Sermon Notes

Ephesians 6:14-15 June 25, 2000
Standing Under Stress

Top Ten signs you are under stress ...

1. You can achieve a "Runner's High" by sitting up.

2. You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you have said it before...

3. You can see individual air molecules vibrating.

4. You begin to explore the possibility of setting up an I.V. drip solution of espresso.

5. You wonder if brewing is really a necessary step for the consumption of coffee.

2. You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you have said it before...

3. You and Reality file for divorce.

4. It appears that people are speaking to you in binary code.

5. Antacid tablets become your sole source of nutrition.

2. You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you have said it before...

6. Losing your mind was okay, but when the voices in your head quieted, it was like losing your best friend.

7. You listen to your relaxation tapes on high speed.

8. You call your voicemail from your car using your cell-phone while driving to work to remind yourself of tasks to do during the day.

9. You take the "Don't Walk" sign personally.

10. You say the same sentence over and over again, not realizing that you have said it before...

Stress has been a part of the human condition since Adam and Eve saw the need to sew fig leaves, but authorities believe it is on the increase, as stress related disorders have sharply escalated the past 2 decades.

Workers Compensation claims resulting from stress-related illnesses rose 700 percent in California during the 1980s. (whereas all other causes remained stable or declined)

UCLA'S Higher Education Research Institute, the oldest and most comprehensive compiler of America's assessments of student attitudes, reveals in its 1997 report a record number of highly stressed college freshmen. Nearly 30% reported frequent feelings of being overwhelmed by all they have to do.

A 1997 Northwestern National Life Insurance Survey reports that 46% of American workers describe their jobs as highly stressful, double the rate in 1985.

Stress management has become a mantra of sorts, a household word across America since the 1970s when stress reduction programs began to explode on the landscape. Today there is scant evidence that the nation is more at peace with itself than before.

Tranquilizers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications account for one fourth of all prescriptions written in the U.S. each year.

Peace is an illusive commodity. In Newsweek there was a 3 page ad in the midst of news about terrorist attacks, murder and mayhem, Wall Street worries - on one page we find, "Depression hurts," followed on the next page by "Prozac can help." Finally, in tiny type on page 3, 3 columns of legalese to warn about everything that can go WRONG if you take this drug which is supposed to make you feel as if everything is RIGHT and which the news on the other pages already told you is NOT TRUE!

We need is to know how to withstand the stress we find ourselves under each and every day. God’s Word commands us to stand firm, but so often we feel like we are being knocked about from every side. Our passage this morning helps us to know how it is we can stand under the pressures from our world.

This concluding section of Paul’s letter to Ephesians gives us a synopsis of his letter, by telling us to stand firm and then giving us the means by which we are able to stand. Last week we began this final portion by talking about the figure behind the mayhem in our lives. The stratagems of the devil leave us in confusion and bewilderment. While our own sinfulness is often more than enough to cause fear and trepidation, satanic attack will compound the situation. How can we then, as Christians, find stability under stress?

14. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,

15. and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

Stability under stress needs the preparation of truth

When stress mounts, to know which direction to go makes all the difference. There is nothing like being in a hurry but not knowing where you are going to make matters worse. Our lives are well described by the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland: "Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"

For this reason the first item listed is truth. Knowing what is true, what really matters, helps us sort out the stresses in our life. First let’s take a look at the background here as Paul is describing the armor which must put on if we are going to withstand Satan’s attack. Paul uses the image of the well-dressed Roman soldier ready for battle to illustrate how we must position ourselves if we are going to obey the command to stand. The first item, though, is not so much a part of the armor as it is the foundation.

The belt was a necessary beginning for the soldier for two reasons. First, you must keep in mind that Roman soldiers wore skirts, perhaps more similar to a Scottish kilt. While I can not personally attest to the difficulty one might have engaging in battle with a dress on, we can only imagine the necessity for the soldiers, when preparing for battle, to gather the flowing cloth hanging down to their knees or ankles and placing it between their thighs and around their waist. The belt aided in this preparation. What is more, the belt, often a six inch wide leather cincture, served as the foundation on which his sword was hung and armor was attached.

Why is this called the belt of truth?

Spiritual warfare is a battle for truth. Stability under stress demands we prepare ourselves with integrity. Just as it would be dangerous for the soldier to rush into battle with his tunic tangling his legs, just as the rest of his armor would fall to the ground if not secured to the belt, the Christian must have truth secured in place. This is hard for Americans to grasp, for we often imagine that activity is what is crucial and convictions of truth matter little.

