PUTTING ON THE ARMOR OF GOD
Ephesians 6: 10-20
Since 1977, When George Lucas released his first “Star Wars” film, people across the globe have become familiar with “The Force.” Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi tells his protégé, Luke Skywalker to “Use the Force.” Now tying down what George Lucas meant by the Force is a slipperier challenge. It was not a force field of impenetrable strength, nor did it allow a character to fly. One source says “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.” In our world people would love to have power at times of terror or anxiety. And we are not the first to feel that. Through the ages people have sought a spiritual power connection, not just for offense, but also for defense. Years ago, the legendary St. Patrick, said to have rid Ireland of snakes and to have brought Christianity to the land, is also said to have put words together that became a legendary prayer. There is a long version of his prayer to God, but the shorter and more familiar version I put at the top of our bulletins:
I bind myself to Thee today, in the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three….Christ be with me; Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Notice how he envisioned Christ completely with him, surrounding him, and with the power of God present. Through the ages Christians have called on the power of God to protect them in their times of need. And there are times, like the description that Paul used in his letter to the Ephesians, when he encourages others to put on the “armor” of God. The Romans warriors in his day all dressed in armor for protection. So the Ephesians would be used to seeing armor. Aside from certain films, an outing to Medieval Times Dinner Theatre, or a visit to Rome, you may not see people in armor! But you know what it looks like. In Paul’s day, the Roman army could be brutal in its attempts to keep the Pax Romana, which was “the Peace of Rome;” forced peace! Although it was the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, Paul was not crucified in large part because he was a Roman citizen. But when he was transported to prison, he was chained to a Roman guard. Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, and his description in chapter 6 referred to the very armor his guard wore! In the days of chivalry, a damsel in distress might have swooned when her knight in shining armor appeared! Knights were saviors and rescuers! In the Roman Empire, and in the Middle Ages, knights actually wore armor, as did their horses in some instances, so an arrow would not easily take their lives. Armor was created mostly for defensive stances rather than offensive ones; it was made to protect and defend. Armor, whether shiny or colorful or black, is designed not primarily as a weapon, but as protection. As Paul describes it, our task is to put on the spiritual armor of God to bring Christ to the world.
Paul used armor as a metaphor for the Christian spiritual protection. Paul is not a literalist, but he is a wordsmith. Paul calls himself a prisoner (3:1) and an “ambassador in chains.” As he does on other occasions, he turns a weakness (being a prisoner) into a fulfillment of God’s purpose. He does not ask for Christians to physically fight other people (“our struggle is not against enemies made of blood and flesh, but rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this present darkness; against spiritual forces of evil.” The armor, therefore, is to withstand the wiles of the devil. (6:11). Soldiers of an empire fight against flesh and blood. What kind of armor does a spiritual soldier need? Paul says we will need the whole armor of God, never forgetting to don every single piece. Actual knights have little protection if they fail to put on all their pieces. Football players cannot provide strong defense without pads protecting muscles and vital organs. Like a knight, or an athlete, or a first responder, we cannot forget our equipment before we go into the world. Paul first said: “Fasten the belt of truth around your waist.” Lawrence W. Farris has written this: “Truth is the most basic virtue, but in a world of spin, purposeful deception, and deceit, it becomes even more precious and crucial. The dark powers are led, at least metaphorically, by the ‘father of lies’ (John 8: 44), and truth is spoken in the name of the One who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life.’ The temptation is to take up the methods of the enemy, to let noble ends justify ignoble means, to fight fire with fire. [But Christ had a different message.] The fire of evil is fought not with fire, but with the waters of baptism; the lies of the Evil One are resisted with God’s truth.” So first, we need to put on the belt of truth. Second, we need the breastplate of righteousness to protect the heart of the believer. If our heart is taken over by a corrupter—whether an enticing woman, a charming but corrupt man, or a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we have nothing left with which to balance our judgments. Our decisions will need rational, linear arguments plus heart and grace. Each day we need to put on righteousness, that is, the ability to make right decisions. So first: the belt of truth. We cannot make headway in the world if we cannot distinguish truth from lies. Second, the breastplate of righteousness: use your heart as the deciding factor for action. Third put on your spiritual shoes each day. Spiritual shoes give you the protection to not only stand longer, but also walk farther and to run faster for Christ. We have a gospel to share and the gospel goes nowhere fast without messengers! We are the messengers of the good news of salvation! “Paul misquotes Isaiah 52:10 when he declared: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.” Beautiful feet? No! Beautiful sounds of feet running to bring the gospel! Here’s how Isaiah originally said it in chapter 52:verse 7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news.” If such good news does not get shared, people have no place to turn except to the bad or untruthful news around them. Fourth, arm yourself with the shield of faith. In ages past, actual shields provided considerable protection against enemies! Personal faith, joined with the faith of thousands around us, reminds us that there is strength in numbers. A shield of faith, when held arm in arm with other Christians, can keep your faith from buckling. Fifth, Paul called for a helmet of salvation, to protect what we have learned. Without our minds to process what is around us, people under stress may fall prey to evil ones, thereby encouraging people to imitate the worldly persons around them instead of imitating Christ. A hymn like “Take Thou our Minds, dear Lord,” is not a plea for God to take our minds so much as to remold our minds, guide our feet, and form our words. Again, the images are often metaphorical and not literal. Christ needs us to not relinquish our minds to enemies, or to people who are just out for political or personal gain. Instead, always try to have the mind of Christ.
Finally, at long last we are given but one offensive weapon: the sword. Sword is such an oddly spelled word for its pronunciation, isn’t it? SWORD! But this odd spelling includes the letters w-o-r-d. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. This is our weapon (the Bible) and, rightly interpreted, God’s Word is our weapon, interpreted by Christian minds and guided by God’s Holy Spirit. That Word judges and instructs both the believing community and those it seeks to rescue from evil. So this is what we need to put on each and every day: The belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of God’s Word.
As we sang for our response today: “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in his strength alone; the arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own. Put on the gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer. Where duty calls, or danger, be never wanting there.”
Jeffrey A. Sumner August 26, 2018