Spiritual Armor of God
Spiritual Armor of God
We are well aware of the continuing war against terror in the Middle East and beyond. This war, like all wars before it, is violent with many casualties and deaths on both sides of the conflict. War and violence is present in history from the beginning of mankind. Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, violently murdered his own brother Abel. The Apostle Paul’s use of the language of armor and struggle in today’s Epistle reading from the 27th Sunday, Ephesians 6:10-17, is neither surprising nor misunderstood. In the early first century, the people of Israel already had a centuries-long history of military battles with surrounding tribes and nations. And in Jerusalem, the Roman army was the occupying/ruling force already for decades. However, in today’s Epistle, St. Paul is not speaking of physical violence and warfare. Rather, he speaks about spiritual warfare and he implies several analogies including violence. Spiritual warfare, just like military warfare, requires cunning strategy, firmness, resolve and violence, meaning swift, intense, rough, injurious force. Let me explain.
St. Paul says that our struggle is not against “enemies of blood and flesh” but against “spiritual forces of evil” (v.12). In other words, another person who hurts or harms us, who strikes us or slanders us, is not our real enemy. Rather, the real enemy is the demon(s) who influence and sometimes possess these very people to do such evil things. We are called to fight against evil in our interpersonal relationships but that rarely involves physical force or violence to do so. Nevertheless, the spiritual effort we exert and the weapons and tactics we use, require parallel methods of swiftness, intensity and roughness. Listen to Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: 12And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
According to ancient patristic interpretation, the Kingdom itself breaks into this world violently. For instance, through powerful miracles, alert and daring people take hold of it aggressively. Whoever is a hearer and lover of the Word of God takes the Kingdom “by force,” exerting all earnestness and desire to enter the reality of the Kingdom. For this Kingdom, martyrs shed their blood, making their confession of faith, being “made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1Cor.4:9). The Kingdom of Heaven belongs not to the sleeping or lazy. Rather, the violent take it by force. (OSB, p.32) Therefore, by resisting and fighting evil, we help to establish the Kingdom, or more correctly, we enter it and take possession of it.
How do we fight evil? It starts by taking-up the weapons that St. Paul mentions in today’s epistle. He uses a soldier’s armor to help us understand the importance of the battle and how to use the analogous spiritual armor and weaponry. Thus, soldiers of the first century wore a belt that girded them when the exerted great effort, and the belt. They wore a breastplate and shoes like modern day boots; a shield like body armor. They wore a helmet and finally a sword--their main weapon of both defense and offense. So, St. Paul is using very vivid, well-known imagery to show the Christians of Ephesus God’s spiritual armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. These belong to our armor and weaponry. Allow me to expand on his analogies.
A belt is used to gird and strengthen us. A weightlifter uses a belt to reinforce his abdominal and back muscles. A belt is also used to attach other armor or weaponry. When we are truthful and honest, especially with and about ourselves, we can name our weakness and sin. This helps us to confess it and strengthen our integrity and credibility. By being truthful with others in a caring manner, we can help them to do the same.
An ancient breastplate is the modern-day equivalent of body armor. It protects a soldier’s vital organs against bullets and shrapnel. Righteousness is doing good, doing the right thing. It is also the avoidance of doing the wrong thing or sinning. Righteousness protects our most vital spiritual organ, our soul, from the stain of sin. Just like evil begets more evil, righteousness can spread from one person to another.
Shoes or modern-day boots allow the soldier to walk, run and climb places he could not without them. Think of the of walking barefoot from your house to your car on a cold winter day versus using your shoes or boots. The gospel of peace is a gentle, calm and non-reactive demeanor that can help us to approach others and overcome anger, bitterness and resentment, both in us and in them.
A shield was a large round metal plate that a soldier would hold in front of himself to protect from the thrusts of spears, rocks thrown or arrows shot at him. A modern-day soldier has an armored vehicle for protection. Our faith, our total belief and trust in God’s mercy and protection shield us from “the flaming arrows of the evil one” (v.16). The Church Fathers equate these arrows to thoughts of envy, pride and lust that the demons constantly launch towards us. By making conscious effort to identify and reject these thoughts, by praying the Jesus Prayer, we lift up the shield of faith against these flames of passion.
A helmet is worn on the head, protecting another very vulnerable part of our body, our brain. Soldiers still use them today, 2,000 years later. Helmets have saved countless soldiers from blows that would render them unconscious, disabled or dead. Knowing and remembering the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and His life-giving Resurrection, we understand how He has saved us from sin and death. Thus, we are empowered to hope in Him and His salvation.
Lastly, a sword is a long, thin piece of metal with a sharp point to pierce and a sharp edge to cut, and a handle to wield about. This made it one of the most lethal weapons in ancient battlefields. St. Paul says the Holy Spirit is our sword against the devil. He also says this same sword is the Word of God (v.17). Listen to Jesus’ words about spiritual warfare and the sword.
Matthew 10: 34“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Hebrews 4: 12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Revelation 2: 12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
In today’s Gospel reading, from the Tenth Sunday of Luke (13:10-17), Jesus, who is the full personification of truth, righteousness, peace and faith, lays His hand upon the woman who had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years (v.11) and heals her (v.13). When the ruler of the synagogue criticizes Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (v.14), Christ does not respond by taking a swing at him or throwing a rock. Rather, He responds with the truth, calling the ruler a hypocrite for not following the Sabbath to the letter that he demanded from others. Jesus responds with righteousness pointing to the deeper meaning of the Law as a tool for physical and spiritual healing.
In conclusion, for a soldier to carry all his armor and weapons in battle is a huge load. For modern-day soldiers, all their equipment can way anywhere from 40-60 pounds. It takes great strength and endurance to just carry them, much less use them. To carry and use the armor of God is impossible for us to do alone. St. Paul instructs in the first verse of today’s passage to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power” (v.10). He did not say be strong in our own power. Jesus says in Matthew 1129Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Only by using God’s armor with His strength, can we fight against the spiritual forces of evil. We must never fight against each other, causing emotional and physical injury. However, if we are truthful, righteous, peaceful, and faithful we will cause numerous casualties for the demons and bring death to sin and evil. Amen!