The Armor of God: Part 2
Topic: Spiritual Warfare Passage: Ephesians 6:14-18
Last week, we learned about the reality of spiritual warfare. There is a devil, and there are demons, and we should not take them lightly. The devil is a master strategist and an expert at deceit. In fact, he’s so good at lying that after a Christian falls, he will often say, “I never saw that coming.” We also learned that demons are powerfully influential. The Bible refers to them as “principalities” and “powers,” which probably means that they are more powerful than us, and that they exercise some sort of authority over this evil world, thus binding it in darkness. In some places in the world, demons are worshipped as gods; but even here in America, we know that they are active and influential.We learned that demons are wicked to the core. The devil doesn’t play by the rules, nor does he have any inhibitions. He will stop at nothing to make you fall. And finally, we learned that the devil and his minions are spiritual beings. We can’t see them, and they operate in the heavenlies, which makes them impossible for us to fight alone. Of course, that is why we must receive God’s strength; and thus the command in v. 10, “Be strengthened in the Lord.” We talked about the mighty power that raised Jesus from the dead, defeating Satan and his demons, and we saw from the text that the same power is available to us, so that we can stand.
But that brings up a question, doesn’t it? And the question is this: “How do I receive God’s strength?” I mean, practically speaking, what do I need to do? Paul’s answer to that question is straightforward: “Put on the armor of God,” which (as we are going to see) has to do with the obedient pursuit of progressive sanctification in dependence upon the Lord. Passivity is not the answer, because God strengthens us as we obey His commands.
Last week, we covered just the first of those commands— “Put on the belt of truth”—which we said refers to telling the truth and honoring our commitments. This morning, we are going to discuss the rest of the equipment, and then close with an emphasis on prayer and vigilance.
The Breastplace of Righteousness
The next piece of armor that Paul instructs us to put on is the breastplate of righteousness. This piece of armor is a relatively straightforward. In the Roman army, the common soldier had a brass breastplate while wealthier soldiers had coats of chain mail. And of course, the breastplate was essential because it guarded the heart, lungs, and internal organs.
Some people believe that the breastplate of righteousness represents imputed righteousness.
In case you don’t know what that means, the NT teaches that when a person receives Christ as Savior, there is a judicial exchange that takes place. All of the person’s sins (past, present, and future) are forgiven because Jesus paid for them on the cross. But as if that wasn’t enough, God also credits that person’s account with Christ’s righteous record, so that when He looks at the person, He views him not primarily as a sinner, but as a saint. And so we sing about being robed in Christ’s righteousness. That’s imputation.
But that’s not what Paul is referring to when he says, “Put on the breastplate of righteousness.”
You say, “Pastor Kris, how do you know that?” Let me give you a few arguments. First, the book of Ephesians is written to believers. So why would Paul tell believers, who have already been justified to put on the breastplate of imputed righteousness? Second, as I said last week, v. 14 is an allusion to Isaiah 11:5, which says of the Messiah, “Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins, and faithfulness the belt of His waist.” So Jesus puts on righteousness like a belt by doing what is right, and the implication is that we put on righteousness the same way. Finally, the word “righteousness” refers to ethical righteousness elsewhere in the book of Ephesians. For instance, in 5:9 Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth [or “truthfulness”].”
So according to that verse, righteousness is what the Spirit of God produces in the believer. And the same is true in 6:14. So when Paul says, “Put on the breastplate of righteousness,” do you know what he’s saying? He’s simply saying, “Do the right thing!”
That’s really, really simple! But it’s also really, really hard to do. Because Satan’s going to tell you that “it doesn’t really matter.” “It’s just a little bit of sin. Just one scene, a couple dozen words, and a pinch of gratuitous violence.” “You’re not actually engaging in immorality yourself, you’re just vicariously enjoying the immorality of other people.” “It’s just one Sunday. God knows you love fishing. And besides, You’ll be observing His creation.” “The government’s just going to waste your money anyways. What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em.”
