The Believer's Spiritual Armour - Part Two
July 16, 2017 | Randy Smith
The Believer's Spiritual Armor-Part TwoEphesians 6:14-17
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
The life of a Roman soldier was hard and disciplined. Roman soldiers were trained to march twenty miles a day, under a burden of eighty pounds. Roman Soldiers had the skills and abilities to swim rivers, to climb mountains, to penetrate forests, and to encounter every kind of danger. Roman military life was a mixture of excitement, toil, danger, and hardship. The rewards of the Roman soldiers were small; he was paid in glory. No profession brought as much honor as the military. A Roman Soldier was taught that his destiny was to die in battle: death was his duty and his glory. He enlisted in the army with little hope of revisiting his home; he crossed seas and deserts and forests with the idea of spending his life in the service of his country (excerpted from: www.tribunesandtriumphs.org)
The Bible is full of metaphors. For those of you who struggled past fourth grade English, a metaphor is a term or phrase that is used to make a comparison between two things that aren't alike but have something in common. In our case this morning, the Apostle Paul desires to teach about spiritual warfare so to illustrate the teaching point he compares it to the pieces of armor worn by a Roman soldier. Jesus did this with the parables.
Two quick points of explanation...
One, the spiritual warfare spoken of here is the ongoing battle that every Christian has with the spiritual forces of darkness - with Satan and his legion of demons. We read in 1 Peter 5:8, "Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Or as Paul says in our passage in verse 12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."
And as we learned last week, that's why we are to, verse 13, "Take up the full armor of God." So the reality of warfare and the confidence we can be victorious in the warfare (1 Jn. 4:4), verse 10, is there if we are "strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." Specifically we do that by wearing the spiritual armor He provides. We'll talk about that this morning.
Second, the question arises as to why Paul chose to use the metaphor of a Roman soldier's clothing when talking about spiritual warfare. There are two possibilities and most likely both of them are correct.
One is the Old Testament references to Jesus Christ being the mighty warrior who fights on behalf of His people. In the New Testament we see a fulfillment of the Old Testament.
For example, Isaiah 11:5, "Righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist." That sounds a lot like Ephesians 6:14, "Having girded your loins with truth."
Or Isaiah 59:17, "He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle." Ephesians 6:14 and 6:17 are direct quotations.
Or, one more, Ephesians 6:17 speaks of the "sword of the Spirit which is the word of God." In Isaiah 11:4 we read, "And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked."
A whole sermon could be devoted to this thought. We need to move on, but I believe the point is that our success in spiritual warfare is the strength of the Lord, the mighty warrior Jesus Christ who has already defeated and disarmed Satan (Col. 2:15). Jesus guarantees our success because we are in union with Him. His victory is our victory and His weapons are now our weapons.
The second reason for the Roman armor metaphor is more obvious and much simpler to understand. We are told in 3:1 and 4:1 of Ephesians that Paul is a "prisoner." According to Acts 28, we know he was in jail in Rome under "house arrest" when we wrote the letter to the Ephesians. Most historians believe Paul was chained to a Roman soldier. He was forced to stare at this guy throughout the day. So when we wanted to teach the church about spiritual warfare, it's very likely that physical armor this man wore became a natural illustration.
Last comment and then I'd like to explore the six pieces of spiritual armor. In verse 14 we again, now for the third time, read those two famous words, "stand firm."
Let's remember that our goal in spiritual warfare is not to win the war. Jesus did that and it will be consummated when He throws the devil into the lake of fire at His return. Our goal is simply to stand firm in the strength He provides.
Last week I gave you the floating dock on the lake illustration. Here's what came to mind this week on the thought of "standing firm." It was the first day of college football practice. The coach moves me to offense line, a position that I am incredibly undersized to play. That means I am now going toe-to-toe with six foot-seven, 310 pound, three-time All-American Jim Meyer in practice. Throughout practice I'm in a two-point position and he's coming out of three-point stance and charging into me. I'm not going to beat Jim Meyer, but I am going to do all I can to avoid being knocked on my backside. As he charged me relentlessly, my goal was to stand firm. The same applies to the attacks from the forces of darkness.
All right, now for the specific armor. In staying with Paul's heart, I'll explain the physical as it would have been understood in the mind of Paul's audience and then apply it to the spiritual truth we need to know for successful spiritual warfare. Here is how we "stand firm."
Loins with Truth
First, verse 14, "Having girded your loins with truth."
