The Whole Armor of God:
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An Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-20
This morning’s passage has been the source of many a commentary, some of which are very detailed. It has also been part of many Vacation Bible Schools. I can think of children donning plastic suits of armor or coloring the Christian soldier in full armor. So I am following many great ministers and theologians in the study of this text. The one who has been most influential is Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote an eight volume commentary on Ephesians. The commentary is actually a transcription of several years of sermons that he delivered at Westminster Chapel, I would recommend adding this set to your library. I can only hope in treating this text to add a little flavoring to the exposition of this text this morning. Open your Bibles to Ephesians 6:10-20, and let us read the text together.
1. Know your army
When we think of armies in general, they serve two functions. One is to preserve the peace. The other is to attack and defeat the enemy. The metaphor of Christian warfare is used in various places in Scripture including this text. When we use the word “Christian” we are identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Savior. He is the Captain of the LORD’s army (host). So the first thing we need to recognize is that we must know and take orders from the General, the success of any army is based upon competent leadership. Bravery and skill in battle means little when the General is incompetent. Many soldiers have perished in earthly wars because of bad generalship.
The good news is that the Lord is the omnicompetent general. He is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and present everywhere (omnipresent). The fact that God is all-powerful guarantees our victory. There are those today who wish to relegate God to being “Most High” rather than “All High.” This is a serious error. One who is the most powerful can be overcome by sheer numbers. God is not the most powerful among many. He is all-powerful. He can not be overcome by Satan and all his minions. The Book of Ephesians teaches a Sovereign God who knows the end from the beginning and will certainly bring his plans to pass. This is why it is important to read all of Ephesians before coming to this text. It is of great comfort to know in the midst of battle that the victory is the Lord’s. Ephesians also tells us that we shall live eternally with Christ. Even if we die in this battle, we shall ultimately live. This should help provide the necessary confidence and boldness to fight this difficult battle. We must have good morale, noting that in this context, morale is close in meaning to “morality.”
The makeup of the Lord’s army consists of various leaders and soldiers. We know that angels are part of this army who assist us in various ways in our fight. They are fellow-servants and soldiers in God’s army. The Church makes up the human component of God’s army. There are leaders in this part of the army as well. These include, but are mot limited to, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. These are to take orders from the Triune God. Through them, we are equipped for battle. Obedience to our God-given leaders are important. We need to fight as one body.
2. Know the war we are fighting
I often see Christian social media posts portraying the Christian as a knight. The myth of knights in shining armor, fair damsels, and searches for the Holy Grail make for a nice picture. However, the reality of knighthood was often fair from this flattering presentation. Knights were the middlemen between the nobles and the serfs and were the means of subjugating the serfs, This is hardly Christian. They also swooped down from the castles and robbed or extorted goods and money from the traveling merchants. “Christian” knights went into combat with other “Christian” knights. The “fair damsels” were often courtesans and concubines. Should we use such imagery to depict Christians? This shows little knowledge of the warfare we wage. The knowledgeable heathen and the devils laugh at such a presentation.
Paul tells us what our warfare is really about. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 states it: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds; Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Satan desire to deceive us by making our warfare a carnal one. This can be seen by trying to use the state to enforce morality or voting in Christian leaders. Satan would want to tell us that our enemies are men. Satan’s army does include humans along with the fallen angels (demons). So, in a sense, the oppositions of deceived men is at enmity with the Christian. It would help us to remember that we once were deceived. Ephesians reminds us of this fact. The purpose of our warfare is to win these human enemies rather than kill them with earthly weapons.
The symbols of armor which Paul uses are metaphors for fighting the Christian warfare. Carnal weapons are of little or no use in this spiritual warfare. In today’s world, darts, swords, helmets, breastplates and such earthly armor offer little carnal protection in a world of tanks, planes, missiles, and drones. But modern weapons are just as useless to fighting Satan. God has given us far more mighty weapons to fight the Christian warfare.
