Not long ago I walked downstairs into the basement and saw something that I never expected to see in my house. There on the floor with his other Army gear was Timothy’s body armor. After completing his infantry training at Ft. Benning last summer, Timothy had been assigned to the Army National Guard unit in which he is going to serve. He had gone to that armory and there had been issued his gear, which included the body armor he will wear.
The emergence of the rifle put an end to armor worn by soldiers on the battlefield. The amount of metal armor needed to stop the ever increasing power of bullets, made mobility impossible, and so armor disappeared. Nothing like it would appear again until the World War 1 era when soldiers began wearing helmets to provide some protection to their head.
However, the desire to provide protection to soldiers never disappeared, and the invention of new materials restarted the quest. In the Vietnam war, U.S. soldiers wore a vest made out of ballistic nylon. This could not stop a bullet, but was intended to provide protection against shrapnel.
In the early 1980’s the United States introduced body protection made out of the material Kevlar. This provided protection that could stop a 9mm pistol round. But it could not stop a rifle round, and was really intended to provide better protection against shrapnel fragments.
Two further generations of body armor have resulted in what Timothy wears. Made of Kevlar it includes special plates in the chest and back area that will stop a 7.62 mm round fired from an AK-47 rifle. The design of the Kevlar panels provides protection and against shrapnel and explosive devices. This protection is a vast improvement over anything seen before, but it does come at a cost. The body armor weighs more than thirty pounds, and this weight must be carried along with all the other ammunition and gear that a solider has on him in the field.
In the first century A.D., armor was still essential equipment for the soldier, and played an important role in the tactics that were employed. As the apostle Paul brings this letter to a close, he uses the armor of the solider as the means for talking about the Christian life. The military – the martial character – of this description should catch our attention. Paul describes the life that we have in the Gospel, but he does so by warning us about the spiritual conflict that we face.
Paul says in our text, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” The apostle says that we need o be strong in the Lord and in his mighty strength. Paul often describes the Christian as being “in Christ.” He means that through faith and baptism we have been joined to Jesus and his saving work for us. It is only in the Lord and his mighty strength that we are able to be strong. And in our text, Paul goes on to describe what this looks like. But first he explains why there is the need to be strong.
Paul writes, “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.” The apostle takes up the metaphor of armor in order to describe what is needed in order to stand against the schemes of the devil.
The question for us is whether we really believe the apostle. Paul describes a situation of spiritual conflict. He says that the devil is scheming against you and that it is necessary to stand against those plots. The apostle tells us the struggle we face in not against flesh and blood. Instead, the battle – the struggle - is against the spiritual forces of evil.
These are the powers that once owned you. In chapter two Paul had written, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins
in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
The devil once owned you, and he wants you back. So, do you really believe there is a threat? The world will mock any such claim. And of course it is through the world – through our culture – that the devil works powerfully to separate us from God. He uses the world’s rejection of truth and authority to lead people to a rejection of God’s Word and the Gospel. He uses the world’s “anything goes” view of sexuality to trap people in sin, and ensnares churches in the acceptance of couples living together outside of marriage, and homosexuality. He works every angle – every busy activity that we “have to do” - in order to separate us from Christ’s Means of Grace at church and at home.
The devil doesn’t want you to think about him, because it is then that he can operate most effectively. He doesn’t want you to think about your life in terms of spiritual conflict. But the apostle Paul warns us about the threat and tells us what to do: “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.”
Paul says, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth.” The belt fastened the tunic around the waist and allowed for rapid movement. The apostle describes this as being done in truth. He has already said in the first chapter about Christ, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”
You are prepared to stand when your life is secured by the truth of the Gospel. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has won forgiveness and salvation for you. You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit who has given you regeneration and created faith. You have been cleansed of your sin by the washing of water with the word in baptism. In the truth of the Gospel you have the basis for resisting the devil.
Next the apostle says that you are ready when you have “put on the breastplate of righteousness.” The breastplate protected the chest and resisted blows. The Spirit has made you a new creation through the Gospel. Because this is so, the new man lives in ways that are produced by the Gospel. He lives in ways that are true to God’s will – ways that are righteous.
Because the old Adam is still present, we need to be reminded about the need to live in righteous ways. Earlier Paul said that you need “to put off your old man, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Through repentance we drown the old Adam, so that the new man can come forth and live in righteous ways – ways that protect us against the devils schemes.
Paul says that we put on shoes in the readiness of the Gospel of peace. The Gospel gives us peace with God. It declares us to be saints – forgiven sinners – because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for us. And in this we find ourselves ready and prepared to stand up against the schemes of the devil. We are ready to stand firm against the devil because we know what God has made us to be. We know who we are. We are God’s children. We are saints, and so by God’s Spirit we are ready to resist the devil in his efforts to take this away from us.
Next Paul says, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.” The apostle describes the shield’s role in providing protection. And here he says that faith protects us against the flaming arrows of the devil.
Paul has already said of faith in this letter, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Faith in the crucified and risen Lord is the means by which we have received salvation. We learn that we have “boldness and access with confidence through our faith” in Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ provides us with these blessings and so it protects us against the devil’s attacks.
Finally, Paul tells us, “and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The helmet protected against blows to the head. We know that by God’s grace, faith in Christ provides salvation. We have heard the message of truth, the Gospel of our salvation. We have been baptized into Christ’s saving death, and so we know that salvation is ours. The devils blows are repelled by the certainty of our salvation in Christ. We are protected because we know that already now that we are saved, even as we look towards the consummation of God’s saving work on the Last Day when Christ will raise our bodies.
In all of the items mentioned, the sword is the only one that is both defensive and offensive. Paul speaks of the sword of the Spirit, and then identifies this as the word of God. It is the Spirit who has given the word through his inspiration. It is the Spirit who works through this same word to create and sustain faith. The word of God is the means by which we fend off the devils attacks. It is also the means by which we seek to share the Gospel with others in order to advance Christ’s reign.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. But the sword does little good if it left in the scabbard – or in this case, on the book shelf. Paul says that we are to “take” the sword. It must be taken in hand, read, studied and learned by heart. It must be called to mind and thought about. The Scriptures – the Word of God – are the means by which the Spirit causes us to grow and mature in faith. Armed with the Word provided by the Spirit, we have the weapon by which we can stand firm against our deadly foe.
In the epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul warns us about the situation we face. He says that we must put on the whole armor of God so that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Because we are Christians, we live in the midst of spiritual conflict as we are attacked by all that is demonic.
Yet in the crucified and risen Lord, God has given us all that we need to stand firm. By God’s grace, the Spirit has worked faith and washed away our sins in baptism. We know the truth of the Gospel. The Gospel produces righteousness in our life. It makes us ready for action because we have peace with God. Through faith in Christ we are protected and we have the certainty of salvation. And by the word of God we are sustained and defended in the struggle of the Christian life as we look towards the Day of the Lord.