We are living in a tumultuous time. A controversial president is sitting in the White House, Russia is interfering in elections throughout the free world, and North Korea racing to develop nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Congress is struggling to reform the healthcare system. And the LGBTQ community is actively working to change long accepted standards of sexual morality. What are Christians to make of all of this?
One response is to take political action – to organize, canvass and raise funds. Yet the Bible makes it clear that there is more to the world’s problems than just special interests at work in Washington. There is a spiritual dimension to the conflict, and it will take more than just political action to make things right. We are, in fact, locked in a spiritual war.
“”For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12: NKJV). What we are up against is not just “flesh and blood,” the natural human and physical forces we encounter in everyday life, but rather “principalities” (“rulers” – NASV, ESV), “powers” (“authorities” – ESV), “rulers of the darkness of this age,” “the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Paul had previously introduced these sinister forces in chapter 2, verse 2 when he said that the unsaved “walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience . . .” What is going on in the world is positively evil, and it plays into the hands of Satan himself in his rebellion against God. He is the one who “works in the sons of disobedience,” and has blinded their eyes (II Cor. 4:4) These spiritual forces are not bound by the laws of nature and human psychology, and hence social pressure and marketing techniques are of no avail against them.
What is needed is something greater, something more powerful. And so Paul tells his readers, “be strong in the Lord and in power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). We must look outside of ourselves, to God Himself, for the strength to prevail.
To illustrate the point Paul borrows some metaphors from the military realm. “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (v. 11). He then elaborates in verses 14-17 where he describes the individual pieces of armor. Some of the imagery is drawn from passages in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, describing the Messiah armed for battle.
So what do we need in order to succeed in the Christian life and ministry? The first thing that Paul mentions is “having girded your waist with truth” (v. 14). The first thing we need is absolute sincerity of heart and mind. “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts . . .” (Ps. 51:6). We must sincerely believe and practice what we preach. Hypocrisy will get us nowhere in the Christian life and ministry.
The next piece of armor that Paul mentions is “the breastplate of righteousness” (v. 14), or “the breastplate of faith and love,” as he calls it in I Thess. 5:8. The war in which we are engaged is primarily a conflict between good and evil. By living a righteous life we advance the cause of Christ and frustrate the plans of the devil. Christ is glorified when His people are living examples of what the Christian life is supposed to be like.
Paul then says that we are to have “shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (v. 18). Here the reference is undoubtedly to Isa. 52:7:
“How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!’”
The church is to go forth and proclaim a message, the “good news” of salvation. This is what the church has to offer to the world, the message to which men and women are invited to respond. If we are to fulfill the Great Commission we must make sure that we get the message right.
Then we are to take up “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (v. 16). The Roman shield was a large, oblong shield made of wood and covered with leather. The “fiery darts” were darts or arrows dipped in pitch and set on fire. Thus when the darts would hit the shield they would be blunted and extinguished. The “fiery darts of the wicked one” would include temptations, accusations and outright persecution. To counter Satan’s attacks what is needed is faith – faith in God’s goodness and power to deliver us.
Next Paul mentions “the helmet of salvation” (v. 17), or as he calls it in I Thess. 5:8, “the hope of salvation.” We fight the battle in the confidence that no matter what befalls us in this life we have been saved and have been promised eternal life.
And then finally Paul comes to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (v. 17). Interestingly this is the only offensive weapon mentioned in the passage. Here “the sword of the Spirit” is identified as “the word of God,” and the word for “word” (rema) refers specifically to the spoken word. It is Scripture, as originally inspired by God Himself, and it is Scripture as it is faithfully proclaimed today. Moreover it is “the sword of the Spirit” – it was originally inspired by the Holy Spirit, and it is used today but the Holy Spirit to convict sinners. And is this not the major weakness of the church today? We are liable to hear anything and everything from the pulpit today except a careful but forceful exposition of Scripture. And man’s word cannot replace God’s.
All of these things constituted “the whole armor of God.” They are the result of God’s grace at work in our lives, and are the practical means by which Christ advances His kingdom. In this way we can be “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”
And here we can see the necessary ingredients for an effective ministry. It is not necessarily education or technology or financial resources. It is a life lived close to God, it is personal holiness, and it is the blessing and power of the Holy Spirit on God’s Word as it is proclaimed to mankind. May we consecrate our lives to Him, and seek the filling of His Spirit!