Summary: When we put on the full armor of God, we are prepared to not fight the wars of the world, but to withstand the world's hostilities, even as we fight for God's peace.
You have just heard one of the better known passages of Scripture from our Bible. I honestly don’t know why this particular passage is better known than others. My best guess is that perhaps the very tangible imagery of body armor makes for a good lesson, but who knows for sure. Because I can also tell you that you have just heard one of the most controversial passages of Scripture. However, we are working our way through Ephesians and we cannot deal with Ephesians without studying this passage, too. So it is that we have before us this morning the description of the “full armor of God,” and the final great instruction in this important letter to the early church.
I may as well just admit to you all up front that I really don’t much care for this passage of Scripture. War imagery bothers me. I don’t like fighting. I don’t like the thought of humans being engaged in fatal battle with other humans. The gospel is a gospel of peace, and that’s something I value very much. So when I come across a passage of Scripture where the underlying theme is related to fighting and war, it always makes me squirm in my seat. Still, while it would be very tempting for me to skip over this passage, I also firmly believe that there is a message for each of us in every part of the Bible. We just have to be willing to approach every verse with an open mind and heart. And we need to understand first and foremost that the writer here is not talking about flesh and blood war, he’s talking about a battle of a different nature, a spiritual battle. Listen again to verse 12, “We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” So it is that in the instructions which follow, we are told to don the full armor of God in order to make ourselves ready for this spiritual battle.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to engage in some conflict, I want to know exactly who or what I am fighting against, and I want to know exactly what I am fighting for. And to be honest, for someone to call me to “spiritual warfare” isn’t adequate; that’s not enough information. Maybe that’s some of the reason that I have so much difficultly with this passage. I mean, think of all the so-called spiritual warfare we have seen throughout history and even today; just consider the terrible damage wrought on human lives in the name of “holy war.” There were the Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages that killed hundreds of thousands of innocents. More recently, various groups of extremist Muslims have oppressed and killed millions upon millions in the name of “holy war” or spiritual warfare. I think we can all agree that none of us wants to be associated with that kind of spiritual warfare. So, if you’re like me, there better be a really good reason to pull on the armor of God; I better know exactly what I’m fighting for, and it better be worth it!
Even as this passage lays out the armor with which we should arm ourselves, it also tells us why; that is, the writer gives us hints about what we are fighting for. But here’s the first thing we need to know and understand about this call to arms. The writer’s description of the “armor of God,” is not a description of weapons used by warriors on the front lines; rather, this armor is intended for protection. The weapons described here are mainly defensive; equipping us to endure attack and still be standing up at the end of the day. So, I think the first thing we need to understand is that this call to put on the whole armor of God is not a call for us to be aggressors. Instead, we are to wear the armor of God so that we are prepared to withstand the attacks of the enemy.
When I was in junior high school, I was a forward on the school basketball team. One day, I was playing basketball in gym class at the school; it was the activity of the day and we were divided up into teams with about four half-court games going on around the gym. As we were playing, I pointed out what appeared to me to be a foul by a girl on the opposing team. She disagreed with me, and when I insisted that it was a foul, she “got up in my grill” so to speak and started pushing me around, trying to start a fight with me. I knew that if I responded, I would get kicked off the basketball team and I would be in a lot of trouble at home too. So I just stood there. I stayed facing the girl and I let her push me. I let her hurl insults at me and call me horrible names, but I did not open my mouth and I did not push back. I was very angry and very hurt, but I did not respond, and within a minute, she had stopped and walked away.