A heavily armed Roman foot soldier wore a belt around his waist attached to a leather apron that hung under the armor and protected the thighs. Yet below that was the primary layer of clothing, often referred to as a tunic (Jn. 19:23). The tunic was free flowing and would often get in the way. So before battle, the soldier would "gird his loins," meaning he would pull up and tie up his tunic around his body. This would provide him more freedom of movement.
What does that mean spiritually? A few possibilities are suggested. All are true so I'll share all three and then end with the one I believe Paul is referring to in particular.
Girding your loins with truth could be a commitment to being honest. It's a theme in Ephesians (Eph. 4:25; 5:9). Since God is a God of truth we should be committed to truthfulness in all our conduct. We should display the character of Jesus, imitate Christ (Eph. 5:1)
Some say this conveys an attitude of truthfulness. In other words, it is being committed to Christ and devoted in your Christian walk with Him. A close parallel would be Hebrews 12:1. "Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." Or 2 Timothy 2:4, "No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life." It's eliminating all distractions, hindrances and obstacles that keep us from being all-out for Jesus. When we are all-out for Christ, Satan has little leverage.
Or since I believe all these pieces of armor relate directly to the Bible, I'd lean to take as referring to biblical "truth." Remember Jesus said, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). Living our lives according to the Scripture keeps us under the umbrella of God's protection and safe from the attacks of Satan. Gird your loins with truth. Be prepared for the battle. Be always bleeding Bible.
Breastplate of Righteousness
Also in verse 14 we are called to "put on the breastplate of righteousness."
A Roman soldier wore his heaviest armor over the front of his upper torso to protect his vital organs against arrows or blows from a sword.
There are two spiritual possibilities for this one. Both are true and useful in spiritual warfare as Satan seeks to attack our hearts (our mind and emotions). That's why we need to be wearing our "breastplate of righteousness" (Pr. 4:23).
First is the righteousness we are given by Christ. As you know, when we receive Jesus by faith, He takes away all our sins and gives us His perfect righteousness. God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ and therefore accepts us as His children. Knowing this gives us great hope in spiritual battle. When Satan fires his accusations, we can stand firm, knowing that we are perfectly cleansed in the blood of the Savior. We call this positional righteousness.
The second possibility is what we call practical righteousness. Practical righteousness is obedience to God's Word. It's a desire to be holy as God is holy. It's living moment-by-moment, doing what God's Word commands of us.
As John MacArthur said, God puts on our positional righteousness, but we must put on our practical righteousness. And positional righteousness protects us from hell, but practical righteousness protects us from Satan (excerpted from Ephesians Commentary).
Romans 13, "The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts" (Rom. 13:12-14).
Feet with the Gospel of Peace
Verse 15 speaks of the third piece of armor. "And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace."
Proper footwear was essential for a Roman soldier. Often their boots had bits of metal or nails on the bottom to provide proper traction and footing. As any athlete who wears cleats will tell you, stability on your feet is absolutely necessary to optimal performance. For the Roman soldier, his life depended on it.
So how does having the right footwear tie into what Paul calls "the preparation of the gospel of peace." And how does that help us for the spiritual battle?
Preparation speaks of a readiness. And according to this verse part of spiritual warfare is a readiness to do one of two things.
Some say this is having confidence in the understanding that because of the gospel we have embraced we are now at peace with God. We can be confident that God loves us and will fight for us. So while there is always conflict with Satan (we should never be at peace with the devil) we can rest in the confidence that we are at peace with God and that is all that really matters. We stand firm from a defensive position knowing that the battle is already won. We have received the "gospel of peace."
Others believe this not defensive, but rather offensive in nature. We don't just sit back and take the blows of Satan, but rather we mount an offensive attack against him. Obviously we cannot slay him (nor are we called to), but we can plunder his kingdom.
You see, all unbelievers are blinded by him, held captive to do his will. "Flesh and blood," people, as we learned in 6:12 are only prisoners of war deceived and entombed in their false beliefs by the devil. Therefore the way we set them free is sharing the truth, the gospel (see Romans 10:15). That though they are enemies of God, through Christ they can have peace with their Creator by trusting the "gospel of peace."
Paul gets at this in 2 Corinthians 10. "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
It comes back again to the Word of God. We wage spiritual warfare by setting the captives free from Satan's lies by sharing the truth, the gospel that brings peace.
Shield of Faith
Fourth, verse 16. "In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."
There were two shields commonly used by a Roman soldier. The one that probably first comes to mind is the small round shield used to defer sword blows in hand-to-hand combat. The second was a rectangular shied called the "thureos." This shield measured 2.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet high. It basically protected the whole body. This is the one Paul is talking about here. When soldiers joined together they were able to make an instant wall of fortification. I've read in some cases, a mile long.
