For a few weeks, we have been exploring Christian Spirituality through the lens of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. We have learned much in our time together. We learned Christian Spirituality acts on the belief that God loves loving us and He made us to be his own children. We learned that we, in our Christian Spirituality, act on the belief that God sent Jesus to show us the excellent way to live and to remove from us the burden of sin. We also learned that we, in our Christian Spirituality, act and move like Jesus by cooperating with the power of the Holy Spirit embedded within us.
A Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in his contemplations about such matters as Christian Spirituality said we must see that, “"We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience."
Christians are indeed spiritual beings. Being made new in Christ as spiritual beings, Paul shared with the Ephesians that they were now designed for a unified relationship with others in the church. As a church, they, now we, form the body of Christ with all its gifts and talents to build up each part of the body. We also learned that in our maturing through the church, we can then create homes and family relationships that a loving and sacrificial, rich in the grace of Christ. This is the Christian Spirituality Paul has spoken of thus far in his letter to the Ephesians.
Now we come the end of his letter and Paul began his closing with these words, “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). As we look at Paul’s words here, “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” I want to make a brief point about the word “finally.” The word “finally” here does not mean Paul is introducing a new final thought. The word “finally” here does not mean after pages and pages of writing Paul was at the end of all his thoughts. “Finally,” here means Paul is connecting his thoughts of the spiritual nature of Christianity at the end of the letter with the thoughts at the beginning of the letter and throughout the letter.
We might remember Paul said in the beginning, “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Paul began his letter as a spiritually rich letter.
We might remember in the middle of the letter, Paul wrote, “14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19). Paul’s desire at the mid-point of his letter was that the Ephesians would remember the power by the Spirit of God strengthens in their inner being.
Paul then at the end of the letter said, “10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10). Paul was reminding his readers that life in Christ was a spiritual life in which the followers of Jesus could appropriate power from the Lord to live the life God desired. Paul then offered an illustration intended to show the power available to us from God.
Paul said, “11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11-12). Many sermons have been preached on the armor of God and the specific elements of that armor that Paul will later cite.
If we searched the Internet for images for Paul’s words almost every website that provides a graphic presents Paul’s words through the image of a Roman solider, standing upright and strong. The soldier is equipped with a properly fitted body armor, a helmet, a sword, proper shoes, shield, and a belt. The soldier appears as a brave warrior ready to deal a death blow to a foe coming across the field of battle. It strikes me that this common image of Paul’s words, this magnificent Roman soldier, is incorrect for two key reasons and that that common image may lead us away from what Paul intended for us to understand.
First, the common image of this battle-ready Roman soldier is wrong because any soldier appearing in battle in this manner would have quickly killed. While it is true that Roman soldiers had equipment such as we imagine, it would have been unimaginable for that soldier to go into battle alone. Roman soldiers had no strength on their own, but they were a formidable force when they fought alongside other soldiers as a phalanx with perhaps as few as 16 soldiers or as many as 1500 soldiers. That mass of men and muscle then moved as one body, one unit. There walked so closely together that there was no room for an enemy to get between them. When attacked by arrows, those in facing the enemy used their shields to protect the front of the group, those on the edges used their shields to protect the side of the unit, and those in the middle held their shields over the heads of all to protect from above. When Paul says you must put on the armor of God, he is using the plural of you. You, all those who comprise the body of Christ, the church, must work together and be equipped for mutual defense with the armor of God. I do not believe Paul ever meant for the Ephesians or us to see ourselves as soldiers standing alone.
Second, the image of a soldier dressed for combat against a mortal enemy is wrong because Paul says our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the forces of darkness. If we think of ourselves or our church as carrying combat equipment to face a mortal enemy, other people, then we have Christian Spirituality all wrong. Our battles are not against other people. It is most assured no against others who claim Christ nor is against our neighbors even if they do not claim Christ. We are, together, not individually, to be equipped for spiritual battle against the forces of darkness. That is why I believe the image of a solitary soldier dressed for mortal combat sends us down the wrong path for what Paul is saying.
