BE STRONG IN THE LORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-3-57 7:30 p.m.
Now let us turn in the Book to the sixth chapter of Ephesians, and we shall read together beginning at the tenth verse. Ephesians, the sixth chapter, beginning at the tenth verse, and we’ll read to the end of the chapter. And share your Bible with your neighbor if he did not bring his Bible, and all of us read it together: Ephesians the last chapter, beginning at the tenth verse. Do we have it? Ephesians 6:10. All right, all of us reading together the Word of the Lord:
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
For 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.
Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness,
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God;
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints–
And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel,
For which I am an ambassador in bonds; that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
But that ye also may know my affairs and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things;
Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, that he might comfort your hearts.
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen.
And the text is the tenth verse, Ephesians 6:10: "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might." We have come to the conclusion of this Book of Ephesians. It is divided into about two equal parts. The last part, the last half, has been a series of precepts, and Paul concludes that long series with this magnificent rhetorical peroration. It has such grandeur and such fire that it is almost lessened by exposition.
"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. "Put on the whole armor of God . . ." [Ephesians 6:11]. And so as Paul describes a Christian’s part in the Christian warfare, it’s almost unusual to read in God’s Book that a Christian fights – that he’s a soldier [2 Timothy 2:3], that he’s in a war, that he’s engaged in a battle, that a conflict rages around him [Ephesians 6:11-12]. But there’s not anything that the Scriptures reveal that is more definitely certain than that. And there’s not anything that a man shall face in his Christian life that is more certain than that identical and same thing – that a Christian is in a war.
He’s in a war in his own soul. There’s a civil war on the inside of his own heart. In that wonderfully descriptive passage in Galatians 5:17, Paul said, "For the flesh warreth against the Spirit, and the Spirit warreth against the flesh; and these are contrary" – enemies – "one to the other." Because you have a conflict in your life and in your soul is not a sign that you’re not saved, that you’re not a Christian. It’s the best sign in the world that you have been redeemed and you are saved.
It’s said of our Savior: Jesus, being full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan from His baptism of John. "Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tried by the devil" [Luke 4:1-2]. I say, there’s a conflict and a war in a Christian’s soul, in his own heart [Romans 7:14-25], and one of the signs that a man has been saved by God is the feeling of that conflict that rages in his soul.
You not only have a war in yourself, but you have a war in the world. God’s Book says that the friendship of the world is the enmity of God [James 4:4]. God says, "Love not the world neither the things of the world" [1 John 2:15]. The man that loves the world is an enemy to God. There is a war of the Christian in this world, and worldliness is the most difficult of all of the things against which a man has to fight. Worldliness is not something you can even describe. It’s not something you can hold in your hand. It is hard even to point out. Worldliness is a spirit. It’s an atmosphere. It’s an attitude. Worldliness can enter into the way you dress. Worldliness can enter into the thoughts you think, into the words you say, into the money that you use, into the friendships that you make, into the places that you go. Worldliness: oh, the drive and the enterprise and the energy in our day of the spirit of worldliness in art, in the pen, in the press! In how many ways is a Christian subjected to the conflict of the world all about him.
Not only is a Christian at war in his soul, not only is a Christian at war in the world, but a Christian is at war in those categories in the spirit world in which it is difficult for me to enter or to describe. Paul says, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, rulers, spiritual wickedness" [Ephesians 6:12]. All of these are names in the Greek language that Paul is using: archai, exousiai, kosmokratorai, pneumatikai. All of those are names describing the cohorts – the angels, the archangels – of the great spirit world that is fallen with Satan their commander and their leader [Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-17; Revelation 12:3-4].
When a man is a Christian, he fights not against flesh and blood [Ephesians 6:12]. The warfare does not even concern unjust magistrates, or human governments, or all of the things by which a man might take his fist and double it, or take his gun and shoot it, by taking clubs and instruments of battle, war against these who war against him. You couldn’t hit it. You couldn’t shoot it. You couldn’t touch it. You can’t see it. You can’t describe it, but it is there just as real and just the same. "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against these principalities" [Ephesians 6:12] – these archai; "these powers," these exousiai; "these rulers of the darkness of the world," these kosmokratorai; and "this spiritual wickedness," this pneumatikai.
How does a man seize the spirit that drives? How does a man rebel against and overcome and fight these spirits that are led by Satan that plow up God’s vineyard, that sow discord among God’s people, that woo the Christian away – tempt him to lay down his arms and surrender? How does a man fight against the spirits? Paul says, "My brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. Our warfare is not carnal, but it’s spiritual. It is not terrestrial; it is heavenly, and the implements and the arms of our conquest lie in the strong arm of Jehovah God. "My brethren," he says, "be strong in the Lord" [Ephesians 6:10].
