THE GOSPEL ARMOUR
Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armour, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.
(George Duffield, Jr, 1858)
Paul was an apostle of God’s first-century Church. He was accused of sedition, beaten, arrested, almost assassinated, shipwrecked, attacked by a snake and placed under house arrest: Most would call this list an unfortunate run of bad luck. Paul rejoiced in it.
Imprisoned in Rome for two years under the watchful eyes of Roman soldiers, Paul was able to write four epistles (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon) and continue preaching “the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” to all those who came to hear him (Acts 28:30-31).
Living for two years with soldiers of the Roman army must have made an impression on Paul. He saw the soldiers’ armour enough to become acquainted with it, understand the function of each piece, what purpose it served and why it was important.
At some point, a God-inspired analogy began to form in Paul’s mind. Because of his intimate knowledge of the Scriptures, the passage from Isaiah 59:17 have entered his mind – “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.”
Just as the Roman soldiers required physical armour to fight their wars, we Christians require spiritual armour to successfully fight ours. As the pieces fell into place, Paul saw that each piece of Roman armour had a powerful correlation with our own spiritual defences. It is this analogy that the church in Ephesus received and which God has preserved for two thousand years for our benefit.
WHAT DO WE NEED ARMOUR FOR?
Paul wrote: “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
So we need armour because we are in a war. It may not be fought openly, with human weapons, but it is being fought and we are in the middle of it. Paul reminds us:
2 Corinthians 10:3-6 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:(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;And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
Our enemy is not flesh and blood. It is not a human foe we face. We fight against a much more fearsome opponent. Our adversary, Satan the devil, and his host of demons have a driving purpose:
John 10:10 The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
In this verse, the ‘thief’ refers to Satan. In a war we have to keep are wits about us. The enemy is always trying to weaken and divert us, even to get us to switch sides. The apostle Peter writes:
1Pet 5:8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour
How is it that Christians can withstand incredible pressures and not be defeated? How can we stand up against everything the world has to throw at us and still expect to emerge victorious?
The answer lies not in us, but in a divine and unbeatable defence, the armour of God:
Ephesians 6:10-20 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
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.
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.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
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,
For which I am an ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
The armour of God is an amazing metaphor for action we need to take in our lives. Paul sets the scene for us: We are fighting a war, and the stakes are higher than they have ever been in human history.
Faced with the cares of this world, we can easily forget about the severity of this battle. But make no mistake: Our spiritual lives, our future in God’s Kingdom, the eternal destiny of others yet to hear from the Gospel from our lips, God’s rule in every corner of life, the cause of righteousness itself are all on the line.
Looking around, the world and its decadence is all-pervading. We can feel the cause is hopeless. What can we do in the face of such overwhelming odds? Is there any hope?
Paul has the answer. In Ephesians 6:13, he gives the call to arms. By putting on all of God’s armour, which we will explore piece by piece, we can be assured not just of withstanding our enemy’s onslaughts but fighting back.
What is the purpose of each piece of armour?
Belt of Truth - Just as the soldier had his loin belt to put on every day to keep his armour together, we must apply the Word of God to our lives on a daily basis to keep our defences intact. The belt was the first thing that the soldier put on so it is the first thing a Christian must put on. Much of the weaponry and protection depended on the belt being in place properly. If we do not use the word of God as our belt of truth, we have no foundation on which to base our warfare with the enemy. The belt held things in place where they needed to be. The truth of God’s word does the same for us. In addition to this, we need to be girded about ourselves with truth, being people of our word, guarding our words and speaking only the truth. We must speak the truth of God’s word, and be truthful in every situation. Satan is the father of lies. Also note that the belt of truth is about our loins – an obvious symbol of sexual purity and truth in relationships.
Breastplate of Righteousness – When you walk in the righteousness of God, it is a weapon of defence against all those slanderous accusations, and outrageous strategies of the devil. The Bible declares that the heart of man is prone to be tempted (Matthew 26:41). We are righteous in God’s sight because of what Jesus has done for us. Right thinking and doing right is the breastplate of righteousness that we are to protect ourselves with. We must also strive to be righteous in every area of our lives, constantly renewing ourselves by the Holy Spirit. The breastplate of righteousness is also the first piece of armour found in Isaiah 59:17.We know that when we were saved, it was by Christ’s righteousness, and that any righteousness of our own was nothing in the eyes of God:
Isa 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
2Cor 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
But now we are to be holy as he is holy, to be like David, Job, and Nehemiah who said:
2Sam 22:21 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
Psalm 26:1 Judge me, O Lord; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the Lord; therefore I shall not slide.
Job 29:14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem.
Neh 13:14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and wipe not out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God, and for the offices thereof.
If they did it, even sometimes having to stop and repent and start again, it must be possible for us to walk in righteousness and integrity before the Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Feet Fitted with Readiness – Offensively this piece will help you to stand with your feet planted firmly on the Word of God and stay there, unmoved by the devil’s threats and lies. It will protect us when we walk through the rough places and keep us steady in the heat of a battle. It will keep our spiritual foes where they belong – under our feet. This piece of armour is also to be used to take out the gospel to the world and bring all things into the captivity of Christ. Are you ready to go wherever the Lord calls you?
Shield of Faith – Up until this point, Paul’s description of the armour of God has been limited to items we wear. We put on the belt, the breastplate and the shoes, and they essentially hold themselves up. The shield of faith is different. Paul tells us that the shield is something we must take up, something we are required to raise. Just strapping it to our arm won’t do any good at all if we don’t make the effort to hold it aloft and use it. What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Substance is tangible, and evidence is solid proof. Faith is therefore, by definition, not some hazy emotion without any grounding in reality, but the irrefutable truth. It is real.
