(Shout out to John Boys)
Ephesians 6:10-20 ESV
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.
These days, it seems to me that every day represents some kind of open warfare. Either we are struggling with principalities and powers or with our own fears and doubts.
In today’s Epistle lesson Paul instructs us on how to choose our weapons and how to use them, our weapons being the “Armor of God”. A long time ago one of my favorite songs was about the Armor of God and I eventually memorized all of the pieces: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of peace, the helmet of salvation, and the song called the shield “the mighty shield of faith”, and finally, the Sword of the Spirit, our only offensive weapon.
All Christians have this armor at their disposal. It is to be used and put on daily, not to be left in the closet, and not just used on special occasions. We wear it so that we can stand in our daily battle and withstand the assaults of the enemy, and not just a few assaults, but all assaults of our enemies, which is what we pray in our Morning Prayer Office when we say “Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defence, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This armor of God is necessary whether we consider our own weaknesses or the enemy’s strength. We are not to put on the armor of the flesh, for as we learn in Jeremiah 17:5 “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. We are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against principalities and power, and, in verse 12, against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
We wear the belt of truth (some have referred to it as a “corset”) against heresy, the helmet of salvation against despair, and bear the shield of faith against infidelity to Christ. The helmet protects your mind, trust in He who is able to deliver you because what else does “salvation” mean?
We know from our readings in Genesis and elsewhere that Satan is a liar and a murderer, able to transform himself into a serpent or a dragon. He tried to deceive Christ, he did deceive Adam and Eve, and he will deceive us if we do not hold fast to the Truth, as it is written, “Test all things; hold fast [to] what is good.” (1 Thess 5:20). Also in 1 Thessalonians Paul tells us “…let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him”.
Some have commented that the breastplate only covers the chest, I would argue that even back then the breastplate armor covered you front and back but if an enemy archer put a well placed shot into your spine it would go right through your armor. Don’t believe me? Before I had so many skeletal problems I was a pretty fair archer myself and even took deer with the bow. One day I was wandering around in the field and came across an old steel drum sitting in a dump. I decided that I would test the penetration power of my outfit and shot a wooden arrow halfway through the drum. Stripped the feathers right off, but the shaft itself was intact.
So, even though your back may be covered, it’s not a good idea to retreat, you’ll need to hold the shield in front of you to defend against archers. And the fiery darts spoken of in these passages are not necessarily the darts you play games with using a round cork board. They could be a javelin, an arrow, or dart, or any kind of missile hurled at you. The point is, whether you consider the darts real or metaphorical, our enemy Satan is playing for keeps, and we need to stand our ground. Face the enemy boldly, deploy the shield.
The preparation of the Gospel is our shoes, it allows us to step freely while we tend to the battle at hand.
And finally, the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, powerful in operation and sharper than any real two edged sword. The Bishop said that the Sword of the Spirit is sharp in a literal and mystical way, sharp in things temporal and sharp in things eternal, acute in moving us to virtue and acute in removing us from vice.
If the flesh entices you to sin, strike with the Sword of the Spirit. If Satan assaults your faith, strike with the Sword of the Spirit, in the same way that Christ did when he said “worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”. Matt 4:10.
Recently I read about Herbert K. Pililaau, who was from the Waianae area of Honolulu and drafted into the Army in 1951. Due to his deeply held Christian beliefs, Pililaau initially toyed with the idea of declaring himself a conscientious objector. However, for reasons known only to him, he decided against this and went ahead and reported for duty. Soon after Basic training he was sent to North Korea with the rank of Private First Class to join the 23rd Infantry Regiment. Upon arriving in Korea, Pililaau formally volunteered to be his company’s automatic rifleman, a risky and dangerous position that would see Pililaau facing the brunt of the enemy’s fire-power. When asked why he was so willing to volunteer for such a job, Pililaau very matter-of-factly explained: “Someone had to do it.”In the early hours of September 17, 1951, Pililaau’s position on top of a strategic hilltop was ambushed by North Korean soldiers. After a prolonged skirmish, his unit was forced to retreat. They then regrouped and charged the hill, with Pililaau leading the headlong assault.
By midday, Pililaau’s unit were again forced to retreat by yet another platoon of North Korean soldiers intent on taking the hill, which is when Pililaau made the decision that would make him a legend. A little after midday, Pililaau turned to his comrades and told them that he would stay and cover the retreat. As the U.S. soldiers retreated, he opened fire on the advancing enemy with his M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.
After safely executing their withdrawal, the U.S. soldiers watched helplessly from about 600 feet down the hill as Pililaau expended his ammunition. Out of bullets, he began hurling grenades at the closing troops. When Piliaau ran out of grenades, he began throwing rocks. When the enemy soldiers were nearly on top of him, he drew his trench knife and charged, stabbing with one arm and punching with the other. As his squad leader noted, There was Herb standing up, fighting a lot of the enemy. It was hand-to-hand and just Herb against all of them. We all wanted to go back up to help him, but the captain said, “No.” We tried to help Herb by firing a few shots, but they didn’t do any good. All of the sudden, they shot him and when he went down, they bayonetted him. That was it. The next day, U.S. soldiers found Pililaau’s body… and the bodies of about 40 North Korean soldiers he managed to kill before the advancing army had been able to take him down. Most of our battles are against principalities and powers and not against flesh and blood, although that sometimes happens, too.
We put on the Armor of God so that we may stand and withstand, like the young man in the preceding story. Christians in Holy war may comfort themselves with this: either God will end our danger or He will end our lives, then we will end up wearing white robes with palms in our hands and crowns on our heads, as Paul said in 2 Timothy 4: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness,which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be all honor and glory, now and forever, Amen.