Armed for Battle
I don't think I've ever seen armour up close. That's a privilege I carry, that I've never been in battle, never had reason to physically arm myself. So in the past when I've read this passage of Ephesians (6:10-20), I've only loosely grasped the concept. The reality of it was not lost on the Ephesians though. They were familiar with Roman soldiers, and in fact when Paul wrote this letter he most likely had one of these intimidating, fully armed Roman soldiers standing over his shoulder, watching as he called the church to stand faithful in the midst of attack from all sides. The apostle has written this beautiful letter detailing the inheritance that is available to us in Christ, and then encouraging the Ephesians to move from darkness to light, to let go of their past and partner with the God who makes all things new. And then before he signs off, he looks at the soldier holding him captive, the one who came to steal his freedom, and says this. This is what we need. This is what is available to us, what God has provided that stops the enemy from stealing, killing and destroying. The first thing he mentions is the belt of truth. Belts were not common at this time, not part of everyday wear. They were action items. A belt was preparation for combat. Fastening a belt meant that you were aware of the action you were walking into. I love that it's the first item on the list too - everything else falls apart if we're not secure in truth. It doesn't matter if you have a big sword, if your underwear falls down in the middle of battle, you're vulnerable!! Truth is vital, and should be our priority. I'm a list maker by nature, and I've built a habit of regularly making lists of what I believe. It only works if you're really honest with yourself though - make a list of the things you're actually living and believing. Then you can step back and evaluate - is this true? Does it align with the word of God? Then give the Holy Spirit a chance to bring correction and adjustment to anything that is less than true.
Next is the breastplate of righteousness. Which is a deceiving name, because the breastplates the soldiers wore actually covered them front and back, from their neck down to their thighs. Righteousness is about holy living, about staying away from the things that lead us out of God's presence, and we're encouraged to keep our lives pure both in our past and our future. Jesus covers our past mistakes, all of our sin, hallelujah! And He enables us to make better choices in our future. What's interesting about this piece of armour is that it goes from the neck down to the thighs. Our neck is symbolic of decision making, our freedom to choose. And thighs are symbolic of flesh - passion and strength. God has provided this protection - for our past and our future, for every decision we make and temptation we have, He not only calls us to righteousness but He makes a way. What a great God!
Shoes, shoes, shoes... shoes fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Honestly I usually skipped past this one because I didn't know how to unpack it. What we know from these Roman soldiers though, is that their battle shoes were fitted with strong, sharp nails in the bottom to give them traction. What I think the Lord is saying here is that it is His peace that allows us to stand our ground when things get slippery. When we cultivate a habit of peace in our lives, we are ready at any point to hold our ground. It doesn't matter if the enemy is slimy, peace enables us to stand firm.
Next up is the shield of faith. This such a good one you guys! Again, in the past I pictured more of a cartoonish little shield that you could whip around and block an attack with. Nope. These Roman shields were 2.5 x 4 ft, and they were significant and stable. They cover your whole body, and they were sturdy wood, wrapped in leather. What the soldiers would do, is they would wet the shields down as they went in to battle. Because they knew their enemy, they knew the tactics that would be used against them, and one of them was flaming darts. Their preparation made them flameproof. Flame retardant even, impervious to those attacks. They might still feel the impact of an arrow hitting their shield, but it wouldn't do any damage. And here's the things about shields - they're most powerful when they're used in community. Soldiers would line up as they took new ground, putting their shields edge to edge so that there was no opening, no entrance for the enemy's fiery darts. If they worked together in this way, they were unstoppable! Moving forward, taking new territory, steadily and in unison they would gain victory after victory. This, my beloved, is a picture of the church as we're meant to be. We are meant to stand next to each other, soaking our faith in the water of the Holy Spirit that makes us completely impervious to the enemy's attacks. We may feel the impact as we come against opposition, but we won't get wounded when we keep our faith up. One key thing about the shield, is that soldiers would mark their name and their unit on the back where they could see it. It was their version of "dog tags" as we know them today. The inscribed into their shield of faith their identity, and had it up in front of them where they could see it in the middle of the battle. Our identity is so often the first and greatest attack we face, so let's be confident before we enter combat of who we are, and who we belong to. Let's keep our faith in who God says we are, and who we belong to, no matter what circumstances and challenges we are facing.
Helmet of salvation - without it, you're dead. That's the whole point of a helmet, right? To protect your most vulnerable part, your head and your face. The implication for us, is that if we don't know that we're saved, we're very easily taken out. If you are unsure that Christ died to save you, if you doubt that He really loves you, if you're wavering on whether or not you belong to Him, it's really easy for the enemy to sneak in and do some damage to your spirit and your life. Restore unto us the joy of our salvation! Every day, may we be thankful for the saving work of Christ.
Ok thanks for hanging in there - we're at the end! The last thing we need is the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. Roman soldiers actually carried two offensive weapons, but Paul only mentions one. They had a long spear, but the one that Paul focuses on is the short combat sword. This was a double edged dagger, meant for stabbing in close contact. When all their defences were exhausted, and the short burst of hand to hand combat came upon them, they would pull out this sharp sword and use it to kill the enemy - fast and strong. What's interesting is that the word used in scripture here for "word" of God is rhema. You may be familiar with the two Greek words logos and rhema that we translate to word of God. Logos refers to the written word, and rhema to the spoken word. Rhema is about the Holy Spirit speaking to us, and in this case, we're called to use the things that the Holy Spirit has spoken, to take out our enemy. When the rhema word of God is spoken, our enemy cannot stand. When we declare His truth, when we prophesy things on earth as they are in heaven, we disable the enemy.
Beloved this armour of God is no joke! There is so much here that speaks to the lovingkindness of a God who never meant for us to walk in to battle empty handed. The good news of the gospel of Christ is that He has provided all of this, it is all free for us to take. We only have to be aware of what we carry, to participate in the rich inheritance we have as children of God. May every one of us go forward, prepared to take new ground and live in victory!