I could go on and on all morning. You see, many of us are very lax about sin. Oh, we avoid the major sins that will cause others to look down on us. But we’re surprisingly careless about other sins clearly condemned in Scripture! These are what Jerry Bridges calls the “respectable sins.” Did you know that the Bible tells you to beware of covetousness? It says not to worry. It says to be thankful at all times! To be humble. It instructs us to be self-disciplined, which applies to our choices in regards to eating, exercise, and entertainment. It tells us not to have a critical spirit, to gossip, to envy, or to seek to control others. Teens, the Bible tells you to obey your parents. Parents, the Bible tells you to obey the government. “Submit to every ordinance of man” is what it actually says. That’s pretty all-inclusive. The Bible says to go and make disciples. Are you doing that?
Some of you are wincing right now because you’re painfully aware of “respectable sins” in your own life. That’s good! Others of you may be glibly naïve. That’s really bad! I’ve run into some Christians who even seem to have a cavalier attitude about their so-called “little sins.” Having a cavalier attitude about your little sins is like being proud of the fact that you don’t wear a breastplate into battle. It’s stupid! And it’s dangerous. It’s like you’re saying, “Here you go, Satan. Hit me with your best shot!”Sometimes a breastplate may feel uncomfortable or restrictive, but it’s safe. If you fail to put it on, then little by little, your moral character will be eroded, and you will become desensitized—perhaps even addicted to sin. Your conscience is being seared.
Brothers and sisters, that is a dangerous place to be.
Proverbs 4:23 says “Keep your heart with all diligence,” and according to this passage, we protect our hearts from the attacks of Satan by means of an unwavering commitment to righteousness.
So decide to do what’s right, no matter what; and start fighting for victory over the so-called “little sins.” There was a song we used to sing in Junior Church that went like this: “Do right till the stars fall. Do right till the last call. Do right when there’s no one else to stand by you. Do right when you’re all alone; do right, though it’s never known. Do right since you love the Lord, do right! Do right!” We must be committed to doing right.
The Shoes of Gospel Preparation
The next piece of equipment that Paul mentions are the shoes (v. 15).
Romans soldiers wore heavy sandals with several layers of leather on the bottom (about ¾ in. thick). The sandals were studded with hollow-headed nails (like cleats) and were tied halfway up the shins and stuffed with wool or fur during cold weather. There were not running shoes, but boots, designed for optimal traction and stability, so that the soldier would not slip or fall.
Now in my opinion, the shoes are the most difficult piece of equipment to interpret. And the central interpretation question is this: “Is Paul saying that I should prepare to proclaim the gospel of peace, or is he saying that the gospel of peace is what prepares me for the battle?” In other words, are the shoes about gospel meditation or gospel proclamation?
Commentators are pretty well divided on this question, and there are good arguments on either side.
Those who argue for gospel proclamation focus on parallel passages. For instance, Isaiah 52:7 and Romans 10:15 talk about the beautiful feet of those who proclaim good news about peace.
And within this very book, when the words “gospel” and “peace” occur, they often have to do with evangelism. For instance, 2:17 says that Christ “preached peace” to both Jews and Gentiles, so that both groups were united in the church. And in 3:8-10, Paul talks about the privilege of preaching the gospel among the Gentiles. And perhaps the most convincing example—in 6:19-20, Paul asks the Ephesian believers to pray that he would have boldness to preach the gospel.
On the other hand, those who argue for gospel meditation focus on the imagery in this passage. They point out that the entire passage is about standing, not advancing, and that cleats are for stability.
So which is it? Well, I’ll give you my take.
I think that the shoes are primarily about gospel meditation for the purpose of gospel proclamation.
Paul wants us to prepare our minds and hearts to proclaim the gospel. Why? Because the gospel is what brings about peace.
I’m certainly not a foreign policy expert by any means, but I think it’s safe to say that any foreign policy expert will tell you that one of the best forms of defense is diplomacy. And that’s what I think v. 15 is about—defense through diplomacy. You see, one of the ways that we defend ourselves against Satan is by disarming people under his control—by turning enemies into friends. Think of it this way: what if the United States had some sort of mind-altering weapon that caused enemy soldiers to surrender and fight for us instead? That would be the greatest weapon the world has ever known. The gospel is that weapon! When the gospel is preached, people under the sway of the evil one surrender to serve the King of Kings.
And because the gospel is so powerful, we must prepare to preach it.
How do we do so? Well, our preparation is both mental and spiritual. It’s mental because we must understand the gospel well enough to explain it clearly and succinctly. And it’s spiritual because our hearts must be in it. There ought to be in each one of us a burning desire to tell others what Jesus has done for us and to see people saved.
