Put On the Whole Armor of God?

Ephesians 6:10-20 – August 6, 2017

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[a] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Today, Paul uses the imagery of armor, the language of war to speak about standing against the wiles of the devil. He uses this violence-inspiring imagery to speak about the mysterious gospel of peace. He uses symbols of the oppression of his community’s own experience living under occupation, and his own experience of being in jail. He uses words and images of the oppressor to speak about how we stand up to evil, the cosmic powers of darkness, in faith. He takes that language and uses it to prepare us for facing not just difficult things but to face evil itself. Let’s talk about this armor, shall we?

Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist: Not our truth, but the truth of God as we see and experience through Jesus Christ. I understand God’s truth to be of faithfulness, mercy, and love. Our truth on its own won’t stand a chance against the power of evil. We’d soon be resorting to redemptive violence, we’d hit back and call it God’s will.

and put on the breastplate of righteousness. Being made right with God is not our work, but it is the work that God does through Jesus Christ on us. It is not our own righteousness.

As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Well, isn’t that some freedom!? Choose your foot ware well.  Some days it might be sandals or your favorite pumps; your most comfortable shoes, hiking boots, shoes you only wear in the house. Or maybe it’s your mud boots, your work boots, your slippers. Choose whatever will help you proclaim the Gospel of peace.

With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Your faith tells you who you are; when you know that you are a child of God, nothing stands a chance to tell you anything different.

 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I know I look ridiculous, but, imagine for a moment that I’ve put on the armor of a Roman soldier, the very picture Paul was painting with his words. I’d be suitably ready for battle. I’d be well protected. Armed.

And this is the point at which I wrestle with this scripture. The imagery of armor and violence doesn’t seem to stand in solidarity with Jesus. Jesus did not raise an army, but disciples. This text challenges me when I get caught up in the language and imagery of war.

But when I step away from the imagery and think about what I am putting on: truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, Spirit – I realize the armor isn’t about battle. It is to prepare me to be vulnerable. It is the call to do as Jesus did and to walk into the fray. To face your enemy whether it’s a person or an addiction or a minority opinion. To join others in the darkness of their life. It is a call to stand up and face systems of injustice inflicting others. Because this is the armor you wear when you follow Jesus. When you are called into the heart of it.

Did you notice, we are not called into this battle with “charge!” or “attack!” or “fight!” Rather after we are suited up, Paul reminds us we are called to pray. Of all things. Pray in the spirit.

Corrine ten Boom was a Dutch woman who was a Christian whose family helped countless Jewish refugees escape the death camps. Their cover was blown and she and her family ended up in concentration camps.[1]

Here are 2 remarkable stories to share from Corrie ten Boom’s life while she was in one of the camps and then after she survived the camps. And in both stories, she is not far off from evil but in the midst of it, and I am convinced she is wearing the full armor of God.

(Joy for the Journey: Morning and Evening by Thomas Nelson)

After the war Corrie returned to her home in the Netherlands. She established a rehabilitation center for postwar refugees. In 1947 she happened to meet one of the prison guards who tormented her and her sister. In an excerpt from her autobiography The Hiding Place(1971), she described the chance meeting.

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I  had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives . . .

And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

The former guard walked up to her and told her he had become a Christian after the war. He did not recognize her, but he reached his hand out and surprised her by asking for her forgiveness.

And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

This is the armor we are clothed with, not for payback, not for revenge. It is not our righteousness, not our truth. It is Christ’s. It is grace and mercy that is not ours but comes only from God.

The word of the Lord guides us, prayer helps us stand our ground so then, we too can confront the evils in the world not with weaponry made of steel or plotted out with stunning technology. We are clothed in the righteousness of God, belted with the truth of God so that we might get up close and personal, face to face, beating heart to beating heart, with those with whom we disagree or hate. With those who have harmed us in seemingly unforgiveable ways.

It’s the armor God will clothe Crosby with in just a few minutes. He’ll be named a child of God and brought into a life where we are constantly called into do work and lead lives that seem outside of our realm of possibly. It is the mystery of the gospel. It is the mystery of faith.  Crosby, we promise will teach you to pray. Crosby, we promise we will teach you to find yourself in scripture, caught up in God’s love forever. Welcome to it, Crosby. We are with you and the promise is and will always be, God is with you.

Isn’t this just the best news?

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

 

 

[1] https://www.biography.com/news/corrie-ten-boom-story-quotes

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