By, Isam Itson III
How do we respond to the self righteous agendas of the powers that be in our societies? How do we deal with the practices and policies that perpetuate an unjust status quo? What do we do about the immoral exploitation of the poor and powerless for the benefit of the rich and powerful? What do we do about the social, economic, political, national, and international threats to our way of life and well being? Why don’t my older/younger relatives agree with me?
According to the Hebrew Scriptures, self-righteousness is the root of the injustice and immorality that plague our societies with increasingly destructive force from generation to generation. Self justification and jealousy fuels a wave of violence, vice, and sexual immorality, that overwhelms families, peoples, and nations like a tsunami. Our self centered pursuit of material security and increased social status leads us to justify the dominance of other human beings for our personal, social, ethnic, class, and national interests. It destroys our relationship with God and each other and leaves us riddled with guilt and shame. Unable to bear the implications of the truth of what we have done we create stories that help us live with ourselves by casting blame for our faults on others or aggressively defining our self interest as justifiable and righteous. The Bible word for following this path in life is sin.
In opposition to sin, God calls his people to aggressively, purposefully, and sacrificially embody his righteousness, justice, and love for humans in relationship to each other, out of respect for God as our king. God’s plan is that his people should serve as an example to the other peoples and nations on the earth of the superior wisdom of God’s way of life for all humanity. As followers of Jesus Christ and members of the body of Christ, we are meant to individually and collectively represent the existence, wisdom, love, and power of God to the world around us as we go about our daily lives. And we are meant to live like this as if our lives depended on it.
That’s what the Apostle Paul is communicating in his letter to the church at Ephesus.
Ephesians 6:10-20, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Paul says that as followers of Jesus Christ we stand against the the schemes of the Devil. We wrestle with the spiritual rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and forces that follow the Devil. The word we translate devil is the greek word diabolos. Diabolos means slanderer. Another word for the Devil in the Bible is Satan. Satan comes from a Hebrew word that means accuser. In Revelation 20:2, the writer calls the enemy of God’s people the devil, Satan, and the serpent. The serpent is the serpent from the garden in Eden that tempted Adam and Eve to believe that they could not trust God with their best interests.
The Devil and the spiritual powers that follow his lead influence people to view God and one another with suspicion. He would have us use one another as instruments of our self interest to perpetuate his narrative of our personal, social, and political isolation and vulnerability. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to stand against the schemes of the Devil that slander and accuse God and our fellow members of the body of Christ of malicious intent. And we do not wrestle, or struggle intensely with human beings. We fight against the spiritual forces that want us to take our lives into our own hands and follow our own wisdom, to death and destruction.
The image that Paul uses for our struggle against the temptation to take our lives into our own hands is that of ranks of fully armed Roman soldiers. Roman soldiers stood and advanced on the battlefield standing shield to shield, like a dynamic wall. Their success depended upon moving in unison and maintaining the integrity of their shoulder to shoulder formation. It took a great deal of training and discipline to hold their formation while under attack, and their approach to warfare sustained their empire for centuries.
So, how do we stand and wrestle in response to the evil spiritual forces that motivate the self justifying, self-righteous, unjust, and immoral exploitation within our evil days as members of the body of Christ? We take up the whole armor of God. We strengthen our core with the truth that we are created in God’s image and redeemed by the gracious sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the fulfillment of God’s purpose for our lives. God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ covers our lives and provides for our livelihood as we honor his authority over our lives. Because of Jesus Christ, nothing can separate us from the life and love of God. This is our righteousness.
Our peace is the fact that every follower of Jesus Christ has been made a member of the one people of God and a citizen of the God’s kingdom. We are dedicated to spreading the good news of the gospel of peace provided by God through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God’s proven faithfulness protects us from the slanderous accusations of God’s human and spiritual opponents. Our trust in God’s faithfulness keeps us from abandoning each other when times get tough. Our success depends upon maintaining our shoulder to shoulder formation. We remind ourselves and each other all of the time that we are saved by God so that we may live for God and honor God’s love for each other.
This is how God protects us and provides for us as his people among the other people in our societies. In our next article we will discuss how God equips us to advance within our societies as citizens and ambassadors of the kingdom of heaven on earth as we wrestle against the forces of self righteous injustice, violence, and immorality. What the Bible calls evil, sin, and wickedness.
1. How do I respond to the slander and accusation of my personal, social, and political opponents?
2. How can I respond to personal offense in a way that honors the presence, power, and love of God within me, among God’s people, and towards God’s human enemies?
3. Why am I so quick to take my life into my own hands?