Ephesians 6:14-17 . So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist, with righteousness as your breastplate, (15) and as your shoes the readiness to announce the Good News of peace. (16) At all times carry faith as a shield; for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows shot by the Evil One. (17) And accept salvation as a helmet, and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you.
It was said of Shakespeare that he didn’t write quotes!
Everything he writes is in the context of the whole play.
The apostle Paul didn’t write quotes.
What he writes is in the context of the church he is writing to.
The armour of God illustration is part of a letter for this little congregation in Ephesus, the centre of any number of gods and superstitions and philosophy.
Ephesus was the centre of worship for the goddess Artemis or Diana
a very important fertility cult
and made a lot of money for the silversmiths
who created souvenirs.
So religion was big business and made a lot of people rich.
In comparison Paul preached an upside down world view.
So this little church is trying to live a new way.
The question then is: how do you survive?
Paul’s response is, you need unity.
Unity is the key.
So important. Because this church like all congregations was called into being to do the good works that God had already prepared for them to do.
Paul writes: Eph 2:10 In our union with Christ Jesus God has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do.
We are not to be navel gazers
we are not called to tell God how much we love God
we are called to a life of good deeds.
We are servants to the communities in which we live.
But what was the point of having a group of people telling this news of God’s love
if amongst themselves there was not unity
and grace and love?
And from the very beginning there has always been disunity in the church
Paul says it our human nature that causes division.
There has never been a congregation that hasn’t been in danger of dividing.
How can we speak of grace
if we are not gracious?
How can we speak of saying only words that build up
if we gossip and tear people down?
How can we speak of loyalty if we don’t show loyalty?
How can we speak of mercy if we are not merciful?
How can we speak of being servants
if we need to make ourselves seem important?
How can we speak the truth
if we are always afraid of other spiritual powers?
How can we speak of Jesus as victor if we
believe God only loves a certain group of people
and has consigned the rest to eternal torment
as some of us have heard preached.
And this was part of the beliefs of those who followed the gods of Rome and Greece.
So Paul uses the well-known picture (SLIDE)
of a Roman soldiers armour
his belt, breast plate, shield, helmut, sword.
A picture common to his readers.
He looks first at the soldiers belt. So what’s with that?
The belt protected the soldier from a sword slash that could cut his stomach open. The stomach was also considered the seat of emotions.
That’s where you felt emotional pain
hence the term
sick to the stomach!
So you protect your emotions with the truth.
And the truth in this context?
There is only one God who inhabits the entire cosmos – there is nowhere that God is not …. right? And all things happen according to his will and purpose.
God is your rock. That’s the truth. There is no other
when it comes to spiritual powers etc. There is only one.
And this God is pure, unadulterated love, that is impossible to measure.
So protect against emotional attack with this truth.
Then we have the soldiers breast-plate which protected the heart and lungs
which is our very life.
So as part of a church, Paul may be saying, protect the very life of your church by, as it were
wearing the breastplate of righteousness
and the word means, right relationships.
How often congregations have disintegrated
because our relationships have not been what they should have been.
And for Paul, the best way to ensure right relationships
is to be servants to each other.
Consider others more worthy of praise than yourself! Be the slave that washes the feet!
Imitate Jesus and die to yourself that others might live.
Right relationships also include grace and forgiveness,
You see as in Paul’s day at Ephesus, so it is today.
The Jesus followers are being watched to see if their quality of life
adds up to what they proclaim.
If non-believers look at us and see and hear gossip and criticism
and pity parties, they will never be convinced that we have anything
they could possibly want.
Now shoes are interesting aren’t they?
Especially what armies wear.
The tramp of a Roman Legion brought fear into the villages they marched through
just as the tramp of the jack-booted Nazis instilled fear.
They were designed to intimidate and frighten.
Not so with you writes Paul
when you walk
let the sound of your shoes be the sound of peace.
May others in the church and the community welcome your approach,
may the sound of your coming be the sound of reconciliation and love.
The sound of your footfall must be unlike the sound of a legion,
it will be a glad sound.
When a legion of soldiers was under attack
a standard means of defence was the Roman square.
The soldiers on the perimeter would lock shields and the men in the centre would hold their shields above their heads. (SLIDE)
This protected the legion against among other things burning arrows.
