THE WHOLE ARMOR OF GOD Ephesians 6:10-20 August 26, 2012 The Apostle Paul finishes his letter to the Ephesians with a call to Christians to “put your armor on”. It’s as if he is saying “OK, we’ve talked about • who Jesus is • what our relationship to Jesus is • how this relationship changes our lives • the call to be one in Christ. But, now before I finish, before I send you out there to live our faith, I want to remind you to put your armor on. Don’t go out there unarmed. “ The image Paul employs is that of a Roman soldier gearing up – getting dressed for battle. “I write to you as an Ambassador of Christ” Paul says. “And I have been put in chains.” In other words, Paul is telling the Ephesians and us If you’re going to follow Jesus, you better get ready for a fight.
Put your armor on, Christians. We are falling in line behind Jesus and we better get ready for a fight. Boot camp – our baptism. The barracks – where everyone gets the same treatment regardless of intelligence, wealth, race or strength is our church. And the battle – the battle will take place everywhere. Even where you least expect it. The forces of Darkness do not relent or fall back. They surround us at every point and we are constantly looking for a way to strike – a way to wiggle into our lives and convince us to stumble or falter in our marriage in our relationship with our children in our jobs with our money even with total strangers. The enemy will especially seek us out when we are tired – when we are worried – when we are feeling desperate or - when we are too cocky – too sure of ourselves - too willing to take chances. And any time the enemy can get us to strike out in any way – to cause pain to another – to compromise our integrity – to cause us in any way to take a step out of line from behind Jesus, it is a victory for the dark side. “So, get ready”, Paul says, “put your armor on.” In our scripture passage this morning Paul tells us three things we as soldiers lined up behind Jesus, need to know. First: Who we are fighting against. Second: What our armor of defense is and how to use it. And Third: What our assault weapon is. • who the enemy is • what our defense armor is. • what our assault weapon is. -2-
First: Who we are fighting against. Paul is very clear about this. Our enemy is the power of darkness – the spiritual forces of evil. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. In other words, Paul very clearly separates the force of evil from the people who are being used by the evil one to perpetuate evil. Now this is a pretty remarkable statement, considering Paul’s circumstance. Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus, one of the places Paul was attacked in a terrible mob scene – stoned – beaten with rods – left for dead outside the city. And despite this violent attack on him by the people of Ephesus, Paul writes “our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood – our struggle is against the power of evil behind them.” With scars on his back and pain in his body, how tempting would it have been for Paul to add in the scripture this morning “Ya’ll look out for Demetrius and his cronies and get them if you can. Because they are powerful agents of evil”. But this is Paul – one of the greatest leaders we have in the army of Jesus and he knows who the real enemy is. • He separates the force of evil from the people who perpetrate evil. • He resists the temptation to curse the specific people who stoned him. • He refrains from verbally attacking the people who physically attacked him. And after he regains strength from the attack, Paul works even harder to win people over to our side from the Evil One. He is that convinced that we are not at war with people, but with the powers of darkness. So when your colleague, Jim, attacks you with lies and slander, and the anger boils up in you, take a deep breath and remember your enemy is not Jim. Your enemy is the dark trap of sin that Jim has given in to. And when your family member, Jane, says something so low and mean and hateful that it cuts open your heart, remember Jane is not your enemy, your enemy is the power of hatred and jealously that Jane is allowing to control her words. No, our enemies are not Jim and Jane. Our enemy is the dark power they have given in to and part of our job is to go to battle to try to win them back. And the defense God has given us to use in the battle is our spiritual armor: The belt of truth The breastplate of righteousness The boots of peace The shield of faith The helmet of salvation. Now just between you and me here today, some folks are satisfied with just the helmet of salvation. They figure as long as they’ve got their helmet on – as long as they’ve confessed Christ and been baptized – they’re fully covered. Never mind about the other stuff – the good works we do – the people we hare our faith with – the regular discipline of church worship and Bible study. No, as long as I’ve got my helmet on, I’m covered. But do you know what you have when you have a Christian with just a helmet on? (And the first time I heard this I about fell out) A Christian with just a helmet on is A Christian Streaker. Just like the streaker Marty and I saw at the ECU football game last fall. Someone not dressed for life, much less spiritual battle. And why would you just wear a helmet when you can have full body armor? So, put your armor on. -3-
