“Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. In every situation take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit–which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Last Thursday we started a short conversation about the armor of God. The two conclusions we came to then were that in the great battle we face as followers of Jesus, people are not our enemy, and our primary function as warriors in God’s army is to stand firm and resist the enemy’s attacks. Our place is not to go on the offensive to advance God’s kingdom. That’s God’s job. We follow Him, and we actively share our faith, but we must always make sure He is out front. We come in with love and the gentle spirit of Jesus. No one will be forced into the kingdom. That whole conversation, though, was a preface to talking about the armor itself. This morning, let’s continue our conversation by looking at the armor God has provided us.
The first piece of armor Paul mentions is a belt. For the Roman soldier, his belt was what held everything together. Its primary function was neither offense nor defense, but utility. Its presence allowed everything else to work like it was designed to work. In a similar way, for followers of Jesus, truth is the thing that holds everything else together. If we are going to stand firm against our enemy’s attacks, we must be deeply rooted in truth.
Of course, this just begs an important question: How do we know what truth is? There are all kinds of different ideas and movements claiming the mantle of truth today. There are also many who claim there is no truth. We hear phrases like “your truth” and “my truth” thrown around casually today without giving much consideration to how they are affecting our thinking. Many folks use those phrases in the way we once would have said, “my opinion,” but what is being communicated is not the same. Opinions are fine to have. They are different and varied and while we may hold to one strongly, there is not an opinion that is objectively true about some topic. The same cannot be said for truth. Truth simply is and we can adjust our lives to it or not.
Yes, but how do we know when something is a truth and when something is an opinion? This is a bit more complicated a question, and I don’t want to get too bogged down in the weeds here, but the simple answer is that something is true when it accurately corresponds to reality. Something is an opinion when it is one of multiple possible options, none of which have any meaningful bearing on reality. For example, a question on which is the best college basketball team to cheer for doesn’t have any meaningful bearing on reality (the correct answer, however, is Kansas). You can pick one of many, many different options and still be living fully within reality’s spacious boundaries (again, the correct answer is Kansas). When it comes to which god or God is the real God, now we have crossed over into reality-corresponding responses. There is truth to be uncovered there. We can debate about which best corresponds to reality, but it is not correct to say they all do equally but in different ways.
That’s enough of that tangent. The point here is that if we are going to stand firm against the attacks of the enemy, we have to know what’s true and what’s not. God’s word is the first place to go for help here. It accurately describes reality and, more importantly, reveals the character of the God who defines it. When we are rooted in Him, everything holds together like it should.
The next piece of armor Paul describes is a breastplate. A breastplate protects our vital organs. Just about all of our most important parts are between our hips and our shoulders. Those are also the biggest and easiest targets in a battle. Without a breastplate, you weren’t going to last long in any fight. One well-placed jab or thrust and you were down for the count. In the spiritual war we are engaged in as followers of Jesus, righteousness is our breastplate. Yet what is righteousness? That’s one of those theological words we like to throw around, but don’t really give much consideration as to what it means.
Righteousness is all about having right relationships. Whenever you hear the word “righteousness,” think “right relationships.” Someone who is righteous is rightly related to God and to people. Both of those are essential. As a matter of fact, you can’t have one without the other. If you aren’t rightly related to God, you’re not going to be rightly related to people, and if you aren’t rightly related to people, you aren’t rightly related to God.
Okay, but how does righteousness functions as a breastplate? Well, think about the lines of attack our enemy uses most often. Are they not all places where if we were rightly related to God and to people we would not have any points of weakness? Your relationship with a friend gets broken. Where does Satan attack? Your relationship with your spouse gets out of whack. Where does Satan attack? You have a place where you don’t trust God enough to live out His character with consistency. Guess where Satan attacks? You are struggling with some matter of sin (meaning you aren’t rightly related to God at that point). Where does Satan attack? When we are covered in righteousness, we are not vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. It protects all of our most vital spiritual organs.
Let’s look at one more piece of armor this morning, and we’ll look at the rest tomorrow, Lord willing. Paul talks about making sure our feet are sandaled with the Gospel of peace. This is about footwear. Footwear wouldn’t seem to be that significant when talking about armor, but if our feet are bad, we’re not going to go very far in any direction. There’s a great scene in Forest Gump when Lt. Dan is telling the new soldiers under his command the most important things they need to know to survive in Vietnam. One of the top of his list is socks. They are to change socks every time they stop and always keep a clean, dry pair of socks in their packs. His reasoning is that if they get problems with their feet, they won’t be any good for the unit.
The same sort of thing applies here. If we move forward in our efforts to expand God’s kingdom with something other than the Gospel of peace paving the way for us, we’re terribly likely to stub our toes on a bump in the road or blow ourselves apart on one land mine or another. If we’re trying to pave our own way, we’re going to litter it with problems because that’s what we do. We’ll add this or that to the Gospel and make a mess of things. When we are following the path of the Gospel–one of peace, compassion, mercy, and love–our way will be made smooth. It won’t necessarily be easy going, but we’re not going to get all tripped up by anything unexpected along the way.
That’s a good place to stop this morning. Three pieces of armor down. We’ll talk about the shield, the helmet, and the sword tomorrow. Then, on Wednesday, we’ll talk about the glue that holds all of it together.