Rev. David Holwick
First Baptist Church
West Lafayette, Ohio
January 30, 1983
The Whole Armor of the Christian
Ephesians 6:10-17, KJV
This important passage is the climax of Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In it Paul insists that the Christian life is warfare but the Christian may, if he chooses, be thoroughly equipped for it with the armor which God provides. This warfare is waged not primarily against other human beings but against spiritual forces of evil.
The cause of all sin, whether blatant or subtle, is not merely some inward carelessness or heavy pressure from the pagan environment. The "bottom line" of evil is always spiritual powers of wickedness. These powers are the enemies of God and Christ and try to destroy the Christian quality of lives which have been transformed by the Holy Spirit.
Paul begins the final exhortation of the letter by telling them to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. To "be strong" doesn't mean we have to "psych ourselves up" or rely on our own inward resources. It means we have to be made strong by Christ, by means of the resources he makes available to us. The tense of the verb is the present, which means the empowering by Christ is a continuing, day-by-day, moment-by-moment experience.
Next, Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God. "Whole armor" is one word in the Greek and means the total military equipment of the soldier who is ready to go out to battle. "Armor" in English suggests defensive items. I once took a tour of the Tower of London, which is really not a tower but a fortress. One part is a museum that is filled with suits of armor. These suits are only about four and a half feet tall because their owners were shrimps but every square inch of their bodies was covered by steel. It offered total protection. The Greek word for armor goes beyond this. It involves defensive equipment but it also includes offensive weapons like the sword. We need to be protected at every vulnerable point and also to be able to make effective counter attacks so that the enemy may be dislodged from areas he has made his own.
The purpose of the Christian armor is that we won't be overwhelmed by the enemy's attacks but enabled to keep our feet (as Paul puts it - to stand) and hold the enemy at bay, repel and overcome him. The assaults are called the wiles of the devil. The word "wiles" means something clever and deceitful. Satan is an enemy who can win victories by trickery as well as by frontal attack. 2 Corinthians 11:14 says Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, while 1 Peter 5:8 says he can rage and destroy like a roaring lion.
Many people today are uncomfortable with the idea of the devil. They believe evil exists but they don't think a supreme evil being called Satan could be behind it. Other people go overboard and see demons under every bed. Smoking is caused by demons in the lungs. Lust is caused by demons in the eyes.
These kind of Christians never really sin - Satan does it all for them. I think the Bible is in the middle of these views. Satan exists but he is in no way equal to God. He is not responsible for all sin because any creature can rebel against the Creator. Even many non-Christians see a skill and intelligence behind evil which they cannot explain. There is a sense in which this power of evil has been already stripped of its power by Christ. In Colossians 2:15 Paul writes:
"And having spoiled [that is, disarmed] principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly [that is, he made them a public display] triumphing over them in it."
In verse 12 Paul identifies the enemy as principalities and powers. He has already mentioned them in 1:21. Here they are linked with the rulers of the darkness of this world. It is in the world where evil powers seem to rule supreme, as if they had temporarily taken God's power away from him. As a result, Christians live in the world as God's representatives in a land under hostile rule. The recognition that the world has fallen under the power of evil forces is common in the New Testament. John calls Satan "the ruler of this world." Matthew and Luke record that Satan claimed, all authority over the world had been delivered to him.
Paul goes on to describe the evil powers as the spiritual wickedness in high places. Although their power extends over the earth, their origin and base of operations lie beyond this world. This area is called the "high places", which is another way of saying the supernatural realms. Verse 13 begins with wherefore: that is, in view of the cunning and supernatural might of these evil powers, Christians need supernatural equipment to be able to withstand them. Moreover, we need this supernatural strength at its maximum. We need the whole armor of God. This alone will enable the Christian to stand firm in the evil day, when the struggle is at its height.
What is the evil day? Some believe it is the Great Tribulation before the Second Coming. Others think it is any great persecution the Church goes through. Each of these is true but probably the expression is used to indicate any experience when evil seems overwhelmingly strong and our own defense against it seems weak and crumbling. But the equipment which God can provide will enable the Christian to overcome even the most severe ordeal, to withstand the onslaught and endure to the end.
