Strength, Power, and Might
A Sermon Preached on Sunday, November 13, 2011, by
The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour 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 armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:10-13)
What a wonderful thing it is to be strong! When I was a boy, I went to see Paul Anderson who was billed as the strongest man in the world. Some of his accomplishments were listed in Guinness Book of World Records. I saw Paul Anderson in 1967, I think, and he performed all kinds of weightlifting feats, and then afterword preached a wonderful sermon on proofs of the Resurrection of Christ. He was not only the world’s strongest man, but also an active witness for Christ.
We see weightlifters in the Olympics and wonder how they could get that strong. Physical strength is a great blessing, and you don’t know what a blessing it is until you lose it. Strength is necessary for so much of what we do. We couldn’t go to work without strength. We couldn’t engage in athletic competitions without strength. Think of the various occupations that require great strength, such as construction workers, roofers, roughnecks, and pipefitters.
When we think of people who need great physical strength, soldiers come to mind. When Paul thinks of the spiritual strength we need, it was only natural to think of soldiers. The Christian is often portrayed in Scripture as a soldier. We emphasize this aspect of the Christian life in our baptismal service. The priest says,
We receive this Child (or person) into the congregation of Christ’s flock; and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life’s end. Amen.
When we are baptized, we are enlisted in the army of the Lord.
There are many kinds of soldiers in the world, but the Christian soldier requires more strength than any other person, for as St. Paul writes, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” We are fighting against principalities and powers. We are wrestling with spiritual wickedness in high places. In other words, the Christian is fighting against the forces of hell itself. Looking at the powerful enemies we face, the apostle Paul looks at the Christian and says, “Be strong.”
Have you ever had someone tell you, “Be strong”? Most of the time, don’t you hate it when people tell you that? Usually people say that to you when you are facing some kind of trial or difficulty in your life. You are dealing with grief, you are facing a surgery and you are scared, or you have an illness, and it is weighing you down and people say rather flippantly, “Well, you have to be strong.” You want to reply, “Yes, and I’d like to see you be strong if you were going through what I’m going through.” You want to say, “I know I have to be strong. I want to be strong, but the question is, ‘How can I be strong in the face of this difficulty’?” When we are facing the great battles of life, and when we are facing the great temptations in life, how are we to be strong, especially during those times when you feel your weakest?
This command, “to be strong,” comes to many of God’s people throughout Scripture. When Joshua was about to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God told him,
Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest. (Joshua 1:6-9)
Three times in those 4 verses, the Lord tells Joshua, “Be strong.” When we think of soldiers and great military leaders in the Bible, we most often think of Joshua. He was the one who led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. He was the one who led the people into battle against insurmountable forces. Perhaps, as he stood on the borders of the Promised Land, he began to wonder, “Can I do this? Can I really lead these people into this land where there are so many powerful enemies?” Perhaps he was having doubts. Why else would the Lord tell him three times, “Be strong”? He must have needed the encouragement. God may have been saying, “Yes, there are great battles ahead, great enemies to face, but you must be strong.”
The Lord says the same thing to us. He tells us that we have many battles to face. We have many spiritual enemies who want to destroy our souls. They are going to come against us like a flood. We are going to be tempted to disobey the Lord, the temptations are going to be strong, and we are going to feel as though we are powerless to resist. We are going to face trials in our lives, and when those trials come, these forces of hell are going to tempt us to doubt the love and mercy of God, perhaps to even doubt his very existence. Then, one day, we are going to face death. We may as well get used to it. The Christian life is one battle after the other. There will never be a time when we can put down our swords and take off our armor. We are going to get tired in the conflict, but the Lord comes to us and says, “Be strong.”
This command that God gave to Joshua to be strong is one that keeps being repeated in Scripture. In the book of Joshua, there is the story of how Joshua captured those five kings hiding in the cave of Makkedah, and we are told Joshua “called for all the men of Israel, and said unto the captains of the men of war which went with him, Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings. And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them. And Joshua said unto them, Fear not, nor be dismayed, be strong and of good courage: for thus shall the LORD do to all your enemies against whom ye fight” (Joshua 10:24-25). You see that Joshua is telling his men the same thing that God had told him: “Be strong and of good courage.” If you are, you will be able to put your feet on the necks of all your enemies.
In the book of I Chronicles, David is giving his charge to Solomon to build the temple, the house of the Lord, and he uses these words again that God spoke to Joshua: “Now, my son, the LORD be with thee; and prosper thou, and build the house of the LORD thy God, as he hath said of thee. Only the LORD give thee wisdom and understanding, and give thee charge concerning Israel, that thou mayest keep the law of the LORD thy God. Then shalt thou prosper, if thou takest heed to fulfil the statutes and judgments which the LORD charged Moses with concerning Israel: be strong, and of good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed” (I Chron. 22:11-13) . Then,in chapter 28, David speaks again to Solomon, and we read, “And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD” (I Chron. 28:20).
In the New Testament, we have this same command, “Be strong.” We have it here in Ephesians 6, and we read it again in I Cor. 16:13, where St. Paul writes, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” Paul tells Timothy, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (II Tim. 2:1-3). We need strength if we are going to bear the difficulties a soldier must face.
