The Armor of God
One of the downsides of Bible study is we get in the habit of making personal applications for what Paul intended for the Church as a whole. That’s certainly the case here. Paul is not writing for personal devotions but for the entire Church. If we are not clear on that then we reduce what he is saying to purely individual applications. We will be a mob of armored up individuals instead of the Body that Paul intends. We will be primarily concerned with our own individual equipment instead of seeing that Paul is describing protection for the whole Body. So, when he says, “Put on the whole armor of God” he is not saying only focus on our own defenses but on the defense of the Church as a whole. We are committed to the protection of each other – not just ourselves.
How many times does Paul use the word “stand” here? Four. Being armored to withstand assaults is different from being armored to attack an enemy. The image here is not one of a crusade but one of defending oneself against an attacker. It is not overcoming an opponent but holding up under the constant pressure. It is not about winning by having a stronger force but surviving by having an impenetrable defense. Paul uses other images in other place but here he is instructing the Church on how to survive the unrelenting pressure of an enemy siege.
It is a struggle and not so much a war with a clear winner and loser. It is a war against the schemes of evil. In Scripture the one who schemes is always one with deception and darkness in their hearts. Scheming is a special kind of sin. It is intentional. It is always the result of a thought out plot against someone. It is not sudden or out of a burst of anger. It is planned and premeditated. Scripture often refers to schemers as those who lie in their beds and cannot sleep because they are so caught up with devising their lies and deceptions. That is why we say there is no rest for the wicked. They are consumed with deceit and plotting their next lie.
Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil, Who spreads strife.
One who plans to do evil, Men will call a schemer.
There are two kinds of schemers.
First, are those who plan evil against the strong. It is not as much a frontal attack but are waiting for them to misstep or stumble. They lie in wait. They set traps. They push a wall that is leaning.
Psalm 62: How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
Psalm 56:6: They conspire, they lurk, they watch my steps, while they wait to take my life.
Those who seek my life lay snares for me; And those who seek to injure me have threatened destruction, And they devise treachery all day long.
Second, are those who plan evil against the weak and defenseless.
In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
4 In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by[b] him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
6 He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”
7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”
Sometimes, like in Ephesians 4, Paul refers to men who are guilty of this. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
But here he is talking about the supernatural deceits of the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. This is a completely different force that is set against the Church. It is one thing to be plotted against by evil men but the Church has an enemy that is far more dangerous, far more deceitful, and far more able to carry out a relentless assault. It is an evil that is determined to extinguish the Church, the Body of Christ, and not just wound or kill individuals.
So, how does this Evil deceive the Church? It is not so much with persecution. Persecution actually makes the Church stronger. Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Evil knows that simply killing saints is sometimes effective in spreading fear and eliminating a few believers but the result is always strengthening the Church.
No, the Church is attacked by mosquitos more than missiles. It is the constant barrage of false doctrine, false interpretations, false teaching and false living. It is not so much the frontal attacks that defeat us but the constant diversions and distractions. Isn’t that the very nature of deceit? We are not to notice it until we have found ourselves in the trap and unable to get out. Again, Paul is talking here about the Church and not just individuals.
As Screwtape says to his young devil Wormwood in the “Screwtape Letters” who is concerned about the smallness of his patient’s sins:
“You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
There are deceits to which the Church will constantly be a target.
The deceit of power. The Church should be powerful and influential in making societies conform to a certain set of rules and expectations. The Church should be a powerful player in politics, the economy, and every other area of society. It is not a servant but a master.
The deceit of wealth. We have access to money, privilege, status and platforms that make us powerful.
The deceit of independence and self-sufficiency: We are our own masters and accountable to no other authority but our own.
The deceit of pride: Look at our success and our numbers. Look at how God has blessed our bigness.
The deceit of false and unorthodox teaching. How many of these has the Church lived through in 2,000 years? Countless heresies, detours, misinterpretations, and celebrities spouting unorthodox teachings.
Everything seems right until it doesn’t! Everything makes sense until we realize how we have been deceived and the Church has been the victim of one more scheme.
