The Apostle Paul encourages Christians to put on the full armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. This is a common theme for children’s ministry, but it’s incredibly important for every Christian to consider the meaning and symbolism. In this post I hope to unpack the various pieces of armor along with its relevance today.
Our True Enemy
Take a minute to consider the three greatest challenges facing Christians and the Church today. Now consider this quote from John Calvin:
“Let us remember that our battle is not against flesh and blood when the painful treatment of others provokes us to revenge. Our natural disposition would lead us to direct all our efforts against the men themselves; but this foolish desire will be restrained by remembering that the men who annoy us are nothing more than darts thrown by the hand of satan. While we are focused on destroying those darts, we leave ourselves open to be wounded on all sides.”
John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentary on Ephesians 6:12, slightly edited for understandability)
The Christian enemy is not the fiery arrows, but the archer who is shooting them. If we ignore the arrows then we’ll get struck, but the enemy isn’t the arrows themselves. Instead, we guard ourselves from the devil’s schemes which seek to destroy our faith and witness while remembering the bigger picture.
“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 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 firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”
Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV)
The Belt of Truth
Imagine running into battle with your armor bouncing all over the place. It would hardly give you a sense of protection, and even more, it would literally get in your way as you defend and attack. Some claim this is better referred to as the girdle of truth, because it did more than simply hold your pants up. It was the part of the armor that kept everything else in place.
In the same way, knowing and believing the Truth of God is what holds our lives together. While the majority of Americans claim to be Christians, the majority of American Christians are actually heretics (meaning, what they actually believe contradicts Christian teaching and makes them not Christians at all). It is incredibly important for us to know what we believe and why we believe it.
Breastplate of Righteousness
When in battle, the torso is the easiest target for your opponent to strike. Whether it’s an archer shooting an arrow or a soldier wielding a sword, your chest is the primary target. The breastplate, therefore, would not only protect your heart (which is obviously important) but it would also protect that part of you most open to attack.
By pointing to the Christian’s righteousness, Paul isn’t talking about our salvation or justification. Instead, he’s pointing to our increasing godliness (sanctification). As we grow in Christ, we become more like him. The most obvious thing about Christians should be their godliness. Yet how many Christians destroy the public witness of the gospel by their lives? Instead, may we live in such a way that when people try to attack our reputation our ongoing godliness and humility makes their accusations fall empty-handed (see 1 Peter 3:16).
Sandals of Readiness
These sandals were not sold at Target or Walmart. Roman military sandals were designed to enable soldiers to march for long distances across difficult terrain. Imagine arriving in battle after a long march where your feet are bruised and infected. Sandals may not seem like “armor” but they were incredibly important because soldiers did not have military transports like we do today – they marched.
How many Christians today are well-prepared to share the gospel of peace in the midst of daily conversations? The gospel isn’t a “do better” type of message that simply tries to make sinners sin a little bit less. Instead, it’s the announcement that “God Saves Sinners” and that he’s done this through Jesus Christ. Are we prepared to talk about Jesus and to point to his saving work on the cross and through the resurrection and his return? This is the message of peace and hope for those who are blinded by the spiritual battle around us. Be discerning, and be read to speak the gospel of peace as God provides opportunities.
Shield of Faith
The shield of faith is not a small circular shield like we’ve seen in some movies, but one of those large door-sized shields behind which the soldier can hide from attack. The soldier who is equipped with a shield is far more secure than he who has cast it aside.
People today might call Christians weak for “hiding” behind our faith, but no one would dare call a soldier weak for hiding behind a shield in the midst of a barrage of fiery arrows. This accusation only shows their ongoing need for the gospel of peace. Instead, we find our hope through faith in the power of God to claim the victory over our enemy. And yet many Christians today claim faith but do not walk in it; for them, faith is only a good idea (perhaps even a wonderful and true idea!), but it is not faith until our ideas about God are trustworthy enough to be acted upon. God is trustworthy.
Helmet of Salvation
The helmet protect the most important part of the body. If your arm gets knicked or even if you take a shot to the gut it’ll cause a problem. But you can’t lose your head. A soldier without a helmet is highly vulnerable and in grave danger.
The Christian’s greatest treasure is Christ. Yet how easily do we slip into running elsewhere for comfort or peace or security in the day of trouble? Preaching the gospel to ourselves is not only wise, but necessary, because regardless if you are a new Christian or an old one, we all need the gospel daily. When we forget our daily need for the grace of God then we have removed our helmet while walking through a battlefield.
Sword of the Spirit
The sword is both an offensive and defensive weapon. Along with the shield, it was used to defend against attack, but it was also the only means of attack given in the spiritual armor. An unarmed soldier’s goal would be survival until he could find a weapon. I fear than many Christians today have become disarmed because our Bibles lay unopened and unread.
How many of us would refuse an opportunity to hear God speak to us? Books which claim to be the result of a special word from God become bestsellers while the Bible remains unopened and and is seen as “inaccessible.” Brothers and sisters, let us find our life from the Holy Bible, the inspired word of God, the sword of the Spirit. When Jesus was tempted, though he was God, he relied on quoting the Bible as his method of resisting temptation.
Final Thought on Prayer & Persecution
While prayer is not explicitly mentioned as part of the armor, Paul concludes this section by asking for their prayers. Prayer isn’t merely a “last resort” and shouldn’t be measured by how elaborate or smooth the prayer is; instead, prayer is measured by the one to whom we pray. There is no small prayer offered to God. We dress in the whole armor of God, and we march on our knees in prayer.
It is also worth noting that Paul is writing from prison. He did not write about the armor of God in a way that you are guaranteed to defeat any opponent and be gloriously successful against anyone who opposes you. Remember, your enemy is he devil who wants to destroy your faith. Paul viewed his imprisonment as a “fiery arrow,” not as the enemy itself.
Understanding what the whole armor of God means for the daily Christian life will equip the believer to honor God by treasuring Christ in the midst of daily life.