Put on the Whole Armor of God!
Topic: Expository Scripture: Ephesians 6:10–24
Synopsis: Put on the Whole Armor of God! That is Paul’s command to us in Ephesians 6:11. This is the second message on Ephesians 6:10-24 and the believer’s spiritual battle. It is also the final message in our sermon series on the Book of Ephesians. The message examines each piece of equipment as the Christian soldier puts it on and prepares for battle.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood…
The walk of faith is difficult because we face a formidable enemy. The devil and his forces are opposing us every step of the way, seeking to keep us out of the will of God and to keep us pinned to the mat of disobedience and sin, of fear, discouragement and spiritual defeat.
This is the second message on this final section of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It is also the final message in our series on the Book of Ephesians. It is an appropriate ending to the series. After three chapters expounding on our incredible riches in Christ, and another three chapters exhorting us to walk in a manner worthy of our identity as the adopted sons and daughter of God, Paul concludes with this section on spiritual warfare. He does so not to frighten us or to discourage us, but to alert us and to exhort us to “be strong in the Lord.”
Last week, we focused on verse 10-13, and the nature of our enemy and of the battle we are engaged in. If you missed that message, please read it or listen to it on the church website, because that message and this one really need to go together.
Today we want to take a closer look at the command to “Put on the whole armor of God.” The phrase “whole armor” is just one word in the original language; “panoplian” or “panoply”. But this one word was used to summarize the entire equipment or necessary “accoutrements” of warfare, including both armor and weapons.
So, what is this equipment that will enable us to stand against the devil and against the “cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”?
At a first reading of the list, I must confess to a certain sense of disappointment. A great enemy is attacking! Get ready! Take…truth, righteousness, faith, prayer? What kind of armor is this? Where is my AK-47 and my tank?
A spiritual battle requires spiritual armor and spiritual resources. And if we understand the true nature of the battle, we will begin to understand how this armor will provide us with the protection and resources we need. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
So let’s consider our spiritual resources together. I confess to a certain caution in approaching this passage. Over the years that I’ve been reading and studying this passage, I have tried to discern the precise symbolism to each piece of the soldier’s equipment. For example, why is truth the waistband, and righteousness the breastplate, and not the other way around?
What feeds my caution in this approach is the fact that even Paul himself is not consistent in his application of the metaphor. In a similar passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 we read this: But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. In this passage, the breastplate is identified as “faith and love” whereas in Ephesians, the breastplate is identified as “righteousness” and faith is the shield.
My conclusion is that we should not press the details of the analogy. Rather, Paul is using a simple but effective memory aid; a teaching tool to fix these spiritual resources firmly in our minds. Roman soldiers were a common sight in Paul’s day; especially in Rome and especially in prison. It is very possible that Paul had one sitting just outside his prison cell as he wrote these words. He lists the various items in the order in which a soldier would have put on his armor and equipped himself for conflict.
I do want to highlight one thing; that each of the elements that make up our armor and equipment is a direct confrontation and contradiction of the character of our evil adversary and his kingdom. I will point this out as we go through them.
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…
Before putting on his armor, the soldier would first gather up his own clothing, which was often loose and flowing, and tie it tight around him with a belt. This belt, Paul identifies as “truth”. But is this “truth” in the sense of truth we know? Or is this “truth” in the sense of being a truthful person; one who tells the truth and is transparent and honest in interpersonal interactions?
The commentators are divided and I have not been able to come to a firm conclusion on the matter – so maybe it’s both. Remember that Satan is known as the “father of lies” and one who has been a liar from the beginning. His whole kingdom is predicated on lies. He will lie to us. So we must be prepared to counter his lies with God’s truth. And he will also tempt us to lie. When we lie, we follow the devil’s methods and we fall into his trap. There is an old expression that says, “Tell the truth and shame the devil.” We might alter that a bit: “Tell the truth and defeat the devil.” He is the one who is tempting you to take the shortcut and lie to get out of trouble or gain some advantage.
So let us be people of the truth. Truth in what we believe and think and hold in our hearts and minds, and also truth in what we speak and communicate. Jesus announced that he was “the way, the truth and the life.” Satan is a liar. So one of the best ways to stand against Satan and stand up as a follower of Jesus is to stand up for truth in all of its manifestations.
Verse 14 continues: Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,
The breastplate was the next piece a Roman soldier would put on, covering his torso from shoulders to waist. The ancient breastplates were not made up of a single piece, but were made of either overlapping cow hooves, or pieces of hammered metal to deflect the arrows or spears or sword blows of combat. These were attached to a kind of vest which fastened at the back.
This breastplate we are to put on is identified as “righteousness”. Once again we face an interpretive question. What kind of righteousness is in view here? Is this the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ which we receive as a free gift when we are justified by faith in Jesus? Or is he speaking here of the righteousness of sanctification, whereby we become like Jesus with our own deeds of righteousness as we live in obedience to Jesus Christ and the leading of his Spirit?
