“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 all 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)
We are in the midst of a conversation about the armor of God that Paul describes at the tail end of his letter to the Ephesian church. In the first part (here), we looked at the background of the battle for which we need this armor. Our battle is not against people. Ever. And our tactics are to be focused on resistance, not being offensive. We hold ground God has won and advance the kingdom by the means of love. Yesterday, then, we started talking about the armor itself. We covered the first three pieces–the belt (truth), breastplate (righteousness), and footwear (the Gospel of peace). This morning, let’s look at the next three pieces.
The fourth piece of armor Paul mentions as he wraps up his letter to the Ephesian church is a shield. I don’t think I need to explain very much about how a shield worked. Roman soldiers used three major types of shields over the years of the Empire. Two of these, the parma and the clipeus, were round and fairly small. They allowed for excellent mobility and wielding weapons against an enemy in solo combat, but they did not afford much protection against skilled ranged attacks or multiple enemies attacking at the same time.
The most well-known shield was the tall and rectangular scutum. While this shield offered very little in terms of mobility to a soldier, its defensive prowess was significant. A small, well-trained unit of soldiers working together with these shields could protect themselves from almost any conceivable attack of an enemy save something like heavy artillery. When fighting in a battle in which the enemy was using flaming arrows to do greater damage, soldiers would soak their shields in water before the battle to extinguish the arrows. This was almost certainly the imagery Paul was using here.
Faith provides us this kind of protection in the great spiritual battle being waged against us as followers of Jesus. Our trust in God allows us to resist any of the enemy’s attacks. This is not some blind trust either. This is a well-informed trust rooted in our confidence in His character as revealed in the Scriptures, the evidence of the church across history, and even our own lives. Because we know who He is, we have faith that He will do the things He has said He will do. Well, one of the things He has said He will do is never leave us nor forsake us. If that’s the case, if He really is always with us, we have nothing to fear from the enemy. All of his attacks will fail. Without this shield, we don’t stand a chance.
The penultimate piece of armor Paul identifies is the helmet. This, again, is not something that needs much in the way of description. A soldier’s helmet protects his head. I said yesterday that nearly all of our most vital organs are between our hips and our shoulders. The one exception to that is resting on top of our shoulders. Without our heads, none of the other parts matter. A helmet protects us from attacks and injuries that can destroy our minds.
Our salvation is a helmet for us. When we have fully and truly received the salvation of our souls in Christ Jesus, the transformational impact of this is deep and wide. It certainly grabs hold of our hearts, but it also affects our minds. So much of our fallen nature is fleshed out through patterns of thinking that are corrupted by sin. We believe things that are wrong and so we do things that are wrong. There is a direct connection from one to the other. When we are saved, our minds are washed clean from wrong ways of thinking. Now, this isn’t an overnight, magical change. But the Holy Spirit gets unleashed and begins to do His good work. With our minds so protected, our thinking will fall more consistently in line with the thinking of Jesus. And when our thinking falls in line with the thinking of Jesus, our behavior will too. And when our thinking and doing are in line with the thinking and doing of Jesus, our ability to stand firm against the enemy’s attacks and advance God’s kingdom in ways that make a difference increases substantially.
One last piece of armor: the sword. It has been observed many times, and I have pointed in this direction as we have unpacked these verses together, that the sword here is the only implement of offense Paul describes. The typical sword carried by Roman soldiers was short. It was good for close range combat. For it to be effective, you were going to have to be in the thick of the action. It was also a weapon that required a fairly high degree of skill and regular training to be maximally effective.
For followers of Jesus, the Spirit is our sword. And we access this power through God’s word. There is a direct connection between the amount of attention we give the Scriptures and the effectiveness of our offense in the great spiritual battle we are in. As I see it there are a couple of implications to this. First, we don’t do the fighting, God does. We’ve already made that point, but it’s worth repeating. When we are the ones leading the charge, things are going to go badly. We must always make sure we are marching forward behind the banner of our King. If we do anything else, we will necessarily be working against His plans. Second, the Scriptures are our secret weapon. We cannot be effective in the battle without them. If you count yourself a follower of Jesus and you are not regularly and consistently engaged with the Scriptures, you are not being faithful to your call. It really is that simple. You don’t have what it takes within you to be and do all that is required of you. The only source for that is the Scriptures. You’ve got to be in them each and every day. There’s simply no other way to participate in the victories God is going to win.
That’s the armor Paul describes, but there’s one other element he talks about that we cannot fail to mention. We’ll do that tomorrow.