The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the armor of God as our way as Christ-followers to confront and disarm the powers and principalities at work in the world. Rich Villodas reminds us that “the powers are not defeated with the weapons of the world, but through the sacrificial love of Jesus.”
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Ephesians 6:10-18
As I mentioned last week, today would be “Part Two” of the two part mini sermon series on what the Apostle Paul calls “the principalities and powers”, the forces of evil or Satanic forces that are at work in the world, who take up residence in individuals, ideologies, and institutions.
In medical terms, last Sunday we looked more at a diagnosis, and today will be more of a prescription, a treatment of how to confront the powers and principalities as people of faith.
Before I get into it, I want to acknowledge that this past week was an earthshaking and emotional week for our country, as there were some major things going on right here in our nation’s capital—
First there were decisions by both Congress and the Supreme Court on gun control legislation, then there were some intense hearings at the Jan. 6 Commission, and then on Friday there was the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
So a lot has taken place in a very short time, and here in this room among us there are probably lots of different emotions, convictions, and opinions going through our minds and our hearts. Especially surrounding the abortion decision, I ask that you especially try to be understanding and show grace to those who see the issue differently than you do.
I want to start with just a couple of quotes from last week as a quick review. First, in the Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis reminds us that:
“There are two equal and opposite errors into which (humans) can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. (The devils) themselves are equally pleased by both errors.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
And then Rich Villodas unpacks the destructive agenda of these devilish forces:
“Powers and principalities are spiritual forces that become hostile, taking root in individuals, ideologies, and institutions, with the goal of deception, division, and depersonalization.” (Good and Beautiful and Kind)
The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the armor of God as our way as Christ-followers to confront and combat these powers and principalities in what people sometimes call spiritual warfare.
We’re going to look briefly and each of these pieces of armor, drawing largely from Villodas chapter on “The Unseen Enemy” in his book, Good and Beautiufl and Kind.
First, there is the belt of TRUTH
Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. And the apostle Paul says to his protégé Timothy that the Church’s role is to be the pillar and foundation of the truth.
But yet truth seems to be in such short supply in our world today, even among Christians. There is so much denial and deception and coverups going on, in individuals, churches, and all the way up to the highest levels of government. The powers and principalities are having a heyday with us.
In the video on Christian Nationalism that we’re going to watch after the service, the speaker gave a statistic which said that misinformation spreads six times faster than the truth.
And he points out that Christians are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories like Q Anon than those who outside of the Church. This is alarming and sad.
To be people who speak the truth helps us to see things more clearly. Naming the deception, the lies embodied in a person or an ideology or an institution is the first step toward disarming its power. Villodas says:
“Whenever we name the powers, we pull back the curtain to see what’s really going on. In this way, naming is apocalyptic. It’s a revelatory act. It is also liberating. I think about this when engaging the power of technology.”
Villodas give the example of the first time he and his wife gave their daughter a cell phone when she was in 7th grade. They drew up a contract with her to explain what she was getting into and the boundaries placed on her use of her phone.
They wanted her to know that a phone’s technology is more than just a little computer processor, a screen, and a data connection. What it really is, is something with tremendous potential to shape a soul. That’s a good thing to remember no matter how old we are!
Jesus said that the truth can set us free. As people who follow the one who was Truth with a capital “T”, let us make sure that we put on the belt of truth.
The second piece of armor is the breastplate of Righteousness.
The Hebrew word for righteousness is justice, so we are called to engage the injustice in the world. There are individual injustices that are committed against people, and there is also systemic injustice in the world.
Unfortunately there are many in the Church and in society who deny systemic injustices. For example, they deny structural racism by labeling it “Critical Race Theory” and then they whitewash history by banning teaching about our nation’s ugly legacy of slavery and other racial injustices.
Again, CS Lewis provides some words of wisdom to us:
My dear Wormwood,
One of the most important tactics for keeping injustice present is convincing the humans that racism or classism is strictly an individual feeling of superiority. Don’t let them focus on the institutional elements of it. Your uncle, Screwtape
Third, our armor should include feet fitted with the… gospel of PEACE
When I think of this image of feet bringing the gospel of peace, I’m reminded of one of my favorite verses in the Old Testament, Isaiah 52:7, where the prophet Isaiah gives hope to the people of Israel when they were exiles in Babylon:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
This is a foreshadowing of the coming of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who showed us the way of peace and calls us to be peacemakers, each in our own way.
As we know, our friend Shane Claiborne has feet that spend a lot of time proclaiming peace in the midst of our society where gun violence causes so much suffering and death.
In his book Beating Guns, Shane talks about a protest that he was involved in with a group of people at a gun shop called the “Shooter Shop”. While they were peacefully protesting, they received death threats by counter protestors,
People who were afraid that their 2nd amendment rights would be taken away from them, and others who made a living off of selling all kinds of guns and ammo. Shane said that the confrontation felt like a spiritual battle for the soul.
We all are in danger of making God—and Jesus—into our own image, to fit our own agendas. And unfortunately, so many people who claim to follow Jesus have lost sight of his identity as the Prince of Peace, and they either create an image of Jesus dressed in military attire, or they think of him as a wimp because he chose not to use violence to save himself from the violence of the those who persecuted and crucified him.
A Colorado congressperson recently spoke at a Christian retreat in the mountains, and she lamented that “Jesus didn’t have enough AR-15’s to keep his government from killing him.” I wonder if she has ever read Isaiah 52:7.
Rich Villodas fleshes out some ways of wearing the armor of the gospel of Peace:
We resist the powers by choosing peaceful, nonviolent resistance to their dominion—a peace that is active, not merely passive…
When we are asked to forget others’ humanity—especially if we disagree with them—we work to remember it twice as hard…
We withstand their influence by becoming an unanxious presence is a world marked by anxiety. Villodas, p. 43
Next, God’s armor involves taking up the shield of FAITH. I won’t elaborate on this too much, because I think Villodas captures it well when he said:
We overcome the powers not through trust in our abilities but through confidence in God’s power. This is why prayer is such a powerful response to the powers… By faith, we open space for the Spirit to form our lives. (p. 44)
I’m reminded of another beautiful verse from Isaiah, 30:15, where he says “In returning to me and resting in me you shall be saved; In quietness and trust shall be your strength.”
There are so many forces at work around us, so many “powers that be”, and we feel lured and tempted us to put our trust in them so that we can be protected, or get a share of that power ourselves.
But let’s remember that the shield of faith focused on the God who is in control over all is our surest defense and greatest hope.
Next, wearing the armor of God means putting on the helmet of SALVATION.
Salvation is a loaded word, and the way that Christians think and talk about it so often is much too narrow– too individualized, too “pie on the sky” focused on the afterlife but not in the here and now.
A biblical understanding of salvation includes a person’s individual relationship with God and their eternal destiny, but it is much deeper. Villodas says that:
The helmet of salvation should include liberation for others… In the announcement of the gospel, we are called to apply its power beyond privatized experiences of faith. p. 44-5
A clear example of salvation as liberation is seen in the Exodus story, when God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt where they were enslaved by Pharoah.
Finally, God’s armor for confronting the powers of evil in the world includes the sword of the Spirit, which Paul says is The Word of God
When I think of the metaphor of the sword in relation to God’s word, I remember a verse that I memorized the summer after I graduated from college.
I was on a six week cross country trip with my best buddy Ditch, and we brought along these little flash cards with Bible verses put out by the Navigators.
Almost every morning when we started driving we would put one of those cards on our dashboard and try to have it memorized by the end of the day.
Even though I’m getting old and my mind often fails me, I still remember a lot of those verses! And I’ve quoted many of them over the years.
Now I know that we have to be careful in quoting scripture, too often it’s been used for proof-texting and it’s been taken out of context. We’re not to use it to beat people over the head like a Bible-thumper, but to bring the truth to light.
One of the verses Ditch and I memorized was Hebrews 4:12 which says:
12 For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to [a]judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Someone commented on this verse saying that “scripture pierces outward appearance to expose inward reality”.
And that’s a good way to explain what Jesus did when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and really throughout his ministry. He quoted scripture to expose a truth that was sometimes hidden beneath what was visible on the outside.
His use of scripture pierced people and situations like a sharp sword and gave him the power to resist, to challenge and to speak truth to power. Villodas says it this way:
When Jesus was tempted, scripture flowed from his lips. When he was challenged, scripture flowed from his lips. When he was crucified, scripture flowed from his lips. One of the ways to live like Jesus is to internalize scripture so that when we are cut, it spills out. P. 45-6
Jesus is our model for wearing the armor of God in order to confront and disarm the powers and principalities and their deception, division, and depersonalization.
I want to end with this quote from Villodas at the end of his chapter on the powers:
All through Jesus’ life, he was disarming the powers…
Every time he welcomed a sinner as worthy of love and belonging, he was rebelling against the powers that neatly divide the world into “us” and “them” categories. Every time he showed solidarity with the poor, he was rising up against the powers of greed.
The powers are not defeated with the weapons of the world. The powers are defeated through the sacrificial love of God. This was true on the cross. It is true for us.
May Jesus’ way of sacrificial love undergird every piece of our armor as we confront the powers that seek to deceive, divide and dehumanize us. AMEN.
Not going to have a sermon response time, but there’s a question I encourage you to reflect upon today and as you go through the week ahead:
For reflection: Which part of the armor of God has helped you, been real to you, in responding to the “powers and principalities”?: Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Faith, Salvation, Word of God