Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost: Forgetting How To Fight
Men will argue over which is the greatest “man movie” of all time. The movie “winners” range from certain Westerns to mob movies to the historical heroic tales of Braveheart, 300, and Gladiator.
Ridley Scott’s Gladiator is set during a time of both Roman world domination and Roman persecution of a group who seem to beat Rome without weapons, the early Christians. Russell Crowe plays Maximus, the Roman army general. In a scene where he is in the arena fighting for his life with other gladiators, he tells these men: “Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together. If we stay together we survive.” And they did. Maximus gave them the key to winning the fight.
In today’s Epistle, Paul gives us a key to winning the spiritual fight.
Ephesians 6 is called the spiritual warfare chapter. It speaks about the armor of the Christian by associating it with the armor of the Roman soldiers.
Ephesians is called a prison letter, because Paul wrote it while in prison. During that time, if someone was in prison, he was chained to a Roman soldier 24/7. Many believe Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was looking at the guard he was chained to and was giving the Christian a picture of his weapons in a bigger and different fight.
In Ephesians 6, Paul gives us two contrasts in the fight that we need to focus on.
First, Paul tells us that people are not our fight, the government is not our fight, Democrats and Republicans are not our battle. It’s much deeper and bigger than that:
We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Verse 12)
If you want to get really raw, listen to this verse in the Passion Translation:
Your hand-to-hand combat is not with human beings, but with the highest principalities and authorities operating in rebellion under the heavenly realms. For they are a powerful class of demon-gods and evil spirits that hold this dark world in bondage.
The apostle is warning us not to fight people but to realize we are fighting in another realm, the spiritual realm. That’s the first contrast—natural versus spiritual.
The second contrast, which we often overlook, comes when we read verses 12 and 13 together. In verse 12, Paul says that “we wrestle not,” and then in verse 13 he says, “Therefore take unto you the armour of God.”
Then he proceeds to go through each of the Roman soldiers’ equipment and associates each piece with a spiritual weapon we have. The sword the soldier carries represents the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit. The shield protects the Roman against fiery darts, but for us it is a shield of faith to protect us from the enemy’s missiles.
The contrast comes between “we wrestle not” and “put on the whole armor of God.” For wrestlers in the first century, the men would oil up their bodies, enter a ring, and fight until one was actually killed. It was one man against one man. The apostle Paul is saying, though, that if we are Christians, we are not wrestlers, we are soldiers. That means we are not in the Christian life by ourselves. We have soldiers side by side.
One of the great things the Roman army used to do when going into battle was to lock arms with each other, which would show strength and unity in the hand-to-hand combat. We often lose because we wrestle instead of being a soldier.
Recently a number of Christian leaders, authors, and musicians have gone public, announcing that they are abandoning their faith. They have denounced everything from the books they have written to the songs they’ve composed. They have come to the conclusion that God does not exist. Let me tell you that their tragic declarations show that they have faced their faith as individual wrestlers, not as soldiers, and they did not lean on other soldiers. You can’t win when you wrestle by yourself. Only weak people think they are strong enough to do the Christian life alone. These leaders who abandoned their faith were doing the Christian life alone.
Have you ever seen a redwood tree up close? They can stand upwards of three-hundred-feet tall (almost the length of a football field), and have roots that stretch only five feet under the ground and still remain unmovable. Their roots are shallow because they can’t go deep. But they do something else: they never grow alone. They know they can’t wrestle so they have to be soldiers. That’s why Redwoods grow in bunches. Their roots can intertwine with one another and be strengthened by one another. With that height and those shallow roots, what keeps them from blowing over and uprooting in wind storms? They are all connected to one another. A storm can’t blow just one over, it has to be strong enough to blow them all over.
Those tragic Christian leaders did not connect roots with anyone and they lost their faith and got blown over. They didn’t reveal that God doesn’t exist. The only thing they revealed is that their root systems did not exist and that they’d tried to wrestle instead of being a soldier.
Let me remind you of Maximus’s words from Gladiator: “Whatever comes out of these gates, we’ve got a better chance of survival if we work together. If we stay together we survive.”
Those are not just Maximus’s words, that is God’s Word in Ephesians 6.