Don’t you like to see a man or woman in a sharp, crisp looking uniform? Ever since the phrase rang out seventy years ago from the silver screen “There is something about a man in uniform!” it has been used as the title of articles, speeches, and even the opening of famous jokes. A sharp looking uniform attracts attention. The world over, we have come to appreciate a well-executed uniform that adds ceremony and distinctiveness to a setting. Cruise ships know that it is well worth it to maintain almost military style uniforms in relation to their crew – it makes passengers feel like the ship is in the hands of professionals. Police put on full regalia to honor their fallen because it shows their respect and the significance with which they hold the lives of their comrades. Even in a society that increasingly emphasizes the benefits of casual living, we continue to find comfort in the use of uniforms. They are a symbol of identity, belonging and special service.
There is a section of the letter to the Ephesians that carefully examined a kind of “uniform” – I have in mind more specifically the armored fighting apparatus of a Roman foot soldier. The purpose of the examination of armor was to offer a comparison to the powerful spiritual protections offered to the believer by God during the days of our current spiritual warfare. This “spiritual warfare armor” section of Ephesians is often cited in Christian circles (perhaps more than it is well-used), and the portion of Scripture has become familiar to most believers – but the importance of the battle and the potential of the damage of misuse demands that we take the time to re-visit the rich word pictures of that section with regularity.
If you have been following our series of lessons on Paul’s life, you know that we left him in the end of the Book of Acts, where he sat and awaited an opportunity for appearance before Emperor Nero. While he remained there, the Apostle Paul wrote four letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. We took a few lessons to look at the letter to the Ephesians – a letter that can easily be broken into three parts: The Call of the Believer (1-3); the Conduct of the Believer (4:1-6:9) and finally the Conflict of the Believer (6:10-20).
In our lesson on the Call of the Believer, we noted that Paul offered encouragement to believers that they were neither a mistake nor a surprise to God, but were ADOPTED and GIVEN AN INHERITANCE – as would have been the case with conquered armies of Rome. In the Conduct of the Believer section, we saw that instructions for behavior were offered by means of common Roman word pictures. We continue with pictures, but this time focus on a single, cohesive uniform of a Roman foot soldier in battle. The uniform was not decorative –each piece functioned to offer protection and assistance to one in conflict. The armor was costly but necessary. It’s use needed to be instructed by veterans in the Field of Mars training camp in Rome. Here is the truth Paul conveyed…
Key Principle: God offered us instructions on preparing for defense of our spiritual walk through a series of close-up pictures of Roman weaponry.
Let’s think back to the images and word pictures, to allow us to set the teaching from the armor in a context. We examined briefly six images well known to the Ephesian Roman citizens to instruct them on HOW TO WALK as a believer – each attached to a “walk” command.
#1: THE ROMAN FORUM SLAVE MARKET:
In Ephesians 4:1-3, we looked at a WORTHY WALK as a command to walk in the way that matches the value of what our Lord paid to purchase each of you – and enlist you in His service – taken from the Roman slave market. In a strange way, Paul said, rise to the price you cost God, and that will please Him. There was a sign around your neck when Jesus chose you – and it showed what He could make out of your life. Read it, and then try to live accordingly.
#2: THE ROMAN TRIUMPH PARADE (Virs Triumphalis)
Telling believers they are “slaves to Christ” is accurate, but would have been no doubt humiliating to Romans, and there was a balancing truth of SIGNIFICANT VALUE that was also illustrated by a Roman victory parade in Ephesians 4:7-13.
Paul’s image was this: the conquest of Jesus over the enemy demanded a triumph parade where the demonic world would smell the aroma of death – and Jesus spreads out “sparsiones” – gifts of conquest – in the form of men who were “apostles, and some [as] prophets, and some [as] evangelists, and some [as] pastors and teachers,”. These were to be seen as treasures that Christ provided from His conquest – men who were liberated by Him and tossed into the crowds to transform the world.
