WINNING THE BATTLE OF FAITH

Ephesians 6:10-18—The full armour of God

Paul has written a longish letter to the Ephesians to let them know where they stand in Christ and how important it is to be done with sin. Sin means death. For a believer to fall into sin is to instantly lose his contact with God and be forced to live in the flesh, which in turn leads him into other sins. In Christ we are dead to sin, but in a deadly battle with the enemy to stay there. Paul describes God’s provision for us in terms of military equipment. So how does it work?

Getting togged up

10  Lastly brethren, be strong in the Lord, in the power of his strength. 11 Clad yourself in God’s full armour, so that you will be able to stand against the devil’s schemes, 12 for our combat is not with flesh and blood, but against rulers and authorities: the lord of this world’s darkness and evil spirits in the heavens. 13 Therefore take up all the armour of God so you will be able to resist in the time of evil and, having accomplished everything, to stand firm. (MCV)

Verse 10 tells us we can avail ourselves of God’s power for our use in His service as, and when we need to, by faith.

Then he tells us to put on God’s armour. When we see what that armour consists of we will also see that we are supposed to ‘put it on’ just once, and never take it off again, and if we do find we are not using it at some point then we must immediately put it on again.

This is not primarily about casting out demons or fighting with them. The battle we face is to remain sinless, both as disciples and as an assembly, regardless of the provocations of the enemy, the temptations of our flesh and the sufferings of this life. Satan knows that if he can get us to move in the flesh to do anything—even praying, worshiping or resisting sin—then he will have compromised our faith and our witness, and ‘taken us out’ of the fight. The battle is personal and intimate but not physical: our opponents are not the people before us, but the spiritual realities behind them.

In Christ, God has provided all the protection we will need to successfully resist all attacks from the enemy’s forces, if we obediently seek the truth and the will of God in faith, prayer, discernment, trust and love—all of which we will be doing if we are careful to “abide in Christ.”

These attacks will come in the form of temptations to use our flesh and to sin, lies about each other, deceptions and false teachings, clashes with other believers, misunderstandings, and so on. If we resist the enemy in Christ, using the full armour, we can not only expect complete victory, but after the enemy’s defeat, we will be still standing, sinless heroes of the hour.

Note that we are not simply doing the wise thing in protecting ourselves, we are also doing the obedient thing and fulfilling the will of God to His glory: we are scoring wonderful victories over His enemy. God issues us with His armour so that we will be properly equipped to obey Him utterly, and safely, whatever the opposition. God really wants us to be victorious. After all, where we fail will be an injury to the entire body of believers.

The various parts of the armour

14 Stand then, prepared for action by truth, with righteousness as your breastplate; 15 with the firm footing of the gospel of peace; 16 and with faith as the main shield over you all, which will enable you to extinguish all the burning arrows of evil. 17 Accept salvation as your helmet, and the words of God as your spiritual sword; (MCV)

In verse 14, most translations stick to the archaic Greek metaphor of “girding your loins” which doesn’t mean a lot to modern readers—especially the younger ones. It’s a phrase by which the Greeks simply meant “prepare yourself for action,” in this case by knowing and drawing upon the truth. ‘The belt of truth’ we all know, is not even hinted at in the Greek. The idea Paul is actually presenting is that if we insist on sticking to truth in every part of our lives we will always be prepared to resist the attacks, lies and deceptions of the enemy.

The breastplate was for protecting the chest, ie, the vital organs, particularly the heart, so righteousness is ‘vitally’ important. (Note: in 1Th 5:8 the breastplate is used as a metaphor for faith and love instead, and therefore they are equally vital.)

The word in verse 15 translated as ‘readiness’ in many translations, actually means ‘a firm footing,’ as in Psalm 89:14 in the Septuagint (see Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words), which works far better for the personal combat metaphor Paul is using. The gospel of peace will allow us to keep our balance and remain standing—if we are fully instructed in the gospel of peace, always ready to share it, and living it out, it will be for us the firm ground we need to stand on while we defiantly resist the deceptions of the enemy.

The word for shield (verse 16) is the full body shield of the Roman soldiers which was designed to cover the entire man, and even, when overlapped with others, to form an impenetrable ‘roof’ over the heads of the advancing troops. As a result, I am certain the “over all” refers to the way the shield is held, not to the ‘above all’ that many translations have. It is also the way faith works in skirmishes with the enemy: stopping the lies and accusations dead and thus working just as much for the benefit of the entire assembly as for each individual believer.

I’m not quite sure how a shield would ever do more than just stop an arrow or dart from the enemy, so to ‘extinguish’ a burning arrow seems to take the metaphor a little far (unless the Roman soldiers actually soaked their shields before battle for exactly this purpose), though faith is clearly up to the job.

The helmet will protect our heads: our thoughts, moods, attitudes, and so on, so salvation, as a spiritual and personal fact, should do the same. The head is an important area as this is where the enemy has long worked in us and he knows if he can beat us there he can vanquish us with depression or self-pity or deception. This is why Jesus utterly routed the enemy at Golgotha—‘the place of the skull.’

In many translations the phrase used in verse 17 is “the word of God,” which implies that it means just the Bible. If that were correct, Paul would have used the Greek word ‘logos,’ but the word he used is ‘rhēma’ which means ‘that which is spoken by a living voice,’ so it is referring to the prompting of the Holy Spirit just as much as to the ‘living word of God,’ which is living because it is illuminated and revealed by the Holy Spirit. So He may or may not directly quote the Bible, and as a consequence, I have used “words” in the plural as the best compromise, as it comfortably includes biblical wording, ie, quoting scripture in the face of temptation as Jesus did in the wilderness, but would also include anything given spontaneously by the Holy Spirit.

The role of prayer

18  and pray in the Spirit on every occasion with all sorts of prayers and petitions, staying alert in order to pray purposefully and tenaciously for all the saints. (MCV)

This prayer is the core of the battle we face: this is how we fight—in the Spirit, in persistent prayer. The part about staying alert means watching over each other so that we will always know when our supporting prayer is necessary. This implies living together and sharing our lives to such an extent that we are clearly aware of each other’s needs and attitudes, hopes and fears, weaknesses and failings, and so on. As a result, if the enemy tricks or attacks a brother or sister, those who are nearest will immediately be aware of the problem and what to pray about, so they will pray in the Spirit, relying on Him to direct their prayers to best effect, and thus bring release, forgiveness and restoration.

Bless you all, Geoff  >ᴥ<

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