August 23, 2009
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For 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. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take 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.
For thousands of years, military engineers have sought a solution that would protect soldiers from injury and death using body armor. From clunky medieval knights in shiny metal suits to the “flak” vests of Vietnam, soldiers have contended with the uncomfortable, and often ineffective, weight and bulk of armor, which only adds to the misery of war.
For example, Take the current ballistic vest worn by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It weighs about 20 pounds and consists of layers of tightly woven Kevlar, which dissipates the impact of many bullets and bomb fragments — but not all of them. Armor-piercing bullets, for example, will easily punch through standard-issue body armor as well as knives. That has always seemed strange to me. Knives will penetrate modern body armor, but most bullets will not. But perhaps the greatest limitation of the current-issue body armor is that it covers only the torso, leaving vital arteries in the arms and legs exposed.
We need something better, for soldiers and law-enforcement officers. Researchers at the University of Delaware and the Army Research Laboratory are working on a new kind of body armor strong enough to blunt the impact of nearly all projectiles and flexible enough to cover the whole body. They base their idea on fluid rather than fiber, developing something called “shear thickening fluid” — a mixture of polyethylene glycol imbued with bits of purified silica.
When a projectile hits a certain point on this “liquid armor,” that section stiffens within milliseconds to absorb the impact and then just as quickly returns to its liquid state after the impact dissipates. Because there are no fibers to separate, it is also highly effective against knives, making it a godsend to corrections officers who must deal with the daily threat of improvised stabbing weapons. The flexibility of a liquid rather than a heavy, fiber-based material means this armor is worn like a wet suit over the whole body, including the arms and legs. For the first time in history, soldiers and police will be able literally to “put on the whole armor.”
The Roman soldiers who patrolled the world in the first century could only have dreamed of such protection. They were heavily armored for their time, but their standard-issue kit of metal- and leather-based body armor was inflexible, heavy. Still, it was state-of-the-art technology, and the sight of Roman infantry in full battle dress was an intimidating, imposing image in the ancient world.
When the apostle Paul was searching for an apt metaphor to convey preparation and protection for a kind of spiritual warfare, it is little wonder he thought of this image of the armored soldier.
Our verses today from Ephesians 6 are a forceful conclusion to a great letter. V10: “… be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power”. Paul emphasizes in this and the following verses that the Christian life is not for wimps.
Previously in Ephesians, Paul has focused with deep gratitude on the salvation we have through Christ, through whom we are adopted into a new way of life that redeems us from the dead end of sin and joins us to the holy purposes of God. Paul calls us therefore, in 4:1, “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” We need to put our faith into practice, but to do that we need proper spiritual equipment and we need to participate in a community that has proper spiritual equipment.
In March 2001, the BBC reported that a man from Lambu, a village in northeastern Ghana, was killed when a magic spell making him bulletproof failed to protect him. According to a Ghanaian news agency, Aleobiga Aberima wanted to make himself invincible to bullets, so he enlisted the help of a jujuman or witch doctor. The jujuman prepared an herbal potion that Aberima was to smear on his body every day for two weeks. Then, with Aberima’s consent, a fellow villager agreed to test the spell by shooting him. A single bullet killed him instantly. The witch doctor was nearly beaten to death by angry villagers before being rescued by a village elder. It is safe to say this isn’t the kind of protection Paul had in mind when writing to the Ephesians.
But let us return for to our Roman Soldier. The soldier did not buckle on his armor on the march or while resting at home, but only when the enemy was close at hand. When a legionnaire “armored up,” the battle was about to begin.
Ephesians emphasizes that is our spiritual condition. We are in the battleline right now. We are at war right now. We need to be geared up and ready to go right now. And our enemies are not “blood and flesh,” like the enemies of the Roman Empire. Rather, our enemies are the “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces” of evil that stem from, that originate with, the devil.
Now I know that in our modern age, it is not politically correct to talk about the devil—lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub, the evil one, the dragon, the serpent. Even in church, where we talk about how much God loves us and how Christ died for us, we often do not say much about that other power, the power of evil. I guess everybody wants to hear about Jesus who came to save us, but nobody wants to hear about Satan who would love to destroy us, but if we treat these verses from Ephesians honestly, we have to say that concern about the devil is the primary reason we are urged to “put on the whole armor of God.” We need to take the devil seriously, that is what Paul is saying..
Notice how often he uses the word “against.” Now this depends upon what translation you use and I am using the ESV today, but look at this: In v11, we are urged “to stand against the wiles of the devil.” In v12, we are told that “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.”
That is 6 times if I counted correctly. The emphasis is that we are wrestling against spiritual forces. That is why Ephesians focuses so urgently on our need for spiritual armor.
Now Paul does not mention every aspect of the armor of a Roman soldier. For example, he does not mention the heavy javelin, the pilum. But remember Paul’s purpose. He is not giving us a detailed description of first century infantry. He is making a spiritual application.