In the great naval engagement led by Lord Nelson [Horatio Nelson, 1758-1805], on the top masthead of his flagship, he placed a banner that the whole fleet could read, and it said: "England expects every man to do his duty." That’s the same thing that God expects of every Christian enrolled in the army of God. God expects every man to do his duty [Galatians 6:4-5]. Brother, you’re to fight. You’re a soldier [2 Timothy 2:3-4]. You are a conscript and an enlisted man. You’ve got the uniform on. You’re numbered with the elect. "Be strong, therefore, in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10].
This strength is not physical strength – "be strong" [Ephesians 6:10]. Wonderful thing to be a giant physically. In the olden day, a man was impressive because of his tremendous height or stature or brawny prowess. That’s the reason I think that Samson [Judges 13:1-16:31] stayed in the memory of God’s people for so long and so long – the strongest man in all the world [Judges 16:4-6]. That’s the reason I think that the story of Goliath and David stayed so poignantly in the hearts of God’s people [1 Samuel 17:1-58]. That tremendous giant [1 Samuel 17:4]: he made a whole army to cower before him [1 Samuel 17:10-11] – great physical strength. Even in our day a man that can run faster or be an athletic hero somehow has an air of supremacy about him.
We are not deprecating physical strength – a sound mind in a sound body. For a man to be strong and well is a "gift of the gods." I am just saying that it matters not here. It enters not into the conflict here. The kind of a war that a Christian wages has nothing to do with physical prowess. "Be strong in the Lord" [Ephesians 6:10]. It’s not physical strength.
It’s not intellectual strength. I’m one like many others and most of you, I’d say. I cannot help but be captivated by a man who has a brilliant, scintillating intellect. He can write wonderful songs or beautiful poetry, or he can say things just as it ought to be said in language I couldn’t think of. We are borne away by a man with wonderful, gifted, intellectual insight – intellectual strength. You could almost say that the problems of the world could be solved if men of understanding and insight and intelligence were given the opportunity to solve the problems of state and social order and society. It would seem that way. You would think that, but history and the story of leagues and commonwealths are to the contrariwise. The great strength that overcomes this world is not intellectual strength.
However you burnish a candlestick, it still is just a place upon which to set the light. Same thing about a man’s mind. However burnished and however bright and however scintillating, it still is just an instrument in which God can set the light of the knowledge of His grace and of His power. It’s not intellectual strength in itself.
"My brethren, be strong in the Lord; be strong in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. This is spiritual strength. It is strength of the soul. It is strength of the heart. It is strength of heaven. It’s the angel’s strength. It’s the strength of God. It’s the strength of principle. It’s the strength of conviction. It’s the strength of soul persuasion. It is the strength of religious dedication: "Here I stand, so help me, God!" "My brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10].
A brawny shoulder and tremendous muscles might bore through a mountain, and intellectual strength and prowess might solve difficult, intricate, recondite problems of mathematics. But if the temple of the Lord’s house is to be raised in troublous times, it must be done by dedicated men who have given themselves to great spiritual persuasions. "My brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. And that’s the thing that in this world you see so little, so little of.
Of how many, of how many is there nothing in them that’s like flint against which you can make iron to spark? Of how many is it true? They’re like kneaded dough in the devil’s hand, shaped like a woman can roll it out before baking in the oven. They’re like the down on the thistle – blown about with every wind. They’re like an impressible sponge and just as firm and just as holding as the impress on the sponge. They’re like chameleons. They take the color of the company around them. They drift with the tide and whatever wind blows. That’s how many, how many?
Oh, to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might! [Ephesians 6:10] That’s the strength of Moses who, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter [Exodus 2:5-10] and the heir to the throne, and the prince regent, and the heir apparent – that’s the strength that Moses had when he decided to choose affliction with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of Egypt and its empty throne, and its empty show, and its empty shadow, and its empty recompense for a season [Hebrews 11:23-26].
That’s the same kind of strength that the three Hebrew children had when the king announced, "When the trumpets are blown, all of my subjects are to bow down and worship the golden image" [Daniel 3:1-6]. When the trumpets were blown, those three boys stood up straight and the people around said, "Bow down." And they said, "We don’t bow down." And the king himself said, "We blow the trumpets once again and whosoever doesn’t bow down shall be fed as fuel to a fire. Bow down!" When the trumpets were blown, those three boys stood up there alone [Daniel 3:10-18]; heads in the air, strong in the Lord.
I wonder at our young people. Some of them amaze me. Here and away they go, listening to the slightest call, cringing before the smallest criticism. Don’t bow down! Be strong in the Lord!
It’s the strength of John the Baptist lying in his own blood, looked upon by a silly, lewd, dancing girl [Matthew 14:3-11]. It’s the strength of the apostles who defied the court of the Sanhedrin [Acts 4:13-20]. It’s the strength of John Bunyan [1628-1688] in a Bedford [England] jail for ten, for eleven, for twelve years. And the king said, "On any day, on any day, that you will promise not to preach the gospel of the Son of God, on any day you’ll promise not to preach, you may have your liberty."
