Tuesday 27 August 2013

Unable to Resist

A Reflection on Ephesians 6:10-18

10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power.
11 Put on the full armour of God so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics.
12 For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens.
13 That is why you must take up all God's armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.
14 So stand your ground, with truth a belt round your waist, and uprightness a breastplate,
15 wearing for shoes on your feet the eagerness to spread the gospel of peace
16 and always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it to quench the burning arrows of the Evil One.
17 And then you must take salvation as your helmet and the sword of the Spirit, that is, the word of God.
18 In all your prayer and entreaty keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. Never get tired of staying awake to pray for all God's holy people,

The Apostle, in prison and in chains, writes with a zest and vigour that suggests stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage.

grow strong in the Lord, with the strength of his power

Here we have, perhaps, a clue to St Paul's freedom of mind and spirit. That which gives him strength is not self reliance. Autonomy only makes us as strong as our weakest point. Reliance on our Saviour God lends us a power whose strength is made perfect in weakness. As David wrote in Psalm 62 Rest in God alone, my soul! He is the source of my hope. To rest in God alone means to rest in Him and nothing else but Him. It also means that the soul's path to Him is a solitary one. Alone we penetrate His mysteries and find peace. But this is not the end point. The community of two, one God and one believer, is not enough to satisfy infinite Love. It must be productive, it must bear fruits. Rested and refreshed the soul gains strength in the Lord and goes forth with power to do the works which Love imperatively demands.

For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle

 The Ephesians and the Apostle had no shortage of human enemies ranged against them. It would seem that the armies and hosts of Man were drawn up in battle array against the Primitive Church while the Apostle exhorts his squadrons and platoons to form up and face an altogether different foe. But, what is and what seems to be are not always the same. These new Christians were being pointed in the correct direction. We do not wage war against those whom we love and the Ephesians loved all humans. The fight is against the darkness within the enemies of the Church. The ignorance, the fear, the seared consciences, the anger that the reproof of a pure life lived quietly provokes in those who feel impugned by it. The struggle takes the form not of fire against fire, steel against steel but of meekness against strength and of forgiveness against unjust persecution. And in that conflict only those grown strong in the Lord with the strength of His power can stand their ground.

 take up all God's armour, or you will not be able to put up any resistance on the evil day, or stand your ground even though you exert yourselves to the full.

Even though you put out everything you yourself have within you, the fruits of your autonomy, you will not be capable of any resistance at all. You will be as a barrier of straw in the path of a tsunami. Reliance on self-power is an insidious temptation to everyone who thinks highly of their own qualities, even their own virtues. But, what have you got that was not given to you ?(1 Corinthians 4:7) No, we are not strong enough in ourselves which is why gifts are offered to us to give us the power that we need. It is the essence of a gift that not only is it freely given it must also be freely received and if we do not choose to receive it then we will not have it. And without the armour of God our only defences are the same ones that have served us so badly and for so long. Do we not grow weary of them and of the defeats they bring with them?

always carrying the shield of faith so that you can use it

Having something and using that something do not always go hand in hand. Faith, which is more than an abstract assent to an abstract proposition, is something that cannot be a matter of whimsy if it is to be of service. It must be a constant companion. Moreover it is not an object we carry in order for it (and us with it) to be admired. It is a working instrument. It has purposes to fulfil, ends to achieve, a world to conquer. If in a time of trial, a moment of anguish an ordeal of suffering we forget about our faith then we cannot use it. We cannot conquer with it. We cannot put up any resistance on the evil day.

 keep praying in the Spirit on every possible occasion. 

The Apostle is wise enough to not only suggest to the Ephesian what they should do but also how they should do it. He has laid out a demanding programme. One cannot follow both the path of the world and the Apostolic Christian path. Yet to break from the world, marching to war against principalities and powers is no easy pilgrimage to make. The world has such allurements, the masters of darkness such potency. Keep praying in the Spirit he says. There are many ways to pray and the world and the principalities can infiltrate even, perhaps especially, into this area. False ways of praying and false spirits can and do mislead, often with terrible consequences. St Paul, using his Apostolic authority and experience and that of the universal Church has taught the Ephesians how to pray in the Spirit and how to discern malicious counterfeits of the same. The strength we need we gain from God in prayer when we pray rightly, when we pray continuously, when we humbly submit our methods of prayer to the traditions received in the Church and when we rest in God alone.

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