- Ephesians 6:10-20
The Bible depicts countless battles. From Genesis to Revelation, from the time Cain killed his brother Abel, right down to the present day and even into the predicted future and the Apocalypse.
In fact, it is estimated that more than 14,500 wars have been fought from 3600 B.C. to present day. Think of it this way: 5,305 years of war … compared to 292 years of peace.
Breaking it down for you, just for the 12-month period (August to August) of 2014 to 2015:
10,000 or more deaths in the last year:
- Afghanistan (since it started in 1978, about 2M dead, which is more than half of the population of Panama)
- Boko Haram Insurgency in Africa
Conflicts causing at least 1,000 deaths in one calendar year are considered «wars» even if they are only «conflicts» or internal power struggles – so let me give you the details on those conflicts causing between 1,000 to 9,999 deaths in the last year:
- Israeli-Palestine conflict
- Somali civil war (at least 500,000 so far)
- Communal conflicts in Nigeria
- War in Darfur (Sudan)
- War in North-West Pakistan
- Mexican Drug War
- Libyan civil war
- Yemini crisis
- Sinai Insurgency in Egypt
- Central African Republic Conflict
- South Sudanese Civil War
- War in Donbass (Ukraine)
The Iraq war may be over, but in this world, we are still at war!
I exhort you also to take part in the great combat, which is the combat of life, and greater than every other earthly conflict.
Life truly is a battle. It is warfare on a grand scale – a war against falling back into sin and bad habits, a struggle to keep the faith, to stay humble, to love each and every person that crosses your path. Admit it, some people are just plain hard to love. But, we are still called to be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
And so, I want to give us a brief outline of the armor of God that we have been exhorted in Ephesians to put on.
Let me read the passage for you:
10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.
Note – it says very clearly and more than once – put on the «WHOLE» armor of God. Don’t leave a piece or two off. Maybe you think one of the pieces is too heavy or unnecessary – «that’s just not for me»! But I can only imagine that Paul had soldiers around him day and night while he was in jail and writing to the Ephesians, and hence the simile was very apt for his purpose.
So, where does the armor start?
Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
It starts, as you might have guessed, with God, rather than with ourselves. Our armor is not physical, but supernatural. It’s the reminder from Philippians:
«I can do all things through Him who strengthens me» (Philippians 4:13).
Psalms 28: 7 reminds us:
The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me…
Put on the armor:
Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.
The Greek word translated «put on»(enduo) carries the idea of permanence. The full armor of God is not something to be put on and taken off occasionally but is something to be put on permanently. You don’t simply take it on and off at your leisure.
Rather than doing the latest fad diet, it’s adopting a new lifestyle. And it’s accepting that this is a permanent change, not just something you’re «going to try» and «see if it works».
But Paul says more than just this – he also reminds the Ephesians that they need to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. When used in a military sense, the Greek word translated «stand firm» (histemi) refers to holding a critical position while under attack.
1 Corinthians 16:13 reminds us also:
13 Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong.
Know your enemy
Ephesians 6: 12 says
«Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.»
Are you uncomfortable with this thought, that there are things happening in realms we cannot see? In this day and age, many of our wars are not flesh and blood, but really are about corporations and corporate profits, powers and world forces that perhaps we don’t know who the true controlling hand and force is – the interest in keeping wars going is to sell more weapons or change the stage of a market. We don’t really see or know what the true motivation behind any war or conflict may be.
The same way we can appreciate this on a physical level, we can also apply this on the spiritual one.
Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles and we are preoccupied with our own problems. We sympathize with ourselves because we see our own difficulties so clearly. But Ian MacLaren noted wisely, “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”
Belt of Truth
The Roman soldier wore a tunic, an outer garment that served as his primary clothing. It was usually made of a large, square piece of material with holes cut out for the head and arms. It draped loosely over most of the soldier’s body. Since the majority of ancient combat was hand-to-hand, a loose tunic was a potential hindrance and even a danger. Before a battle it was therefore carefully cinched up between the soldier’s legs and tucked into the heavy leather belt.
The Greek word translated «truth» (aletheia) basically refers to the content of that which is true. But alethia can also refer to the attitude of truthfulness. It represents not only the accuracy of specific truths, but also the quality of truthfulness. That seems to be the primary meaning Paul has in mind here. To be girded with truth reveals an attitude of readiness and of genuine commitment. Every encumbrance that might hinder his work for the Lord is gathered and tucked into his belt of truthfulness so that it will be out of the way. You can’t get tripped up in it or it can’t be used to pull you in another direction.
