By Mark Ellis
The following is excerpted from a sermon delivered November 27, 2011 at Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach. The assigned passage is Ecclesiastes 9:13-18.
The Book of Ecclesiastes contains a very important message: Life is ultimately meaningless without God. When you place God at the center of your life, you find meaning and purpose you never knew before.
Before I became a Christian I had no purpose other than to live for me, myself and I – the unholy trinity. I would never have guessed in my twenties or even my thirties that I would become a pastor and that my life’s great purpose today would be to advance Christian missions around the world.
And I’m sure that many of you have found a whole new purpose in life since you began to follow Jesus.
One of my favorite pastors, Ray Stedman, calls Ecclesiastes “The inspired book of error.” It is unique in the Bible because of its mostly human perspective on life, rather than revealing God’s point of view about life.
Everything in Ecclesiastes is evaluated according to what man can see, “under the sun,” the appearance of things from a human perspective, excluding divine revelation.
In Ecclesiastes, chapter 9, we see an unusual story:
13 I also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me: 14 There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siege works against it. 15 Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. 16 So I said, “Wisdom is better than strength.” But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.
The passage tells us a city was saved by the wisdom of one poor man, but his wisdom was forgotten. Isn’t it true that earthly fame, glory, heroism is quickly forgotten?
How many of us can remember the greatest hero from World War II? Does anybody remember his name? How about the greatest hero fromVietnamor the Gulf Wars? All earthly glory is fleeting, as this poor wise man who saved his city discovered.
But perhaps we can look at this passage in Ecclesiastes in a different light and find a spiritual application for us.
The little city can be compared to your soul. In other words, small and defenseless (in your own strength) against the enemy. The powerful ruler who comes against your soul, who wages war against you, is Satan.
It may surprise you to learn that behind the scenes in this beautiful area of Southern California, there is a deadly war being fought. It’s a war between light and darkness, good and evil, heaven and hell, Jesus and Satan.
Satan is waging war against God, he is trying to mess up God’s creation and disrupt God’s plans. He and his demons wage war against Christian homes, Christian marriages, and against Christian leaders.
But there’s another problem here: many in our sophisticated age don’t believe Satan exists – and I’m talking about Christians. A Barna survey conducted in 2008 revealed that only 35% of American Christians believe Satan is a real being. If you don’t believe he exists, you’re in a precarious situation.
In any contest or battle it’s important to know something about your adversary. I have a friend, Joe Moeller, who is a baseball scout for the Florida Marlins. He gets paid to watch pitchers on the opposing team. He studies their pitches, what they like to throw in certain situations.
Football teams spend a lot of time watching game films of opposing teams, so they know what to expect when the battle begins.
When I first joined the staff of Calvary Evangelical Free Church of Laguna Beach — within only a few weeks of being on the job — I witnessed the deliverance of a demon-possessed man. Once you see something like that up close, it alters your perspective on the reality of evil.
The Apostle Peter warns us, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
The devil is a real being, he’s methodical, he’s sinister. In your flesh you’re no match for him. Like the little city attacked by a powerful ruler, your soul is no match for Satan if you try to come against him in your own strength. You might as well be shooting a bee bee gun at a charging bear.
But there is some good news. Satan is also a defeated foe. It’s not that Satan will be defeated some day. He’s already defeated.
1 John 4:4 tells us, “Greater is He who is in you (the Holy Spirit) than he who is in the world (the devil).”
Who has defeated Satan? Jesus defeated him when he went to the cross. If we go back to our story in Ecclesiastes, if the small city is like your soul, and the powerful ruler is like Satan doing battle against your soul, then who is the poor wise man who delivers the city – who can deliver our souls?
There is only one name given to us under heaven, our Savior, our Deliverer — Jesus Christ!
2 Cor. 8:9 tells us, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”
He knew the splendor and riches of heaven, yet he came as a little baby thing, born in a stable, the child of a peasant woman. He never owned his own house. He had to borrow a donkey to ride intoJerusalem.
By the wisdom of this Jesus –a poor man by the world’s standards – we can be delivered from the attacks of the evil one.
If Satan is a defeated foe, then why do we have to worry? Well even though Satan was defeated at Calvary, God still allows Satan to have limited power on this earth. It’s a power that you can overcome in Jesus Christ. And God’s plan, his great desire is to make you an over comer – that brings glory to Him.
There was a story that appeared in the Arizona Republic that quoted doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital in Phoenix. They warned the public that a rattlesnake can still bite even if its head is cut off. They had five patients admitted during the year who were bitten by rattlers they thought were dead.
A snake whose head is cut off but is still biting is a pretty good description of Satan. He took the form of a serpent in the Garden. He was defeated by Jesus at the cross.
