As Christians journeying through this world, we are often confronted with evil that suddenly comes out of nowhere and threatens our everyday life. We are often pushed back and afraid when it is something we can’t see clearly or understand. What does God want us to do when we are faced with evil threats? Martin Luther wrote: “(Christians) must be warriors, always equipped with their armour and weapons, and that the lot of a Christian is no leisurely existence, nor one of peace and security; rather he is always on campaign, attacking and defending his positions. . . ‘(you) are in my army and under my flag; see to it that you are on the look-out for the enemy, ready to defend yourselves against his angels, for he is never far away from you.’ As long as you do that, you need have no fear.” Our enemy may be relentless, but our God has not left us defenceless.
As Christians, we are always to be at the ready, standing together as a unified army, clothed in the armour of God; for our adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. At times, our battles come from without; proclaiming and defending the truth of the gospel to a world that does not want to hear it proclaimed. But sometimes our battles come from within our Christian community where we are called to battle against heresy, false teachings, and the compromising of the gospel to conform to this sinful world. As we continue our series “The Riches of God’s Grace” in Ephesians, we have seen how we should behave as Christians within the church. Now Paul turns to another pressing matter, how do we face spiritual dangers. His answer: the grace which God has given us through Christ gives us the power to face our enemies. To stand firm in the victory Christ has won on the cross, Paul says we need to know three things about this battle. We need to understand the Darkness, use our Defences and then our Dependence must be on God. Only then can we hope to stand firm for Christ as the battle rages on.
1. Darkness vs. 10-12
The key to victory in any military campaign is intelligence. Therefore, the intelligence corps in any army is vitally important. In the same way, Paul in these opening verses gives us an intelligence report on our adversary, the Prince of darkness. His report does not focus on the person of the devil, because all of us know who he is and what he does. Instead he focuses on the tools and strategies that the devil chooses to employ against us. Paul tells us to “stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms vs. 11b-12.” The devil's strategy is straightforward; he wants to keep believers away from worshipping God. He does this through lies and deception. He plays on our weaknesses and our pride, and he makes us believe that our way is the best way to accomplish things. He twists the Word of God to suit his purposes. The devil's name means the father of lies; he takes God’s good things and twists them, and in so doing leads us astray from worshipping God. The devil uses our sin and pride to drive a wedge between us and God.
Like any good military commander, the devil has many troops under his command; these minions of Satan do not make themselves openly visible. Rather they work through human agents, using Satan's tools of deception to wreak havoc upon this world. A spiritual battle is being waged in the realm of the heavenlies. We are part of this battle. When we walk each day in victory, in faith, we are doing our part in this epic conflict. Although the devil uses some human agents, knowingly or unknowingly, to further his plans, it is important to remember that our battle is also taking place on a spiritual front. Now, I’m not saying there is a devil behind every bush or that every person who opposes you is working for the devil. No, rather it is important to realise our bigger part in both the physical and spiritual realms. Christ has already defeated our greatest foe. We already walk in victory, and we are called to stand our ground and defend that which has already been won. Knowing how Satan uses these tools and strategies to bring about his plans in the world, is our first line of defence against our adversary.
2. Defence vs. 13-17
Since our enemy is spiritual, we need spiritual weapons and faith to defeat him. Therefore, our Defence against the devil is to “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground vs. 13a.” The armour of God consists of six pieces. Paul draws his imagery of the armour of God from the equipment which Roman legionaries carried in his day. Every piece of the armour is vitally important, so if we want to stand firm against the devil, we must use every piece.
The First Piece is “Belt of truth buckled around your waist vs. 14a.” Satan is the Prince of lies, therefore, the only way to defeat him is always to speak the truth. The belt held all the pieces of the legionary’s armour together. In the same way, the truth of the gospel integrates all the other pieces of God’s spiritual armour. A man or woman of truth will be able to face whatever Satan can throw at them. However as soon as lies and deception creep into our Christian lives, we are quickly brought down. Just telling a little white lie, or maybe even turning a blind eye to a lie told by someone else. Perhaps gossiping about others, without knowing the truth of the matter. The belt also held the legionary’s sword. Without speaking the truth, we cannot rightly handle the Bible which is the Word of truth.
