8/24/03, P11B

“Strength's Secret Source”
Ephesians 6: 10-20

s Saint Paul ends his letter to the church he founded in Ephesus he comes to his last instruction, and possibly the most important, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his Power." (6:10, NRSV) It is clear that the first theologian of the Church felt that our inward and spiritual strength is from God Almighty. Physical strength will only take us so far but spiritual strength will take us all the way home.

As in physical training in which we build up our muscles by repetitive use of resistant weights, so we build spiritual strength by exercising resistance to the problems, pain and temptations of life. We run the race of life in order to be able to run further with less fatigue. Adversity builds strength to overcome the next time trouble comes. Folks who never exercise resistance, wrestling with issues, outlasting hard times or turning around misfortune, are never made strong. Therefore, we accept the strength of salvation and we utilize the armor of God and pray in the Spirit without ceasing. In this way we depend upon God's power. Our power is weak, but His power is able to win every battle.

Some would dismiss Paul as a loser in that he wrote this letter from prison. However, he had been imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. This is a vivid reminder that our outward circumstances do not determine our inward experience of Grace. As it turned out, Paul's prison became a powerful pulpit.

In verse nineteen we hear how he depended upon the Spirit in preaching: My free rendition reads, "Pray for me that when I preach, God's message may be delivered through me to make clear the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare boldly, because I must preach the gospel."

Preaching, evangelism, wisdom, leadership and all functional competencies for ministry are made powerful as we depend upon Him. Anyone who has attempted Christian ministry has learned that it is beyond our ability to fulfill its demands. It is dealing within the realm of precious souls and no matter how much experience we have had, we constantly throw ourselves upon the Holy Spirit for help. Just as our personal spiritual warfare requires that we put on the protective gear of God in order to fight against powerful forces, it is also true that we need to call upon God's superhuman power in order to reach out in His name with what Paul called a sense of, "boldness in proclaiming the mystery of the gospel." Being ultimately dependant upon Grace does not mean that we do not need to do our best in education and preparation for didactic ministries. To be "strong in the Lord" in relation to preaching and teaching is to prepare, but then allow God to amplify it in precious souls.

My former Associate Pastor at Stone Mountain First, Mitchell Lewis, is now a Major in the Army Chaplaincy. You may have read about his return home from Iraq after a six month tour in which he was close to the front lines. His picture was on the cover of last week's "Wesleyan Christian Advocate," and in the long article he shared how he attempted to do for his troops the same kind of things that all clergy do. Mitch was aware of his extreme dependency upon God's power to raise up his efforts and make them His medium for ministering in a difficult situation of war. Knowing Mitchell well, and having been in touch with him via e-mail during his military career, I know that he is keenly aware of the spiritual warfare that every Christian struggles with everyday. However, during the battle in which his Third Infantry waged to successfully capture Baghdad, he was more than usual relying on a higher power to both protect him and to utilize his best efforts in ministry to help his troops.

I am sure that Mitchell experienced, at a deeper level, the need to "Pray in the Spirit," as verse eighteen expresses it.
(NRSV) Although we sometimes think that prayer is an ordinary daily part of our devotional lives, in times of testing, such as being under gunfire in the desert of Iraq, or fighting through a personal battle with sickness, bereavement, or temptations, we occasionally realize that prayer is ultimately an intimate conversation with our omniscient and loving Divine Parent. Praying in the Spirit is most personally experienced as a deep awareness that we are connecting in a soulful conversation with one who hears, understands, cares about our welfare and will intervene.

Marilyn and I visited the prison cell in Rome from which Saint Paul is said to have written this letter to his Church at Ephesus, and many of his "prison epistles." It was not an elegant setting, to say the least. In reality it resembled a foxhole. However, from that underground prison chamber Paul was able to write letters that the Holy Spirit has used for two-thousand years as believers have read them billions of times. On a much smaller scale, but in a similar manner, God still uses those who submit to His grace to raise up their teaching a Sunday School Class, preaching to a congregation, or sitting with a troubled soul listening to their story and then praying with them in the Spirit.

God's miracle of ministry is not only something that was communicated through Paul, but it is still regularly happening as we faithfully rely upon the Holy Spirit to ennoble our best efforts as His instrument. Strength's secret source is submission.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
8/24/03, P11B