3. Know your Armor
Armor is of little use if the soldier if he is not trained in its use. This is why God has ordained people in the church to equip the saints for this war. Strict discipline is so important, as the army must fight as one unit. Individual bravery is not enough. History tells us that Queen Boudicca, whose daughter was ravaged by the Roman led a rebellion against Rome. She amassed a large army of brave but ill-equipped soldiers. At first there was some success; however, when the Roman legionnaires came, the situation changed. Even though the Romans were greatly outnumbered, they were well equipped and disciplined. The result was in the slaughter of Boudicca and her soldiers. Satan’s minions far outnumber us. If we are to win, we must fight with God’s weapons and submit to the yoke of His discipline. If we do this, we shall emerge victorious and put Satan to flight. Another example from history is the slave revolt under Spartacus. Here, many of the slaves were gladiators. They were well-trained in the use of armor and weapons. However, they were trained for individual combat. But the legions fought as a unit. So, this shows how important it is that we fight together as a unit. Individual expertise is not enough.
Armor is designed for offense, even though it shields one from the enemy. Armor was for the front of the body, not the back. Besides making the heavy armor more cumbersome by having back armor, armies were never equipped to run away from battle. Many soldiers have died retreating from the battlefield. In the same way, our Christian armor is meant for us to fight Satan and not to run from the battle. I think of an old gospel song called “Hold the Fort.” This gives us the idea that we are to be holed up in our churches to defend ourselves against the Devil’s army. We take the words “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” From Matthew 16:18 as though Satan’s army marches against us with gates. Gates serve the purpose to keep the enemy out, but they are often the means of locking people up. If Satan can deceive us to locking our gospel up in the churches, he has succeeded in neutralizing us. Then he can at leisure looks for weak spots in the walls in which to infiltrate the church. The church is now filled with devils. We end up fighting our battles within the church and forget we are to go out into the world and storm the gates of hell.
To storm the gates of hell, God has equipped us with several pieces of armor. The shape and function of that armor depends upon the role in the army one plays. Armor for an archer is different than a cavalryman or an infantryman. But everyone shares in the same basic armor. The importance of being properly fitted to wear armor is seen in the text of David and Goliath. Saul offered David the use of his armor. But Saul was head and shoulders taller than David. Could you imagine David being able to take on Goliath with oversized armor? David’s strength was that he was a shepherd and expert with the sling. This is the only thing David could bring to the battle. Being armed with only a sling, a pouch, and five stones, he was able to run quickly. He could run up to Goliath and deliver the stone before Goliath who was encumbered with much armor, so much that he had to have another soldier carry his shield. David also armed himself with faith in Yahweh. He did not fight the battle on Goliath’s terms, but Yahweh’s. So David prevailed and killed mighty Goliath with a single stone.
Out weapons and armor are indeed mighty if we remember these things. Paul uses armor as a metaphor for our battle against Satan. First of all, he tells us like David to be strong in the Lord. It isn’t the armor which makes us strong against Satan of itself. It is the power of His might that will cause us to prevail. Nevertheless, we are not simply to come to battle ill-equipped. We have to use all of the armor which God has provided us. If a piece is missing, it will become the means of exploitation by the enemy. The text tells us that we need to be thoroughly equipped because Satan is wily. Ephesians then echoes the passage we heard from 2 Corinthians 10 by telling us our warfare is not against flesh and blood. It is God’s armor provided for us to do spiritual battle.
Paul tells us that because we have been given everything necessary to stand against spiritual wickedness in high places, to stand. He then starts listing the individual pieces of armor. We are to start by having our loins girt with truth. The loins were poorly protected in Roman armor because heavy armor would make it too hard to freely move one’s legs. If we understand this, truth is what protects the most vulnerable part of our body. The Roman soldier used his shield and sword to protect the loins. So the other armor helps protect the truth from the wiles of the Devil who seeks to deceive us. But we must know thoroughly this truth.