For example, he says in v14, that we should fasten about our waist the “the belt of truth.” This belt for Roman soldiers was so wide and thick that it protected the stomach and lower abdomen. For the church, such a device prevents the community from being disemboweled by untruth. Rumors and gossip can damage the church. Multitudes of churches have been destroyed by vicious slander, by evil stories that spread through a community and produce wounds that last for years. Perhaps the most common sin in the church is just plain gossip, saying stuff about other people that we do not know to be true. Now, it is human nature to talk about ourselves, and each other, and that is all right, but just make sure you do it with love and truth.
Then Paul mentions The “breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14) and the “helmet of salvation”(v. 17). These two make up the most essential parts of the soldier’s armor, protecting heart and head. The righteousness Paul is talking about is the righteousness of God. The breastplate of righteousness is not our righteousness. It is the righteousness that God assigns to us through Jesus. The helmet of salvation is the same. We are not saved by our own efforts or devices. Our salvation has been wrought by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. So these two pieces of armor remind us that our eternal safety is bound up in God’s mighty act of grace in Jesus Christ.
Then there are the shoes. First century soldiers wore caligae, heavy-soled leather sandals that laced up above the ankle. This standard military footwear enabled not only solid footing on the battlefield but also enabled the legions to move quickly over Roman roads. Ephesians, however, has a different purpose for our footwear. We should wear whatever will help us “to proclaim the gospel of peace.” We should be ready to deliver the good news of Christ.
Then Ephesians advises us, in v16 to “take the shield of faith.” We should note that the shield was valuable to a soldier only if he was not going to run away. It was a heavy piece of equipment that only protected the front. So if a soldier decided to run, the first thing he did was throw away his shield. Moreover, soldiers in battle overlapped their shields. Most soldiers carried the shield on their left arm, so the overlap provided protection also to the person on their left. But at the right end of the battleline they had a special place for a left-handed soldier, who carried his shield on his right arm and protected the end of the line.
So if any of you are left handed, like me, you had a special place in a Roman phalanx, and by the way, a very dangerous place.
Now the Romans carried large shields that gave the soldier a lot of protection, but Ephesians is talking about a certain kind of shield, a shield of faith. The implication is faith is our best protection from all the hard things that can happen to us in this world. If an enemy rained arrows upon a Roman legion, the soldiers would just hold their shields over their heads and keep on coming. Sometimes it seems like the world is raining arrows upon us, but we have an effective shield, our faith in Jesus Christ.
The last image in Ephesians is “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” A Roman legionnaire carried a gladius, a short sword that was 20 to 24 inches long, and he used it for close-in fighting once the javelin had been thrown. Understand that ancient warfare was toe to toe and nose to nose. They basically stabbed each other to death.
That is not a pleasant thought, and Ephesians emphasizes that we have another kind of sword--“the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” Now I should be fair here and tell you that many commentators say that the phrase, “the word of God” refers to the Bible, but the Bible, as we know it, did not exist at the time Ephesians was written. Paul’s first readers certainly did not have the NT and if they were Gentiles they probably did not have the OT. Moreover, the Bible itself gives a different meaning to that phrase. “The Word of God” is Christ. Rev. 19:13, describing Jesus, says, “His name is called the word of God.” and also John 1 proclaims that the Word is God and is Christ. So it appears to me that Ephesians is saying that our best way to counterattack Satan is by dependence on Christ and our revelation of Christ comes to us through the Holy Spirit.
All the armor mentioned in this passage is defensive. Only the sword is an offensive weapon. Perhaps Paul is thinking that the only way for a Christian to attack Satan, to go on the offensive, is with the gospel.
Lastly, in v18, Ephesians gives us another weapon that was not part of a Roman soldiers regular armory--prayer. Ephesians urges us to keep alert and persevere through prayer. Prayer is a major part of our spiritual armory. Prayer is the source for that spiritual energy that gives us strength to face any adversity or any adversary.
We need to be like the Roman soldier and never throw away our shield of faith in Christ. Never give up on Jesus. We need to wear the breastplate of his righteousness and the helmet of his salvation. Above all we need to pray.
Now in these verses today there are many warlike metaphors and you might say that all this focus on Roman military equipment does not seem consistent with the gospel of peace, but Paul, as I have said, has a definite purpose. If Paul were here this morning, he would say to you, as emphatically as possible, the devil is at war with you. As a Christian, the devil hates you and will go to any lengths to destroy you. That is why you need all the help you can get. We need Christ in our lives. We need the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, and we need each other.
Roman soldiers overlapped their shields and protected each other. We should do the same. We stand together against the evil one. It is said that when it came down to the signing of our Declaration of Independence in 1776, some delegates were hesitant to take so bold a step, but Benjamin Franklin put it this way, "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." When it comes to our conflict with Satan, we need to hang together, or we will “most assuredly hang separately.” Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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