The Presbyterian Pulpit
A sermon by the Rev. Dr. David E. Leininger

BEING A CHRISTIAN "SURVIVOR"

Delivered 8/27/2000
Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
To read endnotes, click on the the note number, then click on the to return to your place in the text.

"Survivor." This summer's hottest cultural phenomenon. Sixteen castaway contestants on an isolated tropical beach near Borneo in search of adventure and a $1-million grand prize - "Gilligan's Island" meets Regis Philbin. They competed in twisted survival games, jungle obstacles, swimming relays, larvae eating. Even more harrowing, they gathered for a "tribal council" at the end of every episode - "the tribe has spoken" and one more contestant is booted off the island. The last person to survive the physical challenges and the Darwinian selection takes home the cash. As Newsweek said in its cover story this week, this is not "just survival, but office politics played by people who have not showered for weeks."(1)

I confess that I have not been following the series this summer - my idea of being a rugged outdoorsman involves riding in a golf cart and roughing it for me is staying at the Holiday Inn. I was even less thrilled at the episodes concluding with the barely disguised metaphor for human sacrifice. But, along with more than 50-million other American sheep, I was led to the finale on Wednesday night, and saw an admittedly conniving corporate trainer win the million. The real winner, of course, was CBS which was able to charge $600-thousand dollars for 30-second commercials during the final episode and has 50-thousand people already applying for "Survivor 2" which will soon be contested in the Australian outback. Go figure.

With that as background, think again of the lesson we just read from Ephesians. The Apostle Paul says we are also in a contest, in mortal combat even, "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil..." And we have to admit he is right. Our opponents are not Rich or Kelly or Rudy or Sue, but much tougher ones. You and I are up against evil that goes beyond human comprehension - systemic evil that pervades our lives.

If you wonder about that, think in our own nation, the richest that the world has ever seen, of those who have to sleep in doorways or in alleys or in dumpsters to avoid the wet or cold. Is that evil? Of course it is! Whose fault is it? Some miserable, hard-hearted building owner who refuses people a warm room? Or is it the fault of the system that even in peacetime sees its priorities as bombs before beds? Do you think it is evil to have teenagers make a better living selling drugs in the school yard than selling hamburgers at McDonalds? I do. Whose fault is it? Abominable drug dealers who pay too much, or upstanding employers who pay too little? There is a system here. Do you think it is evil to allow sick people to go without available medical treatment or nursing home care when it is needed? Certainly it is. But treatment and care cost money. Is it the meanness and greed of doctors and hospitals that keep people from treatment? Or is it the system that is not willing to pay to have this care provided? My point is that there is evil out there which is beyond the capacity of you or me to correct. Paul understood that...probably better than we do. He saw that this would be "survival of the fittest."

So how do we become Christian "survivors?" If Paul were writing today, he might use illustrations drawn from the TV experience, but as a creature of his own time, he talks of survival equipment in terms his contemporaries would understand. He uses a picture of the first century's quintessential survivor, a Roman Legionnaire, and suggests the way he is outfitted as a metaphor for our Christian survival equipment. Paul calls it "the armor of God."

First he talks about the belt, that which holds things together. The "girdle of truth," as the old King James Version has it. One of the complaints we heard about contestants on the "Survivor" series was that they often were not truthful with one another. In fact, outright lies were employed as a strategy of the contest. If deliberate deception were limited to that tropical island, we might pass it off, but we know better.

Jesus once said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." The truth is that life is a battleground, not a playground, and until we recognize that, we are in danger of being overrun. The belt of truth - GOD'S truth - is our first piece of equipment.

Next Paul talks about the breastplate of righteousness. Please do not misunderstand him. Biblical righteousness does not mean blamelessness; it refers to the character of a relationship. Paul wants us to know that we will never be able to withstand the evil in this world without the protection of a right relationship with the Lord.

Abraham is one of the rare characters in scripture called righteous. Why? Because he did everything right? Of course not. Abraham was just as much a sinner as any of us. The Bible says Abraham was considered righteous because of his faith. His relationship with God was right. He had enough faith to pull up stakes and move to a foreign land because God told him to. He had enough faith to trust God to give him a son and heir even though he was an old man. He even had enough faith to be willing to sacrifice that heir simply because God asked him to do it. The relationship between Abraham and his God was one of master and servant and Abraham kept it in that order. He did not try to usurp God's place. Abraham was called righteous because his relationship with God was right. If we wear the breastplate of righteousness, it means our relationship is solid - it will be trusting, it will be dependent, it will recognize that God is God, and we are not. The relationship will be right.

Then there are the shoes of the gospel of peace. There is something paradoxical in presenting the warrior in the midst of battle equipped with peace. Paul knows that to establish the peace of God in the universe (which is our ultimate aim), we must do battle against the spiritual evil which disturbs that peace. Perhaps the reason Paul uses the metaphor of shoes is that peace is something that we cannot hope to convey by sitting on our rusty-dusty. Peace will not magically break out.