The breastplate of righteousness is the next piece of armor. In Roman terms, this piece of armor protected the heart and other vital organs from swords, arrows, fiery darts, and spears. It served as the last line of defense for the soldier when the enemies’ weapons got past the large shield the soldier carried. In our spiritual battle, we remember that this armor was not made by us but was provided for us. It is, therefore, not our righteousness by which we stand, but Christ’s righteousness. The devil is constantly attacking our righteousness which offers us no protection at all because, in ourselves, our righteousness is described as filthy rags. But because it is Christ’s righteousness, it is better protection than any suit of armor.
Paul then refers to the sandals a Roman soldier wore. They were made to be comfortable which helped the soldier to make long marches and kept the soldier from slipping on the battlefield. These helped the legions to wage war. But our sandals are prepared for us to wage peace. This clearly shows us how different the Christian warfare is than the world’s battles. The enemy comes against us with the armor and weapons of Goliath. But we fight with the weapons of David. But instead of sinking a stone into Goliath’s head. We proclaim the Gospel to our enemies with the intent of winning them to Christ. Christ died for us while we were yet enemies so that He could win us to Himself. He expects the same from us. The roads we must travel are indeed arduous and the battleground slippery. But when we are armed with God’s sandals, we shall stand.
Paul then takes up the shield of faith. When the shield was properly deployed, it protected the entire body. When a battle was undertaken, archers and those who shot fiery darts would try to soften the enemy by raining down their projectiles on the enemy army. Those who were under such attack would place their shields up over their heads. The soldiers around them would do the same. Properly used in this fashion, few arrows or darts would find their mark. So Paul tells us above all to take the shield of faith. This is our first line of defense. As Ephesians tells us, faith is the gift of God. So it is this faith which makes the defense sure. We also realize from the tight and coordinated deployment of shields that faith is a gift which helps protect others in the formation even as their shield helps to protect us. This is why Christians are to strengthen those who are weak in faith. We need to encourage one another in the faith.
Paul then mentions the helmet of salvation. Isaiah also talks about it as well. The helmet protected the brain, which coordinates the action of the body. It needed to be protected well. Our helmet is not made of brass or iron, but of salvation. Earthly helmets can fail. A heavy sword could fracture the helmet. Also, there are vulnerabilities as one has to leave areas exposed around the eyes so the soldier could see, the ears, so the soldier could hear, the mouth and nose, so he could breathe and the joint of the neck so he could move the head. But we are protected by the salvation which Jesus purchased for us in his blood. Even of we were to die on the field, we shall live. Goliath was killed by the failure of his helmet to protect him from a stone. He perished. But we are eternally saved.
The last armament is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The Roman gladius or sword was the kill weapon in close combat. Properly used it was lethal. The Romans were expert at using all kinds of swords for the purpose of killing the enemy. But our sword is the Sword of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is life itself along with the Father and the Son. The sword is not given to kill but to make alive. The enemy soldier is not our true enemy. Our swords are not even meant to kill the real enemy, Satan. Jesus will take care of dispatching the true enemy of our souls. We must be skillful in using the sword of the Spirit against the enemy to counter his accusations and means of trying to get us to curse God and die. We also use this weapon in coordination with our fellow soldiers. Paul tells us the proper use of this sword is prayer and supplication for each other, being watchful, and persevering.
Paul then asks this sword be used in his defense as well. He tells us that he is a prisoner, an ambassador in bonds. He needs the encouragement that he might speak the gospel freely. Satan tried to use Paul’s imprisonment as a means of discouraging him and to silence him. As determined as Paul was, he realized that he could not stand in his own determination. He needed to be upheld by the Spirit. He needed the prayer of the saints as well. It would do us well to remember this. We need each other, and we need to fight the Christian warfare as one. The battle has been won by Christ already. Let us boldly follow Him, seeing that He has thoroughly equipped us for the task. May we discipline each other for this task and learn to use our armaments well.