#3: THE THERMAE (ROMAN BATH):
Paul evoked his next image from one of the most popular places in any Roman city – the all-important bath complex in Ephesians 4:17-24. Here, the instruction moved from a “WORTHY WALK” to a “DISTINCT WALK”. Paul urged the Ephesians to GET CHANGED into the clean outfit for their call in Jesus. Roman bath complexes had artwork with two themes – sexuality and pagan mythology – but Paul’s instruction was a direct contrast. They needed to recognize that the pagan mind had no connection to God, and therefore has NO SENSITIVITY to pleasing God. Lost men are self-centered about pleasure, and calloused about sensuality. They lived to please appetites, not their Creator. He said: “Believers need to take off the old clothing of that life and put on godly behavior” – distinctive behaviors of right acts and holy deeds.
#4: THE ROMAN THEATRE
Another image in Ephesians 5:1-6, illustrated a “WALK IN LOVE” command that was to characterize them. He knew Romans used spectacles and entertainment to tell tales of pagan mythology and morality – but the Romans liked violence, and contemporary theatre crowds exploded with laughter over crude groin humor. A mime didn’t act like they do in parks today – they were more like a “Saturday Night Live” presentation that was thoroughly base and filled with sexual innuendo. The coarse dialogue and ludicrous actions were to get the crowd laughing. Paul leaned into this image with the words “Be imitators of God”. Mimicking God meant to walk in love – to meet needs of those around them. Yet, mimes of God must NOT use coarse speech nor empty chatter. In other words, people should know we are believers by the way we speak. In this theatre image, Paul said: “Don’t imitate actors, imitate God!” His words are true, loving, encouraging and helpful – they are never base or inappropriately sensual. His children should speak like their Father speaks – not like the street speaks.
#5: THE VIGILES (Night Watchman) of Roman Street
Paul offered another image in Ephesians 5:7-14 when he wrote about “WALKING AS CHILDREN OF LIGHT”. Night in the Roman city was dangerous for respectable people as a range of seedy characters ventured about the dark side of Roman life. Theft and murder were much more common in a world that had so many poor in close proximity to the rich, and didn’t have the advantages of a “CSI” to find the guilty. Roman authorities established the Vigiles Urbani (“watchmen of the City”) as both firefighters and police of Ancient Rome. Paul told the believers to be like the night watchmen – these “vigiles”. They needed to wake up in the darkness, and use the light of their torches to expose the dark deeds of men. They weren’t to be naïve, but rather carry a torch in the darkness. They create safe places for people by their trustworthy character and their refusal to be involved in the shady work of wicked men and women. They work to please their Master.
#6: THE ROMAN PUB (Popinae and Tavernae)
A final reference to a “walk” can be found in Ephesians 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil….
Here Paul had another image at his disposal. Roman’s celebrated Bacchus – the god of wine – and his gift daily. They had a fundamental belief that wine was a daily necessity to daily life. They made the drink “democratic” and ubiquitous: it was available to slaves, peasants and aristocrats alike. Wine bars are found all over Pompeii and Herculaneum – cities uncovered by archaeologists. The Roman popina (plural: popinae) was an ancient Roman wine bar, where a limited menu of olives, bread, and soups or stews were sold, along with a selection of wines of varying quality and taste. This was the common pub for plebians of the lower classes of Roman society – the part of Roman social culture where so many believers came from. Every one of them knew about the popina, as we would know about a “Chilis” or “Outback Steakhouse”.
The wine bar had simple stools and tables. They provided food and drink, but also often provided sex and gambling. Respectable Romans of the upper classes considered these as seedy places of crime and violence. Some of them, perhaps many of them, had players of music, and provided background for drinking songs that echoed into the night…. Paul told the believers not to be foolish as the people who gambled away their money and fell into a drunken stupor. He called to their attention a different kind of song they could sing-the spiritual and uplifting song both on their tongue and in their heart before God. Spirit-filled believers are filled with song that builds up, song that pleases the Master. Paul told the people to get out of the “spirits” of the PUB and into the Spirit of God.
ARMOR: A Seventh Image (Ephesians 6:10-20)
All of these images were important to help us know how to behave in a distinct way – noticeable to the world around us. Yet there is a seventh image that captivates the Bible student because of its complexity, while it warns us because of the offer of its essential protection.