The Second Piece is the “Breastplate of righteousness in place vs. 14b.” The breastplate was made up of metal links or chains, which covered the soldier's body from the neck right down to his waist. This symbolises both the righteousness of Christ, which is dwelling in us, and in the life which we live. The devil cannot attack the Christian who is living a godly life through the power of the Holy Spirit. How we live our lives will either fortify us against the devil or give him a foothold. It is when we are at our weakest, the devil will try to deceive us, and make us believe we are not saved. This is when we are to remember that on the cross Jesus paid for our sins and His righteous blood has brought reconciliation and restoration between us and God. Therefore, if the lives we live, do not line up with the truth in Christ, it makes us vulnerable to the devil's attacks.
The Third Piece is “Feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace vs. 15.” Soldiers in the Roman army wore sandals with hob nails in their soles; this allowed them to have a much firmer footing in battle. In the same way, if we are going to hold up under the withering assault of Satan, then we need to be wearing the shoes of the gospel. The gospel of peace, which Jesus bought for us on the cross with God, means we need not fear the attacks of men or Satan. We need to have peace with God, and each other, if we are going to defeat Satan. By wearing the shoes of the gospel, we are also required to take this good news to the world. The victorious Christian life is only possible through the sharing and proclaiming of the life, death and resurrection of our commander-in-chief, Jesus Christ. The book of Isaiah says ‘“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, Your God reigns 52:7 !”’
The Fourth Piece is the “Shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one vs. 16.” The shield was nearly as big and wide as a door, made of wood and covered in tough leather. As the soldier carried it into battle, it protected him from missile weapons, such as spears, flaming arrows and darts. The edges of the shields were constructed in such a way that the soldiers could interlock their shields to create an impenetrable wall, which protected them from all sides as they marched into battle. This implies for us as believers, we are not in the battle alone and therefore need to protect each other. This is not saving faith, but rather a living faith, which means trusting in the promises and power of God. This shield of faith will protect us, when Satan fires his flaming arrows at us. These could be blasphemous thoughts about God, hateful feelings towards others around us, doubt about God's goodness, and the burning desire of sin. Perhaps being tempted not to stand for Biblical truth both inside and outside the church. If we do not recognise these attacks, and deal with them swiftly, they will lead us away from obeying God.
The Fifth Piece is the “Helmet of salvation vs. 17a.” The helmet worn by the Roman soldiers protected them from fatal head wounds. Paul is emphasising the necessity of being a thinking Christian. This implies that we need to be spending time daily delving into God's Word. We need to know the great doctrines of the Bible, in order to protect our minds from all Satan’s schemes. We need to be thinking and wrestling with our faith and putting into to practice in every aspect of our lives. You know the old saying, the battle is won or lost in the mind, and this is so true when it comes to our faith.
We now come, to the Final Piece of the Armour, the “Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God vs. 17b.” The Roman gladius was a short double-edged sword, used by the soldiers in hand to hand combat. It was revolutionary for its time. In the same way, Paul tells us that we are to take up the Word of God as our sword. This is the only piece of the armour which is designed for attack and not defence. Often the best form of defence is a good offence. It is through the proclaiming of God’s Word Satan’s strongholds in this world are demolished and the love of Christ opens people’s hearts to be brought back into a relationship with God. Hebrews makes this point: “For the word of God is alive 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 4:12”. Whereas a physical sword can only become duller over time, the Word of God becomes sharper and clearer the more you use it.
3. Dependence vs. 18-20
The armour of God is held together by dependence on God’s power through prayer. We are called to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people vs. 18.” This means all of our prayers need to be led by the Holy Spirit, allowing him to guide us in glorifying God, confessing our sins, thanking the Lord for the blessings we have received and asking God to help us. So often the prayers of believers are a long list, do this or that, rather than being led by the Spirit. Paul also says we can pray on all occasions, which means that throughout the day we need to be in constant communion with God, not just in our quiet times. We need to be listening to the voice of God, and bringing our petitions before the throne of God. We need to be praying for others, lifting them up before God, praying for those in physical or spiritual need, praying for those who are doing missions work in other countries, praying for our ministers, and all those in leadership positions. Therefore, let us know our enemy, put on God's armour, and stand together through prayer, so that we may walk in Christ’s victory.
St Patrick’s Breastplate so beautifully ties this together. May this become our battle cry: “I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God's host to save me from snares of devils, from temptation of vices, from everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.”