And once again, I confess that I find myself unable to draw a firm conclusion between the two schools of thought on the subject. If we say that it is our own deeds of righteous obedience, I must admit that I feel incredibly vulnerable. When Satan tempts me to do evil, if the only defense I have to offer against him is my own obedience – I am very vulnerable to attack. There are far too many chinks in my armor! On the other hand, if I claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ as my defense against his attacks, yet I am failing to live in obedience to the Spirit’s transforming influence in my life – has not Satan yet claimed the victory? So I believe it will take both; a strong faith in the declaration of Romans 8:1 that there is “Therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” and that we stand in “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” as we are told in Romans 3:22. But this righteousness must be reflected in practical obedience to God and his standards as the Spirit of God transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ from one degree of glory to another.
Remember who our enemy is. He is identified in this passage as “the evil one.” What is the opposite of evil? It is righteousness. There is an evil kingdom under “the evil one” and there is a righteous kingdom under the rule of “the Righteous One”. Which one do we belong to? Christ’s righteousness, attributed to us by faith and reflected in us by obedience is our defense against all of Satan’s efforts to drag us back into the mire and slime of disobedience, guilt and shame.
The next thing the soldier would do is to strap on his footgear. These were sturdy sandals, strapped firmly to the feet, with numerous hobnails to give the soldier a solid grip to enable him to stand firm and hold his ground without slipping.
Verse 15 tells us: and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.
The key to our interpretation here lies in the translation of the word “readiness”. Unfortunately, the original Greek vocabulary word that is used here is ambiguous, which has led to two different interpretations. One use of the term describes readiness and preparedness. Ready for action, ready for advance. So the readiness here might be the eagerness to share the gospel message and to advance the gospel. While this should certainly be true of us as followers of Christ, I do not believe that is the intended emphasis here. The other use of the word is to describe a solid grip, or sound foundation. It is a preparation – not to advance but to stand firm and strong. This seems to better fit the context of the passage and the emphasis on standing and defending territory against hostile attack.
I believe what Paul is communicating here is the importance, not so much of sharing the gospel message, but understanding the gospel message and being rooted and grounded in it. Satan hates the gospel. He wants to prevent its spread. But he also tries to attack it and undermine it where it is already established.
Let’s look at a passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In Galatians 1:6-9 we read:
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
So, who do you think was trying to distort the gospel and deceive the Galatian believers to follow a wrong path? The Bible makes it clear. Look at 2 Corinthians 11:3-4:
3 But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
Satan is always trying to deceive us and to distort the gospel by peddling counterfeits.
I am also struck by the description of the gospel here as “the gospel of peace.” What was in Paul’s mind as he wrote those words? The obvious application that leaps to mind is that we will experience peace (or peaceful feelings) when we believe in and receive the gospel. While this is true, this is only part of what Paul is referring to. There is a larger “peace” in view. There is the great truth that through the gospel, we are reconciled to God and have peace with him. Romans 5:1 states: Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is a wonderful truth. But even that is not all that is included in understanding that our gospel is a gospel of peace. If we think of the whole context of the Book of Ephesians, we may recall an earlier passage in chapter 2, where Paul talks about the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles that has now been broken down in Christ.
Let’s go back to that in Ephesians 2:13-17:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.
Peace in all of its manifestations is part and parcel of the gospel message, and we need to be firmly grounded in the gospel. It is quite remarkable how much of the New Testament epistles are given over to the countering of false teachers and false doctrines. And the basic message that is always under attack is the gospel. So, one of our best defenses against the spiritual forces of darkness is to be well and truly grounded in the gospel message. Satan is a master counterfeiter and the author of other gospels which are not gospels (or good news) at all. The best way to recognize a counterfeit is to be very, very familiar with the real thing. That is the emphasis of this piece of our equipment.
Waist belted. Breast plate on. Sandals strapped onto feet. As the soldier prepared for battle he would next take up his shield. The word Paul uses describes the large shield of the Roman infantry; a long, oblong or oval shape, approximately 4 feet in length and 2 ½ feet in width. It was made of wood, slightly curved and covered with a heavy cloth or leather which was soaked in water before going into battle.
Ephesians 6:16: In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
The shield is identified as “faith”. So, is this saving faith? “By grace are you have been saved through faith.” Is this the faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord that is required for our salvation? Or is this faith in the sense of trust in God in all the circumstances of life? Once again, I think it includes both. But the particular emphasis here seems to be on trust. Trust in God, in his Word, in his sovereignty, in his wisdom and above all in his character as a good God.
In the very first temptation in Genesis 3 in the Garden of Eden, Satan’s strategy was to question both the word and the character of God. He did it with an insidious question: “Did God actually say…” “Are you sure you heard right? Would a good God actually say such a thing?”
Satan’s fiery darts often come in the form of questions. “Does God really love you? Do you think God really cares about you? Do you think he really has enough power to handle this situation? Is God really in control? Is he truly wise? If he was good and wise, why would he allow this to happen? Are you sure he loves you?”
Fast and furious, the fiery darts fly. In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith and trust in God. With it, you can extinguish all those flaming darts.
Next comes the helmet. Verse 17: and take the helmet of salvation…
The helmet, usually made of metal or some kind of heavy leather, protected the head from mortal blows from sword or spear. Here the helmet is identified as “salvation.” At first glimpse, this may sound strange since Paul is obviously writing to “saints”, people who have already trusted in Christ for their salvation. The parallel passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:8-9 comes to our aid, where Paul tells us to take “for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
One of Satan’s favorite tactics is to trick us into doubting our salvation. The hope of our salvation, the certain knowledge that we shall spend eternity with Christ because of the divine work of Christ when he died for our sins on the cross and rose from the grave to declare his victory over sin and death – that hope, that confidence that our eternal destiny is secure – that is the helmet that protects us from Satan’s doubts, Satan’s lies. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. That is the hope of salvation. God always finishes what he begins. He began the good work of salvation in you. He will bring it to completion.
And finally, with waist belted, breastplate on, shoes strapped in place, shield in hand, helmet on, the soldier picks up his sword. This is not the long sword, but the shorter one – better suited to hand to hand combat. This sword is as much a weapon of defense as offense – used to parry the sword blows of the adversary.
The sword is described as “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” And it is instructive that Paul uses the Greek word “rema” here, and not “logos”. “Rema” refers to the spoken word of God. The word of God when it is articulated and spoken into a situation.
When I was young, I used to enjoy “sword drills” when I was in Sunday School. We would hold up our Bibles or “swords” in the air until the teacher gave us the reference and said “Go!” Then we would see who could be the first to find the verse. The Bible is a sword. But it is not much use sitting on a shelf. And we can’t pick it up and swing it at our enemy. We must take it into our minds and onto our lips. The “logos” must become the “rema”, the spoken and specific word of God in defense against one of Satan’s specific attacks.
Of course the One who gave the master lesson on using the Scripture this way was Jesus himself, when he was tempted in the desert. To each of Satan’s temptations, Jesus responded by saying, “It is written…” and then quoted from the Word of God. This is our sword, to turn aside the attacks of the evil one.
Paul then concludes this section on spiritual armor and spiritual warfare with the verse I used in the conclusion to last week’s sermon. Not a separate piece of equipment, but an essential element to each of the others and to the very battle itself: praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
Our successes or failures, our victories or our defeats on the field of spiritual battle will be a direct correlation of our prayer life and in direct proportion to our perseverance in prayer. This includes both public and private prayer. It includes both intensive times of extended prayer and the short bursts of prayer in the heat of battle. It should be prayer for ourselves. And it should also include intercession for others as they too endure the heat of battle. As I said last week, prayer is the essential link between the visible, everyday world in which we live, and the “heavenly places” and spiritual realms from which our enemy fires his darts, and where our spiritual resources lie.
We wrestle not against flesh and blood. But then our weapons and our armor are not of the flesh either. They are spiritual and have divine power. Prayer is our access to those spiritual resources and the key to releasing their divine power into our lives.
One final verse of encouragement to close this message on spiritual warfare. It is found in the Book of Romans, chapter 16 and verse 20:
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
The battle is fierce. But always remember: we are on the winning side and we are battling a defeated enemy. Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
- Read the passage together. (This passage raises a number of interpretive questions that are worthwhile discussing together. Here are some of them.)
- Is the belt of truth referring to truth as something we know, or to being truthful people (people who speak truthfully and do not lie)? What are the implications of the two interpretations?
- Is the breastplate of righteousness speaking of the righteousness of justification (Christ’s righteousness attributed to us by faith) or the righteousness of sanctification (our deeds of righteousness done in obedience to Christ’s commands). What are the implications of your answer?
- Is the “readiness given by the gospel of peace” referring to an eagerness to share the gospel or the importance of being rooted and grounded in the gospel message? Why do you think Paul refers to it as the “gospel of peace”?
- Is the shield of faith referring to saving faith or faith as trust in God in the ongoing struggles of life? What are the implications of your answer?
- Even though a sword is normally thought of as an offensive weapon (weapon of attack), the sword short described by this particular word was equally useful in defense to parry the blows of an enemy. Discuss the implications of this and particularly how Jesus used Scripture when he was tempted. What lessons do we learn?
- Why is prayer so important to our lives as followers of Christ? How important is it in your life?