Do you consider yourself to be a strong person? How strong? Maybe you are emotionally strong. Maybe you can handle a lot of pressure, work for long hours, day after day after day. Maybe you are the one who is the emotional anchor in your family and everyone leans on you for support.
There are lots of kinds of strength. But the most important one is the strength you need in Jesus. True Christian strength is not bodily strength. True Christian strength is of the spirit, measured in faithfulness, trust and perseverance. The Lord wants you to be strong. There are so many things to fight in this world. For instance, you can fight sickness, fatigue, death of loved ones, failure of your plans and hopes, questions without answers and pain. Yes, we do fight in this world. But we also fight in the spiritual world.
If you and I are going to survive spiritual warfare, thrive in the midst of it, even triumph over it, then we must understand what Paul means in this letter when he says, "For we struggle not against enemies of flesh and blood." Our spiritual fight isn't against any physical being, but instead against that power that controls the dark world. Next Paul tells us that we have to stand. He repeats himself: stand! I believe he means several things. Stand up to the powers of darkness, defy them. He also means withstand them; don't give in. He even means, stand up and be counted; let everyone know where you stand.
It's at our weakest point when we are in danger of falling flat on our faces. Likewise, at our strongest point we are in danger of becoming self-important and therefore deluding ourselves, becoming vain, contemptuous of others, and defiant toward God; in short, spiritually blind. The evil can get us when we are weak and when we are strong, and get us with equal ease. We are much more vulnerable than we think.
According to the Apostle Paul, the only thing for us to do is to put on the armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, light and flexible shoes, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. In other words, the defense we all have is the gospel. When the Christian community wields the gospel, we do not hide in a corner, huddled together to protect ourselves from a bleak world. We stand together and announce the truth of God at all times and in all places.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, the Christian community there was tiny. Five houses /churches - 75 Christians, perhaps - in a city of 1 million. Yet Paul wanted to get to Rome to share the gospel. His prison accommodations weren't what he had in mind, I don't think, but he was there, and he could wield the sword of the Spirit - the gospel's good news.
Seventy-five Christians in a city of 1 million isn't much, but they were one in the Spirit, knowing that God provides for God's people, and that in their spiritual conflicts God's people must "put on" the armor God provides. And once, having put on the armor, God's people must go out into the world with the sword of the gospel and win greater and greater victories, spreading the Word of God, and the love, the joy and the peace that comes from a relationship with God. Today, my friends, we are all in this battle together once again, and with God's armor, we too will be victorious. Read: Ephesians 6: 10-20
The Rev. Jerry Oliver is the pastor of the Mayfield United Methodist Church, and the Northampton United Methodist Church at Fish House.