible in his life, and his wife was almost afraid to give it to him. He had always been so insistent that the Bible not be in his house. Emile grabbed the Bible from his wife and began to read it. Here is what happened as described by Emile Caillet himself:
I read and read and read—now aloud with an indescribable warmth surging within…I could not find words to express my awe and wonder. And suddenly the realization dawned upon me: This was the Book that would understand me! I needed it so much, yet, unaware I had attempted to write my own—in vain. I continued to read deeply into the night, mostly from the gospels. And lo and behold, as I looked through them, the One of whom they spoke, the One who spoke and acted in them became alive to me…To this God I prayed that night, and the God who answered was the same God of whom it was spoken in the Book. (Caillet, Emile. Journey Into Light. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968. pg. 18)
The Word of God is able to transform your life and mine. The Word of God is our first and greatest weapon in the battle that we must fight each and every day. The Word of God is our greatest tool to minister to the needs of people. If this is true, and I know that it is, why do we not thirst for more and more of God’s Word? You need the Word of God my friend. Begin today to read it, memorize it, and utilize it in your daily life.
Before we go I want us to take a look at verse 18 where Paul calls us to pray. The urgency and passion that flows from Paul’s pen should grip each of us and convince us of the necessity of prayer. Read along with me.
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. (Ephesians 6:18 NIV)
Did you notice it? Did you notice how many times Paul uses the word “all?” He says that we are to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions.” He says we are to “pray with all kinds of prayers and requests.” He says we are to “always keep on praying…” He says that we are to “pray for all of God’s people.” Can you list for me the number of scenarios and situations that call for prayer? They are limitless aren’t they?
I want to clarify something for us this morning. When Paul says that we are to “pray in the Spirit” he is thinking of something very specific. Some today will tell you that Paul is calling for the brothers and sisters to speak in tongues or some other mystical endeavor, but that is not what he is thinking of at all. Paul himself spoke in tongues. He tells us that in his letter to the church in Corinth. The church in Corinth was a mess because folks were misusing their spiritual gifts. Paul wrote to try and correct the problem. Paul says,
18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:18-19 NIV)
If Paul was intending for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to utilize the gift of tongues then he would have told them, but that’s not what he says. He says, “pray in the Spirit” and by that he means to pray in accordance with, or by the Spirit of God. Our prayers are not to be selfish “wish lists’ recited mindlessly before the throne of God, but they are to be informed and molded by the Spirit of God and the Word of God. The Holy Spirit desires to line up our prayers with God’s will for our lives.
What are we to pray about? Paul says that we are to pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests. Is it a problem that is plaguing you? Pray. Is there a big decision to be made in your life? Pray. Are you in a spiritual battle? Pray. Do you have family and friends who are unbelievers? Pray. Is your marriage on the rocks and you feel helpless and hopeless? Pray. Is your child making bad decisions? Pray. We need to pray when the battle is intense and we need to pray when the waters are calm. We need to pray when times are joyous and wonderful and we need to pray when the bottom falls out and we are crushed.
I want to close our time by sharing with you a Scripture I read this past week. In Matthew 14 there is a tragic story about John the Baptist. Herod didn’t like John the Baptist because John had spoken out publicly when Herod had divorced his first wife and married Herodias, the wife of his half-brother Philip. When John the Baptist spoke out Herod had him arrested.
Herod threw the party of all parties for his birthday. There were high ranking government officials, army officers, and all of the dignitaries and debutantes from Galilee present at the party. Herod’s daughter, Herodias, came out and did a dance for all of the guests that thrilled everyone’s heart. After she finished, Herod said, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” Herodias asked her mom, “What should I ask for?” Her mom said, “Ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” She went back to Herod, with a room full of guests all around, and said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Herod didn’t want to do it, but he had all of his buddies surrounding him. He called for the executioner, sent him to the prison where John was being kept, and sometime later John’s head was brought back to give to Herodias.
What a tragedy. How in the world can you make sense of the senseless beheading of John the Baptist? Can you imagine the emotions that flooded the hearts and minds of John’s disciples? At the end of the story Matthew tells us,
12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14:12 NIV)
Confused. Angry. Filled with sorrow. Feeling lost without John. Furious at Herod. Asking, “why?” They went and told Jesus. Do you know that I have searched the Scriptures and I have not found one place where Jesus gave them an answer as to why it happened. There’s a great lesson for you and me in that story my friends. What is most important for you and me is not that we get answers. What’s most important is that we go to Jesus. We must tell Jesus. What is it that is wearing you out? You need to go tell Jesus. Is the boss berating and belittling you? Go tell Jesus. Are you sick, not feeling well, and doctors don’t seem to be able to provide any answers? That is a situation that can be so depressing. Rather than allow yourself to fall into the pits of depression you need to go tell Jesus. Are you having financial problems? Can’t sleep at night because you are worrying if you will be able to keep the electricity on? Go tell Jesus. Tell Him everything. Don’t hold anything back. He knows already, but you need to go to Him.
With the Word of God and persistent, sincere, unceasing prayer we will fight the battles that come our way and emerge victorious. God will use the battles we fight to mold us, shape us, and teach us that we can trust Him regardless. Let’s take this time at the end of our service this morning to go to Jesus. Let’s pray.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 24, 2013