The Armour of God (Peter Hillman)
This is a very famous passage of scripture and one that numerous sermons have been preached on over the years. As I was praying about stuff this week and looking at this passage with Anthony and Stuart I believe God gave me a picture which related to the passage. The image was one of a person in an encampment sleeping in a tent when suddenly they are awoken by the enemy attacking the camp in a surprise attack. In the darkness and confusion the dazed soldier is scrabbling around in the darkness looking for their armour, incredibly vulnerable and open to attack.
The image spoke powerfully to me as Paul writes, “put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” There is a sense here of the day of evil being a surprise. If we knew when and where the attack would come we would no doubt be ready with our armour strapped on, sword and shield in hand. For some of us this has been exactly our experience in recent months. We have gradually put down bits of our armour and when the tough times have been sprung upon us we have found that we have not been ready.
So lets have a quick look at how this may have happened and check that we have not accidentally misplaced a piece of our armour and have to search round in the dark when the crunch comes.
Belt of Truth
The belt is the thing that keeps us from tripping over our own clothing! When Paul speaks of the Truth he knows the One who said of himself “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Truth is not an abstract conception for philosophers and theologians to discuss. Truth has a name, and that name is Jesus!
Jesus is the Truth in flesh, in human form. In him and through the lens of his life, death and resurrection alone does all the rest of human life and experience make sense. When he stands before Pilate at his trial the Roman governor asks him, what is truth? And Jesus gives him no answer except to stand before him. The tangible presence of God Almighty before this flawed, weak creation. The only truth that Jesus will offer to Pilate is himself, as he had claimed, The Truth.
If we begin to allow the philosophy of this world to creep into us then we have lost our focus on the Truth himself. If we let our minds play with the spirit of the age which says that all truth is relative, there is no such thing as absolute truth and this Christianity thing works for me but your truth may be different the we have lost our belt and all that we can hope for is to be tripped up at the first sign of trouble or opposition. No wonder that Paul lists the belt of truth first of all.
Breastplate of righteousness
The breastplate was probably the most important piece of body armour protecting all of the major organs from frontal assault. The heart, lungs and so on are all protected by this bit of plate armour. No wonder, then, that Paul chooses this to be associated with righteousness. Righteousness is about being right with God. It is about holiness and sinlessness. If we allow sin to creep into our lives then suddenly our very lives are in danger. And here we are not talking physical danger but our spiritual lives are in danger most of all. Without being right with God, living lives that please him, we lay ourselves to the most deadly peril. It may seem to us that when all is going well that we can give in to the odd bit of temptation. Perhaps we think “Hey the worship I’ve been leading has been amazing this last month or so, my sexual relationship with my girlfriend doesn’t seem to have had any impact on it at all!” And that may seem true for a while. But I guarantee that the moment the enemy presses in and you suddenly find you are under attack you are incredibly vulnerable and possibly even in mortal danger. Remember “The result of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life.”
I can think of lots of occasions when I have been caught of guard and someone has asked me about my faith. I know I am supposed to be employed by God, he pays my wages after all! But, I do have to confess that sometimes I am lost for words and a bit embarrassed if someone asks me about being a Christian. So now, a full confession. I was treating young Mitch the other day who had injured his hand in the skatepark. After putting ice on his hand I knew that I ought to offer to pray for him but I didn’t in case Keeley walked in! I know, I am weak!
Paul’s point is this, if the battle suddenly breaks over you then you need to be ready to move when it does. When God gives you the opportunity to strike a blow, when an opening comes to share your faith then you need to jump. Not in a way that puts people off, obviously, but you will be surprised at the number of times that opportunities to talk about Jesus seem to appear out of thin air.
Shield of Faith
Paul has in mind here a Roman shield that protected the whole length of the body and were most effective when used in conjunction with the other members of you squad to form a solid wall. How does this work for us? Well this piece of equipment is for defence against arrows, in fact flaming arrows. Arrows are projectile weapons fired from a distance, not up close. And of course because they come from a distance they are often unexpected. If we are caught off guard with our shield leaning up against a wall or laying on the ground when the arrows start to fall, in other words when our faith is at a low ebb because we have allowed ourselves to grow spiritually fat and lazy, then we may find a sudden arrow from the air pierces everything else and sends us crashing to the ground, no longer a warrior but a casualty.
Helmet of Salvation
This one is pretty self explanatory too. We need to remember we are saved and live it out. So many Christians spend their whole lives worrying about their lives and what will happen to them. If we are saved then we are saved for life, not death. What kind of God would it be who saved us, set us free, and then dropped us? No, we are saved to experience the most amazing adventure every, following Jesus. But also, we need to remember that we are saved for Him, that we belong to Jesus. I think Paul is talking about identity here too, knowing deep down who we are and that we belong to Christ. If we forget this and live as though we still belonged to the world then we are, again, vulnerable to attack. The helmet protects our head and it is therefore the knowledge of our salvation that affords us protection from the enemies’ attack. By way of example, if you are being got at, criticised, belittled and put down by friends, family or anyone else then the knowledge that you belong to Jesus puts everything into perspective. If you are being told by the world that as a person you are ugly or worthless, perhaps because you are unemployed or because your exam grades are not all that then the best defence from this kind of attack is to remember just how valuable you are to Jesus and how beautiful you are to him.
Sword of the Spirit
Here Paul tells us that the Sword of the Spirit is the word of God, the bible. God’s word to us, his speaking and meeting with us. And I know that this is a huge challenge to us all. None of us (except perhaps Jon!) read our bibles enough. But honestly, if the battle comes upon you and you are not used to the feel of the sword in your hand how do you expect to wield it? Jesus used scripture to defeat the devil when he was tempted in the desert and I cannot tell you the number of times when a bit of God’s word has come into my head when I needed it most whether to share something with someone who had asked me a question or to pick myself up when I was feeling got at. For this sword is a weapon of attack as well as defence!
If your sword is blunt, chipped or broken then forge a new one in the fire of the Spirit. Let the word of God take root deep in your heart so that the feel of it is second nature to you. No soldier would ever dream of going into battle without their weapon ready for action, my fear is that in the ambush I have talked about we will still be scrambling round trying to remember where we left it when the fatal blow falls and we find ourselves lying dazed and broken on the battle field.
There are obviously loads of other pictures to be drawn from Paul’s analogy but the main thing is that we hear what the Spirit is saying to us about being ready. I firmly believe that the last few weeks have seen a lot of skirmishes but I also believe that there are more battles to come. I for one do not intend to become a casualty though if I am to fall I intend to go down fighting. But I trust my Lord that, if I keep his commands and follow his instructions about being ready I will not fall but, as promised by Paul, will be able to stand my ground. I intend to still be standing when the dust clears and the ambush breaks against our resolve and I pray that my brothers and sisters here, my fellow soldiers, will be standing along with me, side by side.
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