If your neighbor knocked on your door this afternoon and said, “I need to be saved. Can you show me how?” would you know what to say? If not, then you’ve got some head work to do. If your neighbor knocked on your door this afternoon and said, “I need to be saved. Can you show me how?” would you be excited? If not, you’ve got some heart work to do. And whether it’s your head or your heart that’s the problem, the solution involves meditating on the gospel.
So we’ve talked about the breastplate of righteousness and the boots of gospel preparation. Now we need to consider the shield of faith (v. 16).
The Shield of Faith
Paul is referring to a 2 ½ x 4 ½ ft. shield made of two pieces of wood glued together and covered with canvas and then calf’s skin. The sides and corners were metal plated, and there was a metal piece on the front that caused stones and other heavy object to glance off. The canvas and calf’s skin was designed to quench flaming arrows and javelins. In fact, for added effectiveness, the entire shield could be soaked in water prior to battle in order to better extinguish the flames. And of course, the shield represents faith. We are to trust God’s character and His promises.
Satan wants to convince you that God is not good. That being a Christian is sort of a drag. That God’s holding you back from lots of fun. He’s going to say things like, “Look at all the fun you’re missing in Vegas!” “Look at how happy the people on the beer commercial are!” “Think about all of the movies you can’t watch because you’re a Christian!” “Think about how much more hunting you could do if you didn’t go to church.” “Think about the kind of car you could drive if you didn’t tithe.” And when he says those things, it’s like he’s hurling fiery darts at you.
That’s how Satan tempted Eve in the garden, isn’t it? Don’t you remember what He said? “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” “God’s lying to you. He doesn’t really love you. He’s holding something back. In fact, He’s jealous of you! You can’t trust Him.” That horrible lie—“You can’t trust God”—is what got us into all of this mess! And it’s the same lie that Satan will whisper to you when you are most vulnerable.
So you’ve got to protect yourself ahead of time with the shield of faith. You’ve got to call out Satan’s lies. “Sin never satisfies.” “Every good and perfect gift is from above.” “No good thing would He withhold from them who walk uprightly.” These are the kinds of truths that we must cling to by faith and rehearse in our minds over and over and over. Satan wants you to doubt God’s sovereignty. So when you’re going through a trial, he’ll say things like, “This out of control, and God doesn’t even care. In fact, He’s left you. You’re all on your own now.” Those are fiery darts. He wants you to doubt God’s wisdom; so he’ll say things like, “God doesn’t know what he’s doing.” But of course, all of those thoughts are lies. So meditate on God’s sovereignty and wisdom. Cling to those truths by faith! Rehearse them to yourself over and over again, so that when the evil day comes, you will be prepared to stand firm.
The next piece of armor Paul refers to is the helmet of salvation.
The Helmet of Salvation
The helmet of the Roman soldier took various shapes at different times and places, but it was generally made of an iron skull cap coated in bronze and lined with leather or cloth. During Claudius’s reign, the helmet was adapted to include pieces which covered the back of the neck and the face. And Paul says that the helmet symbolizes salvation.
Once again, the imagery is borrowed from Isaiah. Isaiah 59:16-17 says of God, “His own arm brought salvation for Him; and His own righteousness, it sustained Him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head.” Of course, salvation is something that God accomplishes; whereas it’s something that we receive (Eph. 2:8-9). But the real question about this piece of armor is, “Why would Paul tell people who are already saved to put on the helmet of salvation?” And there’s another parallel passage that helps with that question. In 1 Thess. 5:8, Paul instructs believers to put on as a helmet “the hope of salvation.” In other words, “Put on the hope that comes from knowing that God will finish what He started in you.” So based upon that verse, we can conclude that the helmet of salvation in Ephesians 6 is about the confidence that comes from knowing where you stand with God. Paul wants believers to be sure that they are saved.
Some of you are very confident about where you stand with God, and you have every right to be. You can explain from the Bible why you know you’re going to heaven, and you are living like a Christian. You’re already wearing this helmet. Others of you may have significant doubts as to where you stand with God. And there could be a number of reasons for that. It may be that you don’t understand the gospel or that you have never personally put your faith in Jesus. Or it may be that you are a Christian living in sin, in which case you have no right to assurance of salvation. What you need to do is to get right with God.
