Two years ago Bev and I decided that maybe we needed a bigger vehicle. This is after another summer vacation of having bags and other assorted items lying all over and around us as we travelled on vacation.
There are times when packing for vacation I wonder if we should have bought a U-Haul. Yes, the bigger vehicle we bought does give us a lot more room and comfort when we travel, but packing it is still a challenge not to be taken lightly. And every year I wonder why we use so much stuff, and why we even bother to go.
But once we’re there. Once we unload everything. Once we’re staring at the lake. Once the first sunset starts over the water. Once I get in that first quiet paddle in the kayak. Once the tension leaves my shoulders. I realize that all the preparation, all the packing, all the driving, all the “Where are we?” questions (my kids’ version of “Are we there yet?”), it’s all worth it. And I come back rested and ready to begin a new season in the church.
All of this comes to me as I think about the verses from Ephesians 6 we read this morning. Where Paul talks about putting on all this armour as Christians. Calling us into battle with the evils of the world around us.
He uses images of helmets and shields, swords and shoes, talking about getting dressed for a fight. But he’s not talking about the kind of armour we are picturing in our mind. As we hear the words of Paul being read, our mind is focusing on the items he describes. He focus on the belt, the shoes, the breastplate, the helmet, the shield and the sword. In the end, we picture some sort of ancient warrior, a knight in shining armour maybe, ready to charge into battle with the enemy.
But instead, let’s look at what Paul is describing these items to be. Let’s look at who it is we’re fighting in battle. Let’s remember who we are.
Paul is writing to the people of Ephesus. A small, but growing church in a big city under the watch of the Roman Empire. The church is still struggling to survive at this point. It’s remaining hidden for the most part from view in fear of being persecuted. Paul, while he writes this letter is in prison himself! Locked in chains and being held captive, simply for sharing the news of Jesus Christ.
Christians are a small minority in the world at this point. Governments are trying to squash them out of sight. Sending them fleeing, into hiding, into secrecy.
So who is Paul preparing them to do battle with? He says in verse 12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
They are not going to be fighting a physical battle. They are preparing to engage in a spiritual war.
This is not unlike what we are doing today. While we don’t have the same physical threats the first Christians were subject to, we are still battling the same spiritual forces. We are still wrestling against authorities and cosmic powers. We are still fighting against forces of evil, not just in heavenly places, but right here in our streets.
So we can still take the words of Paul to heart this morning as we hear his warning and his call to prepare for the battle.
So while we were picturing the physical armour Paul was describing, let’s look at what he was really telling us about preparing for a battle on things we cannot see.
Paul starts by telling us to “take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (v13)
We need to prepare wholly to protect ourselves and stand firm, and it all needs to be from God. Nothing else can protect us from the evil around us like the armour of God.
So what does this armour look like?
He begins with the belt of truth. What does a belt do? It hold up our pants. It keeps things in place. This is what the truth of God needs to be for us, something that holds us together, keeps us from falling apart.
Of course, for ancient soldiers, they didn’t wear pants. Their belts were ornate emblems of who they represented. Badges of honour to show their allegiance. So when we think of wearing a belt of truth, we need to think about how we are emblazoned with the Truth of God, and how we represent our allegiance to this truth.
Paul then talks about the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate covers the vital organs of the body. It protects the heart, our most vital organ. We need to cover hearts with the righteousness of God. By doing this, we protect the target of evil, that is, it wants to break our hearts, it wants to disconnect this most vital part of us from the Lord God.
We talk often about people with a soft heart, or a heart for some cause. Somehow we’ve connected this blood pumping muscle to an emotional response. Which is fine, but we need to know it’s this emotional connection to God that is under attack. We need to protect it. We need to let God protect it.
And for our feet, Paul tells us to have put on the readiness of the Gospel of peace. That is, we need to be ready to act, to move in ways of peace! Now isn’t that a change from how we view the way we are to act in a battle?
Think back to what Jesus has told us about our enemies. What was he said in the Beatitudes? He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44)
This is the Christian response to hatred. So our feet are symbols of action, and our actions should be peaceful.
Paul talks next about the shield of faith. Shields are used to protect us from an initial attack. It deflects the blows from a further distance than the armour we would wear directly on our body, like the breastplate. Shields allow us to prepare for our next move.
Paul tells us the shield is our faith, and we need to have it ready at all times. If we have a strong faith, and we are confident and sure, we will be protected from the attacks from our enemies. Paul says it will “extinguish the flaming darts of the evil one.” It removes their sting. They cannot harm us, because our faith is our strong shield.
The helmet of salvation. Our head is our source of knowledge. Our brain stores the information we process. It remembers things. We need to know we are saved by Jesus Christ. We need to know we belong to God. We need to know of God’s great and wonderful love, and that we are part of His plan to spread this love to all the world.
We protect this knowledge.
When we doubt, we need to reassure ourselves. We get back into the Bible and read about it. We pray about it. We go back to our hearts and reaffirm the connection we have with God through Jesus Christ. This is another area which will be under heavy attack from the evil in the world. If we lose sight that we are saved by God’s grace, then we lose our ability to fight.
We belong to God.
Then finally, we pick up our sword. Our weapon of choice for the battle. Our key offence to winning the war. Paul tells us our sword is of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
The Word of God is our weapon! It is what is going to win the battle. The Word of God should be at our side at all times. We have this ability now more than ever. Instead of carrying the Bible in book form, we can now carry it with us in digital formats as well in our mobile devices! We can, in an instant, refer to it when we must. When we’re under attack, when we’re sharing with each other in times of need. The Word of God is with us always now. In the words we have memorized, in the stories of God’s love in action in the life of Jesus Christ.
His word is truth.
Nothing can defend against it. Nothing can match it in its power.
God has given us all we need to fight the battle.
They are not physical things. They are not shields and swords that we can pick up and harm each other with. They are spiritual strengths which help us to resist the evil in the world. They help us seek out peace and justice. They show God’s love in action.
We are not your typical warriors.
We are not barbarians lining up in a field.
We are agents of God’s love. Covered in God’s grace and mercy which allows us to resist the temptation to be drawn into a battle we cannot fight on our own.
So instead we live as God calls us to live. People who love. People who show mercy. People who share joy. People of peace.
This is who we are when we stand together in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came to show us light and love in a world of darkness and hate.
The one who saves, the one who lives forevermore with our Father in Heaven.
Thanks be to God.
Photo from http://www.sxc.hu/photo/927285