Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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The Armor of God

 Ephesians 6:10-20

About seven weeks ago, we studied the opening words of the letter to the Ephesians, what is called the peroratio, in Latin. Today we are studying the rousing conclusion to the letter, the exordium. This is Paul’s last effort to stir up the passion of his readers, and us, to go out there and do God’s will.

Now all through Ephesians, Paul uses the imagery of dressing and undressing. “Take off this bad thing and put on this good thing.” Here he concludes with that image, but now we are dressing for battle.

Some Christians get uncomfortable with this. When they hear militant imagery, it evokes thoughts of the Crusades, which were not the finest moment in Christian history. Or worse yet, it evokes images of militant Islam and jihad and 9/11. “Yikes! Let’s have nothing to do with it. Go back to that part about dressing in love!”

I don’t think this should make us uncomfortable. It is clear that the struggle here is spiritual. It is against the Devil and his schemes. It is not against flesh and blood. It is against the rulers, powers, and authorities in the spiritual realms. First century Jews had quite an extensive hierarchy in their understanding of spiritual powers, both angelic and demonic. And that’s what those words refer to, the different kinds of demonic powers at work in the world.

In this understanding of the world, there were spiritual powers at work behind the political and social powers of the world. Yes, there are human agents of evil. But those agents are themselves under the influence of spiritual powers. Violence, greed, the willingness to use and abuse human beings for personal gain; all those things are tied into the spiritual powers at work in the world. They are not just human issues; they are also spiritual issues. We don’t deny the responsibility of humans when they do evil, but there is more than just human agency at work. And we are struggling with those spiritual powers.

How do we fight?

First, we must stand. We must keep our faith and stand together.

Paul uses the imagery of a Roman soldier dressed for battle. For one thing, everyone would know this image. Everyone had seen a Roman legionnaire. And it was probably front and center in Paul’s mind. He is living under house arrest in Rome, and so there is a Roman soldier in the room with him, possibly even chained to him.

Now a solitary soldier was vulnerable. He could easily be attacked and overwhelmed. But a legion, that was a different matter. The Romans were very seldom defeated when their legions held their ranks and stood their ground. It wasn’t for nothing they conquered most of the known world. So it’s not just standing; but standing together.

Our defenses in this struggle are our character and our faithfulness.

First there is the belt of truth. This most likely refers to the wide leather belt overlaid with a metal plate that protected the abdomen. As followers of Christ, we must be people of the truth. We need to know the truth, speak the truth, and live the truth. Lies and half-truths have no place in our lives, and quite frankly, that is difficult. It is difficult to hold to the truth and stick to the truth.

Second is the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate of a Roman soldier was also leather overlaid with metal. It only protected the front. The message was clear: If you stand your ground, you’re protected. If you turn and run, you are in trouble. Righteousness, meaning right conduct, is our defense. We must live above reproach, so that we are not vulnerable to accusations and rumors.

Third are feet fitted with readiness to preach the Good News and peace of God. This refers to the Roman caliga, something of a cross between a boot and a sandal. A soldier had to be ready to move when called upon. Likewise, we must be ready to hear God and to respond in obedience.

There is the shield of faith. This refers to the large wooden shields that Roman soldiers carried. Each was about four feet high and two feet wide. In battle, the front row of soldiers would lower theirs to the ground, and the second row would angle their shields on top of the front row, creating a wall that would protect from arrows. The front of each shield was covered with leather, and before battle they would wet them down so as to extinguish flaming arrows.

Some Bible scholars think “fiery arrows” may refer to Greek god Eros or the Roman god Cupid, the respective gods of lust. In their mythologies, both gods would shoot flaming arrows at people to incite them to lust. So maybe sexual temptation is especially in mind here, though it’s probably just a more general temptation in mind. But our faithfulness to God is our defense against temptations. When temptations come, we remember who we are in Christ and what that identity demands of us.

Finally, there is the helmet of salvation. The head is the most important part of the body to protect, and we are protected by the knowledge of our salvation. Passages like Romans 8 remind us that our salvation in Christ is assured, and nothing in this world or in all of creation is able to steal away our salvation. No matter what happens to us in this life, our eternity is secure in Jesus.

Those are our defenses, and we also have two weapons in our spiritual warfare.

The first is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. It is our counterstrike to the lies of the world. But in order to be able to use this weapon, we need to know it. We have to be intense in our study of God’s word so that it becomes second nature to us.

Often times in movies that feature sword play, they have a scene where the young hero has to learn to use a sword. It’s kind of cliché of those movies. But why? Well, if you don’t know how to use it, then you might cut yourself or, you know, kill your friend next to you. Or you might get into a real fight and die quickly.

We need to know God’s word. I really hope that you have already made it a commitment in your life to read God’s word and study it regularly. If you haven’t then you should start to do so. If we truly believe that this is God’s word, then we should not be casual about it. We should do our best to know it fully and completely.

Our second weapon is prayer. Prayer is our greatest weapon because it brings God’s power to bear on any situation. And we need to pray for each other. In battle, each Roman soldier not only protected himself, but also those on either side of him. We do the same thing in prayer. It’s not just about standing; it’s about standing together.

I don’t think the image of the Christian life as a spiritual battle should bother us if we read and understand what it really means. We defend ourselves in this battle with our character and our faithfulness to God. We “attack” with God’s word and prayer to defeat our spiritual enemies.

And speaking personally, I really like this way of looking at the Christian life. I think it reminds us that God is calling us to important work. It’s not just “me and Jesus.” There are things out there in the world like evil and injustice that need to be opposed, and God has chosen us to oppose them. We’re not just supposed to sit in our sanctuaries and close ourselves off to the world. We are to change the world. We are to fight against all forms of evil, injustice, and oppression.

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