When I was a boy, I struggled with assurance of salvation because I wasn’t sure if I said the right words or if “I really meant it.” And if that’s the case with you, it may be that you simply need to believe God’s promise (Rom. 10:13). But regardless of why you struggle with assurance, I want to urge you to do a couple things. First, find a mature believer and talk to him or her about your struggle. I did not get victory in this area until I talked to my Dad about it. And that’s because we are not designed to fight these battles on our own. We need one another. Second, read the book of 1 John. It’s an entire book about assurance, and in it you will find a number of tests of genuine salvation. 1 John 5:13 says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” God wants you to know that you possess eternal life. You are not supposed to be in the dark about that. Lastly, it may be that you are confident about your salvation, and you shouldn’t be, because you are depending upon your own good works, or your spiritual background, or wishful thinking, when the Bible is clear that in order to be saved, you must depend on Jesus alone. If you have doubts about your salvation, please come and talk to me.
So how does assurance of salvation help you in the battle? Well, it gives you confidence. When I preached this sermon at Ironwood paintball camp last year, I explained it this way. Let’s say that we’re all going to play a game of paintball. But David Pollard is really good at paintball, so we decide to give him a handicap, just to make it fair. We say, “David, you can play with us as long as you don’t wear a mask.” How do you think that’s going to affect David’s performance? Well, if he even enters the game at all, he’s going to be so nervous about getting hit in the face, that he probably won’t be of any use to his team! And the same is true of believers who aren’t sure of their salvation.
The last piece of equipment that Paul mentions is the sword of the Spirit.
The Sword of the Spirit
Paul was referring to the short, double-edged sword that the Romans would use for fighting in close quarters. The sword was 2 in. wide and 2 ft. long.
Of course, the sword represents the Bible. And the Bible is referred to as “the sword of the Spirit” because it was forged by the Spirit through inspiration. The Greek word that Paul uses in this verse to refer to the word of God is rhema, which can mean “sayings.” So when Paul tells us to take the word of God, he is most likely referring to individual statements of Scripture.
Can you think of someone who used specific statements of Scripture to defend Himself against Satanic temptation? I hope that the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness comes to mind. That account provides an incredible example of swordsmanship. Satan tries to attack three times; but each time, Jesus drives him back with another word of God.
But notice that the command here is not to wield the sword. It’s to take up the sword.
What does it look like to take up the sword? Well first, it’s not something we do with our hands. This is not a command to carry your Bible with you wherever you go. See if you can complete this statement. "Taking up the sword is not something you do with your hands, it’s something you do with your… (head)." To take up the sword is to study and to meditate on particular passages so that you can use those passages to defend yourself.
I’ve heard it said that there are three different types of believers. Those who are just beginning to learn their Bibles, those who are relatively familiar with their Bibles, and those who have made their Bibles a part of them. When they pray, Scripture just flows out naturally. When they talk, they quote the Bible. They use Biblical phrases and terminology. It’s just obvious that the Bible has become part of them. These are the kinds of people of whom Spurgeon famously said that if you were to prick them, they would bleed the Bible.
That’s the ideal that each one of us should be striving for.
How are we reach that ideal? How are we to take up the sword? First, we must read it. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s so important. You say, “But Pastor Kris, I don’t have time for that.” I understand that there are seasons of life in which extended Bible study is difficult. But it’s also important that we make Bible reading a priority. The story is told about how after long, tiring journeys, Hudson Taylor would stay up after everyone else had gone to sleep reading his Bible and praying late into the night. John Wesley is said to have read the Bible every morning in 4 or 5 different languages. And those are just a couple of quickly-chosen illustrations! The point is that those who have been greatly used by God have been men and women of the Word.
The second way to take up Scripture is to memorize it. Sadly, this discipline is often neglected.
But memorizing the Bible is very important, because the verses we memorize are always with us, whether or not we have access to a physical copy of the Bible. I just recently started memorizing the Bible again on a regular basis. And I’ve been surprised at how helpful that practice has been.
So in order to take up the sword, you must read it and memorize it. But you must also study it.
You aren’t prepared to use a particular statement of Scripture to defend against temptation until you know what it means! So think about it. Take time. Consult a study Bible or commentary, and study.
