Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ephesians 6:14-17 - The Armor of God

14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

First, the belt of truth represents a life of authenticity and integrity based solely and firmly on the intellectual knowledge and understanding of sound doctrine. It is the confidence in decision-making that comes from knowing with certainty that God’s word is true. Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32). The belt, or girdle, of truth holds you up when the devil attacks your conscience and accuses you of hypocrisy. Ligon Duncan says, “To resist the devil, truth must have so taken hold of us inside-out, so that what we are inwardly is what we are outwardly.” When instructed doctrine becomes part of who you are, when your behavior is aligned with your right Biblical beliefs everyday and all the time, then you are wearing the belt of truth.

Next, the breastplate of righteousness represents a life lived in holiness and moral righteousness from the heart. Elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 5:8), Paul attributes the breastplate to faith and love. Perhaps here Paul is referring to Christ’s righteousness, which is imputed to us as He dwells in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). Perhaps Paul is thinking instead of our righteous deeds, which we do with more and more consistency as we grow in faith (sanctification). Either way, the breastplate of righteousness is the confidence that enables us to resist temptation, to repent when we fail, and to always rest in grace assured of our justification before God. The breastplate protects our conscience.

Coming to v15, we have the shoes of readiness of the gospel of peace. Some have suggested that Paul has in mind Isaiah 52:7, the passage that speaks of beautiful feet bringing good news, but ironically, the peace that comes from the gospel readies one for war against evil. The Roman soldiers of Paul’s day wore a half boot, similar to a high-top football cleat. It was designed to enable fast and easy running – compared to plodding with full boots on – and firm footing on unstable ground in order to stand firm. Ligon Duncan says, “Paul is reminding us here that our ability to march for God and to stand firm in the day of evil is wholly dependent upon our having experienced the effect of the gospel,” which is reconciliation with God, or peace, along with a readiness to live for God and go where Christ directs as Lord. We need to be ready (1 Peter 3:15; Romans 1:16), prepared for battle, and to be prepared is to understand that we have peace with God through the gospel. Are you ready to move for God? Are you ready to stand firm in your faith in the midst of persecution? If you are wearing gospel shoes, then you have peace with God, reconciled to Him through Christ, and you are ready!

Next, the shield of faith, rather than the breastplate of faith and love as mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, mentioned in v16 was a large full-body shield that, when dipped in water prior to a battle, could easily extinguish fiery arrows when they fell upon it. 1 John 5:4 says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” To resist the devil we must have a living and active faith in the living and active God. We must trust and confide in Christ, knowing that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Calvin says, “The most necessary instruments of warfare – a sword and a shield – are compared to faith, and to the word of God. In the spiritual combat, these two hold the highest rank. By faith we repel all the attacks of the devil, and by the word of God the enemy himself is slain. If the word of God shall have its efficacy upon us through faith, we shall be more than sufficiently armed both for opposing the enemy and for putting him to flight.”

If you have a faith without works, then you might want to check to see if your faith is alive. The Bible says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:14-19). Do you have the shield of faith? Prove it!

The helmet of salvation in v17 involves the confidence that God finishes what He starts (Philippians 1:6); there is a present experience and a future hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8), because God is the One working in you to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13). The verb translated, “Take,” would be better stated, “Receive,” as it points specifically to the given nature of the object. When Roman soldiers prepared for battle, they would put on their armor, but the helmet and sword would be handed to them on the way out to battle. Receive from God the helmet, the intellectual and heart-felt assurance of your salvation. Ligon Duncan says, “If we’re going to stand firm in the day of evil, we must have a vital hope, a vital sense of God’s having saved us – of our present and future salvation. The Apostle Paul is saying that the knowledge that we are saved and secure, the knowledge that nothing can pluck us from God’s hand, the knowledge of Romans 8 that ‘...neither death nor life, nor angels, nor powers, nor principalities, nor nakedness nor famine, nor peril nor sword, can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus’; the knowledge that we are God’s, that we belong to Him, that we are kept by Him, that we are saved by Him, that we are safe and secure with Him, is vital to the whole project of the Christian life.”

Often called the lone offensive weapon in this passage, we have the sword, the word of God. In reality there are two, and we’ll consider prayer in the next set of verses. But this sword would have brought to mind for the reader a short sword used first and foremost for defense in hand-to-hand combat. Consider a jousting match where one knight falls from his ride and is injured. The other knight would only be victorious if he voluntarily dismounted and came over the fallen knight to finish him off. But the injured knight would not go down without defending himself; and he would use this kind of sword to cling to life as long as he could. Then after succeeding defensively, this sword would be used for offense. It brings to my mind Jesus’ one-on-one battles with Satan during the Spirit-led desert temptation. And from that example in its entirety (Jesus defends, turns the table, and offends in the three battles with Satan), we learn that to resist the devil, to fight successfully against the spirits of darkness, we must rely on God’s Word; we must be people of the Book; we must hide God’s Word in our hearts so that we don’t sin against Him; we must love His law and meditate on it day and night. That’s how we win the spiritual war against evil.

Like the helmet, the sword is received on the way to battle. Paul implies that the Word of God, which is the sword, is received by and through the Holy Spirit. In John 16:13, Jesus says, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.” As we study the Word of God, the indwelling Holy Spirit instructs believers in the understanding and proper use of God’s Word for defense first and then offense. Vincent Cheung says, “Every time a Christian verbally defends Christian ideas and attacks non-Christian ideas in a biblical way, he is wielding the sword of the Spirit,” and then he quotes Gordon Fee as saying, “Paul is almost certainly referring still to the gospel, just as he does in Romans 10:17, but the emphasis is now on the actual ‘speaking forth’ of the message, inspired by the Spirit. To put that in more contemporary terms, in urging them to take the sword of the Spirit and then identifying that sword with the ‘Word of God,’ Paul is not identifying the ‘sword’ with the book, but with the proclamation of Christ, which in our case is indeed to be found in the book.”

The Word of God does not merely lead us to salvation; it builds us up and sustains us; God’s Word helps us grow and stay alive in Christ. “For the Word is living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates, even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress Is Our God speaks to power of God’s Word when it says, “That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them abideth.” Vance Havner said, “Show me a Christian whose Bible is falling apart, and I’ll show you a Christian who isn’t.”

No comments: