Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Stand, Paul says. Stand firm in faith. Find your strength in the Lord, Paul tells us. Why? There exist forces around us humans that can overcome our faith if we’re not watchful. Paul should know. Anyone recall what Paul was up to right before getting blinded by the truth on the road to Damascus? Before Paul “saw the light” of Christ’s love, he was making life pretty darn difficult for people who called themselves Christians...so even though Paul now writes in Ephesians as one of Christ’s most loyal followers, he gets it. He knows the “wiles of the devil,” because he’s lived them. He’s taken part in them. And I take a strange comfort in this truth, especially when Paul employs imagery of battle. Because what it tells me is that the armor of God is NOT for battle against other humans. And least, not exactly. Stand firm, Paul says, against spiritual forces of evil, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness. Sure, sometimes these forces of evil are seen in human behaviors and choices, but evil’s origin is deeper than any one person.
And that matters, because at the core of our humanity is this truth: we can only change our own behaviors, not those of others. Wanna know my favorite piece of God’s armor? “As shoes for your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.” It’s so practical. Whatever works, Paul says, to support your journey, to steady your pace, toward Christ’s vision of peace for your life, for your neighbors, and for this world.
How do we put on this armor of God? The answer comes toward the end of this passage: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.”
One of the most fundamental shifts in my relationship with myself and God has come through prayer. In the midst of introspective moments of prayer, the kind that “keep me alert,” I’ve learned this: I am not entirely good. And I am not entirely evil. Do you know what I mean? Maybe it’s a prayer of desperation or a vulnerable conversation with a good friend, perhaps it’s a moment reading a scripture or book and it hits you. “I am a person created “very good” in the image of God AND some days, I am in need of serious help to actually live like that.
The world has never been black and white- spiritual forces of good and evil simultaneously exist everywhere- even within us. Paul knows this, so he directs 1st Century & 21st Century Christians alike to put on spiritual armor. Give ourselves the best chance possible to live into the image of God which is our birthright. Paul says that’s when God's word is made clear. Logos- the living word. To be a living testament of God’s good news, it takes:
The breastplate of righteousness, to stand firm against the forces of complacency and gluttony and violence.
The belt of truth, To stand firm against manipulative rhetoric that makes false claims about God and your own belovedness.
Sturdy shoes, to stand firm against the lie that violence ever creates peace or restores relationships.
The shield of faith, to stand firm against the forces that want us to believe God has given up on us.
A helmet of salvation, to stand firm in the belief that salvation is in God's hands, not our own.
Sword of the spirit, to stand firm in the Word of God as made known to us in Jesus our Christ.
What’s your favorite piece of armor? Or maybe a better question: “What piece of God’s armor are you most in need of today?” Good questions for us to ask on this journey of proclaiming the gospel of peace in the name of Christ.
Stand firm, my friends, I need your strength and you need mine to weather the evil forces in our midst, especially the ones that lurk closest to our own hearts. And may we always go about it in a spirit of prayer. Amen!