Allow me to give you a very personal example. A few years ago, I was providing counsel to a man after one of his children died by suicide. He was a Christian as was his child. His grief was all consuming. One day as we talked, this Christian man, said to me, “I have been having dark thoughts.” I asked him, “What do you mean by ‘dark thoughts?’” He said he thought it would be best if he joined his child and that he too die by suicide. I asked the man if he had a plan to take his life. He said he did. He said there was a knife at his home that someone brought back from World War 2. He planned to use that knife to end his life.
Think for a moment what the man said and then think about Paul’s words, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This man, this Christian was being attacked by spiritual forces of darkness and evil. Those dark forces had found their way into his spirit, into his strength. He felt alone in his battle. But the armor of God was not given to a person to be on their own. The armor of God was given so that we could work together with other Christians as a unit. And so, I said to this man, “How would it be if we went to your house, we retrieved the knife, we returned to the church, and we stored the knife in the church? Anytime you want the knife back, we could meet at the church and pick it up again.” He said that would be a good plan for us to follow. We ended our session. We retrieved the knife and we stored it at the church in a safe location. The next week when we met to counsel, this man said he no longer had the dark thoughts or desire to die because he no longer possessed the knife. The ranks of those bearing the armor of God and closed tight such that the enemy could find no room between them.
The experience with this man struggled against the darkness showed me that we are called to fight the spiritual battle not on our own but with brothers and sisters who are able to close the gaps that could let the spiritual enemy through the armor. The Old Testament tells us: 9 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Paul’s words in his letter to the church is about us suddenly going on our own as a self-sufficient soldier, but as the church, the believers, coming together in God’s strength not to battle other people but to defend ourselves in the spiritual battles of darkness in the world.
Having made this point, Paul, in verse 13, repeated, “13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Twice Paul said to put on the armor of God. Twice Paul said it is for a spiritual protection. And twice Paul said it is to be done that we could stand together. We naturally would want to know, what is the armor of God?
Paul explained it this way using six piece of equipment each of which represents a measure of spiritual strength from God. Paul talked about the spiritual strength of truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God. Let’s look at these spiritual powers that come from God.
We begin with truth. Jesus declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by Me” (John 14:6). He didn’t say He would show the truth or teach the truth or model the truth. He is the truth. Truth personified. Paul said earlier in his letter to the Ephesians said, “13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth (Ephesians 1:13). Paul’s point was finally, tie the truth of Christ around you as tightly as you would a belt.
We now turn to righteousness. Paul said earlier in his letter, “21 When you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus (that he died for your sins)…24 and (you then) put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:21, 24). We are to put on righteousness as though we were putting on a new garment given to us by God as his child.
Paul then turned his attention to the gospel of peace. We remember that Jesus had said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Paul echoed Jesus words earlier in his letter to the Ephesians when Paul said, “He himself (Jesus) is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). We have spiritual power when we remember Jesus established peace for us with God and other believers. That good news, that gospel, allows us to walk with confidence and strength.
Fourth, Paul spoke about faith. Paul had written, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Faith in God saves us, it shields us, from perishing in the spiritual battle.
Fifth, Paul cites salvation as armor of God. Paul had said earlier in his letter, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Salvation brings in the power of God’s Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit transforms our minds so that we can see the battles as spiritual not of the flesh. The seal of salvation, the Holy Spirit, protects our minds.
Lastly, Paul spoke about the word of God. Paul told the Ephesians previously, “11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:11-14). Relying on God’s Word, His knowledge, allows the church to cut like a sword through the philosophies that sound good but carry no truth.
I do not believe Paul expected his church to see themselves as warrior soldiers like a Roman soldier. Instead, I think Paul wanted his readers, and now you and me, to see that soldiers are equipped appropriate to the battle they are to fight, and they fight that battle together. We likewise must be equipped to fight the battles we face and to face them together. But our battles are not with each other or other people. Our battles are against spiritual enemies, darkness, and evil. We need truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and God’s Word.
When I think about the image Paul was painting through truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and God’s Word I do not see the image of a Roman soldier. I see the image of Jesus Christ. I hope we all see the image of Jesus Christ and we gather strength from him. I am glad you are here today to help gather up that strength we need from God, to put on full display truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and God’s Word. I am glad you are next to me, helping to ensure that there is no space between us for the enemy to make an inroad as together we face the spiritual battles that are ahead. Let us pray together.