To face the battle, to try to stand under the strain of attack, to endure stress all the while being ignorant or doubt what is true, would be as to enter battle blind or lame. There is strength and freedom found when truth is rightly applied. When the strain of life is too much, it is in the areas of truth that we are most susceptible. Truth is at the foundation of the Christian life, always the place to begin when under attack. This should come as no surprise.

Satan’s first attack in the Garden was an attack on truth. The cunning serpent’s strike was at the veracity of God’s Word, "Did God really say, `You must not eat from the tree in the garden?’" Calling into question God’s Word is then followed by questioning God’s goodness. Satan flatly denies God’s warning of judgment for disobedience by stating that when they eat that which is forbidden they will have their eyes opened and they will be like God.

When the Devil tempted Christ in the wilderness the tactic was to deny what God said. It is for this reason that Jesus in John 8 calls Satan the father of lies when Jesus is under attack by the religious leaders of his day. Without denying their own culpability as they combat him, Jesus points to the person who lies behind their verbal barrage in verses 44-45. Lying, distorting the truth, is the essence of sin; it is at the heart of the instability we face each and every day of our lives. It is for this reason we need truth.

This is a clear call for those in Christ to know doctrine. People are afraid of the word "doctrine." Perhaps it brings up memories of falling asleep listening to a dry preacher with a pointless message. But "doctrine" is simply a word that means "truth," "teaching." To be armed with the truth means simply that we know the Word of God, in a systematic, organized way so that we can respond to the attacks of the enemy.

How do we arm ourselves with truth? By knowing the truth: the truth of God's Word. We live in an age of relativism. A Barna poll asked, "Is there absolute truth?" Amazingly, 66 percent of American adults responded that they believe that "there is no such thing as absolute. Yet Christ said, "Your Word is truth." (John 17:17)

So many believers fall on the battlefield because they lack the foundation of truth; they do not possess the truth of God's demand for perfection, our constant failures and the only remedy which is found in Christ. It is for this reason Paul begins his letter by setting down what is true about God’s working in our lives, going all the way back to eternity past when the Father chose us to be His own children. That is the reason Paul made it clear that apart from Christ we were dead in our trespasses and sins, when we followed the ways of this world. God’s answer to this mayhem is Christ’s work on the Cross and the communication of the good news of Christ to the Church. When truth is communicated in the church, what happens? Stability. (Ephesians 4:14)

Stability under stress needs the protection of being right

Yes, you heard me correctly: when under stress, when under attack by either Satan’s minions or well intended dragons, you will find stability through the protection of knowing you are right. The idea of protection comes from the next piece of armor, the breastplate.

This was called the thooraka, for it covered the thorax, from one’s neck to waist, protecting the vital organs. While general’s breastplates were often fashioned out of hammered bronze, giving the impression of rippling muscles, the common soldier’s breastplate was more likely made of chain mail.

This important protection is modified by "righteousness," that is, a protection declaring you right. But the question comes: "Whose righteousness is being referred to here?"

Obviously, it’s not be something we manufacture ourselves. To hide from Satan’s attacks behind a breastplate of one’s own righteousness is like being protected by spider webs. It would be as if you tried to quench a forest fire with a squirt gun or slay a lion with a fly swatter. While your only protection when under stress is to know you are right, that the lies flying through your head are wrong – that can not be of your own making; it must be outside of you. Stress will never be reduced by retreating to the safety of the fact that you are in the right by what you have done, that you are worthy of God’s favor because of your pleasing character before God.

The covering must be one given to us; we can stand, protected by being declared right, just before God.

This is picture of a soldier’s covering is taken from Isaiah 59:17. There God sees no justice in the world, so He relies on His own "rightness" to save. He put on righteousness as His breastplate and the helmet of salvation on His head.

The assumption here is that we can stand under the stress of satanic attack, under the anxiety of our lives as we understand that we can be protected by Christ’s perfect righteousness for us. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." And in Philippians 3:8-9 Paul makes it clear that the best protection he can have is a righteousness that comes from God and is received by faith.

Will this imputed righteousness, this perfect obedience to the law declared to be ours because of Christ’s perfect life affect the way we live? Definitely. Imputed righteousness, trusting in Christ’s perfect righteousness will result in practical righteousness. Satan’s tactic to throw us off, to destabilize our lives, to allow us to succumb to stress is to accuse us, to point out our constant failures and our unworthiness.

In Zechariah 3 Joshua, the high priest is standing before the angel of the Lord in the temple, and Satan is also there accusing him. In verse 3 we are told that Joshua is dressed in filthy clothes, representing his and the people's sin, so Satan must have been pointing to these and declaring forcefully that Joshua was not fit to stand before the Lord in this office. It is a clear case of spiritual warfare. But the angel of God intervenes. The accusation is an issue of what is true of Joshua; God’s response is to give him new clothes.