First: the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. The belt of a Roman soldier was a wide leather belt that covered the stomach and the abdomen that protected him from being stabbed in the weakest, most vulnerable part of our body. The breastplate was a shield strapped over the heart. The two together protected the torso, therefore, for us, the belt of truth and the shield of righteousness protect us at our most vulnerable points. The Christian receives the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness by attending worship, Sunday School, Bible Study, to find out the truth given to us in scripture and in the church to guide our lives and strengthen our hearts. The ancient Christian writer of the book on prayer called The Cloud of Unknowing writes to Christians: You can’t know if there is a dirty mark on your face unless you look in a mirror or someone tells you. It is physically impossible to see your own face. You have to rely on a mirror or a friend. And it is the same thing when it comes to sin. The author writes: “It is impossible for a soul, blinded by his frequent sins, to see the dirty mark in his conscience without reading or hearing God’s word. We can’t see the dirty mark on our face and we can’t see our own sin without it being shown to us. A mirror shows us the mark on our face. Scripture shows us the mark on our soul. Therefore Bible Study, worship, personal meditation, these are the furnaces where our armor is forged – where we go to get the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Second: Boots for our feet. How do we get them? By our good works. “Any good work”, Paul says “that keeps us proclaiming the gospel of peace”. You know what that means. It means we’re going to have to walk over to the neighbor’s house to mend a quarrel whether they have apologized to us first or not. It means we’re going to have to walk downtown to do our part to make sure our laws are fair and our town leaders, lawyers and judges are honest. It means we’re going to have to walk into the classroom, into the company board meeting – into town meetings – into family reunions - as a person known for our ability to speak with a calm voice of wisdom, compromise, tolerance and respect. “Any shoes will do”, Paul says, “as long as they keep you walking towards peace.” Third: The shield of faith. When Roman soldiers raised their shields and started moving across the battlefield, they looked like a wall walking forward. Shield to shield – shoulder to shoulder – a Roman legion made a solid formation. And the best hope their enemy had was to somehow break them apart so they could attack individual soldiers. One tactic was to shoot fire arrows into the wall so individual soldiers would break rank long enough to put out the fire. So the Romans soaked their wood and leather shields in water before battle to put out the fire of those arrows.
So by using the image of the shield of faith, Paul reminds us of several things. • one - stand together. When Christians stand together with our shields of faith raised in a united front, the arrows of the enemy cannot penetrate us. • another, keep your shields soaked in faith. This way we can withstand the enemy’s attack. If you shield is soaked in faith when the gunman crashed into the theater and begins to shoot, you can raise your shield and it will give you the courage to put yourself in between the gunman and the people you love. As the shots are fired, your shield of faith gives you the courage to stop and help a stranger who has fallen and is bleeding to death. Your shield of faith will hold you steady when the powers of the Evil One are on full attack. . Fourth: the helmet of salvation. Now you can put on the helmet the Roman Soldier wore to protect his brain. The helmet we wear forged by the blood of Jesus on the cross of our new life, given to us as our ultimate weapon against the enemy – the guarantee that our soul is eternally protected on the battlefield of death. Because it is coming – our final battle – the time and place when we all see our mortality and recognize our bodies are growing close to death. But even on that last great battlefield, with our helmet of salvation? The Evil One cannot harm us. We will pass through his darkness into God’s bright light of morning on the other side. Now Christians, with all of your armor on, you may take up your assault weapon. Our weapon is the power of the Holy Spirit as revealed in scripture. It is the power that changed our lives. We can testify to its power because we know the change it has brought in us. It is the power that moved us to sign up for this army – the Army of our Lord. It is the power that moved us to renounce our own will in order to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King and it is the power that can move through us to change the lives of others and empower us to stand firm in our faith. This is the power a French pastor spoke of on June 23, 1940 one day after France surrendered to Nazi Germany. He gathered his small congregation together and preached to them from our text today and he said to them: “The responsibility of Christians is to resist the violence that will be brought to bear on their consciences through the weapons of the Spirit.” His congregation listened and in the years to come, took up the weapons of the Spirit and this small congregation of French Huguenot Protestants sheltered over 5,000 Jews until the war ended. Our weapon is the power of the Spirit. It is the power of life – of light – of hope. The power of the world made flesh and come to dwell among us full of grace and truth. One little word, spoken into the dark. One little word blazing in the dark. But the darkness can not over come it. The Prince of Darkness grim? We tremble not for him - one little world shall fell him. My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a battle going on out there. Don’t go out alone. Stay together and don’t go out unprotected. Put on your armor. Thanks be to God, Amen