And that is why Paul says, “Put on the full armor of God… so that you will be able to stand.” You will be able to constantly resist the temptations of power, wealth, independence, pride and false teachings that will never let up. This is not a battle or a war that has a beginning and an end in our lifetime. It is from creation to the end of time. That is why Paul says in Romans that all of creation groans with us as we wait for redemption. The Church is always under attack by deception and distortion that hopes to bend it to the will of dark powers and principalities.
All the pieces of the armor are parts of Paul’s metaphor:
The belt of truth: This is discernment that is found through the work of the Holy Spirit and faithful study and application of Scripture. It is not the wisdom of the world. It is not more education. It is not marketing or doing customer surveys. It is as was said of the Puritans. “It was if they had swallowed a gyroscope.” How does the Church practice the principles of truth?
The breastplate of righteousness: This is the armor of right living that Paul writes about in Romans 13:12. “So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”
In other words, that which protects the heart of the Church is our behavior and not just our professions. What is it that people on the outside of the Church use against us and say is their reason for either not being a part or actually leaving? It is our behavior and our hypocrisy. It is our dissension and jealousy or as James puts it, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.”
Paul says in Galatians 5: “But if you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out, or you will be consumed by each other.”
That’s an awful image but it is too often what the world sees. What is our best witness? It is behaving decently. “..make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, 12 so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
It sounds so simple. Almost naive. How can we hope to have a major impact on the world if all we do is behave decently? We need programs, initiatives, missions, institutions, organizations, plans, and strategies. Not so much. What we need most is to behave decently – especially today. I think one of the major self-deceits of the Church today is to excuse and even support indecent, rude, hurtful, quarreling behavior and calling it Christian. All the strategies in the world will not overcome our failure to behave decently.
Feet fitted with the gospel of peace: The word here for “fitted” is the same as what we call a foundation. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that the foundation of the gospel is not the avoidance of hell but God’s reconciling the world to himself. All of our efforts to be better people or live a better life or to escape the punishment of hell are not adequate. The only sure footing is “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Paul goes on to say that we are ministers of reconciliation and agents working to mend the divisions. That does not mean total compromise but it does mean that we are to be people who bring people into harmony. What if that is what Christians were known for? What if the powers that work so hard to sow divisiveness and discord were more afraid of our intent and ability to bring people and communities together. What if we were agents of reconciliation working to reduce rivalries, contempt, conspiracies, and mistrust? Again, it does not mean everyone agrees but there would be more of what Lincoln termed the “better angels of our nature” than there is now. It did not keep him from fighting but it kept him from contempt. It kept him from hatred. It kept him from destroying the enemy at the end of the war.
The shield of faith: In the New Testament the same word for faith can mean two things and here it likely means both. It means saving faith and it also means right beliefs. Some have added so much weight to the required beliefs that it is almost impossible to carry the shield. How we practice baptism. How frequently we observe the Lord’s Supper. Do we ordain women? The list is endless and the shield becomes heavier. Instead of asking what the essentials are we have made the faith an unbearable burden. So, some have abandoned it altogether and exposed themselves to all kinds of deceptions. Others have created a shield that makes it impossible for them to stand upright.
The helmet of salvation: In Isaiah 59 we read:
14 So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
15 Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The Lord looked and was displeased
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
The helmet is our sure hope of the resurrection and our eternal security. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Our destiny is certain because Christ took the initiative on his own. “This firm promise of God provides the basis for their secure hope amid life’s trials and difficulties. That is why in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Paul describes this piece of armor more fully as the “helmet of the hope of salvation.” The Christian’s helmet is his or her sure hope of salvation.”
The sword of the word of God: It is more like a scalpel than a sword. It cuts to the quick. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” When truth stumbles and is nowhere to be found, the word of God is sure and will, in time, reveal even the most hidden and concealed thoughts and attitudes of the heart. The great strength of the Church is the power of Truth to uncover and disarm the power of Lies.
Unlike the medieval knights who required pages to dress them, squires to accompany them with spare parts and ropes to lower them onto their horses, our armor is light. It does not immobilize us but, instead, allows us as a body of believers to stand against the supernatural powers of this dark world where justice has been driven back, righteousness stands at a distance, and truth is nowhere to be found. We are the light of a dark world.