Sunday, December 27, 2015

Suit Up!

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;    Ephesians 6:13-17  NKJV

I'm sure most of us are familiar with the picture of a coach giving his players a pep talk before the big game. I know I've seen many examples on the television, as well as experiencing some back in the days when I was active in sports. Everyone is suited up, ready to go out and do battle, and the coach calls everyone together for a last minute talk before they enter the playing field. How many of us though, have ever really given that picture a lot of thought? I mean, just why does the coach do that? Haven't they done all the preparation in the preceding week? Obviously, if so many coaches do it there must be a good reason and purpose behind it.

In this passage from Ephesians we see that Paul essentially does the exact same thing. In reality, he gives us a little pep talk before we go out to do battle and reminds us of the reasons we need not fear. In these verses Paul makes the point that there are four things God has already done for us that have prepared us for what we will face. At first we are told to put on the whole armor of God, which, if you think about it, obviously is very important or Paul would not have repeated himself so quickly. But there may be another reason as well, and that is that we are being reminded because it is something that may be easily forgotten! I guess sometimes the simple things are the first to be forgotten, so Paul here is simply reminding us not to forget.

From here Paul goes on to describe the pieces of our armor. I think it is important to note that when Paul reveals these first pieces, he introduces each with the past tense verb "having". In other words, we have already been issued our armor and he is simply reminding us that we should already be wearing them. When was that you ask? Well, I believe what Paul is telling us is that we received these when we made our decision to allow Christ to come into our lives and asked forgiveness of our sins. In other words, when we became Christians, we were issued these pieces to wear once and for all, and Paul is simply reminding us that we should be wearing them.

The first is the "girdle" of truth. Now some of you might be surprised to find you are wearing a girdle, but let's see if I can explain this in a way you can understand. In the Roman Army, soldiers wore short skirts not unlike a Scottish kilt. Over this, they wore a longer cloak which was cinched at the waist by a girdle, not unlike a wide belt. When they prepared to go into battle they would tuck their cloak up under the girdle to free up their legs for quick movements. It was the first thing they did before battle, so what Paul is saying here is the first thing we need to do before battle is be reminded that we are fighting for the truth! When we made our decision to follow Christ, we decided Jesus was truth embodied, and we believe in His promises. We are not fighting for something that is false, but we fight for the truth of God, and His message to us. This is usually where Satan attacks us first, trying to get us to doubt the truth in which we have chosen to believe.

The second thing Paul tells us is that when we first believed, we put on the "breastplate of righteousness". Now it's easy to see that the breastplate protects our "vital" organs. These are the parts of our bodies that ensure our very lives. But what is righteousness to the believer? It is our standing before God, and the assurance that we are an acceptable sacrifice to Him. How often does Satan attack us with doubts about our worthiness to approach God? He points out our weaknesses, our shortcomings and failures, hoping to cause us to doubt. What Paul is reminding us here is that when we believed, Christ became our "righteousness"; in other words although we can never do anything on our own to approach God, Jesus did it all by sacrificing Himself for us. It is His sacrifice and His righteousness that allows us into the presence of God.

The third piece of armor Paul tells us about is the shoes we wear called the preparation of the Gospel of Peace. Now as someone who spent many years running, I can tell you that good shoes are one of the most important pieces of equipment you need to run a race. How often does Paul describe our Christian lives as a race? And we are talking about a long one, not a quick sprint, so the shoes we wear need to go the distance. But the word translated "equipment" or "preparation" depending on your translation, actually means "readiness" in the Greek. So what Paul is telling us here is that the third piece of our armor is actually a mental one. It is the knowledge and confidence in the Gospel that gives us a "peace" or calmness and courage. In other words, there is no need to be afraid of anything Satan can throw at us because we are at peace with the knowledge of the Gospel we believe in.

Fourthly, Paul reminds us of the necessity of taking up the shield of faith.  This to me, personally, seems to be the most important one.  Why?  Simply because our adversary is not going to allow us to go through this life without a fight.  We are told often enough in scripture that we will be persecuted as believers, and I am sure all of us have stories to tell of different ways Satan has made our lives miserable with personal attacks which were intended to cripple our witness.  Most of us have had the opportunity to be burned in some way by fire.  I’m sure we can all agree on how much it hurt, how painful the recovery, and even the scars that were left behind.  The darts from the evil one are described as “fiery”, so there is no question they are intended for harm.  Yet the promise from God is that His shield can quench them all.  Not just some, but all.

Finally we are told to take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit with us as we go into battle. Now I don't know about you, but when I read this, the first thing I thought of is the use of the phrase "And take". It's almost as if it's a reminder because it's something you often forget. Do you remember your mother telling you as you went out the door in a hurry not to "forget" something? I almost get that feeling here. It seems like Paul is telling us not to forget our helmet and sword on our way out. Why would we do that? Well, most often by being in a hurry. It may well be that Paul is trying to tell us that when we know we are going into battle, or we feel we are coming under attack, don't be in such a hurry to fight that we forget two very important pieces of our armor.

Why so important? I think we may be able to answer that if we remember how Satan chooses to attack. Remember we found that he always attacks what we have chosen to believe. He tries to create doubts, so what we need most is protection of our thoughts. Paul tells us that the "helmet of salvation" protects our head, or mind, by helping us remember that we are saved. No matter what, once we have made the decision to accept Jesus into our hearts we are saved. No one can take that away, so our minds can be protected by the knowledge of our salvation.

We are also instructed to take up "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". Now most people would say this is an offensive weapon, and in fact, many commentaries do say this. Though I wouldn't necessarily disagree, within the context of this passage where we are being told that we are to be "defensive", I wonder if we need to look at it in a different light. Notice first of all that Paul mentions the sword along with the helmet in the same sentence. He also goes further by using the word "and" to tie them both together. That tells me they must work together, or sort of "hand in hand". How so? Well if we are to use the helmet to guard or protect our minds, the sword, which Paul describes as the word of God, must also protect our mind in some way.

A verse that comes to my mind when I think of this is Psalms 119:11 where it says that "Thy word have I kept in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee." You see, although the word of God is most certainly an "offensive" weapon, it is also used defensively to keep us as believers living godly lives which then are a visible witness to an unbelieving world. Look at Hebrews 4:12 where Paul again tells us that the word is "sharper than any two-edged sword", but then goes on to say that it is "able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart". So in fact, we as believers are being told we need to use the word defensively by using it to control our thoughts and actions.

How like a good coach Paul is being here. We are getting ready to go into battle for our Lord, and Paul takes the time to remind us that we are already prepared to do battle because we are wearing the pieces of armor that were gifts from God when we first made the decision to believe. All of these are designed to give us confidence and peace going into battle. Are you ready for the coming year and the battles we will engage in?  The closer the Church gets to our deliverance, the more we will need to be wearing our armor.  As my coach used to say; “suit up”.

Keep watching.