Saturday mornings I meet with a small group of men for Bible-study, mutual encouragement, prayer, and accountability. It’s called a “covenant group,” meaning we meet around a series of agreements, including confidentiality. Covenant groups are a growing emphasis at our church; WFPC offers five specifically designed for men, and close to 30 overall.
Right now we’re at the front end of a study based on Ephesians 6:10-20; this section is known as The Whole Armor of God.
Last week we talked about the setting – what was going on in Ephesus historically, and culturally, why the letter was written, what the church looked like, what kind of understanding the people of that region would have had concerning gods of all sorts, and what they knew about Jesus.
TODAY’S CONVERSATION: This week it was my turn to facilitate. We looked at the following selection, and the conversation turned around “evil.” What is evil? How have we experienced evil? What kind of power does evil hold? And what is its purpose?
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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. 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…”
It is obvious that the writer of Ephesians wants to see people equipped to deal with evil, so I thought it would be a useful idea to have a conversation about what evil is, so we know what it is that we are talking about.
I started indirectly, by asking, What exactly is the point of Christianity? In order to answer that we went all the way back to the beginning of Genesis, and we talked about the following question: What went wrong? And – what is the fix?
- THE FALL: What went wrong, essentially, was the relationship between God and human beings. Evil facilitated a distortion of the truth, disobedience, and then – the coup de grâce from my point of view – disassociation from God. Distortion; disobedience; disassociation; distance. Human beings hid themselves from God, distancing themselves from the most important relationship God had created for us to enjoy.
- THE LAW: In a vain attempt to fix what was broken, law after law after law piled up, burden upon burden, until it became impossible to do anything without another indictment, another failure, another inch or two deeper into the giant hole humankind was – and still is – digging for ourselves.
- ANOTHER WAY: The law – quite simply – is not up to the job. So Jesus came to show us another way. Because of Jesus, we – that’s you, and that’s me – can be reconciled to God. Not because Jesus makes us, or even enables us to, follow the law, but because Jesus presents us blameless.
- RESTORATION: When Jesus said he came to complete – or to fulfill – the law, Jesus meant that he came to achieve the end that the law was working toward. That end is a restored relationships with God.
EVIL’S AGENDA: The chief end of evil, then, is to frustrate and to defeat the work of restoration. Evil would be perfectly happy if the human family followed every bizarre and sometimes contradictory “rule” outlined in the Bible, yet failed to follow Jesus and accept the gift of unconditional reconciliation with God.
The “wiles of the devil,” the “schemes” as another translation puts it, are concerned with opposing the work of the Gospel. The Gospel is the good news that, because of Jesus, we can enjoy the “new creation” privilege of a restored relationship with God.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! – 2 Corinthians 5:17
So the work of evil is not about throwing a wrench into “the law” – Jesus has already done that! The work of evil is to obstruct our ongoing reconciliation with God, the evidence of which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” – Galatians 5:22-23
Another way to say this is that evil is anti-freedom. Evil wants to keep people in bondage to anything and everything with the potential to come between them and God… and – as often as not – what keeps men and women disassociated from God is the law.
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1
I believe, then, that – quite often and quite ironically – the agenda of the legalists, the proof-texters, the literalists, the “let me tell you why God hates these people” crowd, serves to work against the restoration initiative of the gospel.
THE POINT: If the whole point of Christianity is that of fixing our broken relationship with God, and celebrating that joy by following Jesus and continuing God’s reconciling work in the world, then the conversation about defeating evil should be more a conversation about guarding our relationship with God than about subjugating ourselves to the law.
Do I hear an “Amen…?”