Do you know what your truth is? Speaking from a place of criticism, comparison, false appeasement, and fear leads to living inauthentically, which translates into low satisfaction and high frustration levels. When we limit our responsiveness to our Truth, we compromise our ability to achieve our potential.
Breastplate of Righteousness
No Roman soldier would go into battle without his breastplate–a tough sleeveless piece of armor that covered everything apart from his head and limbs. It was often made of leather or heavy linen, onto which were sewn overlapping pieces of metal molded or hammered to conform to the body. The purpose of that piece of armor is obvious–to protect one’s heart, lungs, intestines, and other vital organs. Also keep in mind that the high priest wore a golden breastplate over his linen robe that was set with 12 precious stones, each inscribed with one of the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. This place represented nearness to the heart.
Another interesting aspect of the breastplate was that it offered no protection to the person’s back. It was assumed that soldiers would not turn their backs toward the enemy to retreat.
Shoes of the Gospel of Peace
In the Bible, the foot is a symbol for the direction or “the walk” of a person’s life.
Since the average ancient soldier marched on rough, hot roads, climbed over jagged rocks, trampled over thorns, and waded through streambeds of jagged stones, his feet needed much protection. A soldier whose feet were blistered, cut, or swollen could not fight well and often was not able to stand up–a perilous situation in battle. The shoes of Roman soldiers were usually impregnated with bits of metal or nails to give him greater traction as he climbed a slippery hill, and greater stability as he fought.
The Greek word translated «preparation» (hetoimasia) generally refers to readiness. A good pair of boots allowed the soldier to march, climb, fight, or do whatever else was necessary at a moment’s notice.
Shield of Faith
In New Testament times the tips of arrows would often be wrapped in pieces of cloth that had been soaked in pitch. Just before the arrow was shot, the tip would be lighted and the flaming missile would be shot at the enemy troops. The pitch burned fiercely, and on impact it would splatter flaming bits, igniting anything flammable in its path. In addition to piercing a person’s body, such arrows inflicted serious burns on enemy soldiers and destroyed their clothing and gear. The most reliable protection against these flaming missiles was the thureos; this shield was the first line of defense. Its covering of metal or treated leather would either deflect or extinguish them, and it was designed to protect the entire body of the soldier.
The purpose for our shield of faith is to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy and prevent them from ever making contact.
Helmet of Salvation
Your body has seven sacred openings from the neck up: two nostrils, two ears, two eyes, and one mouth. (and you ask why we only got one!) In order to protect their heads and these vulnerable parts, the soldiers wore helmets. The purpose of the helmet was to protect the head from injury, particularly from the dangerous broadsword commonly used in the warfare of that day. Some of the helmets were made of thick leather covered with metal plates, and others were of heavy molded or beaten metal. They usually had cheek pieces to protect the face.
The purpose for this helmet of salvation is not only to keep out the rocks, but also to keep in the brains! Your mind should not be open to anything and everything. What are you feeding your mind and soul? How are you protecting your thoughts?
Sword of the Spirit – Word of God
The sword was the most common weapon in battle. Indeed, the word “sword” appears 449 times in Scripture. The other armaments in God’s arsenal are defensive in nature, but the sword is primarily an offensive weapon. The machaira was anywhere from six to eighteen inches. It was the common sword carried by Roman foot soldiers and was the principal weapon in hand-to-hand combat. Carried in a sheath or scabbard attached to their belts, it was always at hand and ready for use. Ancient soldiers also used their swords for cooking, splitting kindling, and for cutting the ropes that bound their captives to set them free.
Paul explicitly states that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. As such it is first of all a defensive weapon, capable of deflecting the blows of an opponent; and yet it is also a practical tool for every area of life.
Hebrews 4: 12 reminds us:
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”
Are you open to letting the Word of God work in your life, thoughts and heart?
Paul closes reminding the Ephesians of the importance of a life of prayer, of constantly having their relationship with God present in their lives. It wasn’t about them spending hours upon hours on their knees in prayer, but rather about them acknowledging, as when we started this reading, that God is the source of all of our strength. And it’s so appropriate that this prayer is not only for ourselves, but also for others.