Use God’s Full Armor
Sunday School Lesson for May 26, 2002
Be Strong and Stand Your Ground (6:10-13)
As the epistle comes to its conclusion, Paul addresses the reality of struggle, and even warfare in the Christian life. He summons his readers to readiness by calling them to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Far from being a life free from difficulties and adversities, Paul prepares his Christian brothers and sisters for the inevitable onslaught of the “devil’s schemes” or evil strategies. In order for believers to “stand,” or hold their post against the waves of diabolical devices, he lovingly commands them to “put on the full armor of God.”
The precise identity of the Christian’s enemy and the nature of the believer’s “struggle”—a word implying hand-to-hand combat and the personal nature of the battle—is now revealed (Vaughn, 131).
· First, negatively speaking, the believer’s war is “not against flesh and blood.” That is, human beings are not the ultimate enemy of the gospel and the church. There is a reality behind the human instruments that continually opposes the work of Christ and His people.
· The Christian’s enemy is, to the contrary, spiritual in nature. Note the comprehensive manner in which Paul speaks of these spiritual foes. They are described as “rulers,” “authorities,” “powers,” and “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” It is likely that these terms describe one reality from several perspectives. From this description it is clear that the spiritual enemy opposing the believer is indeed powerful and pervasive.
In light of the presence of a formidable enemy, Paul again calls upon his brethren to clothe themselves with the Lord’s “full armor” so that “when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground”—that is, to successfully resist the enemy and maintain your territory.
Check Your Equipment (6:14-18)
Having faced the reality of spiritual opposition organized against the church, Paul describes the equipment needed for the battle. As we study this passage, it will be important to carefully observe the connection between the type of armor listed and the nature of the spiritual warfare to which Paul is referring. That is, the armor is appropriate for the specific type of conflict Paul envisions. More will be said about this later in our study.
Six specific pieces of armor, consisting of both offensive and defensive weapons, are listed in the order that a soldier would actually put them on. With each of these securely in place the believer is to “stand firm”:
· One (v.14): The “belt of truth”—This depicts the belt that supported the long, flowing undergarments of the soldier. Both the breastplate and the sword (below) were attatched to this belt that also served to protect the lower abdomen in battle. To have the belt “buckled” implied that the soldier was prepared for the coming conflict. In Paul’s scenario, the “belt” that the Christian soldier is to wear consists of the “truth” which is found in the gospel of Christ. The significance of this piece of equipment is that it functions as a general statement concerning the knowledge of and belief in the truth of Scripture. The kingdom soldier, then, is called to be a man or woman who is committed to the Word of God. This weapon will enable the believer to withstand the lies of the devil that are always aimed at the church.
· Two (v.14): The “breastplate of righteousness”—This rather large piece of armor covered the body from the neck to the thighs and consisted of two principle parts. One shielded the front of the body and the other the back. The soldier in Christ’s army, therefore, is to be surrounded on all sides by “righteousness”—uprightness in character and a loyalty to the law of God. Yet, this does not simply refer to the believer’s righteousness but to that belonging to Christ, whose perfect obedience to God’s law and sinlessness is the basis for our justification. It is, then, the righteousness of justification that shields the believer from the attacks of the enemy.
· Three (v.15): The “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”—This is a reference to the heavy shoes worn by the Roman soldier which were specially designed for battle. To have them “fitted” meant to strap them on tightly so as to guarantee sure footing. Some soldiers, in fact, would drive nails through the soles of their shoes to increase traction. Here, however, the soldier of Christ is to stand upon the firm ground of “peace”—the kind of peace that is the direct result of the gospel (see Isa. 52:7; Rom. 10:15). Vaughn notes that to “have a consciousness of peace with God and to live in tranquil communion with Him enables a man to fling himself into the battle with strong determination and calm assurance” (134).
· Four (v.16): The “shield of faith”—The soldier’s “shield” was a large, oblong piece of wooden armor measuring 4 x 2 ½ feet. It was specifically designed to protect the vital organs of the body from enemy missiles. To make it more impenetrable, it was covered with thick leather and saturated in water so that any “flaming arrows” from enemy troops would be extinguished upon impact. Otherwise, with his shield ablaze, the soldier might be inclined to lay it down thus make himself vulnerable to further enemy fire. The shield of the kingdom soldier, however, is his “faith”—an utter dependence upon God and a full confidence and trust in His Word. As the believer rests in the security of God’s promises and complete trustworthiness, the “flaming arrows of the evil one” will be “extinguished.” Perhaps the “arrows” that Paul has in mind would include doubts, fears, lust, worry, greed, tribulation, distress, envy, and a host of other such enticements. At any rate, the child of God must hold on to the shield at all costs, completely trusting in God’s provision of power to overcome.
