Eph 6:10-20 14 Sunday after Pentecost, Aug 26, 2018
Our son Mike is a big fan of a show called Forged in Fire on the History channel. In this show modern day blacksmiths use some ancient and modern tools to forge out primarily medieval weaponry. Whether it be swords, knives, or battle axes, each of the contestant fires and forges their various weapons, and by the end of show the smith that makes the strongest, sharpest, most beautiful weapon(s) wins the title of Forged in Fire champion, and the cash prize of $10,000.
In a day and age where swords and spears have only limited applications, I’m amazed that there are still blacksmiths that dedicate huge amounts of time, energy, and expense to fashion and form them. 500 years ago, or more, such weapons indeed had a place in homes, villages, and countries throughout the world. By and large, the army with the most and best weapons won the battles and the wars. Such weaponry factored heavily in one’s personal security (or in expanding borders if peoples and nations were so inclined).
This week’s epistle text from the book of Ephesians takes up this visual picture of weapons of war in describing the life of the Christian, and the battle in which they and we find ourselves. Contrary to the show Forged in Fire, all the weapons mentioned in this text save for one are weapons of self-defense, suggesting that our battle is not primarily offensive (although in some respect it is) but rather defensive. Added to this, our defensive armor is not for protection from human foes, but rather to protect us from spiritual foes, specifically the devil and his demonic host.
In an age of science, and in a worldview that is by and large materialistic (reality is limited to what we can discover with our senses), talk of devils and demons seems outdated and naive. Just as these pundits know that thunder and lightning are not manifestations of the anger of the gods, so too do they know that evils in this world, and in our lives, are all caused by natural forces. Some assume that as science and technology increase, sources of “evil” will decrease according, until the day when they disappear altogether. This was the great claim of the enlightenment and humanist thinkers. We humans are the source of this world’s ills (primarily the humans that have gone before us, and for this reason we must clean up all their messes and purge them and their misguided ways from the annals of history). It’s therefore up to us humans to solve all this world’s ills. Whether that be global cooling as was the case in the 1960’s, or global warming in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, or all and any undesired weather effects now called climate change, or the present forest fires, or you name it, we no longer look to God and or the devil to explain tensions in nature, between us and others, or within ourselves, but rather we look to the test-tube, microscope, and computer for our answers. That’s not to say that we humans can and do cause harm to God’s good creation, and can be a force for good, but in my opinion we’re not the only force at work in this universe…not by a long shot.
The writer to the Ephesians (who many think to be the apostle Paul), thought differently, and so do many others (myself included) about the origin of evil, and its ultimate solution. The Bible puts forth the notion that evil entered the world through a specific entity called the devil/Satan and was made manifest in the earth through our first parents, Adam and Eve. The Bible does not look to science and reason to address this essential problem, but rather to the plan of deliverance that would come in and through the person and work of the second person of the Holy Trinity, our Lord Jesus. It was he alone that addressed the power of sin, death, and the devil in his death on the cross and resurrection on the third day. He alone proclaims the ultimate victory over those forces. The battle however still wages on (thus the need to be fitted with armor), but Satan’s ultimate end is sure. One day he along with all is
demonic host will be cast into the lake of fire, never to lie, cheat, steal, kill and destroy again. What a day that will be. Until that day however, we equip ourselves for the spiritual battle that is before us with the armor which our Lord supplies.
As stated earlier, we only have one weapon of offense in our entire armory – the sword of the Spirit, the Holy Word of God. There is no better weapon to advance the kingdom of God than to take that true and holy word into our very being and both live it and proclaim it to others. The truth of the Word of God serves both as an offensive weapon to “put the devil on the run”, and a defensive weapon in that this becomes the belt with which we gird our loins against the devil’s deceptions (and the ultimate source of all our defensive weapons). The breastplate of righteousness follows from and out of this source of ultimate truth, as we discover in God’s word that it is not our good works, nor our moral uprightness that gives us a right standing before God, and a defensive posture against the devil, but rather it’s Jesus righteousness that is imputed (given) to us as a gift of grace, received by faith. As Paul states in 2Cor 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. If we think we can stand against the devil and his evil host in in own strength and goodness, we won’t stand for long (read the account of the sons of Sceva in Acts 19:11-20 if you doubt this). If, however we stand fitted with the righteousness of Jesus, we will in fact stand against the evil one.
It seems counter intuitive to be shod with shoes of the gospel of peace as we head into battle, but such is the case. Although I believe a case can certainly be made for Christians taking up arms in the name of self-defense, and the defense of others, it’s hard to read the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and not hear the call to peace, and to be peacemakers. Unlike the advance of other nations like the Romans, Greeks, or religions like Islam (historically at least, and to some degree even now), Christianity is not to be advanced by the sword, but rather by the proclaimed Word of God through teaching and preaching, baptism and discipleship. History records that we have not always done this perfectly, but it is the command of Jesus, reiterated here by Paul. Christians should not only be peacekeepers, but peacemakers.
The Roman shield to which Paul alludes was as large as a door and could cover a soldier’s entire body. Such a shield was not just defensive but could also be used to push opponents. When fighting as a group, soldiers could position their shields so as to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (“tortoise”). This was especially helpful to protect against arrows launched from the walls of cities they were attacking. Shields, often made of wood and then covered in hide, when wet, could extinguish flaming arrows. This is a fitting illustration for the role of faith in the life of the Christian.
Satan’s attacks can sometimes cause us to doubt God’s power and/or goodness. Faith prompts us to believe what the Bible tells us to be true. We give in to temptation when we believe what it has to offer is better than what God has promised. Faith reminds us that, though fulfillment of God’s promise may not be readily visible to us, God is true to His Word. When Satan attempts to plague us with doubt or entice us with instant gratification, faith recognizes the deceptiveness of his tactics and quickly extinguishes the arrows. When Satan accuses us, faith chooses to believe that Jesus has redeemed us and that there is no more condemnation (Romans 8:1, 34)
When a soldier suited up for battle, the helmet was the last piece of defensive armor. It was the final act of readiness in preparation for combat. A helmet was vital for survival, protecting the brain, the
command station for the rest of the body. If the head was badly damaged, the rest of the armor would be of little use.
Because of victory of the cross, our enemy the devil has been defeated, and his stronghold on believers has been broken (Romans 6:10; 8:2; 1 Corinthians 1:18). He knows this, but he also knows that not all of God’s people do (or, at least live as if this were so). We must learn to keep our helmets buckled so that his fiery missiles do not lodge in our thoughts and destroy us from the inside out. Through this helmet of salvation, we can “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Our offensive weapon of the Bible, and our defensive weapons of truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation enable to us stand our ground against all the devils fiery darts, and to continually stand. In prayer and daily devotion and commitment to God’s Holy Word, we fit ourselves for this very real battle, and daily engage in it. Although not forged by ancient or modern-day smiths, our weapons are mighty and powerful against our ancient foe. Let us one and all fit ourselves (and be fitted, for it is both/and) for battle, knowing that the final victory has been won in the death and resurrection of our Lord, and that in this current struggle, Jesus is both willing and able to make us stand. Amen