December 12, 2015 • Life for Leaders
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
Today I wrap up a week of devotions on the theme of racial reconciliation. During this week, I have tried to help us see reconciliation from the broad perspective of Ephesians. The uniting of divided people groups is not incidental to God’s saving work but an essential element of what God has done through the cross of Christ and is doing through his church. Thus, as people called by God, we are to be both reconciled and reconciling.
Yet, seeking reconciliation in a broken, unjust world is not easy. In fact, when we participate in God’s unifying work, we find ourselves in a battle. On one level, our battle seems to be against humans who oppose God’s peace, justice, and love. Yet this is not the whole story. According to Ephesians 6, our true battle “is not against enemies of blood and flesh” but, rather, against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12). These cosmic powers exert their influence not only through individuals; their influence is also found in institutions and systems. For example, racism is not merely a human, cultural evil; it’s also something infused with spiritual power that opposes God, who created all human beings in his image and who loves all people.
When we recognize the deeper nature of our struggle for racial reconciliation, we realize that we need God’s power to help us fight. Moreover, we want to do battle in God’s way. Ephesians 6 shows us how.
First, we are to put on the “whole armor of God” (6:13), both individually and together as the church. We do this by girding ourselves with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. The word translated here as “righteousness” could also be rendered as “justice.” We are to be people who live rightly in all our relationships and who seek justice in the world. As we join God’s battle with evil, including the evil of racism, we must ask ourselves crucial questions: Are we speaking and living the truth, especially the truth of the gospel? Are we treating people in our lives rightly? Are we seeking justice in the systems and structures of our world, including those in which we have influence? Are we peacemakers? Do we trust God above all else? Are we seeking the wholeness of God’s salvation for ourselves and for the world? Are our thoughts, words, and actions shaped by the word of God?
Second, if we want to fight in God’s way, we will pray. Since most English translations insert a paragraph break between verse 17, the end of the armor metaphor, and verse 18, a call to prayer, we can miss the necessary connection that exists in the original. The Greek text of this passage does not separate verse 17 from 18. In fact, the verb translated as “Pray” in verse 18 is actually a participle dependent on “Take” in verse 16. The original could be rendered, “Take the shield of faith . . . and the helmet of salvation . . . praying in the Spirit.” In other words, perhaps the most important thing we do when suited up in God’s armor is to pray. We pray not just every now and then but “at all times in every prayer and supplication” (6:18). We “keep alert” so that we might “persevere in supplication for all the saints” (6:18).
One of the greatest things about prayer is that we can do it anywhere at any time. Even those of us who exercise leadership in secular contexts that limit open expressions of faith can pray throughout the day. We can pray silently in meetings, in difficult conversations, and as we pore over spreadsheets. We can pray for God’s guidance in forming just workplaces that treat all people with dignity, no matter their race or ethnicity. We can pray for wisdom about how to include and empower those who have been marginalized. We can pray for the wider work of racial reconciliation—not only in our organizations but also in our neighborhoods, cities, churches, states, and countries. We can pray for God’s justice to “roll down like waters.” As we pray, God will show us where and how we are to get involved in the battle for racial reconciliation.
As we fight, we are encouraged by the hope of God’s ultimate plan for the cosmos. In just the right time, God will indeed break down every dividing wall of hostility. God will finish the work he began in the cross, gathering all things in Christ, reconciling all peoples in Christ, filling the world with the fulsome peace of Christ, peace permeated by justice and love for all people.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you respond to the teaching of Ephesians 6:10-18? Do you think of your life as participation in a spiritual battle?
As you think about your life and leadership, how are you doing when it comes to putting on the whole armor of God?
How might you be more consistent in prayer, especially in your workplace?
In what ways are you participating in God’s battle for racial reconciliation? Might God be leading you to new ways of involvement?
Gracious God, thinking of our lives in terms of a spiritual battle may be new to us. We tend to see things in very human terms, even if we acknowledge the spiritual dimension of our existence. Help us, we pray, to see the world and our lives as you see them.
As we join your battle for reconciliation, help us to fight in your way. May we indeed put on the armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. May we wear this armor at all times, including when we are in our workplaces.
As we are prepared for battle, help us to pray, Lord. May we indeed learn to pray in the Spirit at all times. As we pray, we ask you to act, to work in and among us for justice and peace. Show us how our leadership can contribute to your work of gathering all things in Christ.
All praise be to you, O God, because you will one day unite everything in Christ. The walls that divide us will be completely broken down. Your peace, justice, and love will fill the world, over which you will reign fully. We long for this day! Amen.
P.S. Once again, let me encourage you to check out the fourth issue of the Fuller Magazine, which has as its central theme “Reconciling Race.” This edition is filled with stories and wisdom pertaining to racial reconciliation.