The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6_13

Ephesians 6:10–17 (NLT) A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we* are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.* 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.* 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul’s final word to the church in Ephesus is to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”  He wants to remind believers of the real power behind the opposition against us, the devil, and to urge us to protect ourselves with the power of God.  So he uses the metaphor of putting on the whole panoply, the whole armor of God.

In the western world, we have come to discount the “rulers…powers…the forces of this darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (v. 10)  We either say that they don’t exist or we spiritual-ize them, identifying them with abstract evils in this world:  alcoholism, slavery, prejudice, hatred, etc.  However, Christians in the majority world have a different understanding of what is taking place in the spiritual realm.  Just as those who lived in the ancient near east, they recognize that the world as we know it consists of the earth, and heaven, yes, but also the in-between world of the spirit.  Someone has called this the “excluded middle,” and it explains the difficulty that mainline churches have had in reaching immigrant populations in the US.  We’re missing a part of how they understand the world.

Marva J. Dawn tells us that the language of powers fell out of use in the Reformation due to the excesses of certain apocalyptic groups.  The rise of liberalism through Schleiermacher and others led them to view the Kingdom of God as subjective and non-cosmic.  So they spoke about evil of injustice in the economic powers, or the evils of social ills:  prejudice, hatred, greed.

In her book Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Eerdman’s 2001)asks us to consider that both might be true.  On the eve of the rise of the power of Nazism in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:  “How can one close one’s eyes at the fact that the demons themselves have taken over rule of the world, that it is the powers of darkness who have made an awful conspiracy.”  There seems to be a mind and a purpose that links together evil in the world.  And Paul says that our battle is not just with these human representatives of evil, but also with spiritual forces of evil in this spiritual world.  This helps to explain the pervasiveness of evil in our world.

There is evil in the world, and it is not just evil people.  There is a spiritual battle in the world, and our battle is not against evil people, but against spiritual powers of this darkness.  (v. 12)

Spiritual warfare requires spiritual weapons.  So Paul exhorts us to put on the full panoply, the full armor of God.  He asks us to imagine a Roman soldier as he puts on his gear and gets ready for battle.  (v. 13)  Almost all of the equipment is defensive. “The sword of truth, which is the word of God” is our only weapon.  Paul’s focus is not on the precise function of each piece but on God’s gifts.  Our grounding in Christ and the Word of God provides us the protection and ability to stand your ground.

I was watching a TV show recently that depicted a Roman battle.  As an old soldier, I’m often interested in watching war movies.  This one got it all wrong.  They showed the Roman soldiers jumping out of line and hacking their enemies with their swords.  That was not the case, the armies of Rome always fought in lines and squares.  Each soldier’s shield actually protected their left side and the right side of the soldier next to them.  They marched together as a unit, never breaking ranks.  When they reached the enemy, their “sharp, two-edged sword” was useful for thrusting into the unprotected heart of their enemy.

Paul’s metaphor for spiritual warfare goes against our lone ranger mentality in the US.  We admire the heroes who jump out and go it alone, who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  But there are no lone rangers in the Kingdom of God.  We are supposed to be in this together.  Almost every book in the NT was written to the church (the exceptions being Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).

Yet people think they can live the Christian life apart from the church.  Is it no wonder, we so often fail?  Is it no wonder, we fall away from the faith?  Is it no wonder the church in the western world is so weak?  Why is the church in the majority world so strong?

They recognize 1.  We are in a spiritual battle.  2.  They recognize that they are not in the battle alone, but together in the church of Jesus Christ.  3.  They put on the whole armor of God so that they may stand in the fiery trials they face on a daily basis.

In contrast, we crumble and fall away at the least bit of opposition.  It is why the devil has had so much success in causing the church in the US to fall away and wither.  We don’t recognize that we are even in a spiritual battle.  And we don’t use the gifts that God has given to us in that battle.

Paul says earlier in Ephesians why God has given to us the church:  “to equip God’s people to do God’s work and to build up the church, the body of Christ…until we all come to such unity in our faith and understanding of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”  (Eph. 4:12, 13)

You want to be strong in the Lord.  You want to stop failing in your walk with Christ.  You want to be able to stand firm against the devil:  Get up and out of bed 15 min. earlier and read the Word of God and pray each day.  Get up out of bed on Sunday morning and get to church.  The secret ingredient is there is no secret ingredient.  It’s simple obedience to what we should know are the Lord’s commands.

 

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