This is How We Shall Live

When I was growing up, our church devoted one Sunday a year to youth. Instead of the pastor preaching, and the music minister leading the hymns, on that particular Sunday evening service various youth were chosen to take up those roles. One of those years, I was asked to give the sermon for the Youth Service. I chose Ephesians 6:10-20. It was the only sermon I ever preached, as I rejected the path of a pastor, or priest. This is not that sermon, but it is still a passage I reflect on often, and from which others who are searching out what it means to be manly might profit.

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. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

“Finally”: As in utterly, regardless of all else, most importantly, this is it.

“be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might”: Have confidence (confidence means “keep faith with”) put your faith with God’s love for you and in His ability to sustain and perfect you as He sent His only Son to die for your sins, and then bodily raised Him from the dead, and took Him back to rule in Heaven. Not faith in yourself; not in your talents; not in your accomplishments; not in others, nor their talents or accomplishments; not in civilization; not in progress; not in politics; not in kings; not even in priests and pastors.

“Put on the whole armor of God, “: There is a battle; a testing, and that battle is one where you will be attacked, and you need to armor-up to be prepared and protected. This armor is from God and for you.

“that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”: It is a curious thing to recommend armor against schemes. Armor seems an unlikely choice to defend against traps, subterfuge, misdirection, seductions, temptations. It is counter-intuitive to armor up against schemes. (Machiavelli and Sun Tzu would surely scoff.) To armor-up is to prepare for direct conflict; when next we are informed that the enemy will attack indirectly. Our nature is to respond in kind; to fight fire with fire; strategy with strategy; psychology with psychology; subterfuge with subterfuge; misdirection for misdirection; seduction over seduction; scheme against scheme; devilry with devilry; evil for evil. If you’ve been churched (especially Protestant), it’s very likely that what you’ve been told is this is because we’re spirits fighting a spiritual war, and “armor” and “schemes” are just poetic stand-ins for “good things” and “bad things”, respectively, in the overall battle.

“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.”: The answer to the puzzle of “Why armor against schemes?” is in the word “we”, and what “we” are. We are flesh and blood and spirit fighting against purely spiritual things. Our inclination (again) is to fight fire with fire–spirit with spirit–but what Paul is saying is that we fight the spirit with flesh and blood also, and so we need a flesh and blood defense. He is recommending a visible armor to fight invisible evils. It’s important that others can see your armor, which is your works.

“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.”: Our goal is not to kill, but to withstand. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, Jesus said. That kingdom is besieged, and as the Church–the woman/son in the relationship between God and mankind–we are defenders of the hearth; not conquerors of the invaders. Our part is just to withstand, and that will be enough. Moreover: By necessity our home is our hospital, and anyone stricken down can find succor within. Having been taken captive to Christ’s home, they become free comrades. We can do this because we have confidence in Christ’s victory over Satan, evil, and death; in the power of His might.

“Stand therefore”: Get (you) up! Man (get) up! Woman (get) up! We hear little of the first, lots of the second, and near nigh of the third.

“having fastened on the belt of truth”: Take up the truth first. Whatever your starting principle is, that is your truth. It is the foundation and binding of the rest of the armor, and covers the stomach and loins. They hold fast the places of hunger and desire. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” So, keeping in mind what we’ve learned so far about man’s proclivity to fight fire with fire: While it would seem intuitive to counter bad behavior or culture with bad behavior or culture, the way we are instructed is to counter it is with taking up the Gospel. It surrounds the place where you get “feelings in your gut”; where you find the guts to continue on because of the truth that is in you. Jesus said it this way:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

This is the opposite of pride, self-esteem, irrational self-confidence, and “believing in yourself”; the opposite of greed; the opposite of lust; the opposite of wrath. This is truth encircling, covering, training, girting, and belting down animal desires.

“and having put on the breastplate of righteousness”: Righteousness performs two important tasks. Most importantly it guards your heart. Returning to the Beatitudes, Jesus says:

8Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

Acting rightly will keep you from temptations, agonies, broken hearts, and sentimentality. The second task is showing your emblem, your heraldry: to Whom you belong, and what honor and decorations have been given to you. And that honor is persecution:

10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Persecuted for the sake of the emblem upon your chest, the sign of your Master, and the owner of your inheritance.

“and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”: Having been equipped to stand with truth and righteousness, you will be prepared to be sent forth into dangerous terrain with unsure footing. Where once the unfulfilled law marked the way no man could go, now is passable to him who walks in the gospel of Peace; making the good news of peace wherever he goes.

In Romans Paul writes with this same metaphor:

13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. 14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 and how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

It is a reference to Isaiah, one of the prophets who lived in the times of fall of Israel and Judah, and wrote of better times to come:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,
that publisheth peace;
that bringeth good tidings of good,
that publisheth salvation;
that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!

The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Jesus calls those who wear the shoes of the gospel blessed, peacemakers, and the children of God.

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” Having girt your desires with truth, plated and polished your breast with clean action, and strapped on the surefootedness of the Gospel: Do not think you will be attacked face-to-face, and keep the faith that you are being attacked because they recognize righteousness as the mark of the evil one’s Enemy; because you are doing His work, and not because you are being punished by God.

11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

These fiery darts come in many forms: arrows, javelins, spears, gossip, false accusations, divorce, rebellion, mockery… More deadly are the darts that burn with the poison of flattery, sensuality, sentimentality, and seduction. Whatever you may have heard about keys and locks: The master keys of Earth, and their holders, can only open empty graves.

For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
their inward part is very wickedness;
their throat is an open sepulchre;
they flatter with their tongue.

&

For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb,
and her mouth is smoother than oil:
but her end is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death;
her steps take hold on hell.

The clever among them know it, but they return to it over and over again like dogs to vomit.[1]

“and take the helmet of salvation”: The head is the container of the mind, and four of the five senses. Here we see the fading beauty of the world; we hear the gospel and the law; we taste the salt; we smell death. Altogether, we can know and reason the need for our salvation. The head is also the master of the body, and with it we command the limbs to work out our salvation as we keep the fear of the Lord ever-present in the mind, and there He does His work in our minds.

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

which we then pass down to the body; eating and digesting His work which brings nourishment and enables our bodies to obey the head; which is protected by this salvation process.

“and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”: The one weapon of God; His Word literally embodied in Christ; and also figured in the Bible, and in the Lord’s Supper. It is a double-edged sword to be wielded offensively–to cause offense–for the defense of others. Unlike all the other pieces of the armor of God, it is never used in place, or at rest. It does not perform its task while sheathed, or simply on your person. You never complete its training; the more you use it the more it teaches you about its use. It is the only item that can cause injury to the wielder, and easily in the hands of the foolish, but familiarity strengthens the mind, body, and spirit. Swung swift and accurate, it sings, and it is beautiful, light, keen, strong, and lethal.

“praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints”: Be mindful and steadfast in your defense, and more for the defense of others. Keeping communication to God open; especially for your fellow protectors, who are also under siege; sacrificing the priority of your desires, for their needs.

“and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”: This same armor is the uniform-chain of an ambassador-slave to Christ; whose yoke is easy, and who grants freedom from the world. Everywhere the servant of Christ goes in His uniform, His chains, His armor; the ambassador-slave is free from all ideologies, theories, politics, and various contrivances of men.

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

In the King James Version, it begins: “Finally, my brethren…” which tells better whom Paul is addressing. This after he addressed children and servants (among whom are wives; as some brethren are to other men). This last chapter is the summary of how we are to relate to and serve one another in our service to God.

[1] This link came in precisely as I wrote that sentence. Not sure what to think about that. YMMV.