Since this is the second of two parts, looking at the passage from the Bible we often call “the armour of God,” we should read the passage again and remind ourselves of the theme Paul has under consideration.
Ephesians 6:10 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,”
Last time, we noted some general matters about spiritual warfare, emphasizing that it is a reality in the life of the Christian. We also noted that it is a defensive battle. We’re not talking about winning souls, or planting churches, the battle Paul has in mind here is a personal one. The prize is our spiritual effectiveness. Satan would love to take it from us. We need to stand firm and defend it.
We already looked at the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Now it’s time to move on to the next piece of armour. I’ll be very honest with you here. For a long time, I struggled to make much practical sense out of the idea: “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” It is even more difficult in the translation I grew up with: “having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”
As I was thinking about feet and shoes, I noticed that different activities call for different kinds of footwear. Ballet dancers wear slippers with almost no grip at all so that they can glide smoothly over the polished dance floor, but they also apply resin on parts of the slipper so they don’t slip during certain moves. On the other hand, depending on the surface on which they work, whether the basketball court, the football pitch, the wrestling ring, or the track, athletes often wear shoes to maximize traction. Many sports call for shoes with spikes of some sort.
As I contemplated the shoes Paul includes as part of the Christian’s armour, I noted that good footing is essential for any encounter and “the gospel of peace” gives us the best possible grip. We are repeatedly exhorted to “stand” against Satan. What better shoes to be standing in than the Gospel that brings us peace with God. If Satan can get us slipping in regard to our salvation, he has a serious advantage. Yet if our spiritual shoes (perhaps even with spikes) are firmly planted in the truth of the Gospel, we will not start to slip and slide, giving Satan the advantage.
Next on Paul’s list is “the shield of faith.” This is what we use to “extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” – Faith drives the enemy and his agents to distraction because if it is strong, nothing can budge it. One of the most famous verses about faith is Hebrews 11:1. The New King James Version puts it this way: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The New International Version reads: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Finally, the English Standard Version goes like this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” I trust you get the idea. Regardless of what words we use, faith is about the reality and certainty of the invisible.
Faith in God is a powerful thing. Arguments can’t shake it. Emotions don’t affect it. Physical pain makes no impression. A robust faith deflects every kind of attack that Satan has at his disposal. That is why it serves as such an effective shield. Without the shield of faith, we are totally vulnerable. When an agent of Satan presents what he calls a logical argument against the existence of God, we start to think that maybe he’s right and that God is just a human invention. When something bad happens to us – lose our job, are robbed or something like that – we may think that God isn’t the loving, powerful One He claims to be. When we get ill, suffer an accident, or are abandoned by someone we counted on, we begin to doubt the goodness of God. As you can see, we really need the shield of faith to protect us in such situations.
Paul moves next to the helmet of salvation. Salvation is the place to start in preparing ourselves for spiritual battle. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that if we have not experienced salvation, we’re not experiencing the spiritual warfare against Satan that is described in the Bible. However, if you are a saved person, a child of God, born from above, you are definitely the target of Satan’s attacks.
Here is something I’ve found very helpful to remember: Spiritual battles are fought in the mind. Paul already reminded us that we are not fighting against flesh and blood, which could attack us physically, but against spiritual assaults and agents whose domain is the realm of the metaphysical. How do we perceive issues of the soul and spirit? Not with our bodies, but with our minds. This is why we need the helmet of salvation to protect our heads, our brains, in effect, our minds.
It’s interesting to me that we stand on the gospel (“as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace”) and that helmet of salvation protects our heads, symbolically, the mind. Our relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ is crucial from one end to the other.
Paul now moves on to the sword of the Spirit, which he tells us, is the word of God. We need to be careful here. We sometimes speak of the Bible as “the word of God” almost as if the physical book were “the word of God.” Clearly Paul isn’t referring to anything physical here. He’s talking about the “sayings” which we find in the Bible. This is what is worth noting. The word “sword” here is not referring to a large sword used in battle, but something more along the lines of what we’d call a dagger, or a large knife. It was a precision instrument, not something that was used for slashing indiscriminately.
Notice that when Jesus was tempted, He chose exactly the right saying of God from the Scriptures to deflect Satan’s attack. From His example we learn that it is the word of God in the sense of the sayings of God – specific truths – that we use to neutralize the trusts of the enemy as he attempts to get past our faith, make us question our salvation, cause us to lose our footing. When I am attacked by a specific temptation, a specific saying of God is just what I need to deal with it.
Paul moves next from actual physical armour in his analogy to some of the support systems necessary in military operations. When a soldier loses his link with his commander he is in big trouble. He can even end up wounding his fellow-soldiers by shooting in the wrong direction. This is why the apostle counsels us to pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. In a battle, constant communication with the high command is crucial. Constant prayer keeps us connected to our Commander.
One of the worst things a soldier can do is to let his guard down, so Paul admonishes us to keep alert. His instruction that we do this “with all perseverance” suggests that there will be times when we may not think it is necessary or when it seems overwhelmingly difficult. Never mind. Don’t give in. Keep alert.
Very, very rarely are soldiers called on to fight alone. They are nearly always deployed in platoons, companies, squadrons, groups of various sizes. As Christians, we are not alone in the battle. For all we need to be careful not to be distracted, we need to act as support for other believers in their battles as they will be for us in ours. This is why Paul closes this section with the command to make supplication for all the saints. We don’t just stay in touch with God by prayer for our own benefit, we are also supporting other Christians engaged in the battle, opening the channels of God’s blessing into their lives.
When I read a portion of the Bible I like to ask myself “so what?” What difference does this make to me, to what I know, to how I live? Here’s what I’ve been thinking.
Spiritual warfare, is a significant theme in the Bible. This warfare happens on many levels, from the cosmic to the personal. I acknowledge that some groups within the body of Christ have over-emphasized it, just as others have effectively ignored it. I believe that as mature believers we need to strike a healthy balance. The Christian as “soldier” is only one aspect of our identity in Christ. We are also farmers, builders, stewards, friends, siblings, children and so on, but let’s never forget that, along with everything else, we are soldiers.
So, today, I invite you to identify an area where you are prone to defeat. Recast it in terms of spiritual warfare. Consider how the weapons mentioned in this passage could help you defeat it. And don’t forget to call in reinforcements when you need them!