Strength For The Battle
I remember it well. I remember sitting at the table in the library of my childhood church, listening to my Wednesday night Bible leader teach on the armor of God passage in Ephesians 6:10-17. I remember the coloring sheet of the cartoonish Roman soldier fully fit with his armor. On each piece, the corresponding gift or virtue was written. On his belt was written truth. On his breastplate, righteousness. On his feet Gospel was written, and on his shield was written faith. His helmet was emblazoned with salvation, and on his sword was etched Word of God. As we colored each piece, the teacher gave us a lesson on the power of each of these gifts and virtues, and the importance of putting them on each morning when we rose.
You would correctly suspect that this passage appealed to a young boy. I envisioned myself as a buff warrior in an epic battle with the devil, slashing him with my sword and watching him suffer for all the wrongs he has wrought on humanity. But there was a disconnect between my inward intention and what actually was. In reality, I knew my weaknesses. Despite my best effort, my armor seemed shoddy and ineffective. In my battles with sin and temptation I failed. In my effort to spread the gospel, I shrank back. My attempts to extensively memorize the truths of God’s Word, so as to wield it when necessary, stood lacking. I felt like God’s armor fit as well on me as King Saul’s armor fit on David when he was about to fight Goliath. And my response was also the same as David’s: “This isn’t going to work. I’m better off on my own.”
Later I realized how that very thought was my problem to begin with. The problem was not with God’s armor. Its virtues were not deficient. They were perfectly sufficient. The issue was that I thought I had to acquire God’s armor for myself rather than receive the armor he freely supplies. I saw the lists of gifts and virtues described in this text as a recipe for impressing God.
It wasn’t until preparing to preach this text, that I came to understand the “gospel-hardiness” of this passage. The “armor of God” passage is Paul’s closing battle cry to God’s people in the midst of a very real, yet very invisible war with the forces of evil. They are words of comfort and reassurance for a people that Paul had already described in chapter one as God’s chosen, adopted, forgiven children. In chapter two he describes them as the spiritually dead who have been made alive by God’s gift of faith in Christ. Holding this position marks those who believe for the enemy’s destruction. Believers need strength for his attacks. Paul reassures them that in this fight they are not left ill-equipped, trying to acquire armor for themselves. The words he uses don’t allow for this.
We see this first in Paul’s choice of words in verse 10. Most English translations of this verse say something like, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might.” However, Paul’s use of the passive voice shows that the believer’s strength comes from God. He makes us strong, not we ourselves. A clearer, also very faithful translation may be rendered, “Be strengthened by the Lord, namely by the strength that comes from his might.” He alone is the giver of strength.
Secondly, we see God’s equipping in the armor illustration itself. Paul does something interesting here. He reaches back to the Old Testament book of Isaiah to borrow language that refers to Jesus. In Isaiah 11:5 it says of the Branch, later revealed to be Jesus, that his belt would be faithfulness and righteousness. In Isaiah 49:2, the Servant, again, later revealed to be Jesus, would have a mouth (i.e. Words) like a sharp sword. In Isaiah 59:17 it says of the Lord, that he himself would come to be the mediator for the lost, wearing a breastplate of righteousness and a helmet of salvation. The armor that we are to wear can only be found in Christ. It’s the armor that Christ himself wore in battle as he rescued us from darkness and brought us into light. He alone can give it to us, and does give it to all who believe.
This is an immensely practical assurance. It means that the truth (v. 14) in which we are called to live, comes only from knowing Christ, who is the way, the TRUTH and the life. The righteousness (v. 14) that we are called to demonstrate in our lives is empowered by the declared, perfect righteousness given to all who trust in him. The readiness (v. 15) of our feet to courageously face the battle, comes, as the text states, “from the gospel of peace.” It is the good news of peace with God in Christ that readies our feet for the paths to which we are called. The faith (v. 16) that we have in his promises is a faith that is given to us by a faithful God. It’s the shield he has given us to protect us from our enemy’s lies and accusations. The salvation (v. 17) in which we stand was won for us by the One who first took up the helmet of our salvation as he died upon the cross. The sword (v. 17) that we are called to wield is the mighty and powerful Word of God, which came from his mouth to create faith in our hearts, sustain us and equip us. He gave us this Word to proclaim the light of salvation to those in darkness. In fact, it is through this Word, and only through this Word, that we can don our battle armor.
In your battle with the sins that beset you, in your unwillingness to forgive those who have wronged you, in your jealousy, pride or anger—in whatever way the invisible battle is made manifest in your life—remember that God has given to you the power and tools to live in his strength. If you are trusting in Christ, you are his child, and he equips his children with all they need for the battles they will face.