B.C.P. Trinity 21 Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; 15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; 19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
It is perhaps appropriate that on Remembrance Sunday we look at this image of a soldier. Such an image would be observed almost daily in the Roman Empire that Paul lived in. Paul uses it to remind us how we should be equipped for the spiritual battle that we are engaged in. Although Jesus has won the victory over sin and death on the cross there is still the 'mopping up' operation. For example, victory has been won in Iraq, but there are still hostilities and the loss of life.
The Roman soldier would have various pieces of equipment, some offensive, some defensive. The first goal for them is to 'stand', verse 11, 13f. The equipment is to allow the soldier to ward off the attacks of the enemy. This has to be done before there can be any offensive.
Paul makes it clear that the devil is still active and the need for Christians to stand up against his attacks. These attacks would include the persecution of Christians, after all Paul wrote this letter whilst imprisoned, verse 20. However, it also includes the more subtle attacks that threaten the church. For example the way that the church is currently being infiltrated and influenced by those who are sexually immoral.
Paul lists the items of equipment that the soldier would put on in the order that they would be put on.
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place. The belt tied tightly around the soldiers waist indicated he was ready for action. It gathered in the short tunic and helped keep the breastplate in place. The scabbard which housed the sword hung from it. To loosen the belt indicated he was off duty. It represents 'truth'. The truth of the gospel and, perhaps, also the truthfulness that is expected of the disciples of him who claimed 'I am the truth' ( John 14:6 ).
The "breastplate" covered the body from the neck to the thighs. It was known as a heart-protector. Usually it was made of bronze but the more affluent officers wore a coat of chain mail. This protection is compared to the 'righteousness' of the believer. The only way we can have any righteousness before God is through what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We should show the righteousness of God in our conduct once we have come to faith, through the work of the Holy Spirit within us. But the source of our standing before God and of our behaviour will always be through the undeserved favour of God
The soldier would then put on his strong military boots studded with sharp nails to ensure a good grip. This suggests that the gospel of peace has prepared the Christian 'soldier' to stand firm and unmoved in his/her faith.
The Greek word for shield is similar to the word for 'door' giving an idea of the shape and dimensions of it. It consisted of two layers of wood glued together, covered with linen and hide, and bound with iron. Soldiers often fought side by side with a solid wall of shields. But even a single-handed soldier found himself sufficiently protected.
Our faith protects us from the attacks of the evil one. By faith we are referring to what we believe put into action. A Christian who doesn't back up their words with actions is like someone claiming to be a soldier but who is without a shield. A sham and likely to be defeated.
The helmet was then put on. It was made of bronze and leather and protected the head, of course. It is to be taken, the previous items were picked up by the soldier. The last two handed to him by his attendant. Believers have received their salvation. They did nothing to earn or deserve it. The salvation could refer to what believers enjoy in this life as well as what is to come.
The final weapon, also given, is the sword. The only offensive one. It represents the 'word of God'. If we look at the way that Jesus faced up to the devil's temptations using Scripture it seems best understood as meaning the Bible. That is why it is so important that we know our Bible's so well that we not only know what it menas and obey it, but can also quote it to people from memory.
All this is to be backed up with prayer. 18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; Because believers are battling with spiritual forces they must be met with the spiritual power of the Lord, accessed by prayer. Victory will only come through prayer and, through this the seemingly impossible will happen. The prayer is not only to be for the preservation of believers but for the gospel to be preached to unbelievers who will come to faith. This is the goal of Paul, even though he is imprisoned. 19 And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
We should be prepared to pray and to speak out boldly so that people will come to faith.
In his book Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee describes a preaching mission to an island off the South China coast. There were seven in the ministering group, including a sixteen-year-old new convert whom he calls Brother Wu. The island was fairly large, containing about 6,000 homes. Nee had a contact there, an old schoolmate of his who was headmaster of the village school, but he refused to house the group when he discovered they had come to preach the Gospel. Finally, they found lodging with a Chinese herbalist, who became their first convert. Preaching seemed quite fruitless on the island, and Nee discovered it was because of the dedication of the people there to an idol they called Ta-wang. They were convinced of his power because on the day of his festival and parade each year the weather was always near perfect.
"When is the procession this year?" young Wu asked a group that had gathered to hear them preach.
"It is fixed for January 11th at 8 in the morning," was the reply.
"Then," said the new convert, "I promise you that it will certainly rain on the 11th."
At that there was an outburst of cries from the crowd: "That is enough! We don't want to hear any more preaching. If there is rain on the 11th, then your God is God!"
Watchman Nee had been elsewhere in the village when this confrontation had taken place. Upon being informed about it, he saw that the situation was serious and called the group to prayer. On the morning of the 11th, there was not a cloud in the sky, but during grace for breakfast, sprinkles began to fall and these were followed by heavy rain. Worshipers of the idol Ta-wang were so upset that they placed it in a sedan chair and carried it outdoors, hoping this would stop the rain. Then the rain increased. After only a short distance, the carriers of the idol stumbled and fell, dropping the idol and fracturing its jaw and left arm.
A number of young people turned to Christ as a result of the rain coming in answer to prayer, but the elders of the village made divination and said that the wrong day had been chosen. The proper day of the procession, they said, should have been the 14th. When Nee and his friends heard this, they again went to prayer, asking for rain on the 14th and for clear days for preaching until then. That afternoon the sky cleared and on the good days that followed there were thirty converts. Of the crucial test day, Nee says: The 14th broke, another perfect day, and they had good meetings. As the evening approached they met again at the appointed hour. They quietly brought the matter to the Lord's remembrance. Not a minute late, His answer came with torrential rain and floods as before.
The power of the idol over the islanders was broken; the enemy was defeated. Believing prayer had brought a great victory. Conversions followed. And the impact upon the servants of God who had witnessed His power would continue to enrich their Christian service from that time on.