John Bunyan: on the inside of that squalid jail, making lace for his little blind daughter Mary to sell in order that he might help support his family. "John Bunyan, any day, any day you’ll promise to quit preaching the gospel of the Son of God, you may have your liberty." And John Bunyan replied, "I had rather stay in this jail until the moss grows over my eyelids rather than say, rather than say I wouldn’t preach the gospel of the Son of God."
"Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. That’s the strength of the martyrs and that’s the strength of a multitude of humble people who never appear before the plaudits and applause of the world but who are true to God and who never fail Him. "Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10].
May I say a little, final word of the source of the strength? Paul says it: "Be strong in the Lord in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. This kind of strength comes from heaven. It’s the kind of strength that leans upon Jehovah’s arm [Isaiah 26:4]. It’s the kind of strength that endures as seeing Him who is invisible [Hebrews 11:27]. It’s the kind of strength that takes its stand upon the Rock of Ages and upon the promises of the Book [Matthew 27:4-5]. It’s the kind of strength that looks to God and looks to Christ.
I saw the martyr at the stake,
The flames could not His courage shake
Nor death his soul appall;
I asked him whence his strength was given,
He looked triumphantly to heaven,
And answered, "Christ – Christ is all."
[From "Christ in All," author and date unknown]
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. This is a strength that comes from stooping, from bowing, from kneeling. This is a strength that comes from a humble heart [1 Peter 5:6]. This is a strength that comes from a committed and trusted soul. This is the strength that comes to those who kneel in prayer [Philippians 4:6-7].
And the king said, "Any man that shall call on the name of his God shall be thrown into the den of lions" [Daniel 6:7-9]. And when they reported to Daniel, he went as his accustomed place and habit was to the window that opened toward Jerusalem [Daniel 6:10]. There did he kneel down where anybody could see, anybody could report, anybody could condemn. There did he kneel as his custom was. Strength from prayer: this is a strength that comes from learning a secret, and the secret is read not in Seneca or not in Zeno or not in Epicurus, or not in Aristotle, but this secret comes from those who read in the Book of the living God.
"And as he was returning," Philip heard him read from Isaiah the prophet [Acts 8:30]. And as they went on their way, he began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus" [Acts 8:35].
And as they came unto a certain water, the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. What doth hinder me to be baptized?"
Philip answered and said, "If you believe"
– if you trust, if you commit your heart to God –
"thou mayest." And he said, "I believe Jesus is all that He said that he was. I believe Christ is all that we could hope Him to be. I believe He’s the Son of God."
They went down both in the water, both Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.
When they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip that the eunuch saw him no more
– and the rest –
and he went on his way rejoicing.
"Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might," [Ephesians 6:10]; and the secret is in the Book. It’s in the Book: "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]. And the secret comes to pass when a man feels in his soul the power and the presence of God.
I have read from historians who were calm in their judgment. I have read that the martyrs, when they died, never felt pain, and the reason was – some of these historians from whom I’ve read – and the reason was, they said, they were so filled with the glory of the presence of Christ that when the flames leaped up, their spirits were in heaven: burning like a torch, absolutely oblivious to the death around them. They lived in the life and in the power of the Son of God. That consciousness of the Lord’s Holy Spirit with us is possible for any man, for any child. "Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10]: in life, in death, in abuse, in reproach, in ostracism, in loneliness. Walking with the Lord in age, in trouble, in invalidism, in despair, in ill health, in death – God with us, "Strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" [Ephesians 6:10].
While we sing this song tonight, somebody you, give his heart in faith and in trust to Christ. Would you come? "See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? Thou mayest if thou believest" [Acts 8:36-37]. Would you tonight? Would you? Is there a family to come into the church? Is there one somebody you who ought to come? Would you now? In the balcony around, down these stairwells and here to me; in this press of people on this lower floor, somebody you, into the aisle and down here by my side: "Pastor, tonight, this is God’s night for me, and I’m coming, trusting Jesus, looking to Him," or "Placing my life here in the church, here I come, and here I am" – while we stand and while we sing.
IN THE LORD
I. Christian warfare
A. In your own soul
1. Civil war – a
battlefield in yourself (Galatians 5:17, Romans
2. Sign you are
B. In the world in
which you live
1. Worldliness an
influence, a spirit, an atmosphere (1 John 2:15,
C. In the spiritual
1. God alone can
give us the necessary strength
II. Be strong
A. Not physical
B. Not intellectual
C. Spiritual strength
1. Strength of
religion, of principle, of God
To build God’s temple in troublous times requires dedicated men who have given
themselves to great spiritual persuasions
This is the strength of Moses, the three Hebrew children in fiery furnace, John
the Baptist, apostles before the Sanhedrin, John Bunyan, the martyrs, the
III. In the Lord
A. The resources are
1. Poem, "I saw
the martyr at the stakeâ€¦"
B. A strength that
kneels in prayer
1. Philip and the
eunuch (Acts 8:26-39)
D. Secret comes to pass
when a man feels presence of God in his soul
1. Martyrs in