Of course, if you do so, you will also need to record the truths that you glean from the texts. Many people have done this in the margins of their Bibles. Which is great. And those of us who use Bibles on our phones or tablets will have to come up with another way to record our observations, because if we don’t, we will probably forget what we learned. And when the battle is raging, we may find ourselves without a sword.
Finally, we take up the sword by meditating on it. By turning it over again and again in our minds, and applying it to our lives.
If you have become lax about taking up the sword, let me urge you to develop some of the spiritual disciples that we just talked about. Because trying to engage in spiritual warfare without a sword is like trying to play baseball without a bat. It’s just doesn’t work.
After addressing the armor, Paul give the Ephesians one last admonition about the importance of prayerful vigilance (v. 18).
So quite simply, we are to watch and pray.
Let’s focus on prayer first.
I want you to notice five things about prayer in v. 18. First, notice that prayer is important. How many times does Paul refer to prayer in v. 18 alone? (4) Now how many times do you see the word “all”? (4) Do you think Paul was trying to make a point? Prayer is very important!
Second, notice that we are to pray “always.” Perhaps a better way to translate that phrase would be “praying at every opportunity.” When I was growing up, we kids weren’t allowed to skip dinner and then eat later on. If you didn’t eat at dinner, you missed your chance. How many opportunities for prayer do you miss? Do you pray along with the public prayers at church? Do you always take the opportunity to pray for your meals? Many people have formed a habit of praying first thing in the morning when they wake up and right before they go to bed at night. Do you avail yourself of those opportunities? Jesus often got up early or stayed up late to pray. Is prayer that important to you? What about those empty times in your day? Like while you are commuting to work? Do you see those times as opportunities to pray, or do you always use those times in other ways?
Third, notice that although Paul says we are to pray “with all prayer” or “all forms of prayer” (which would include praise and thanksgiving), his emphasis is upon supplication. The word “supplication” comes from a word that means “to beg” or “to plead.” This is not, “Lord thank You for this day. Please give us a good day today. Amen.” Is that the type of prayer Paul is talking about? It is passionate prayer for strength to do what’s right and for victory over sin. So often, we as Christians focus our prayers upon the wrong things. We spend of our time praying for spiritual health and ease of life, when the real dangers that we face our spiritual, as this passage clearly indicates. Can I suggest that we ought to spend a majority of our time praying for spiritual needs, and we ought to intercede for one another passionately.
Fourth, notice that we are to pray “in the Spirit,” that is, controlled by the Spirit. When we allow the Holy Spirit to control us as we pray, we pray for things that are biblical, and within the will of God and so that we are empowered with divine strength. Have you ever noticed the different ways that Christians pray? Perhaps you have prayed with a group of believers before, and one person sounds like he is reading a shopping list (“help that this, help that that,” etc.). Then another believer, perhaps an older, more mature one begins, and it’s as if the walls have come down and an entirely new world is opening up. He prays with passion and conviction, and many of the phrases he uses are filled with Scripture quotations and allusions. He addresses God as if he actually knows Him, and he prays with confidence, because he knows that he is praying for God’s will. That’s praying in the Spirit.
Finally, we are to pray for one another (v. 18). You see, at the end of v. 18, the camera angle widens, and we realize that we do not contend with the forces of evil by ourselves. We are part of an entire army of soldiers. And since we are all on the same team, their survival in the battle should also be a chief concern of ours. So we must pray for them all the time.
And so we are to pray, but we are also supposed to be watchful.
When I went to paintball camp, I got to play night paintball. And we were out there pretty late, but guess what? I wasn’t sleepy while we were playing paintball! I remember the first time that I heard a paintball zing past my facemask. That got my attention! All of my senses were in alert mode, as I strained to figure out where my opponents were.
That’s the type of attitude that we are supposed to have toward spiritual warfare. We are to be vigilant.
But not only are we to be watchful; we’re to be watchful with perseverance.
That means that you’re to stay awake and alert, even if you’ve been up all night and you can barely keep your eyes open. Can you think of a Bible story in which some people failed to watch and pray? (the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane) And their failure should be a lesson to us.
So there’s a sense in which we close today where we started last week—with the importance of vigilance because of the impending danger. So what about you? Have you put on the breastplate of righteousness? Do you have your shoes on? Have you taken the shield? Is your helmet fastened? Have you taken your sword? And are you praying and watching?