13 November 2015

The Armour of God Redux

armour1Last Sunday evening at Kilmallie Free Church we were looking at Paul’s rich metaphor of the Armour of God in Ephesians 6. The week before, we’d already set it in its context: the commands to Be Strong! and Stand Firm! You can wear as much armour and weaponry as you can carry, but without basic determination and strength, you won’t be much use in battle.

The imagery Paul uses of the Armour of God is evocative. That’s perhaps one of the reasons why Paul’s words here have been treated almost as a special teaching, a somewhat mysterious insight into the world of ‘spiritual warfare’. Sometimes it seems as if it’s presented as: ‘well, you’re a Christian, but if you grasp this teaching on the Armour of God, you’ll be living at a whole other level.’

So, let’s bring it all right down to earth (which is where this teaching belongs). Paul is describing the nitty-gritty, the bread-and-butter of Christian living. Yes, it is in battle language, because we live with at least some level of constant conflict with the fallen world, and at times we encounter an especially evil day (a particularly trying and difficult period, either in history or in our own lives). This is what Paul means (both aspects, the constant and the particular) when he writes of the Evil Day in v.13. ‘Spiritual warfare’ is not some mystic insight into the unseen realm. It happens in our everyday experience. When Paul writes about the strategies of the devil (v.11), he writes about us experiencing them through rulers, and those in authority in our societies, and through the very real power-brokers in a dark world (v.12). He depersonalises the struggle, it is their position and power that we oppose, not them as human beings, as if we would attack them physically – our struggle is not against people’s living bodies (v.12). Yes, behind these very real political, cultural, societal (even familial sometimes) powers stand unseen forces of evil, but it is the seen that we encounter, and that’s why we need the Everyday Armour of God.

armour2So, a quick comment on the six pieces of equipment Paul mentions in verses 14-17:

Belt of The Truth: This refers to putting on The Truth, not just telling the truth as opposed to lying. To understand it, we need 4:25: ‘Therefore having put aside The Lie, let each one of you speak The Truth.’ The Lie is the worldview we used to have, before we believed, or the worldview that is constantly foisted upon us by our Western secularising consumerist culture. The Truth is the worldview of God’s Word. What we believe will shape us: our personality and actions. If we believe we are consumers, we will live to consume. If we believe the advertisers and the peddlers of chauvinist dogma, we might believe we are ugly, worthless, unloved. God’s Truth sets us free with news of an unconditional love from our Creator, and a sure salvation in Jesus Christ, the divine Messiah.

The Breastplate of Righteousness: From what we believe, our worldview, to our actions… Paul calls us to live out this new worldview that comes from The Truth. The Gospel call us to righteous lives. Step back to 2:10: we are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God planned beforehand that we should live them out.’ If we pay attention to following Jesus commands, to living as Christians, that will protect us. If we don’t deal with habits and behaviours from our old life, these will drag us down. Yes, we know we will never be free of sin, we’ll never be perfect, we always need God’s mercy and forgiveness. But, the transforming power of Jesus is real – we can do good.

The Boots of the Gospel: If we understand the Gospel (which is a message of peace), we will be always ready for the struggle! The Gospel is the ‘good news of our salvation’ (1:13) and it reminds us of what is at stake, the goal of our salvation. To stay alert, we must have the Gospel in our DNA. Then, the whole of our lives find their true perspective. What Gospel? The Gospel of the Kingdom. The Gospel of the King. The King of the Cross. The King who has bought us forgiveness of our sins, and who has defeated death. The King who one day will make all things new.

The Shield of Faith: Faith is believing what God has said, specifically in Jesus Christ. Faith is believing in Jesus Christ as Lord. True Christian faith is a belief that is fundamental to us, that changes our approach to life. We become disciples. It is fundamental to our salvation because ‘by grace you have been saved through faith’ (2:8). If we maintain our faith in God in Jesus Christ, then that faith will make the attacks of the Evil One useless (6:16), however they come, whether threats to our jobs or family, or personal attacks on our faith. Or whoever they come through, whether a neighbour, a work colleague, or even when those closest to us try to drag us down.

The Helmet of Salvation: The imagery here, as for the breastplate of righteousness, is borrowed from Isaiah (59:17), where God puts on a helmet of salvation for his mission to bring judgement and salvation to earth. That we are called to put on a helmet of salvation might also speak, not of our own salvation, but of our purpose to bring salvation to others. Of course, God alone is the author of salvation – we can’t save. But, we are called to make disciples, to work to bring others to salvation. As God puts on a helmet of salvation, so must we – we must put on the armour for our mission – to bring salvation to others. This helmet is a helmet of purpose. The same emphasis might be added to the breastplate of righteousness. Our good works are to be seen in the context of our mission. As Christians, we are not hunkering down, hoping to survive. We are in active combat - day-to-day, fighting not just to survive, but for the Kingdom of God to come. As Paul writes in 2 Cor 10:4-5, we are demolishing strongholds, demolishing arguments.

The Sword of the Word of God: The sword is not the Spirit, it supplied by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has forged the Word of God in the Bible, the sword which we take up. Here is the power of our mission - the Word of God. God's message. The Gospel message is what we must understand, in order to succeed in pulling down strongholds. We pull down arguments, with the arguments of God’s account of His world and its future; with God’s account of his intervention in Jesus Christ; with God’s account of the realities of salvation and judgement. And it’s not some redacted, back-of-an-envelope Gospel, or a gospel that fits on a pledge card. The sword that we carry is ‘the unsearchable riches of the Messiah’ (3:7-8).

This armour is the everyday way we live, the everyday things we embrace as we seek to live effective lives as Christians: The Truth, Righteous Living, The Gospel, Faith, Seeking the Salvation of others, the Bible. Let us put on the full armour of God as we seek to Be Strong and to Stand Firm.