Then there is the shield of faith (or to properly translate here we should read "faithfulness" - the Greek word is the same -and remember that we are talking about GOD's armor, so to speak of God's faith would not make sense). The Bible is full of stories of God's faithfulness. There is that wonderful parable in the Old Testament in the Book of Hosea. The prophet was instructed to take himself a wife - not some sweet young thing, but a prostitute named Gomer. She ran off after the wedding. He went after her. He gave her presents. She ran off again. He went after her again. She bore three children (presumably not Hosea's), but none of that mattered. Hosea never gave up on Gomer. The message of the book that bears that prophet's name is that God never gives up on his people, no matter how low they go. No matter how unfaithful we are, God will always be faithful. For those in the midst of a struggle for survival, it is comforting to know that our God will never desert us, will always stand by us and will never let us down.

Next Paul talks about the helmet of salvation. Salvation does not mean pie in the sky by and by. Salvation means health, wholeness, something similar to the old Hebrew word Shalom. Salvation is a description of life the way God meant life to be lived.

The way the Bible is arranged helps us understand. As you read the opening chapters of Genesis and hear the story of creation - life in its simplest and best form - and then see how that good life was ruined by sin and evil, we know why this world is not the wonderful place God originally intended. But at the very end of the Bible, the final chapters of the book of Revelation, we read in a beautifully poetic way an affirmation that God will one day restore creation and make it good again. No more hunger, no more thirst, no more tears, no more war, no more death. Salvation.

The reason Paul called salvation a helmet is because a helmet offers protection for the head. Too often Christian people either act or fail to act because they THINK they know what God wants. Sometimes we even misidentify the enemy, and that ALWAYS results in disaster. Someone has said that the church is the only army in history that shoots its own wounded. Friendly fire? Ha! We need God's protection for our heads if we are to ultimately survive.

The final piece of equipment is the sword of the spirit - the word of God. It has been noted that, of all the equipment for Christian soldiers, this is the only source of OFFENSE. And, no question, some faithful folks have been most offensive in their use of God's word - they have used it as a club to bludgeon people into one narrow, little theological mold. I do not think that is the appropriate use for the sword.

Perhaps the phrase might be better understood by looking at another passage where God's word is compared to a sword. Hebrews 4:12 - "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." This is hardly an offensive attack. It is exploratory surgery. If Paul had written in the year 2000, he might have called God's word, not the sword, but the scalpel of the spirit.

A couple was entertaining a visiting minister in their home. Near the end of the evening, the wife asked the guest if he would care to read the Bible and offer prayer before they all retired. Being assured that he would enjoy the opportunity, the hostess said to her young son, "Bobby, go into the other room and bring that big book Mommy and Daddy read so much." In a moment the lad came back...with the Sears Catalog.(2)

If we are to have any hope of successfully waging this contest of survival, this war really, we will open our marching orders...and follow them. We will make use of the sword.

Sometime back I read a book called Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War.(3) It looks at some of the disasters in the history of international conflict with an eye to avoiding repetitions of the same tragic mistakes. It makes some interesting points:

1) Do not underrate your enemy.(4) Our military learned that lesson the hard way in Viet Nam; Christian soldiers cannot underestimate the power of evil in the world. If we do, we will not survive even though we serve a commander who has already won the war.

2) Be alert - Pearl Harbor was not destroyed because no defense was possible but because the warning of impending attack was never sounded.(5) If we are to survive, we must be alert to avoid the attacks of evil that often come as unexpectedly as kamikazes.

And 3) Use your equipment - the book says, "The disaster of Pearl Harbor lies in the failure of the Army and Navy in Hawaii to make their fight with the equipment at hand - it was not that they had no equipment, for they did, but they did not utilize what they had."(6) Christians have the equipment to survive - the armor of God. We need to use it.

Paul gives one final instruction. He says pray:

Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Pray at all times and pray for one another. There is a wonderful reminder here that we are not Lone Rangers on this island. We are members of a tribe - not the Tagi or the Pagong, but that vast company of saints through the ages known as the Church of Jesus Christ. We are not alone.

But do not stop there. Paul asks the saints to pray for HIM. Sounds like a request we have heard around here in recent days. Do not just pray for your fellow "soldiers," pray for your "field officers" as well. Yes, pray for your pastor...every day. And pray for those faithful friends who are making themselves available as teachers and leaders in our Sunday School program. They are the ones who will be equipping us for survival from week to week.

Being a Christian "Survivor." Yes, there IS a contest going on, not against Rich and Kelly and Rudy and Sue, but, as Paul says, "against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil," against everything that would make life less than the Lord intended for all creation, even you and me. Our "tribe has spoken." We MUST survive. We CAN survive. And we WILL survive. In the name of Jesus Christ. To HIM be glory, honor, dominion and power, now and forevermore!

Amen!


1. "'Survivor Tsunami," Newsweek, 8/28/2000, p. 54

2. Clyde Murdock, Ed, A Treasury of Humor, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1967), Page 14.

3. Eliot Cohen and John Gooch, (New York: Free Press, 1990)

4. p. 16

5. p. 50

6. p. 49

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