August 2, 2020 – All The Pieces Matter – Ephesians 6
The Pieces of the Armor
The Rev. Jay Traylor
(Note: this was preached at our parent church, Church of the Incarnation)
Lately, there have been people in our orbit here, including our Bishop, who believe that this church, and indeed this area network of churches, are under a pointed or elevated amount of spiritual attack. And there have been conversations and prayer meetings about that, and I would encourage you to pray for the health of our churches. Now, we’ve been looking at Paul telling the Ephesians that they need to “put on the whole armor of God” because they are part of a spiritual battle against the forces of evil in this world. And it may be worth noting that Paul doesn’t say to put on the armor of God when you feel you are under spiritual attack. Paul just says to put it on, because the forces of evil that wage war against God and his church are always present, even when they aren’t acutely felt. In fact, sometimes they’re most dangerous when they AREN’T being felt or noticed. But they are always there: if you are following Christ, you have a bullseye on your back. So suit up. So, in verse 14, Paul starts listing each item. We’ll look at each item individually, and then we’ll talk about how this whole outfit looks.
Belt of Truth
This is the first thing Paul tells us to put on. It’s primary. It’s fundamental. Don’t do anything else until you’re armed with truth. Now at that time, they didn’t typically wear pants, they would have worn a robe or a long tunic. So, don’t think of a belt like this, to hold up your trousers. No, with the kind of belt Paul is describing, if you’re working or running or doing something active, you’d put it on, and then you’d gather up the leggy parts of your robe, and tuck them into your belt. That way you’d be prepared to do work, or prepared to fight. If you’re not wearing a belt and you go into battle, you can have whatever fancy shield or helmet you want, but it’s not gonna do much good since you’re gonna get caught up in your robe and trip and fall.
So, the foundational item in this armor of God is the belt of truth. Everything else comes after that. What’s true? God is true, his love is true, his justice is true, his word is true. Our faith is not based on feelings or based on some subjective notion of “what works for me.” Our faith is based on truth – God really created the world, humans really are sinful and in need of redemption, Jesus really is God and man at the same time, he really did die, he really was resurrected… everything else we do is based on those truths. And when we claim that truth, we can start to be properly outfitted for battle.
Next, the Breastplate of Righteousness
Paul is basically quoting from Isaiah 59 here, the same Isaiah passage we just heard read out. In it, God looks around at his chosen people and sees that there is no one righteous, no not one. No one deals justly with one another, no one is honest with one another. Isaiah says that “we stumble around at noon as though it were twilight; we are like the dead among those who are healthy.” And so God himself promises to bring justice and redemption. And Isaiah paints the picture of the Redeemer himself gearing up for the battle: “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head.” So in the Isaiah passage it’s God Himself who is putting on this armor as the Redeemer, God the Son, Jesus. But here in our Ephesians passage, Paul is telling US to put on this armor. Isn’t that kind of Jesus’ stuff? Shouldn’t we leave them to him? Because as followers of Christ we are the means that he spreads his kingdom on earth.
Now Paul is using a military metaphor, here. But let’s back up a couple of verses and remember that Paul insists that we are fighting a spiritual battle. The conflicts we have with one another, the conflicts we have with a world hostile to the Gospel, those are NOTHING compared to the real and invisible conflict that is going on all around us. Just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. The real and biggest struggle is not against other humans, but against the spiritual powers of darkness who, for a while, have been given authority to rule in our world. Let me be perfectly clear: Paul is talking about Satan and his demons. And I say this as a pastor who’s not particularly drawn to talking about spiritual warfare. I’d much rather talk about the severity of sin and the depth of brokenness and the incalculable weight of God’s grace and forgiveness. But we cannot read the Bible truthfully and deny that the cosmic spiritual battle is real.
So, breastplate of righteousness. Jesus wore it, and he GIVES IT TO US. That’s straight out of 2 Corinthians 5:21, what theologians call the Great Exchange – “For our sake he made him to BE sin who KNEW NO sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because of what our triune God did in the work of redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he took all of our sin upon himself, but he also GAVE us HIS righteousness. The breastplate that Paul calls us to put on – that belongs to JESUS. He GIVES it to us, and as Sam said last week, we are clothed with Christ because Christ is sufficient to stand up to any evil.
Shoes of the Readiness of the Gospel of Peace
This one is a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? As bindings for your feet (or sandals, or boots, or shoes), you have the preparation of the gospel of peace. Ok… hunh? Well, remember how Paul borrowed the metaphor of “the breastplate of righteousness” from Isaiah 59? Ok, listen to this from Isaiah 52, verse 7. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings GOOD NEWS (remember, that’s the same word as GOSPEL), how beautiful are the feet of the one who brings good news, who proclaims PEACE, who brings good news of happiness, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” That’s what Paul is talking about here. What do you use shoes for? Walking. Running. GOING. And we’re ready to run because we’ve already tucked our robes up into the belt of truth. Now, who needs really good shoes? The messengers, the heralds, the guy who ran 26.2 miles from Marathon to Athens to proclaim the news that the battle is won and the king is victorious The shoes that Paul tells us to put on is our readiness to proclaim the Gospel to those who don’t know Jesus. Weird that our willingness to follow the Great Commission and to tell others about the risen king Jesus is itself a DEFENSE against the dark forces of spiritual evil. In this case, the best defense is a good offense.
Shield of Faith
“The shield of faith, which can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” Woo! That’s a great image. Flaming arrows. If the Devil is a liar and the father of lies, then what can we use to extinguish his flaming arrows? Faith. Belief in God and in his promises. The evil one comes at us with lies, “You aren’t good enough. Sin isn’t a big deal. You’re unlovable. Everyone’s doing it. You’d better be good or God won’t love you. Right and wrong are just social constructs” they ALL sound like the original lie from the evil one, from the Garden of Eden, when the serpent said, “Did God REALLY say not to eat from this tree?” When the flaming arrows of lies come at us, how do we put those out? Faith. Belief in God and in his promises.
One more thing to help you visualize the protection we get; this Shield of Faith, when Paul talks about a shield, he’s not talking about one of those little round Captain-America shields. These were full body shields used by a Roman phalanx. They were basically as big as a man, or at least as big as a crouching man. Put that shield in front of you when attacked, and you were COVERED. You were protected. Here’s another image for you: The metaphors Paul is using are Roman army metaphors. There are no lone actors in the Roman army. The whole thing was built on coordinated movements of many soldiers acting as one. Their strength came in the unity of the legion, not in being a bunch of lone wanderers. It’s important to remember – when Paul is writing these letters, he’s talking to The Church, not to A Christian. In English, the word for YOU or YOOOUUU is still “You.” But think of it this way – in Greek, Paul is saying, “Y’all put on the belt of truth, y’all take up the shield of faith. This battle is something we are not meant to fight alone.
The Helmet of Salvation
This is another piece of the King’s Armor from Isaiah 59. And this is another of those cases where God GIVES the helmet TO US, for OUR protection. The helmet is among the oldest kind of armor, which makes sense. The head holds 4 of our 5 senses, along with our brains. If you’re going to keep only 1 area of your body safe, the head is a really good choice. Helmets have been discovered from as far back as like 2,000 BC. And so what’s the thing that covers this incredibly important and vulnerable part of our bodies? Salvation itself. Our identity as sons and daughters of God. Redemption won by Jesus.
The Sword of the Spirit, The Word of God
So, 4 out of the 5 things Paul talks about are defensive, they are designed to protect us. 1 is offensive, designed for us to use to attack. The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
How am I supposed to battle a demon? How am I supposed to stand up to the forces of darkness? How am I supposed to fight against Satan himself? Perhaps I should do what we see Jesus himself doing. When Jesus was confronted by Satan, he didn’t use miracles, he didn’t use might, and he didn’t run away – he used God’s Word to defeat Satan at his own game. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, 3 times the devil tried to get Jesus, and 3 times Jesus quoted scripture back to him, used God’s word as a sword, to pierce Satan’s arguments.
God’s word is a comfort in times of need, and God’s word is a light for our path. But God’s word is also THE only tool we need in the fight against spiritual foes. In Isaiah 11, and then several times throughout the book of Revelation, we are given a crazy image of the Messiah, the conquering king in full power and glory, with a double-edged sword coming straight out of his mouth. It’s jarring. But it all ties together. Paul tells us to pick up The Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. God’s word is the sword, fueled by the breath coming out of God’s mouth, which is the Holy Spirit. The word for Spirit and the word for Breath in both Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek is the same word. God’s Word is the product of the Spirit of God, the breath, and Hebrews 4:12 says that God’s Word is living and active and sharper than any two edged sword. And it better be good, cause according to Paul, it’s all we have for offense. But fortunately, it’s all we need.
Conclusion – David in Saul’s Armor
I want to offer one final thought as we close this time in God’s armory. Because, finally, when we’re kitted out with all this stuff… what do we look like? With this God-given armor designed to protect us from powerful evil… how do we look to outsiders? How do we look to the world?
So I want to bring up an Old Testament story that most of you have probably at least heard of – David and Goliath. Goliath, the hulking champion of the Philistines, is calling out the Israelites, saying that they are too scared to go and fight him in one-on-one combat. And so David, youngest of his brothers, says “I’ll fight him.” And people thought he was nuts. King Saul said to him, “You can’t fight him. You’re a kid and he’s been a man of war since HE was a kid.” But David says he’s going to do it, and here’s what I want to key into: Saul put David in his own armor of bronze. The king’s armor, and made of bronze – this would have looked like excellent armor to anyone around him. But Saul was a head taller than all the other Israelites, and David was young. So David couldn’t move in it, he couldn’t do battle in it. So he took it off because he said he was clothed in the power of the Lord. “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel.”
From a cosmic view, the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation and the shoes of preparedness and the shield of faith… those are the ONLY things that can protect us. But from the world’s point of view… you can’t SEE a Belt of Truth or a Shield of Faith. From everyone else’s point of view, David looked weak and foolish. From the world’s view, Jesus looked weak and foolish. Our strength is in weakness; the power of God looks like foolishness to the world. But with that Truth, and Christ’s Righteousness, and with God’s Gospel, and with Faith in King Jesus, covered in his salvation and armed with his world, we truly are equipped to stand, shoulder to shoulder, in unity, against the schemes of the devil.