A shield deflects. Satan is always hurling his fiery darts of fear, doubt and worry in our direction, but the only time they can hit us is when we let our shield of faith down – when we stop believing that God is in control; that He is working everything out for our good; that whatever happens is for the ultimate best of everyone involved, however little it seems to be that way.
While the rest of our armour helps protect us from Satan’s onslaught, it is not what you want to be using to absorb every hit. You do not, for instance, go out into battle intentionally blocking everything with your stomach. When our faith in God’s omnipotence and care is strong, it is impossible for Satan to break through our shield and land an attack. But when we allow doubt to creep in, as Peter did in Matthew 14:28-31, then, distracted by the waves, we will start to sink. The rest of our armour will be battered, and so will we. But an actively raised shield of faith prevents this otherwise inhibiting fatigue. However, not everyone has faith, and no one has enough faith! We need to commit ourselves to God in prayer and pray for faith.
Helmet of Salvation -1 Thessalonians 5:8-11 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
We can receive tremendous hope and comfort by focusing on the incredible sacrifice Christ gave to save us and the amazing Kingdom that is our eternal reward. The sure and steadfast hope of salvation works like a helmet to protect our minds from the discouragement and despair in this world.
Christians have been called out of this world, although we remain in it. Our way of living and even of thinking should differ from the world’s. We are to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5), and that means having God’s laws written on our hearts and minds so we can remember to always obey God. Our enemy hates that we have chosen this path and will stop at nothing to destroy us because of it. Just as the soldier’s helmet protects the vital but vulnerable head from otherwise fatal blows, the hope of salvation can protect our thoughts from our enemy’s attacks and temptations to disobey God.
Without the helmet of salvation, we will be unprotected from the cares of this world that bombard our thoughts and feelings. Imagine not knowing what the future ultimately holds. The worries and problems produced by living in this world would overwhelm us! With the helmet securely fastened, we can have the same confidence that Paul did that “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us..” (Romans 8:18). We understand that it doesn’t matter what happens to us now. No matter what trials we face, we know that at the end of it all waits God’s Kingdom and an eternity of His perfect reign – and what could be better than that?
Sword of the Spirit – The rest of Gospel armour is defensive, but here is an offensive weapon and it is the only one mentioned, the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Jesus quoted His Father’s words and spoke them with authority. Consequently, each Word was like a sword-strike to Satan’s head! God has given us the authority to use His words because we are ambassadors of Christ. God speaks with ultimate authority in the universe. He spoke and the universe came into being from nothing.
When we speak God’s word according to his will, there is no power in the universe who can withstand it. So it is vital to know God’s word, to know it through and through, to read through it every year, to study it, pray over it, remind God of it, proclaim it in the street. It is an offensive weapon against the kingdom of darkness. Watch how secularists react to God’s word! They hate it. The faith of Islam cannot stand in the face of the Gospel.
Now how would that Roman soldier treat his sword? He would clean it, polish it, sharpen it, care for it. How much time does a modern soldier spend cleaning his gun? He takes a lot of time over it. It needs to be in perfect condition. The last thing he wants is for it to jam when his life or his brother’s life depends upon it. That’s how we need to treat the word of God. When we are in a tricky situation, we don’t want the word of God to jam as we try to fire it. We need to know it intimately, be certain how it fits together, care about it, polish it, and make sure it is always ready to fire.
Prayer as a weapon
There is a popular praise song which has a line about ‘each prayer a powerful weapon’. The American minister E M Bounds wrote a book entitled ‘The Weapon of Prayer’; but then he wrote at least another eight books on prayer with similar thought-provoking titles. Neither we, nor in fact Pastor Bounds, find any scriptural backing for the idea that prayers are weapons.
Prayer is nonetheless essential on the battle-field, because it is our means of communication with our great Commander. Through prayer we lay out the situation as we see it, ask for instructions, plead for reinforcements and call up what we might describe as God’s artillery. We are but humble foot-soldiers, but when we play our part in the battle, clad in our Gospel armour, wielding our offensive Lord’s-issue weapon of the word of God, we can rely on the Almighty sending more than a few smart warheads right into the enemy camp.
True, the KJV translates the singular Greek word ‘hoplon’ which means ‘an instrument’ as the plural ‘weapons’ in 2Cor 10:4, but it is far from certain what other spiritual weapons if any Paul had in mind. ‘Hoplon’ came to refer in any case to the whole armour of a soldier, which takes us back to Eph 6. There is a need to explore how fasting fits into the Gospel armour, and the benefits of unity in the war, but for now, to focus on the word of God as our sole offensive weapon is to encourage us to get to know the Bible much better than we do.
OTHER REFERENCES TO OUR ARMOUR IN THE BIBLE
We have already seen that even in the Old Testament Isaiah 59:17 refers to two familiar pieces of armour – the helmet and the breastplate – and introduces two other pieces: the clothes of the Lord’s vengeance and a cloak of zeal. In the New Testament Paul repeats the theme:
Romans 13:12-14 The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying.But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.
Paul tells the Christians in Rome to put on both the “armour of light” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” This passage reveals both that wearing the armour of God is synonymous with having the character of God and that this armour cannot be worn if we are still wearing the “works of darkness” – a lifestyle of sin that separates us from God (Isaiah 59:1-2).
2 Corinthians 6:7 … By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left,
In these passages Paul calls it the armour of righteousness and reveals its purpose. We put on the armour and strength of God to effectively wage war against our enemy, the devil. Without it, we are helpless – but with it, we are soldiers of the living God, and “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.” (Romans 8:37).
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