The very blessings of the church set us in a sort of conflict, that, without such blessings, we should not have. Thus we are subject to more of failure and evil. A Jew might do many things that would be monstrous in a Christian, and find no defilement of conscience. The veil being rent, the light shines out, and the consequence is, that the light coming from the holiest cannot tolerate evil.
Blessed be God, we have power to meet the difficulties of our position; and this epistle brings out the provision which God has made for the saints.
The church is seated "in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 2:6) - blessed with all spiritual, blessings in heavenly places in Christ. (Eph. 1:3.) So also are we said to contend with spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. (Ver. 12.) We are carried into conflict in the very place of strength; for the nearer we are to God, the more we want strength to walk there.
Israel, when they had got into the land, found the consequences of sin desperate. What a terrible slaughter at Ai, for the sin of Achan! (Joshua 7) And again the consequences of neglecting to ask counsel of the Lord about the men of Gibeon went on for generations, even to Saul's time. (2 Sam. 6) In the land where God was, and took His place, the consequences of sin were proportionate.
By virtue of our privileges we get this conflict. Moreover, if you and I have more knowledge than many other Christians, there will be more dishonour and failure amongst us than amongst other Christians, unless we are walking according to the light.
"Be strong in the Lord." (Ver. 10.) Here is the place of strength - strength found only in Him. Whatever instrumentality He may be pleased to use, there is no object of faith but the Lord Himself. Whilst there is nothing more blessed than the ministry of the word, and also, if I have been instrumental in the conversion of a soul, through God's blessing, that soul will cleave to me; and rightly so, it is of God, and God owns it (for if He breaks that which is of the flesh, He creates that which is of the Spirit: God gives it - it may be abused, yet God makes the link between the one blessed and the instrument); yet you cannot exercise faith in man, you cannot put your dependence on man. It is true, there is this link; but it is because the soul is brought to Christ. This alone is conversion. And here is the place of strength. There is no strength but in Christ. I have none, at any time, except as my soul is in secret communion with Him, and (through Him) with God the Father.
Now the direct power of Satan is towards this point, to keep our souls from living on Christ.
What we call duties, but what God calls "cares," often separate from Christ. They fatigue and oppress the soul; and, if the saints do not cast all this on Christ, they unnerve themselves by things which distract the mind. The person says, "I do not enjoy Christ;" he knows not how it is, but thinks it is from the pressure of unavoidable care; whilst, in truth, it is the effect and result of having sought his resource elsewhere than in Christ. The soul has got distressed because it has not found Christ in the suffering, and this has thrown it toward something that is not Christ, something that (to human sight) promised fair. Thus it gets a taste for mere idle things. What we are led to by the Spirit is to be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." It is no good talking of cares - Satan is behind them all; it is no good talking of difficulties - Satan is behind the difficulties, thrusting them on to shake the power of the word in us; and we may be quite sure of this that, if not in communion, Satan will have the advantage of us, because these cares, etc. are not about Christ. I have all to do to, and for, Christ. He will make us feel our dependence, but it is never falsified.
Whilst thus oppressed with the turmoils of life, it is ever a truth, that we are not in the strength of Christ; for He is stronger than the shop or the family or any other care. It may be I am occupied with something I ought not to be; if I cannot do it "to the Lord," I ought not to do it. It is quite certain that Christ's strength does carry us through everything, no matter what the difficulties are: we shall feel them, we may groan under them; but when I can say with David, "It is God that girdeth me with strength" (Ps. 18 ), the enemy may come against me - "a bow of steel is broken by my arms." The Lord made him triumph over all.