Paul is using the imagery of a pitched battle. Now, I have never been in war, or even in the Army, but I am an Army brat and that is close enough. Here is proof: one summer my dad took a course at Fort Riley, Kansas. When they completed the course they gave the community a demonstration of what they had learned. Everyone was seated on grandstand-style bleachers facing a grass-covered hill. Tanks roared up the hills firing their machine guns and cannon. Armored personnel carriers unloaded troops who swarmed over the hill. The climax was a pair of fighter-bombers which roared right over the grandstand and napalmed the hill in front of us. It was awesome. And no one was hurt.
The image of a pitched battle is very appropriate because many of the struggles a Christian faces cannot be conquered in an hour or a day. When a loved one dies, or illness drags on for weeks on end, spiritual victory may take a great deal of time and effort. Depression and hopelessness can overwhelm us in waves, just like long lines of soldiers rushing up the hill toward us. We have to withstand attach after attack and after we have done all that we can, with God's help we will find that we remain standing.
Paul goes on to list the items which make up the whole armor of the Christian and he shows how each one has a spiritual equivalent. First, we should have our loins girt about with truth. The girding would be done by a belt. The phrase "gird the loins" doesn't mean much today but the Ephesians understood the need for it. In those days the outer garment was a long loose-fitting shirt that reached all the way to the ankles. If you tried to run or fight in it, it would wrap itself around your legs and trip you up. If you wanted to act quickly or with agility, this loose garment had to be lifted clear above the knees and clinched around the waist with a belt.
The Israelites girded their loins at the first Passover as they prepared to escape from Egypt. Elijah girded up his loins so he could outrun King Abab's chariot. The expression came to be used of mental and spiritual readiness for difficult tasks. As 1 Peter 1:13 says, Christians should gird up the loins of their minds. Here, we gird ourselves with truth. Half-truths and compromises may ease you out of awkward circumstances but they are poor preparation for decisive Christian action.
The breastplate is identified with righteousness. The breastplate was worn to protect vital areas like the heart and lungs. The equivalent defense for the Christian is uprightness of conduct. Righteousness in the Bible is total obedience to the known will of God. Once our conduct slips we leave a weak spot that the enemy can penetrate.
Verse 15 says our feet should be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Historians tell us battles have been lost because of lousy shoes. Swords and helmets are useless if your feet are sore. The equivalent of strong, well-fitting shoes for the Christian is that we should be prepared, or as we would say, equipped, with the gospel of peace. Few things should make you lighter on the feet than the confidence that you are the bearer of joyous news. It is the best news in the entire world that we can be right and have peace with God and with each other because Jesus died on the cross for our sins.
Above all - even more important than truth, uprightness and the knowledge that we bear great news - is faith. Faith is our shield. This wasn't a little round shield but the large one which measured four feet by two feet, big enough to protect the whole body.
One of the most dangerous weapons in ancient warfare was the fiery dart. It was a short arrow dipped in tar so it would burn then it was thrown or shot. When the dart would hit the shield it would sink in and the flame would go out. Faith can deal with the darts of temptation. With Paul, faith is always complete trust in Jesus Christ. When we walk close with Christ we are safe from temptation.
Fifth, there is salvation for a helmet. Salvation is not something which looks back only. The salvation which is in Jesus gives us forgiveness for the sins of the past and the strength to conquer sins in the future.
Finally, there is the sword of the Spirit. Earlier in Ephesians we found that Paul believes every Christian, by the mere fact of being a Christian, has received the gift of the Spirit. The Spirit brings us inward power from God and gives us assurance that we belong to God. The sword is further identified as the Word of God.
The word of God is at the same time our weapon of defense against sin and our weapon of attack against the sins of the world. We can never win God's battles without God's book. The equipment which a Christian needs for effectiveness in his fight against the powers of evil consists, therefore, of truth, total obedience to the will of God, the happiness of being able to spread his gospel, faith, salvation and the Word which God's Spirit has given us. All these are the gifts God can provide those who trust in him.
Which one do you need?
Typed on January 25, 2006, by Sharon Lesko of Ledgewood Baptist Church, New Jersey
Copyright © 2017 by Rev. David Holwick
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