The armor of God is an essential protection to us. We can deflect the influences of the world and we can discipline ourselves to limit the damage of the flesh – but the Devil cannot be blocked without the use of armor.
You see, believers have three adversaries we are fighting – all at the same time…
• The World: By that, we mean the world system that lives in rebellion to God since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. We live in a fallen world of misplaced affections, filled with people who hunger for fulfillment and recognition because something they were designed to have (a relationship with God) is far from them and as a result, many who have strayed more deeply are characterized by a lack of respect for authority. The Bible makes clear it is easy to be “pressed into the mold of the world” (Rom. 12:1-2). It further makes clear that defeating the influence of the world for a believer is possible when we use a strategy He gave us. We must take care to guard against unwholesome influences in our lives while keeping our daily walk with God at the center of our lives.
• The Flesh: By this, we mean the fallen nature that is still alive within us until we are freed from this body. We must realize we are set on a “default” to hunger for temporal things and the pleasure found in them – and we are apt to complain when anything doesn’t offer immediate satisfaction. We are easily inconvenienced by others; we are careful to excuse ourselves and make ourselves victims instead of owners of our choices. The Bible offers strategies to defeating the flesh (sometimes called “the old man” inside of us). The methods include training to discipline our eyes, keep honorable our thoughts and deliberately live a life of meekness and humility. We must also deliberately work to focus on others as a tool in God’s hand, and not become self-consumed and self-indulgent.
• The Devil: By this, we mean the adversary of our Heavenly Father, who is described as a hungry prowling lion, who is deliberately looking for believer’s weaknesses so as to defeat them and thwart their testimony – all to bring shame on God’s reputation and discouragement to God’s people. He entices people to an agenda opposite of Jesus’ in their life. The Bible offers very careful defense plans for the believer to blunt the Devil’s attacks on each follower of God. First, we must learn to recognize those attacks while we learn to keep our armor on and weapons ready for the battle. His attacks are made using stealth, but they are strategies that have been uncovered in the Word of God. We must know the objective he has in order to defend the right places. The passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 is key in the strategy to fighting the “father of lies”.
Take a moment and look carefully at the text written by Paul from Rome to Ephesus:
Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places]. 13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, 15 and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; 16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil [one]. 17 And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and [pray] on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in [proclaiming] it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.
We should also mention the text is followed by some personal notes in the final verses: 21 But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. 23 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible [love].
Step back and look at the verses. They describe one of the greatest reasons why some believers with seemingly good lives fall into collapse and ruin. They help explain why some young and zealous Christians are quickly “cooled off” and back away from their faith. Why does it seem some don’t have the fire in their walk with God they once had? It may be because believers are getting hit by shots of the enemy, and aren’t using the protection and power God offered. In 2 Corinthians 2:11 Paul stated that his ministry team was not ignorant of Satan’s devises. Sadly, we know today that many believers ARE ignorant of the war, let alone the strategy of defense.
The armor of the Roman soldier became the image of the protective covering God provided for the believer. Paul took inventory and assessed the implements for the fight.
Before you even look at the armor, remember what is NOT PROTECTED on a Roman soldier – his BACK. There was no protection given for a Roman to RUN from battle. Even withdrawals were done FACING THE ENEMY. They were orderly, and they were protected. Running left soldiers wide open… don’t forget that! The battle must be engaged valiantly, and running is not a safe option once the battle has been engaged.
Paul urged the believers of Ephesus “to be strong in the Lord” (10). Perhaps they had an immediate question…How?
First, they needed to grab the resources God gave them – to “put on the armor of God”. This suggests that though God makes possible the armor, He holds each believer responsible to appropriate the pieces. Rome issued armor, but individual soldiers had to put it on properly and be prepared – or be hit by the enemy’s attack. Lazy soldiers get hit. It isn’t God’s fault that we don’t put on the protections He provided. I am repeatedly amazed at the number of believers who have fallen victim to the thinking that “the war is supposed to be easy”. I believe one of the most destructive theological trends has been the one that set up young believers to believe that the implication of God’s power was that I didn’t have to be concerned about DOING ANYTHING. Let’s be clear: God saved you without any payment necessary on your part, but that doesn’t mean that following Him won’t come at a cost. You will need to recognize there is a war going on, and there is an enemy who is lurking in the bushes looking for straying believers that were inattentive to armor strapping.