But until the return of Christ, Satan can still create trouble on planet earth. He uses people under his control to hurt others, to poison relationships and spread his venom into our lives.
So we need to sober and alert, and be prepared when he attacks. If you don’t prepare for the battle you’re going to lose it. How do we prepare? By seeking God’s wisdom – by seeking the wisdom of the poor, wise man, Jesus.
What is wisdom? It is the capacity to make choices that will always bring about the best results from God’s perspective, and it will bring about those results through the best possible means.
In the Bible you are given godly wisdom, strategies that will help you find victory when you’re under spiritual attack. One of the places we can find such wisdom is in the Book of Ephesians, chapter 6, which tells us to put on the full armor of God to ward off the attacks of the evil one.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Verse 13 says to put on the full armor, or the whole armor. It’s important that you don’t leave off one piece. When Paul wrote this book, he was either chained to a Roman guard or very close to one, so he could study every detail of a Roman soldier’s armor.
What would happen to a hockey player if they left off their shin guards? Or a football player if they left off their shoulder pads? Most likely they would get hurt in that part of the body they left unprotected.
As I look back at my life and review the times I’ve fallen, the times I’ve really blown it, I have to conclude it’s because I didn’t have on the whole armor of God. So I need this, because I still struggle with sin, and I need God’s strength in the midst of my weakness to live a victorious life.
I talked to a couple after church last week, and they told me their practice as a married couple, when they first wake up in the morning, they go through a prayer exercise together where they put on the armor of God.
When Dale Poller spoke at my sons’ college fellowship group called “The House,” he introduced a prayer that’s called the “Dressing forBattle” prayer, written by Charles Stanley, that’s from Ephesians and some have found to be a useful tool to get themselves ready for whatever the day may bring.
The prayer starts with “Good Morning Lord. Thank you for assuring me of victory today if I follow your battle plan. So by faith I claim victory over ________________,” – and you can fill in the blank with your area of weakness. Then the prayer methodically follows a Christian “soldier” as they dress themselves for battle.
Verse 14 says, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.” The Roman soldier in ancient times had a wide leather belt around his waist to keep his tunic from flapping in the breeze.
Sometimes you see weight lifters wearing a wide leather belt to help support their back, and to support the center or core of the body.
The belt of truth speaks to your integrity. The believer should know the truth, love the truth, live the truth, tell the truth, and speak the truth. If you don’t stand up for truth in your life – everything else begins to fall apart.
What happens if you’re in a business partnership or a marriage and you find out your partner or your spouse has been lying to you? When basic trust is lost due to lying, relationships break apart. The reality is that trust can be wiped out in an instant – yet it takes a long time to rebuild.
Satan is a liar, he’s called the Father of Lies. He will try to attack you with lies. The truth is that you are a new creature in Christ, and God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear. Are you putting on the belt of truth – and really walking in it every day?
The second piece of armor Paul mentions in Ephesians 6 is the breastplate of righteousness. A Roman soldier wore a breastplate made of woven chains that covered his lungs, his intestines, his vital organs. Without a breastplate, he would be vulnerable to any sword thrust or arrow.
Pray to God: “Lord, by faith I put on the breastplate of righteousness. Through this I guard my heart and my emotions. I will not allow my heart to attach itself to anything that is impure. I will not allow my emotions to rule my decisions. I will set my heart on what is right and good and just.
Satan would like you to make little ethical compromises in your business or personal life. So you shade the truth here and there, cut corners here or there. It may not seem like a very big deal at first, but it’s a crack in your armor. Satan knows where that crack in your armor is located.
I don’t think Bernie Madoff started with the idea that he would rip off $18 billion. It probably started with small compromises and after a while, it snowballed into the largest financial fraud inU.S.history.
Ephesians 6:15 tells you to have “your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. You put on the shoes of peace. A Roman soldier needed good shoes for battle. He had hobnails on the bottom of the shoes, which were somewhat like football cleats.
God wants you to have His peace – and pass that along to others, even in the storms of life. Say Lord, make an emissary of your peace today, to help resolve conflicts. Make me a calming presence wherever you place me.
Sometimes Satan can disrupt that peace through overloaded schedules, financial anxieties, or health struggles. There are people who fall way from the faith, not because of some overt sin, but because they’ve lost their peace.
The unusual aspect of peace in the Bible: it’s not the removal of all your problems. It is God supplying power from above to meet those problems. Put on His shoes of peace, or you will slip and fall in the battle.
In verse 16, Paul says to put on the shield of faith, so you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. The Roman soldier had a shield that was about two by four feet covered in leather.
With the shield he could fend off arrows or sword thrusts. In that day they would take arrows and dip them in burning oil. If one of these fiery darts hit you, you would be in a world of pain.