'Take off his filthy clothes,' says the angel. Then, in place of the filthy clothes, the angel gives him new rich garments and a clean turban for his head. Here we see a picture of the righteousness of Christ imputed to him - the clothes were not something Joshua acquired for himself but rather were something given to him - and it is in this righteousness alone that he is enabled to resist Satan's vile accusations. This is what Count Zinzendorf had in mind when he wrote his great hymn:

Jesus, thy blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress;

'Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, With joy shall I lift up my head.

Bold shall I stand in thy great day;

For who aught to my charge shall lay? Fully absolved through these I am,

From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.

But the covering of new clothes from God is not the end. Notice what happens next. The angel of the Lord gives a charge to Joshua, on the basis of what God has done – he is then charged to live rightly; he is to walk in God’s way and keep His requirements. Imputed righteousness is not to be divorced from actual righteousness. It is because he had been made righteous that Joshua was to live righteously. (taken from Boice, Ephesians p. 246)

Stability under stress needs the power of peace

As we live in the light of the truth about ourselves and our need for a Savior, as we trust that Christ’s righteousness will be our protection and power to live rightly, then we can experience the peace which comes from the Gospel. This is pictured as the war boot of the Roman soldier.

What Paul has in mind here is the half-boot which the Roman legionnaire regularly wore while on duty. It was an open-toed leather boot with a heavily nail-studded sole which was tied to the ankles and shins with straps. These boots served for marching, especially in battle. Their function was like a cleated football shoe. They gave the foot traction and prevented sliding. Much ancient battle was hand-to-hand, so these boots gave the Roman soldier an advantage over ill-equipped foes. The "readiness" of our text pictures us being ready with our feet firmly planted on solid ground.

The stability we need to face stress begins by knowing the good news of our peace with God.

You know the truth about yourself and your needs. You know you are a sinner. You know the truth about Christ and what He has done to secure your place before the Father. Now, with those twin truths firmly etched in your soul, you can experience God’s peace. Knowing that there is peace between you and God can allow you to interact with others, with yourself, in such a way as you never could without a relationship with Christ.

This is what Paul says in Romans 5:1 "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Life apart from Jesus Christ has no deep peace. Everyone is aware of this discomfort to some degree, a sense that life is not right, of alienation. When stress comes people will seek stability in so many areas: sex, money, adventure, success, knowledge, religious exploration. But those offer only temporary relief, like trying to treat cancer with an aspirin. Peace is an ever-receding mirage. But when a person finds peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is a final peace. Knowing one's sins are forgiven and forgotten through the blood of Christ is the greatest knowledge one can ever have.

This is the peace which Christ secured on the cross. In Ephesians 2:14-17 Paul describes how Christ is our peace. This is not just a cease-fire arrangement; rather we are brought into the Lord’s family. This is the "Good News," the Gospel: peace on God's terms - unconditional surrender. I can stand firm in the face of any assault of the enemy. "If God is for us, who can stand against us?" (Romans 8:31)

Flowing from the stability which comes when we have peace with God is having the peace of God.

In the upper room before His death Jesus said (John 14:27) "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." This is the peace, Paul says in Philippians 4:7, which transcends all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

This is peace in the midst of battle: while the war is raging, while the stress continues to mount, God can grant a peace, a certainty that because of what Christ has done for you, you can rest. None of this armor makes the battle cease. There is nothing you can do to keep your head from spinning while assailed either by benignly busy schedules or the terrors of doubt and sinful thoughts. For that reason we must sort out what is true and what is false. You and I must be constantly put on the armor God’s provides. This armor is the simple but vital truth of the Gospel.

As you put on the belt of truth, you must ask yourself: "What lies am I believing about my self-importance, about my need for control? What truth regarding the sovereign hand of God have I left aside so that I am being tripped up by the lies of the Evil One? Does the truth regarding who I am before God and what God has done filter down into my life? Is integrity a casualty of my everyday life so that I can spout off doctrine but am living a life of lies, of hypocrisies?"

Does stress cause me to wonder whether I am acceptable to God? Do I question His goodness and that His fatherly smile rests on me despite the turmoil I face? Am I so busy keeping accurate records of my own righteousness, wanting to be sure I am dressed in my own good works, that I have forgotten that I am clothed in Christ? When others attack me, do their sharp words pierce my thin veneer of self righteousness or are they repelled by Christ’s perfect record which is now mine?

In light of all that, has the attack and the ensuing stress in my life, be it large or small, knocked me back, causing me to forget that the good news of the Gospel has pronounced peace on me? Do I worry about a future I cannot control? Or, do I dig my feet in, knowing that despite the swirling anxieties of life God is indeed in control and working out His good in my life?

Sermon Notes