Devotional # 119. 1/12/15. Ephesians 6:11-18. The “Armor of God.”
Intro. To understand the amazing “Armor of God” we have to remember what we talked about last week. We went over verse 10 which says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” The main points were that although we will have to go through a lot of spiritual warfare we’re not doing it alone but in the strength and power of Jesus’ might. This is the perfect introduction to the “Armor of God”!
I have had a quote hanging next to my computer at work for the last 10 years. It reminds me of what it means to be a good leader. The quote is from Julius Caesar who said, “Every soldier has the right to competent command.” It means that every person who is putting their life on the line deserves to have a leader who makes wise and informed decisions. I have used this in my life as a motto as I lead people but it really clicked with me as I was preparing this devotional that it is true of Jesus. Jesus is the perfect leader! Again, He doesn’t make us do something He didn’t do first, He doesn’t leave us alone but He has already won the battle and gives us the armor to protect us.
vv. 11-13. Paul tells us several things: 1. That there is an “armor of God” available, 2. That we should put it on and 3. Why we should put it on. I would expect Paul to tell us to put on the armor and then immediately tell us what the armor is, but he doesn’t. He tells us why we need it.
Did you notice that at the beginning of this section Paul is saying that these will be tools to make you “stand” (v. 11) then at the end he says “having done all, to stand” (v. 13). It’s important for us to remember that Jesus has already won the war: we don’t fight for victory we fight from victory. So we are not expected to run headlong into battle but instead to “stand” in defense. This is difficult and takes patience and self-control.
It may seem cowardly or foolish but we are given the order by our commanding officer and we obey it. One of the reasons is that we’re not fighting against humans (“flesh and blood”) but against Satan and his demons (v. 12). We never want to lift Satan up or glorify him but we need to have a healthy amount of fear of what he is capable of. If we do not then we will fall for his lies and temptations.
vv. 14-17. Now we come to the actual items that each of us has for personal use.
Regarding the “belt of truth” (v. 14): Roman soldiers had a belt that was part of their underwear rather than their armor. It pulled up their tunic so that they could march or run easily. The belt would give them “a sense of hidden strength and confidence.” Our belt of truth can be understood as “the truth” as in “the revelation of God in Christ and in Scripture” but it can also be understood as “integrity” so that the Christian is honest and above reproach (Source 1, p. 277). Remember this is to thwart the devil so in both senses how our hidden strength comes from what we know about Jesus from the Bible and our resolve to be truthful and never slip into the devil’s way of lying.
The next one is the “breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14). I have often heard it said that we should note that there is only a breastplate and not anything to protect the Christians back. Some use this to encourage believers to not run away in battle, and while that’s good advice, a Roman breastplate usually consisted of back and front protection. Regardless of that side note what is Paul trying to teach us? There are three main theories: 1. Since the word Paul uses for “righteousness” here is often translated “justification” Paul could mean “God’s gracious initiative in putting sinners right with himself through Christ.” This makes sense because if I have to go up against Satan who is always accusing me I would much rather be protected by Christ’s righteousness than my own (Source 1, pp. 278-279). 2. Another theory is since Paul spoke of moral righteousness in a similar context in 2 Corinthians 6:7 and what we studied in Ephesians 4:24, then “the Christians breastplate may be righteousness of character and conduct” (Source 1, p. 279). But the third option might be best: 3. Combining the two. As G. G. Findlay agreed, “The completeness of pardon for past offense and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together into an impenetrable [chain]mail” (Source 1, p. 279).
Next are the sandals “with the “preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 15). Some call these boots but I call them sandals because of the open toe. Either way, they let the Roman soldier have free movement but keep really good traction. The wording on this is a little bit weird and of course there are multiple theories. I think the best one is that this “preparation” or “firmness” gives traction and stability to the person equipped with the “gospel of peace.” So if we have accepted the good news of Jesus and are sharing that with others then we both have a “peace of mind” about our eternity and ultimately a “peace” with others. Tying this to the context of fighting against Satan, “we have the firmest possible foothold from which to fight evil” (Source 2, p. 280).
For the “shield of faith” (v. 16): the type of shield that Paul is describing is very interesting in its construction. Basically it was 1.2 meters (almost 4 feet) long, protecting the whole body and designed to put out the arrows, dipped in pitch and lit on fire, that would get shot and stuck in it (Source 1, p. 281). So Satan has flaming darts of our self-doubt, lust, anger and so on and he shoots them at us. But how does faith work in putting out these arrows? When we cling to the promises that God has given us (Psalm 119:31), when we remember the times that He has gotten us through temptation or depression in the past and when we remember that God is good (Psalm 119:68) and that He will never give us more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13), then we are gripping our “shield of faith”!!
The “helmet of salvation” (v. 17) is likened to the Roman soldier’s helmet which was usually made out of bronze or iron and really difficult to pierce. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:8 (Devotional # 182), Paul describes the helmet as the “hope of salvation” in other words “final salvation”. Here, it appears to be “salvation” like forgiveness from sin. I like what Stott says here: “but whether our headpiece is that measure of salvation which we have already received (forgiveness, deliverance from Satan’s bondage, and adoption into God’s family) or the confident expectation of for salvation on the last day (including resurrection glory and Christ-likeness in heaven), there is no doubt that God’s saving power is our only defense against the enemy of our souls” (Source 1, p. 281-282).
Finally, the “sword of the Spirit” (v. 17) is easily described as “the word of God”. This is probably the most famous of the pieces of armor (possibly because it is explained by Paul). But we can learn a few things by meditating on what God means by this. It is the only item of the armor that is plainly both defensive and offensive. If you think about it the word of God cuts through peoples excuses, pride, hard hearts and defenses and ultimately convicts them. But it also is defensive in the way that Jesus used it when being tempted by Satan (Mathew 4).
v. 18. I have included verse 18 here although I’m going to expound on it a little more next week. Its important that we don’t cut Paul short just because there aren’t any more items of armor left. His statement isn’t just that we have these great spiritual tools at our disposal but also that they must be accompanied by “praying” and “being watchful” for other sisters and brothers in Christ. We have been given these tools not just to defend ourselves but to help the rest of our Christian family.
Conclusion. I think the best way to conclude this section is from a retired Marine who has been in actual warfare. This person actually receives this devotional each week but he is in a much better place to comment on the parallels between real warfare and spiritual warfare than I am. He says, “What stands out to me is that God is telling us to be ready as if we were going into an open field of battle and that He understands we need to be equipped with the correct weapons and armor, otherwise we will fall. Realizing these weapons of God are not a physical armor that can be touched or worn, without them we will still fall in the battle against evil as one would fall against a sword. The other thing that comes to mind is well known as a football analogy but it was true in the military too; that you must “practice how you play” (or fight). If you never put on the “weapons” to see how it feels and how you can move or swing your sword or shoot your weapon or hold your shield, you will not be as effective in battle. If you use it often and become comfortable wearing it, you have a better chance of survival. The same is true for the weapons of God, if you never wear them, you will not be as effective when the time comes to battle evil” (Source 2).
Source 1: John R.W. Stott,The Message of Ephesians, 1979.
Source 2: Personal Interview (via text), FB, 1/11/15.