Sometimes the fiery darts that Satan throws at you will be in the area of doubt; he wants you to doubt your faith. But you can feed your faith and starve your doubts by staying in His Word. Pray to Jesus and ask him to give you His shield of faith, and carry it with you.
Next, put on the helmet of salvation. Without a helmet, a soldier faced the risk of a head wound, which could be fatal. With salvation comes access to a new mind – the mind of Christ.
Spiritual warfare usually begins in the mind. Put on the helmet to protect your mind. Use it to stop every impure and negative thought at the door of your mind. With that helmet, those thoughts get no further.
Say Lord, today I will dwell on nothing but what is good and right and pleasing to you.
When I got saved I was finally in my right mind for the first time in my life. I began to see the world in a completely different way – God’s way. I began to appreciate godly wisdom – wisdom the world often overlooks or forgets.
If you look at each one of these pieces of armor and think about it, they all represent Jesus Christ. So in effect, when you put on the armor of God, you put on Jesus.
One key to victory in any battle is your stance. Verse 10 says “Put on the full armor so you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
In this section of Ephesiasn, the word ‘stand’ is repeated four times!
Stand. Stand! Stand…stand! What does this mean? It means we have a very important way to stand when we battle Satan. We stand in the victory that Jesus has already won.
We don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory. You stand in the victory that Jesus already won.
Verse 17 says to take up the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. God gives you a place to stand and a sword to fight with. Our sword is not like any other physical sword on earth. It is strong and powerful and able to defeat the strongest of Satan’s attacks.
When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, he quoted Scripture at him, and that brought victory. Three times Jesus countered Satan’s attacks with the sword of the spirit, the Word of God.
It helps to memorize scriptures that relate to your area of weakness. Say out loud: Your Word says that I am freed from the power of sin. Your Word says I am not under obligation to obey the lust of the flesh.
Verse 18 tells us to pray in the spirit on all occasions. Every soldier needs good communication with his commander. John Piper says that Jesus gave each one of us a “personal transmitter coded to the frequency of the general’s headquarters.”
Praying in the Spirit means the Holy Spirit guides us and directs us how to pray. The Spirit knows what Satan is up to. You may be confused, but God knows what’s going on. He knows what the enemy is doing. Therefore, stay in contact with the general’s headquarters to guide and direct you.
A few years ago I had the privilege to meet Colonel Russell Barber, the last living chaplain who went ashore on D-Day.
On the Sunday before D-Day, he held services on 11 different ships inWeymouthHarborfor thousands of soldiers and he gave away a lot of pocket Gideon’s Bibles.
On the morning of the battle, he went over the side of his ship on a rope ladder into a Higgins boat holding 30 soldiers. As a chaplain, Col. Barber was unarmed.
When they hit the shore, Col. Barber stood in front of his men and led them off the boat. There was intense shooting all around them.
To his right, Barber witnessed a terrible sight. He saw a landing ship hit a mine. It blew up and killed all 30 men. They were floating in the water and on the beach.
Without hesitation, Barber rushed to the sides of the wounded. “I talked to as many of them as I could and prayed with them,” he told me. As men were dying in his arms he recited to them the words of Jesus from John 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions…”
“Men were being killed all round me,” Barber said. “We were trying to dodge the bullets,” he said. “Thank God I wasn’t hit.” Miraculously, none of the four chaplains landing on theNormandybeaches that day were killed.
I had seen the movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” so I had some idea of the intensity of the battle. So I said to him, “As a chaplain, how could you lead your men off the boat when you had no weapons on you?”
He said, “I had no visible weapons to protect me, but I had the sword of the Spirit.”
Each one of you has the sword of the Spirit. Each one of you has armor and a shield to fend off spiritual attack. Will you put it on today? Will you put on Jesus?
 Stedman, Ray. “The Inspired Book of Error,”Peninsula Bible Church. Nov.7, 1965
 Guglielmo, Joe. “Deliverance,” Calvary Chapel Manitowoc.
 Riley, Jennifer. “Most US Christians don’t believe Satan, Holy Spirit really exist,” Christian Post. April 16, 2009.
 Op.Cit. Rogers,Adrian.
 Morgan, Robert J. “Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes” Thomas Nelson Publishers, p.682
 Grudem, Wayne. “Systematic Theology,” Zondervan. 1994, p.193
 Rogers,Adrian. Op.Cit.
 Stanley, Charles. “The Whole Armor of God Prayer”(Chapter 9: Dressing for the battle, Winning the War Within)
 Rogers,Adrian. Op.Cit.
 Stanley, Charles. Op.Cit.
 Rogers,Adrian. Op.Cit.
 Piper, John. “Desiring God.”