· Five (v.17): The “helmet of salvation”—The soldier’s helmet was typically constructed of bronze and included flaps that would cover the cheeks and lower side of the face. Inside, the helmet was lined with sponge so that its heavy weight would be more bearable. The helmet was so sturdy that nothing short of an axe could penetrate its outer surface. In much the same way, the kingdom soldier’s helmet provides impenetrable protection from enemy attacks. This helmet, however, is composed of the believer’s “salvation”—the gift of eternal life from the gracious hand of God. The fact that we, as soldiers for Christ, are securely and eternally saved enables us to fearlessly enter the conflict with full assurance of victory.
· Six (v.17): The “sword of the Spirit”—The only offensive weapon in the soldier’s possession was his short, but very deadly “sword.” That it is linked to the ministry of the Holy Spirit indicates that it is a weapon supplied and empowered by the Spirit of God. Note that Paul further defines this weapon as the “word of God.” For the most powerful illustration of this sword in action we need only to remember Jesus’ confrontation with the devil in the wilderness (see Matthew 4:1-11; cf. Isa. 59:17; Rev. 19:15). The believer, then, is to find protection in the Scriptures, particularly in the promises of God’s faithfulness, but also to use the Word of God offensively in order to penetrate the enemy’s territory with the gospel of Christ.
From this detailed description of the armor to be worn by the disciple of Christ we learn something very important regarding the kind of battle we are in. Note that each weapon represents a Christian doctrine. That is, each component delineated by Paul corresponds to one of the essential truths of the gospel itself. This strongly suggests that spiritual warfare is a battle for truth. Satan’s most powerful weapon is the lie, more specifically, false doctrine. This is also evident in the wilderness encounter between Jesus and the devil. Even earlier, we see the same satanic strategy employed in Genesis 3:1 where the devil asks, “Indeed, has God said . . . ?” (for more on this issue see David Powlison, Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare. Baker Books, 1995)
Pray for Others (6:18-20)
Having been clothed with the armor of God, Paul now stresses the vital necessity of intercessory prayer on behalf of all believers. He calls the church to continual, consistent, and fervent prayer. As Dr. Vaughn reminds us, prayer “is the means by which the Christian takes his stand and is the spirit or temper in which he confronts the enemy and puts him to flight” (136). Note the unusual way Paul speak of this responsibility:
· “pray in the Spirit”—That is, to pray under the prompting, leadership, and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
· “at all times”—In addition, prayer is appropriate and necessary at all times, especially during intense spiritual conflict (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17).
· “with all kinds of prayers and requests”—Perhaps this indicates that prayer may take on a number of forms, depending upon the person involved as well as the particular situation being faced.
· “be alert”—This reminds us that watchfulness and awareness are also required of the Christian soldier. Note that this command has special reference to alertness in prayer and seems connected to the thought expressed by Jesus in (Luke 21:36).
· “always keep on praying for all the saints”—Finally, Paul repeats his earlier charge to make intercessory prayer a continual exercise. Every saint is to pray for every saint and, thus, all are shielded from attack.
Paul concludes this section of his letter with a personal and passionate appeal to his brothers and sisters for their support in prayer. His deep concern and urgent request is that “whenever I open my mouth, words may be given to me.” Here we see Paul’s utter dependence upon God for the success of his preaching and evangelistic ministry. Clearly, his confidence was not in his knowledge, strength, or strategy, but in the sovereign God who called him to apostleship. It is also significant that though Paul believed so strongly in God’s sovereignty in salvation (Eph. 1:4ff), he recognized that the work of gospel preaching would be powerless apart from prayer.
Paul was also desirous of speaking in ways that brought glory to God and clearly and faithfully exposed the message of salvation. The repetition of the word “fearlessly” indicates a primary concern of the apostle—that he could boldly and freely declare the “mystery of the gospel.” F. F. Bruce paraphrases this as the prayer that Paul would “say the right thing, in the right way, and do so without inhibitions” (413). It is obvious, therefore, that both spiritual warfare and the faithful proclamation of the gospel message depend upon prayer.