Second, Paul told them they needed to identify the real enemy – “stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (11b-12). Here is another area where the Devil has been so effective – getting the weaponry of the church pointed at the wrong things. The battle for our courts is not in Washington, but ABOVE it. While Christians picket, but forget to PRAY – they set themselves up for defeat upon defeat. Either “the fervent effectual prayer of a righteous man avails much” or it doesn’t. Either prayer, directed strategically at the enemy’s plans is the path to disrupting them, or it is a quiet, pious, Christian tradition that does little. What does the Bible say? It clearly says that we are to struggle – but not against the fleshly armies of fallen men – rather against the powers that stir them of which they are unaware.
Third, they needed to deliberately put on ALL the protection provided by God (6:13). The emphasis is on those who don’t realize when the darts are flying, they need the second type of armor. Paul explained two types of armor – daily armor and armor for times of attack:
The FIRST TYPE was that armor which must always be at the ready.
If there was a lull in the battle, the fighter was not to remove the first three implements. He indicated that in the verb form “always having” the:
• Belt of truthfulness: (the Greek text said to “gird” or cover with protection the “osphýs” – properly, the reproductive area used figuratively in 1 Pet 1:13 of the “reproductive” (creative) capacity of the renewed mind, using alethia: (truth as content) over the vulnerable area (14); Paul was not addressing the truth of salvation but rather one’s own commitment to protect truthfulness within the believer!
The point is simple: Truth is easy to leave unprotected, and the enemy loves a soft spot that will truly cripple. We must strap on daily a deliberate commitment to believe truth, speak truth and not accept any less than truth from our lips or in our hearts.
• Breastplate of righteousness (The breast cover is the “thṓraks” as in a “coat of mail” which protected the chest and extended down to the hips; figuratively it was that which protected the heart (the center of our moral choices). We are called to place deliberate protection over our heart and emotions or desires, insomuch as they bear on our decisions (resolutions and sympathies, etc.). Paul does not refer to self righteousness (Eph. 2:8-9), nor of imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21), but of a life practice of righteousness, or holy living.
The point is direct: We are to cover our hearts with right choices NOW that protect our sympathies growing in ungodly directions. We must be careful how we allow our hearts to be tugged by ungodly enticements.
• Sandle guard straps with cleats fixed in position to provide a firm stand with the Gospel: The term (hupodeó) is to bind under the sandal a string of metal tabs that gained traction on the surface of the ground to hold the soldier in place on slippery soil. The term “preparation” is actually (het-oy-mas-ee’-ah) which means a preparing device that readies us for “firm footing”. The issue here is that the soldier needed to put on the cleats before the battle, or he was unprepared to stand when the battle ensued. Paul referred to the unmovable faith in the Gospel to bring peace in the life of the lost, and the rooted IDENTITY the believer has in that Gospel.
The point is essential: We are to prepare to stand in our place as those saved by God, not those who earned a walk with Him. Our identity is a key to our stability.
Many believers grasp the idea of protecting the truth, making right choices and knowing our identity in the Gospel – but under fire those are insufficient to protect us from the darts flying at us.
There is a SECOND TYPE of armor was indicated in the translation of “In addition to all” at the beginning of verse sixteen.
The term (pás) at the beginning of the sentence adds “extensive-intensive” when the Greek definite article is lacking. The point would perhaps be better translated: “When necessary because of the intensity of the circumstances”. The next three items seem appropriate at a time of attack:
• Blocking shield of faith: The (theuron) was a large shield to block arrows, normally some 4.5 feet by 2.5 feet. It was used in sequence – locked together. His reference of “faith” is not to “belief” as such, but to “trust” that changes our view of ourselves and the world around us. Paul said: “When the battle rages, use the shield by locking together; hold tightly and trust one another as you block for those behind you.
