EPHESIANS 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In addition to the helmet of personal integrity, the breastplate of moral uprightness, and the belt of truth, the Christian disciple is advised to put on the shield of faith, the shoes of witness, and the sword of God’s word. Faith will be able “to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one,” the writer explains, a “flaming arrow” being any number of challenges and hardships that could otherwise, without the protection of a trust reliance on God, overwhelm us and do us in.

Thus free of anxiety, we can have all confidence as we venture boldly forth with the “gospel of peace,” the good news of God’s love revealed in Jesus, as our testimony to others. And should there be times when we feel at a loss how best to share our hope with the world, the word of God (not the Bible as yet, since its writings were still int he process of being composed and collected) will be provided to us at the decisive (from decidere, to cut) moment.

In the tradition of the apostle Paul, this writer exhorts his readers to remain strong and not shrink back in the face of trouble and persecution. Sending his letter from prison, he remained hopeful for an opportunity to share God’s love and the gospel of Jesus even there. And that is true for all of us, no matter our life situation. Indeed, it is frequently in the places we’d rather not be that our greatest opportunities for bearing witness are found.

EPHESIANS 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Many Christians today find little attraction in the militant language of popular evangelical Christianity, where Satanic conspiracies are regularly exposed and the Prince of Darkness seems to get more press and attention than does the Prince of Peace. But while it is frequently overplayed – even verging on becoming an occult fascination of its own – the idea that we are up against something in the world that is larger and more resilient than our own individual destructive impulses is firmly represented in the New Testament.

Whether it’s conceived as being an externally existing demonic personality (the classic Satan figure) or is regarded as the dark spirituality of a domination system that perpetuates prejudice, violence, and oppression in human society, you have only to read the daily newspaper to perceive that something significant haunts our hope as a species.

How to make our way through this battle ground of forces? How can we stay on the path of Jesus’ gospel in this jungle of distractions and hazards that we call the world? Our author helps us get equipped – and it is important to see that in five out of the six items he names, only one of them is a weapon; the rest are for protection.

Beginning with the head and moving down, we have the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, and the belt of truth. Salvation here is derived from the root-word meaning “healed” or “made whole,” so we might translate this first item as the helmet of wholeness or personal integrity. Together with uprightness (righteousness) and a commitment to truth, this combination of virtues will provide the disciple with a firm and stable center of balance in the midst of the buffeting forces of the world.

PSALM 84

How lovely is your dwelling place,
    O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
    for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
    to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
    my King and my God.
Happy are those who live in your house,
    ever singing your praise.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
    the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
    the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
    give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God;
    look on the face of your anointed.

10 For a day in your courts is better
    than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
    than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
    he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold
    from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts,
    happy is everyone who trusts in you.

We can say with certainty that any psalm in our Bible that refers to the temple and its courts could not have been written by David, who lived before its time. The ending of Psalm 23, about dwelling in the house of the Lord forever, makes it questionable on the list of authentic poems by the shepherd-king. Regardless, the remarkably personal and passionate spirituality that is expressed in this and other poems of the biblical collection form a continuous line of influence from David himself.

For the author of this psalm the house of God is a place of delight, where every creature can find refuge and a beauty beyond words. The poet’s heart longs to be in its sacred precincts, with songs of praise and overflowing joy.

And then there is this: Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion (the mountain on which the temple stood). As he looks outward to the stream of pilgrims approaching the temple, the psalmist has a vision of the true path of approach, in the heart of every honest and searching soul.

1 KINGS 8:22-30, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

The compromise, if you can call it that, between the establishmentarians and the hard-line prophets who were against the whole imperial idea, was that only the name and not the full glory of God would be said to dwell in the temple. This gave the temple-boosters a fixed focal point for their religious beliefs and practices, at the same time as it respected the temple-busters in their conviction that God was too immense to be kept in a house. But it was still a compromise and the debate raged on, mainly between priests (boosters) and prophets (busters).

Solomon resisted the idea of the temple serving as God’s earthly residence, as a counterpart to that in neighboring nations where the effigy of a god was honored and adored. In his prayer of dedication he refers several times to heaven as God’s true dwelling place. Before it became, in later centuries, the homeland paradise for departed true believers, the wide expanse of heaven was a symbol of God’s exalted majesty and boundless being.

As he spread out his hands to heaven, Solomon was acknowledging God as essentially Other, beyond human grasp and beyond even existence itself.

1 KINGS 8:22-30, 41-43

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”

We can hear the trepidation in Solomon’s words as he dedicates to God the newly built temple in Jerusalem. Yahweh had admonished David earlier for the presumption in his plans to erect a place for the deity to dwell. And what about that? Was God now of a different mind on the subject? A sacred house is acceptable today, but wasn’t yesterday? David couldn’t, but now Solomon can?

There is a rather fascinating undercurrent to the history of Israel’s progress toward becoming an empire like others round about, something of a counter-voice to the entire project. The prophet Samuel had anointed Saul king only after God reluctantly gave in to the people’s demand for a royal leader. Previous to that, Yahweh had been their Lord. Even after the throne was established, generations of prophets continued to rail against the corruption of kings, one after another.

Similar criticism sprang up around the plans to build a temple for God in the capital city of Jerusalem. Wasn’t it enough that the nation had set up a human authority in the place of God, and now they want to store Him away inside a shrine where He can be worshiped at their convenience? Later on, the prophet Jeremiah would be especially reproachful of a popular belief concerning the temple, that its presence in the city guaranteed it invincible to enemy attack.

JOHN 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

The psychologist Sigmund Freud proposed the theory that primitive religion was inspired out of the Oedipal urges of boys for their mothers, the satisfaction of which urges was frustrated initially by the presence of the father. When at last the frenzy of their lust overtook them, the gang of young males conspired to kill their father, and, if that’s not reaching far enough, consumed him in what later became modified into the ritual meal of our Christian Eucharist.