It is in difficulties that we learn this strength. Hence in little things the believer is apt to forget that our whole dependence is to be "strong in the Lord;" that is, not being taken out of the place of conscious weakness. Paul says, "I was with you in weakness," etc. (1 Cor. 2:3.) So again "Without were fightings, within were fears." (2 Cor. 7:5.) It is not that the saint will be able to say, "I am strong," when put into difficulties: these make us lean on Christ, when in them, and strength is always there - "strength made perfect in weakness" (a consciousness of weakness). The whole truth of it is in the spirit of dependence, whether we see bright light or not. Paul said, - "I glory in mine infirmities." Why? Because they made him lean on Christ. Faith in exercise is strengthened, and Christ giveth light to him that wakes up: "Unto the upright there ariseth light in darkness." The reason why a saint who has had a great deal of joy often gets into failure is because it has taken him away from the present consciousness of dependence; the very goodness of the Lord has made him enjoy himself. There is always a tendency for the flesh to slip in.
After showing the place of the Christian's strength, the apostle says, "Put on the whole armour of God." (Ver. 11.) The great thing is, that it is God's armour. There is no standing against Satan without this. What is not of God fails. If ever so skilful in argument, and able to confute an opposer with the truth, I have nevertheless done him no good, and myself much harm, because I was acting in the flesh: Satan was working on me, and not God.
Whenever it is God's armour, it must be by faith, and it secret communion with God. There is the departure from all strength when we lose this; not anything we know will be of use - the word of God even; for it is the "sword of the Spirit," and it is shut up. Strength is always the effect of having to do with God in the spirit of dependence. In the exercise of this dependence I may have such a blessed sense of His power that I may triumph over all; but, whether in trial or in triumph, I shall be strong in a sense of dependence. If Moses' hands were not upheld, Amalek prevailed. (Ex. 17) One who looked on might have been astonished at seeing Amalek prevail at certain times, and would be calculating about the array (the advantages or disadvantages of the array) in which Israel were set; but the secret was, when Amalek prevailed, Moses' hands were hanging down. It was not because Joshua was not in the blessed place of doing God's work, but because the act of dependence on God was stayed. If my mind has been exercised about a brother, and in walking along the streets on my way to him; I get apart from God, I shall do him no good, though I say ever so much to him.
See the contrast between Jonathan and Saul (1 Sam. 14), between confidence in God overcoming difficulties and self failing, with all the resources of royalty. Jonathan clambers up upon his hands and feet, confident in God, and the enemy falls before him. Saul, when he sees the Lord's work going on, not knowing the Lord's mind, calls for the priest. It may be that he had a right intention, but certainly not simplicity of dependence on God (when inquiring what he should do); and he spoils all by his foolish oath. It was said of Jonathan, "He hath wrought with God this day." God was with him, and he had strength and liberty. When we are walking in dependence upon God there will always be liberty before God. Jonathan knew what he should do, and took some honey, because he went on in liberty; for God was with him; whilst Saul, in legality, put himself and people into bondage.
Unless we are dependent on God, the very things that would be our armour will be weapons against us, striking friends instead of enemies, or injuring ourselves.
Observe it is said, "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may stand against the wiles of the devil" - "Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may withstand in the evil day," etc. (Ver. 13.) If I saw a person going into battle without a shield, and without his helmet, etc., I should say he was mad. One living in theory might not have it; but, if we live near enough to God, to be practically in conflict, we shall need "the whole armour." If we pray without searching the word, or read the word without prayer, we may get no guidance. Jesus said, "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you." (John 15:7.) Without this, I may be asking some foolish thing that will not be given.
Conscious weakness causes a saint not to dare to move without God. I cannot go to meet an enemy with the word and without prayer. If I felt as a sheep in the midst of wolves (1 Peter 5:8), I should be aware of my weakness.
I may be, like an antiquary, anatomizing the theory of the armour, and not putting it on, not having any real dependence on God.