• Helmet of salvation: The term (per-ee-kef-al-ah’-yah) refers to the covering protection of the transformed mind) when we understand that our salvation has a PAST aspect: justification; a PRESENT aspect: sanctification; and a FUTURE aspect, our eventual glorification. We must see things through God’s eyes and learn to call the battle by His Word! We must deliberately stand guard over the mind – it is deception the enemy uses to do his damage.
• Sword of the Spirit: There is NO SWORD in this text. The “machaira” is rather a small dagger and not the broad sword, which is a word not used here (rhomphaia). The WORD (ray-ma) here is from the word “to pour, an utterance” of God. This refers to a specific Word from God that He gives to take a direct shot at the enemy! It doesn’t look deadly to your foe, because it is hidden and small – but when thrust at the enemy, it will cause him to recoil and run.
Paul made clear how can believers use the armor in verse eighteen (6:18): ”With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…”
• It is used in prayer (for God wants us to ask Him for what we need)
• Believers use it when they persevere in troubles on their knees.
• Believers use it when they stay alert with one another in love.
Following Jesus means we watch out for where the enemy is going, and get praying NOW for believers that are about to get hit. Jesus is NOT LIKE His enemy:
Note some differences between Jesus and the enemy:
• Jesus gives life…The devil is a murderer (Jn. 8:44; Heb 2:14). Watch for places where people argue to justify KILLING and MURDER. The week following the French killings, the American radios were treated to scholars that tried to make the issue about how the killers were “not assimilated properly” by the French, and how their faith was not in any way involved in their motivation – though they clearly showed that it was. Watch for deception – especially in relation to “misunderstood killers”. Don’t be deceived.
• Jesus produces a productive life (fruit)… the devil sidelines us into wasted time and energy (Gal. 5:19-21). Be careful about your focus on leisure. The world needs those who will prayerfully and deliberately accomplish objectives for Jesus, not spend endless hours on digital distraction.
• Jesus tests us to help us mature (James 1:3)…the devil wounds us to hurt us and “devour” us (1 Pet. 5:8). God uses conviction that leads us back to Him, the devil uses guilt that pulls us to withdraw and feel badly – learn to distinguish between them.
• Jesus sets us free to serve His Father in love (Jn. 8:31-32)…the devil binds and enslaves with an end to destroy a life (2 Tim. 2:26).
• Jesus advocates for us – speaks on our behalf before the Father… while the devil “accuses us day and night” before God (Rev. 12:10).
We must recognize that we were born again into a war zone, in the late hours of a raging conflict that is set to destroy or renew the whole world.
Zig Ziglar told a story some years ago that may help pull together the issues of the text for a believer today:
“Oil was discovered on some Oklahoma property belonging to an elderly Indian. All his life he had been poverty stricken, just eking out a living. But the discovery of oil had suddenly made him a very wealthy man. The first thing he bought was a very big Cadillac. He wanted the longest car in the county, so he added four spare tires on the trunk. He would dress up in his new clothes and everyday he would take his Cadillac into the hot dusty little town nearby. He wanted to see everyone and he wanted everyone to see him. He was a friendly old soul. so when he was riding through town he would turn in all directions to wave at all the people as he rolled by. Interesting enough, he never ran into anybody nor into anything. The reason for this was that directly in front of that big beautiful auto was two horses harnessed to it and pulling it. There was nothing wrong with the car’s engine. It was because the old Indian had never learned to drive it. He had never learned how to insert the key into the ignition switch and turn it on. Under the hood was 100 plus horsepower ready and willing and raring to go, but the old Indian was content to use the two horsepower hooked to the front of the car. The devil gets really happy (or as happy as a devil can get) when he can keep the believer chugging along in their Christian life on a two horse power faith level. At that rate, the spiritual progress is slowed down to a crawl, and this is what the devil is after in his warfare with us.” (Zig Ziglar—From the Book: See You at the Top).