In this verse, Paul speaks of "flaming arrows." The opposition would often dip their arrows in pitch and light them on fire. These large shields were soaked in water and this would, as we read in verse 16, "extinguish all the flaming arrows of the [enemy.].
The spiritual picture is clear. Satan is continually shooting his "flaming arrows" at us. He knows our individual weaknesses. His "flaming arrows" are temptations to anxiety or doubt or sexual sin or false teaching or selfishness or unfaithfulness or gossip or anger or pride or coveting or jealousy or unforgiveness or laziness or addiction or deception, the list continues. It is therefore our responsibility to hold up our "shield of faith" in hopes of extinguishing these flaming missiles.
So what is the "shield of faith"? Very simple, it is again the Word of God. Or if I can put it more specifically, it is faith in what the Bible teaches regarding God's promises.
For example, here comes the arrow that says you have no hope in life. Hold up the shield of faith and trust Jeremiah 29:11. "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'"
Here comes the arrow that says you will never overcome that addiction. Hold up the shield of faith and trust 1 Corinthians 10:13. "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it."
Here comes the arrow that says you should worry. Hold up the shield of faith and trust Philippians 4:6-7. "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Helmet of Salvation
We have two more pieces to cover. Look at verse 17. "And take the helmet of salvation."
The Roman soldier's helmet was often made of bronze with cheek pieces to give the head extra protection. Sometimes it was thick leather with metal pieces sewn in. Obviously it was the most essential piece of armor. From a hockey player to a construction worker, your helmet is the first thing you grab.
This verse from a spiritual perspective shows that Satan's blows are aimed at our head. He spiritually blows are deadly in intention. Here the helmet is called salvation itself. I believe the point here is trusting what the Word says about your future salvation.
In this life the battle never ceases. But when you are transported to glory, the battle will be over and you will eternally enjoy the benefits of your salvation that your Savior purchased on your behalf when he defeated death, sin and the devil on the cross. He is the true victorious warrior and because of your union with Him you will be in this life as you battle and realize it in the one to come as you rest (Heb. 4).
This is what Paul was getting at in 1 Thessalonians 5. "But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him." Now we are called to "fight the good fight" (1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). But there is light at the end of the tunnel when we will no longer need to fight.
Sword of the Spirit
And finally, verse 17, we are to use "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
A Roman soldier was trained to use two primary swords. One was the broad sword, the big daddy that was waved in an indiscriminate sweep often seeking to mortally wound the opponent. The other, the one spoken of here, is the dagger or literally, the "machaira." It was the small one, usually 6-18 inches used for hand-to-hand combat intended to deliver precision strikes.
I believe this simply ties it all together. The Word of God is our defensive weapon as we protect ourselves by countering the sword thrusts of the devil. And the Word of God is our offensive weapon as we take our attack to the enemy, no different than Jesus did wielding the sword with precision when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (cf. Mt. 4; Lk. 4).
The "sword of the Spirit" is the Word of God inspired by the Spirit of God. Therefore we should hear the Word, read the Word, study the Word, memorize the Word and meditate on the Word. We are talking about clinging to specific truths of Scripture (Heb. 4:12). We will be defeated if we keep our swords in their scabbards and never unsheathe them.
John Piper said, "If the Word of God does not abide in us (Jn. 15:7), we will reach for it in vain when the enemy strikes. But if we do wear it, if it lives within us, what mighty warriors we can be" (Desiring God, p. 129).
The Bible calls us soldiers. Thereis a warfare. We are called to engage in the battle and to do it in the Lord's strength by wearing His armor. Loins with Truth. Breastplate of Righteousness. Feet with the Gospel of Peace. Shield of Faith. Helmet of Salvation. Sword of the Spirit.
I leave you with a quote from "Pilgrim'sProgress," John Bunyan's classic.
"Then Apollyon, espying his opportunity, began to gather up close to Christian, and wrestling with him, gave him a dreadful fall; and with that Christian's sword flew out of his hand. Then said Apollyon, 'I am sure of thee now,' and with that he had almost pressed him to death, so that Christian began to despair of life. But as God would have it, while Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly reached out his hand for his sword, and caught it, saying, 'Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy! When I fall I shall arise"' [Micah 7:8] and with that, gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back, as one that has received his mortal wound. Christian, perceiving that, made at him again, saying, 'Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.' [Romans 8:37] And with that, Apollyon spread forth his Dragon's wings, and sped away, that Christian saw him no more."
James 4:7, "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you."