We have to stand against the wiles of the devil (it is not said his power). As soon as I see them I can avoid them. But after all it is not knowing Satan that keeps us intelligent of and able in discovering his "wiles," but keeping in God's presence. It was always so with Christ. Even Peter's affection tried to make the cross ugly to Him. (Matt. 16:2-9.) Jesus resisted Satan, and discovered his wiles; He not only always received things from above, but in the spirit of dependence on God. The moment we know the thing to be of Satan, the temptation is over if we are walking with God. When the devil came to our Lord (Luke 4), Christ did not at once say to him, "Thou art Satan;" that would have been only showing His power. He acted as the obedient Man, and thus foiled the tempter. When the devil claims worship, He then says, "Get thee hence, Satan." To discern his "wiles," we should see whether the thing proposed leads from obedience to Christ; if it does, no matter who proposes, I must reject it. The devil has this character of subtlety (not always of open opposition), as the serpent (see 2 Cor. 11:3); but the place of obedience to God will always upset him.
This is a remarkable expression - "the evil day." (Ver. 13.) It supposes, in a general way, all this present time, for it is the time of Satan's temptations; but then there are certain circumstances which cause Satan's power to be more exercised at one season than another. There is a time when the soul will be put to it. It is different to be going on in energy against Satan, and exercising the triumphs of victory, enjoying the triumphs; we may be walking in an energy that overcomes all opposition, or in the conscious weakness of being hardly able to stand. A soul often gets "an evil day" after triumphing through Christ. There may be exaltation in the remembrance of the triumph, and a new source of trial and dependence comes. I may give up the world, and be so very happy in the esteem and love of Christians as may bring out a bit of the flesh lower down. A saint often gets into this state, having gone on for a while in the strength of former conquests. A fresh battle comes; and if he is not prepared for this, he is overcome for a season. The place of strength is always that of being forced to lean on God. As noticed some years ago, respecting David,* what a contrast between his songs of deliverance and thanksgiving to God, and the mournful words, "My house is not so with God." (2 Sam. 22, 23)
*See "The last words of David," Words of Truth, vol. i. page 65.
The saint that always fears God is always strong; for God is always with him; the secret of his strength is, he has God on his side. We are apt to look at means, even right means, and forget God. The most important victory has often come when we have been most afraid of being beaten; the brightest songs, when an evil day has forced us to lean on God. The soul fearing and in dependence, difficulties fall before us. We might not be able to explain why success was there; but the secret is, the hands were lifted up.
The Lord is always working out His own plans.
"Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth." Truth is never really ours but as the affections are kept in order by it. I might preach beautiful truth, and many delight in the truth; but, the soul not having been in communion with God in the truth spoken, the loins would not be girt with it.
"And having on the breastplate of righteousness." A person not having a clean conscience, Satan cows in his walk; but if the conscience is good, he has on the "breastplate," and so is not continually thinking of attacks there. If Satan accuse me, I say, "Christ is my righteousness." But here it is Satan troubling me as to conscience. If I am not honest in my confessions before God, I am without the "breastplate." If I have it, there is no need that I should keep looking at my own breast; I can go on in the confidence that I am hiding nothing from God, but am walking in all good conscience before Him. The Lord may shield us in the battle, but we cannot go on in conflict unless we have on this part of the "whole armour." There is a resource, doubtless, in God's grace, in all our failure; but the right place is to have a good conscience; and it is the place of liberty and strength.
"And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace." The gospel of peace is ours in Christ; but I must have the spirit of peace in my heart. Peace has been made for us that we may dwell in peace. It is the peace that "passeth all understanding," "the peace of God," that is to keep our hearts and minds. There is no place so full of peace as heaven: no jar there; myriads of worshippers all in concord, while there are a thousand harmonies round the centre of God's glory. The soul in communion with God will live in the spirit of peace. There is nothing more important, to meet the turmoil of the world, than getting into this spirit of peace. When the spirit of peace does not rule in the heart, how can the saint walk as having always peace? There may be uncompromising faithfulness in such a man, but he cannot walk as Jesus walked. Nothing keeps the soul in such peace as a settled confidence in God. Without this a man will be continually excited, in haste, and full of anxiety. If the peace of God keep your hearts, you will have the triumph of it; nothing can be heard that is distinctive from it, that does not perfectly harmonize with it. Uncompromising firmness becomes us, yet calmness and nothing keeps the soul so calm as a sense of grace. This is a sign of power, and, moreover, connected with humbleness. All grace has come to us. A sense of nothingness, with the spirit of peace, gives a power to surmount all things.
"Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one." Every "fiery dart" is quenched by confidence in God. A Christian need not be afraid to hold up his head in the day of battle, because God is with and for him. This is not shaken by whatever abominable thought Satan puts into the mind. All is quenched by this confidence.
"And take the helmet of salvation. I hold up my head because I am safe. Salvation is mine.
Strength begins from within. We first have the loins girded about with truth, the breast covered with righteousness, the feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, etc., and then we can take (our only offensive weapon "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." There is nothing more dangerous than to use the word when it has not touched my conscience. I put myself into Satan's hands if I go beyond what I have from God, what is in possession of my soul, and use it in ministry or privately. There is nothing more dangerous than the handling of the word apart from the guidance of the Spirit. To talk with saints on the things of God beyond what I hold in communion is most pernicious. There would be a great deal not said that is said were we watchful as to this, and the word not so used in an unclean way. I know of nothing that more separates from God than truth spoken out of communion with God: there is uncommon danger in it.
"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints," etc. The word "always" is not used in reference to some other things; prayer is the expression and exercise of dependence. If a person asks me a question, and I answer without speaking to God about it, it will be more likely to lead from God than to God. Just as with Hezekiah (Isa. 39) when the ambassadors came, and he turned them to his treasures instead of to the Lord who had healed him. When a question or a difficulty comes, do we turn to God? We may have turned to God before, and the thing is answered; and we ought to have that power of prayer that there would be no difficulty when any circumstance arises - this continual supplication: we ought to be furnished unto every good word and work. Thus it was with Jesus. He had prayed before, so when the cup came He was quite ready to drink it.
A wish or a desire expressed to God, in the confidence of a child to its father, is heard; but this is not necessarily prayer "in the Spirit." When living really in the power of communion, we have that energy of supplication that looks for answers (1 John 3:21, 22; 1 John 5:14, 15), and the apostle here speaks of one who is in communion. Thus should it be with us; we should be so walking in the liberty of Christ as not to be tripped, or thrown out of communion, by the cares, lusts, and anxieties of this life, though it may be an "evil day."
Suppose you begin the day with a sweet spirit of prayer and confidence in God; in the course of the day, in this wicked world, you will find a thousand causes of agitation; but if you are spiritually exercised, alive to see the thing's God is exercised in, everything will become a matter of prayer and intercession according to the mind of God. Thus humbleness and dependence should be marked on all a saint's actions. Instead of being full of regrets at what we meet with, if walking with Christ, we shall see His interests in a brother or the church. What a blessed thing to carry everything to God! to take all to Him, instead of constantly murmuring over failure!
This is our position - to have on the whole armour of God, and not to be tripped of Satan. Unless right ourselves, we cannot make intercession for others. The words in verse 18 refer to a man who is walking in "the whole armour."
The apostle could pray for everybody, and yet he the more needed the prayers of all saints, because he had more cares than others. (Verses 19, 20.) He always wanted their prayers, as we see. (Ver. 19.) Walking in full affection himself, he reckoned upon people caring for him; walking as Paul did, this is taken for granted. Here too (ver. 21, 22), and to the saints at Colosse, he speaks of having sent Tychicus to declare his state - "that ye may know my affairs, and how I do." He takes their love for granted. We also, if walking in the love of the Spirit, can always count upon others being interested in our "affairs." In the world it would be pride to suppose others anxious about our concerns; but the saint knows, and counts on, the love of the Spirit in the saints.
To come back to the first great principle - "Be strong in the Lord," etc. Spite of Satan, and of all he may do to hinder, we have the privilege of individual dependence upon God. Everything may look dark, but the Lord tells us "to be strong." This is always accompanied with lowliness of heart. Come what will, when the Lord is rested on, we are strong. But our dependence must be simply and singly on God.