Summary: Putting on the full armour of God is the only way to fight the spiritual battle against the devil.
Lots of Christians don’t like war imagery. They object to hymns like “Onward Christian Soldiers” which, they say, glorify war. They claim that Jesus is a pacifist, God is a pacifist and that talk of battle and armour and swords compromises this message of peace.
Given that we just sang that famous hymn, you can probably tell that I think that view is garbage. If you don’t like war imagery, you’re not going to like large chunks of the Bible. In fact, when God is described as “King” in the Old Testament, it’s actually the same word in Hebrew that would be used for “Warlord”. The Kingship of God is a military image. To most Jews around at the time of Jesus, the phrase the “Kingdom of God” was also a military image, and they were expecting the messiah would come and lead a great military revolution to victory for Israel!
There’s nothing wrong with military imagery!
But as we learnt last week, this doesn’t mean that we’re fighting a physical war. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil that control this dark world.
And against such spiritual forces, the armour and bronze-tipped spear and the shield of the legion and the short-sword worn at the hip would never be effective. Not only that, but our personal spiritual defences are also completely inadequate. With our own power we cannot resist the tempting lies of the devil. Our own conscience cannot and does not stop us from giving in to our pride and our base passions.
What we need, according to Ephesians 6, is the armour of God. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. It’s a military image, it’s a military metaphor, but it reflects a spiritual reality because we’re up against spiritual forces.
I did a google image search for the “armour of God.” It’s extraordinary the number of diagrams and pictures devoted to this theme. For our instruction and entertainment (well, actually more for our entertainment), I’ll show you a selection.
• They normally involve someone decked out somewhat like a Roman legionary – something like this. There’ll be labels pointing out the belt of truth and the helmet of salvation and things like that.
• Other people put in a big effort and hire all manner of costumes and weapons. I particularly like this one. They’ve gone to a lot of trouble to get all the right equipment here so that it looks authentic, but if you look closely you’ll see his sandals are attached with Velcro!
• Others forget the whole historical context of the First Century Mediterranean world and instead have a picture of a medieval knight in full plate armour, like this one.
• Others seem even more confused (baseballer)
• It’s apparently a big hit in children’s ministry – I’m sure when I was growing up I made some cardboard shields and swords based on Ephesians 6. There’s plenty of pictures like this all over the net of Sunday School classes decked out in their home-made armour. This one was captioned “God’s little soldiers”. I remember thinking as a child, if God’s armour is really as effective as this piece of flimsy cardboard, then I’m in trouble.
• This was a little card given out to children at one church in America, something they could check off every day to make sure they were protected.
• There’s the templates and colouring in sheets for the kids’ club craft.
• There’s an armour of God board game, though I’m not quite sure of the rules!
• Perhaps the most bizarre is the his-and-hers armour of God pyjama set. Complete with shield of faith pillow. Only $39.95 plus shipping! I can do a bulk order if anyone is interested!
There’s a veritable industry out there!
But what does this extended metaphor mean? Assuming we’re beyond making cardboard cutouts, how do we protect ourselves with the armour of God so we can stand firm?
Well, for the rest of our time together I’ll be making a few brief points about this armour generally before then commenting specifically on three parts of the armour in verses 14 and 15 of Ephesians 6 – the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth and the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Next week Ian will be taking us through the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, and Chris will be rounding us off by looking at the importance of prayer in vs 18-20 in two weeks time.
The idea of God having armour is an image which appears throughout the Bible. As I’ve already said, military metaphors and the picture of God fighting a battle or winning a great victory are quite common. Isaiah 59:14-17 says this: