10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench 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. 18Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
I've tended to stay away from preaching the Epistles, as I often feel I am not educated enough to really interpret them as well as I would like. However, at times I challenge myself to grow in my understanding of Scripture by researching, studying, praying over, and preaching on Scriptures I would otherwise avoid. This week is one of those times. My focus is on a fairly familiar passage from Ephesians, where the writer tells us to put on the whole armor of God. While many are familiar with the passage, I am not sure how much thought we give to the power of the passage. The war imagery gives us a stark picture of the dark reality of the times. On first reading the passage, my thought is that the church in Ephesus was preparing itself to wage war with the Romans, who were persecuting Christians at the time. However, the author clearly sates that the battle is not against flesh and blood, but against "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (vs. 12)." How was the church at Ephesus to fight dark spiritual forces? How are we to fight dark spiritual forces today?
We fight the forces by first recognizing how they are manifest, then by suiting up for battle. The manifestation of these forces is known to us in the form of those who act counter to the will of God. It is not the individual that we are fighting, as they are enslaved to the dark forces in the same manner that we are enslaved to God through Jesus Christ. This is very important to recognize. Our battle is not to conquer evil people, but to offer people hope and salvation. This is where the armor imagery comes to light. Consider the armor we wear:
· The first piece of equipment we are told to put on is the belt, which stands for truth or righteousness. A Roman soldier in good standing was to wear his belt with the sword attached at all times. This was the sign that he was a soldier. The belt was not only meant to carry the sword, but also to show that the wearer was a soldier. If a soldier was insubordinate, he would be stripped of his status. Loss of the belt mean loss of status. For Christians, the belt represents truth. We live in the truth that Jesus is the Christ and we live according to that truth.
· The next piece of the uniform is the breastplate. This defensive piece of equipment protects the vital organs of the Roman soldier. For the Christian, the breastplate is righteousness. Being righteous protects us from the temptations of the dark spiritual forces.
· Next comes the footware. The military sandals gave the warrior protection on the soles of his feet to keep him upright and able to fight. For the Christian, the sandal is the gospel; we stand firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and are strengthened through that gospel.
· The next piece of equipment was the shield, a large, lightweight piece of metal that could easily protect the body during combat. For the Christian, the shield is faith. When we are uncertain and afraid, our faith gives us courage and hope.
· Next comes the helmet, protecting our brains and our heads. For the Christian, the helmet is salvation. We cannot be killed spiritually; we have new life (salvation) in Jesus Christ.
Finally, the soldier is equipped with a sword, the only offensive weapon in the soldier's uniform. For Christians, the sword represents the Holy Spirit, or the word of God. Think about this--all the defensive pieces of armor God gives to us, and only one weapon for offence. God equips us with armor to identify and protect ourselves from head to toe. Yet, God only gives us one simple weapon for spreading the gospel. There is no mention of a dagger, of bow and arrow, of spears or javelins. We are not divided into infantry or cavalry. We have one simple role in the war on the spiritual forces of darkness--proclaim the gospel through our words and deeds. Live after the example of Christ, and we will overcome the forces of evil. God will take care of the rest.