While the theory has not solid evidence to support it, we can see in it an imaginative attempt to explain certain rituals that were found among the so-called mystery religions that flourished just before and during the rise of Christianity. Texts have been found of litanies speaking about group members ‘eating the flesh and drinking the blood’ of their cult founder, thereby assimilating his very essence into themselves. Again, there is no evidence that actual cannibalistic consumption was performed, and the strong suggestion is that this language was symbolic of something intended to occur within the hearts and minds of the disciple community.

If we can allow for the possibility that early Christianity incorporated and reflected some of what was going on in the surrounding culture, then the invitation of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel to ‘eat my flesh and drink my blood’ may (if we look through the literal image) carry a profound meaning. What Jesus is saying is that eternal life – liberated, abundant, authentic life – is on offer for anyone who is willing to receive completely and with full commitment all that he is and stands for.

JOHN 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

The Christian sacrament of Eucharist or communion has its origins in the practice of Jesus, of hosting a simple meal of bread and wine for any and all who accepted his invitation. It is very likely that Jesus took his inspiration from the ancient traditions regarding Wisdom, personified as a woman (Sophia) who spread her table of bread and wine for the earnest seeker of truth (see Proverbs 9:1-6).

Importantly, Wisdom is yet another name for the will of God at work in the creation and governance of the universe. On the social level, her bounty was enjoyed in a life of moral integrity, temperance, and compassion for others. The disciple of Wisdom was promised fulfillment in this life and an honored memory in the generations to come.

The opposite of wisdom in the Bible is foolishness, following the lure of countless temptations and indulging the lower impulses. A fool lacks moral vision and is forever baffled or embittered over life’s apparent meaninglessness. As he moves across the surface from one attraction to the next, his spirit gradually expires.

To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus sounds grotesque and repulsive to us, but when we see the symbolism – blood=wine=joy; flesh=bread=sustenance – Jesus as Wisdom (his principal identity in the Fourth Gospel) is inviting us to make him and his way our life’s devotional purpose.

EPHESIANS 5:15-20

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

There must have been a problem with drinking in the Ephesian congregation, seeing as how the author singles out this vice from among all the others. ‘Don’t get drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit,’ he admonishes. There is something about drunkenness, and about addiction in general, that makes it stand out in the list of harmful behaviors. Research into the so-called diseases of addiction has revealed that the ‘cure’ lies less in successfully breaking the habit, than in recovering a deep faith in reality as a whole – or perhaps discovering that faith for the first time.

What the addict first found in the seductive power of the addictive material was an experience of rush, exhilaration, and release from their usual inhibitions. The person psychology of the addict is characterized by high levels of anxiety, abnormally high in many cases but not in every case. In their attempts to cope with or defend themselves against this paralyzing insecurity, these individuals become as it were tense and ‘clenched’, emotionally as well as physically, which is typically displayed in nervous and compulsive behaviors. Use or performance of the addictive material releases the tension, opens up the constricted channels of energy, and makes the user feel free and alive.

Underlying the addiction itself, then, is an issue of spiritual concern. Anxiety arises when we feel isolated and estranged from the ‘will of God’ – or, in other words, from the deeper principles and gracious support of a holy presence.

EPHESIANS 5:15-20

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20 always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

‘Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.’ Wise people therefore are careful people – or, remembering the psalmist’s proverb, who live their lives in the ‘fear of the Lord.’ Again, this does not mean that the wise are anxious or scared, or that they are afraid of what God will do to them if they should displease Him. To be full of care is the opposite of being indifferent or negligent or reckless. It is rather to be concerned, responsible, and deliberate in the choices we make and how we live.

The wise men and women of every generation are those who have sought the eternal and universal truths in life, and who seek to put their own lives in accord with the deeper principles that guide and govern all things. In the language of the Bible, these deeper principles are referred to as the ‘will of God’ – not some fickle and changing impulse in the divine life, but the current of destiny and fulfillment underlying, animating, and carrying forward the grand adventure of existence itself.

Our human sense or perception of that deeper force of God’s will is what stands behind the constant arrival of best-selling titles on the seven habits of this, the ten laws of that, and the four agreements that will improve our odds for success and happiness in life. Beneath the particular prescription of a given author, in other words, is an awareness open to everyone – that life is most meaningful and rewarding when we find a focus, keep our balance, and direct our energies to the things that truly matter.

PSALM 111

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who have pleasure in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures for ever.
He has caused his wonderful works to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy,
they are established for ever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant for ever.
    Holy and terrible is his name!
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    a good understanding have all those who practice it.
    His praise endures for ever!

The ‘fear of the Lord’ near the end of this poem of praise to God is not about being afraid of God, unless we are willing to expand the notion to include the kind of respect and cautious attention we give to things in life that are dangerous enough to do us in, should we lose our focus or balance. Driving a car, for instance, requires what we might call a ‘fear of the road’, which means that it is wise to have the big picture, follow the law, and drive defensively if you want to reach your destination in safety.

Before the religions of modernity domesticated the Holy and began to enclose the divine inside inerrant scriptures and dogmatic orthodoxies, God was revered as the origin and end of all things, the deepest source and highest reality, encompassing yet involved energetically in the world of time. The ‘will of God’ was more than a reference to the ethical commandments; it was thought to be the providential power moving all of creation to its fulfillment.

If you want to come into the fulfillment of your own life, then you need to put yourself into alignment with God’s will. Be careful though, because if you thoughtlessly stumble off the path or intentionally leave it in pursuit of your own glory, you are likely to end up in a ditch. When you respect your place in the order of things and look for the signals of God’s will in your life, you will be given true understanding.