If men are marching in a square
and burning arrows rain down upon them
the panic that would ensue would destroy the order and
the legion would be open to destruction.
Therefore shields protected them.
Note the shield just didn’t protect you
it protected others as well.
They carried the shield for each other.
So Paul says to protect the unity of the church carry the shield of faith and the word faith can mean fidelity.
Faithfulness towards and for, the rest of the congregation.
Faithfulness towards each other.
There are burning arrows being shot at you writes Paul, and they are from evil people.
The term, evil One simply means evil people
people who try to destroy the unity of a congregation.
And the burning arrows can be anything that disrupts.
Something as simple as other things happening when the church meets for worship that call members of the church away would be one.
That’s a lack of fidelity or faithfulness to others in the congregation who rely on you to join them when the church meets on Sundays to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.
Another example is of people who want to destroy the unity of the church.
I have experienced people join a congregation because it is safe, and then set about to destroy the unity of that congregation
by leading the weak minded astray.
I was speaking recently to a woman who son is a minister of a church
that was going swimmingly until certain
people arrived and began to disrupt it.
Their words are like fiery darts disturbing and threatening unity.
So when they come, each of us is required to hold the shield of fidelity
faithfulness for each other.
Only such fidelity
can quench the burning arrows.
Sometimes the fiery darts come from without.
So when they come
and you hear people being discredited or gossiped about
raise your shields of fidelity faith, to protect the ones being gossiped about and stop those fiery destructive darts
before they can damage the unity of the body.
Now we come to the helmet.
I was once approached by a new Christian who asked me if I was saved. I told him words to the effect of, I believed I was the beloved child of God
and that nothing could separate me from God’s love
to which, after asking some other questions he concluded I wasn’t, and
unless I said certain things, and did certain things I was, translated loosely,
heading for hell on a broomstick.
Telling him that hell as he understood it, in my view if God was love, was an oxymoron didn’t help at all.
For the church at Ephesus there were all sorts of ways to appease the gods
to get salvation, get their protection.
And as new Christians they had to contend with the question: is believing in the grace of God all that’s required or is there more?
So Paul says protect your thinking and get rid of all your intellectual fears by encasing your head, your brain, with the helmet of salvation. You are God’s beloved. By grace you have been saved through God’s faithfulness it is not your own doing!
Believe it and don’t be led astray by those who rely on their own works.
Remember says Paul, human nature always tends to divide and condemn
the Holy Spirit always unites.
Therefore take up the Word of God as the sword of the spirit.
And in this context it is not the Bible rather it appears to mean whatever God gives you at that time, for that situation.
And because it is the sword of the Spirit
it will always be a word that builds up and encourages
and brings hope and life and unity.
So your defence is to respond by blessing the attacker.
When you are judged do not judge in return leave it to God;
you instead try to break down the division.
Someone condemns you – just ask God to bless them.
If there is anything we all need as Jesus followers it is this. If there is anything we need to build up the church
and save it from destruction it is this.
The sad thing I hear as I move around is how many congregations
have people with a spirit of bitterness it’s epidemic! People complaining
because they feel left out or neglected.
It’s like the story of the church that had an abundance of warm fuzzies to share with the community
and they handed them out with glee.
Until a bitter person suggested if they kept doing that they would run out of warm fuzzies. So they started to give cold prick-lies instead.
In the end, they sat around navel gazing and being right
while the people about them in the community
died because without warm fuzzies,
without love there is no life.
Paul concludes by asking us to pray continually. I want to suggest that life, all of life for the believer
is prayer. There becomes no thought, no interaction that you and I engage in that is not prayer for all life is holy
and all things are holy
and God fills all things and all people with His presence.
We cannot say or think or act without it being in the presence of God
and as such it is an interaction with God.
Think about it.
If God fills the whole universe with his presence there is nowhere that God is not.
And no conversation that God is not part of and responding to us in.
And that’s all – a brief summary of Ephesians.
By the way this letter was written about the mid thirties AD.
About 100 years later, 80% of Ephesus was Christian.
Their loyalty, faithfulness, humility, knowledge of God’s love
and an abiding sense of God’s spirt enabled them to
survive the persecutions that came.
All the other so called spiritual powers faded into insignificance
in the light of the love of God.
Now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.
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