On this past Friday, we celebrated Veteran’s Day, and we gave thanks for all the people who have served their country, and who are serving our country. Some gave their lives in various wars to preserve our freedoms. Some survived and live on. But whether they lived or died, the one thing they had in common was that they had to endure hardness. It’s not easy being a soldier. My wife and I were watching a program the other night that described some of the living conditions that soldiers and sailors have to endure. I don’t think I could endure three days on one of those ships, much less three months. Because of Tom Brokaw’s book, we now often refer to that WWII generation as “the greatest generation.” They knew how to endure hardness. They knew how to be strong. I don’t know what kind of generation the people of the future will call us. We may be regarded as “the weakest generation,” because we have been so pampered that we don’t know how to endure hardness.
It is difficult for us to be strong. Yet, the Christian is called upon to face life’s toughest battles, and, like the wimps we often are, we say, “I can’t endure this. I could handle anything but this.” Still, the command still comes to us, “Be strong.”
How can we be strong in life’s most trying moments? There are some people who just seem to have a natural ability to be able to face anything. But usually, no matter how much a person may have this natural fortitude, things often arise where our natural abilities, or our natural strength of mind, fail us. In these spiritual battles we face, we have no natural strength to be able to endure these things. You make a great mistake if you think that you can face the forces of hell with your own will power. When these forces of spiritual wickedness come at us with temptations, doubts, fears, we cannot fight them in our own strength. They are simply too powerful for us. But St. Paul gives us the key to victory in this verse: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” The first key to being strong in the spiritual battle is to realize how weak you are and how dependent you are upon the might and power of God. You can have strength, and you can have might, but to face these battles, it must be his strength and his might.
Three words are used in that short verse that give us the hope of victory in all our spiritual battles: strength, power, and might. But strength, power, and might come from the Lord. If we have his strength, power and might, there is no force we cannot conquer, no trial we cannot endure, and no temptation we cannot subdue.
How do we obtain this strength, this power, this might? If you are a Christian, it is already at your disposal. St. Peter writes, “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (II Peter 1:3). We have already have all things we need to live a godly life, so we already have strength, power, and might, but we don’t access these resources that God has bestowed upon us. Let’s take a man who is a real couch potato. He does nothing but sit all day and watch sitcoms and sporting events. Then, he complains about how weak he is, and how he has shortness of breath and tires so quickly. He is probably weak because of his inactivity. If he got off the couch and worked out, he would find he was getting stronger day by day
Christians complain that they are weak, but are they? The strength, the power, the might are there at our disposal. We simply refuse to believe it is there. Yet, hasn’t God given us evidence throughout our lives that it is there. Many of you have been through very trying and difficult times, and you probably said, “I don’t have the strength to get through this.” But you did. Wasn’t that the strength, the power, and the might of God working in you, showing you that you could do things that you thought were impossible?
How do we access this strength, power, and might? God has given us all the means of grace to help us acquire these resources. The first, of course, is prayer. Prayer is a recognition that we are dependent on God. Prayer is an expression of real humility, for it is an admission, “I cannot face this on my own.” It is an incredible moment in a Christian’s life when he fully realizes how dependent he is on God. Many people seem to never realize it, but for many, there comes that moment when you go to your knees and confess, “Lord, I cannot endure these struggles unless you give me strength.” Then, that wonderful, miraculous thing does happen:—strength is given.
Then, the word of God is a means of grace to strengthen us. If you want strength, power, and might, you must immerse yourself in Scripture, for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. As you absorb God’s word into your heart and mind, your faith is increased. It is by faith that we access this strength, power, and might. It is there for us, but we need the faith to believe it, and that faith is increased as we study the word of God. Remember how St. Paul describes Abraham’s faith. God made to him a promise that seemed to be impossible to fulfill. God promised him that he would only have a son, but also that he would become the father of many nations. St. Paul describes Abraham’s faith in this manner: “And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” (Rom. 4:19-21). This is the faith we must have. We must be strong in faith, believing the promises of God, and when we truly believe them, we will have strength, power, and might, and we will not stagger, even during the onslaught of our mightiest enemies.
Then, there is this sacrament of Holy Communion to strengthen us. For us, it is more than a memorial. We really expect, when we partake of these elements, that strength, power, and might will be imparted to us. There is no one time experience whereby we are given all the strength, power, and might that we will need for the rest of our lives. It is given to us as we need it, and it is communicated to us through the normal use of the means of grace: worship, preaching, Bible study, prayer, and the sacraments. We are here on this day to worship God, but we are also here to receive strength, power, and might.
Yes, we face great and powerful enemies, but we must be strong in the Lord. In II Chronicles 32 we have the story of how the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, was about to conquer Judah and Jerusalem when Hezekiah was king. The Assyrians had the greatest military might in the world at that time. Their cruelty was legendary, and the whole world was afraid of them, but Hezekiah goes to the people and he says, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah” (II Chron. 32:7-8). There we find the key to strength, power, and might. The military might of Jerusalem was no match for the Assyrians, but Hezekiah says, “There be more with us than with him.” The Lord is with us, and will fight our battles. No matter what battles we face, always remember that God is greater, far more powerful than any force that comes against you. If you stand in his strength, you cannot be defeated. We are told that the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah. Isn’t that beautiful? Oh, that we could do the same. We have a whole book of promises telling us this same truth over and over. No matter what you are facing, God is with you. God will give you strength. He will fight your battles. If we only had faith to believe it to be so, we could rest on his word and find peace, knowing that we will have the strength, power, and might to face whatever might come at us in this life, for it is the strength, power, and might of God himself. Amen.