It has been said that the greatest lie Satan ever pulled off was making the world believe he doesn’t exist. We as Christians, of course, believe that there is a devil and that there are evil spiritual forces in the world. The problem is we often don’t live out what we believe. If there is anything that stands out today with all of the violence we have seen is it is causing us to be more aware of the potential dangers to our person in this world. That being said, your chances of being in a place of violence like that are pretty small. Your chances of being in a place of spiritual attack are 100%. You WILL be attacked spiritually, but there is something that you can do about it as God will provide you with all that you need to fight it well. Our two points today are: Stand with righteousness in an evil world and Stand with peace in the midst of war
The passage begins with a call to “Stand.” As one scholar puts it, “The command to stand is Paul's chief admonition of the entire paragraph, which is seen by its repetition… The following pieces of armor describe the means by which a believer is able to stand firm.” (Merkele, 113) In other words, everything we are about to put on in these verses is tied back to this command. We are in a spiritual war, after all, and “[t]he proper response in light of this largely unseen reality is to be prepared. Paul's first imperative to believers is to ‘be strong in the Lord’ (v. 10). Satan and his minions are well armed and can easily defeat or discourage weary soldiers of the cross." (Merkele, 116) Interestingly, we get the order Paul presents the armor is in order of how a soldier at the time would put them on (Floukes).
Stand with righteousness in an evil world
Paul begins with the belt of truth, because the belt would have been key to enable you to fight the rest of the battle. Your clothes would have gotten in the way without being tucked behind your belt.
Of course, the key question is, is this belt referring to capital “T” truth, the gospel, or is this lower case “t” for truth in terms of honesty? I tend to lean towards the latter, as Paul talks about the gospel of peace for your shoes, and it doesn’t make sense to me to have the same concept applied to two different pieces of armor. Other scholars come to the same conclusion: “We may conclude that it is not the truth of the gospel that is alluded to, but the undergirding of truth in the sense of ‘integrity’, ‘truth in the inward being’ of which Psalm 51:6 speaks. As ‘the girdle … gives ease and freedom of movement’, so ‘it is the truth which gives this freedom with ourselves, with our neighbours [sic] and with God. Lack of perfect sincerity hampers us at every turn.’” (H. L. Goudge quoted in Foulkes)
Why is truth so important? The fact that we even ask this question shows how far we as a society have gone in this concept. There is so much information in world now that truth seems to be very hard to come across if discoverable at all. Truth seems less like a precise statement and more of a misty range of approaches each one as valid as the next as long as you don’t get too crazy. It is easy to assume because precisely stated truth is so hard to find that it isn’t important, and we simply make assumptions knowing that the world is flexible enough to tolerate a mistake or two.
We as Christians should have a greater love for truth than that. For us, truth isn’t just something we want to seek out so we don’t get slammed online for spreading “misinformation.” Truth and honesty is an essential foundation of being a Christian. There are precise statements of truth in this world, and it is our job to find them and defend them. The devil lies, and the world lies, but we speak the truth. We’ve already seen this In Ephesians 4:25: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another." Other verses point to the importance of truth, as well. Proverbs 12:22: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight." Psalm 25:5: "Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long." Psalm 119:160: "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." Indeed, our Savior is described as “the truth.”
So if truth is such an important concept, then why is it such a rare thing to find in this world, particularly today? I think the answer lies in the fact that our sinful flesh naturally resists the truth and the effort it takes to find it. When you think about it, there are so many other sins that have to be overcome to find and proclaim truth! We first need our pride eliminated so we don’t assume we already know everything. Pride doesn’t seek answers; it already knows them! Next, we need our laziness to be eliminated. It is one thing to be aware of our ignorance, but it is something else to correct that! Then, we need our impatience to be eliminated, as we’ve discussed already. Then we need our pride eliminated again if we find an answer we don’t like or something that we have to submit to. It takes humility to change course. It takes a humble heart to admit we were wrong about something.
However, truth is always worth finding, and it is found only in the word of God. Now, it is true that you can’t find out what happened yesterday in Sylacauga from the Bible, but I guarantee you that you need the Bible to know how to think about what happened in Sylacauga yesterday. All information is interpreted, and the Bible gives the only sure source of proper interpretation.
You need the truth. If you do not have truth or honesty in what you say is true, you will not be equipped for spiritual warfare. As yourself this question, whenever you come across of piece of information or say something, “How do I know this is true?” Just about every media source has had some sort of scandal of lying. Who do you rely on and why? This isn’t to make us all paranoid, just thoughtful in whom we trust. Just because it is mainstream (or not), doesn’t make it true. Just because a source says something different than the main narrative doesn’t mean it is right.
I remember in seminary, a professor told us how to approach sermon preparation. He warned us against the tendency to prefer a particular interpretation over another simply because “we like it.” That’s a bad method of Bible study! There can be things that sound profound, but are still wrong (in fact, we will be looking at a few of those in our summer series coming up!).
We move on to the breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate was an essential piece of armor, as it protects all of your vital organs except your head (itself protected by a helmet).
Now, the question we have to ask first is, whose righteousness are we talking about? Are we talking about Jesus’ righteousness, or our own? There is a sense in which the answer is “both” with the majority emphasis on Jesus’ provided righteousness. I say it this way because I think that Jesus’ righteousness placed on you will also produce a righteousness in you as well. As one scholar put it: “By putting on God's righteousness believers are committed to being imitators of him (5:1) and acting righteously in all their dealings.” (O’Brien, 475) You need Jesus’ righteousness to survive the conflict. You will never make it on your own righteousness. When the battle is over, no one is going to look at themselves and say, “Wow, I really protected myself there!” It is always going to be, “Without Jesus, I would have never made it.”
However, without a personal commitment to holiness, you risk being less effective on the battlefield. Think about King David. Was He covered by the grace of God despite what he did with Bathsheba? Yes, he was, and praise God for that. That means God can cover me. Did God work through even a series of sins as heinous as those to ultimately advance His redemptive purposes? Yes. And praise God again that this means I can’t derail God’s plans due to my sin as well. Did David’s sin cause devastation to his family and ultimately the nation of Israel itself? Also yes. And praise God that He allows consequences for sin to help motivate me not to commit it as often. David’s sin cause him to be a less effective king than he otherwise could have been. It is hard to rule when you are running away from your own son. If we want to be effective parents in our homes, fathers and mothers, we need to put away those sins that so easily surface in parenting. We need to put away impatience, pride, and selfishness and instead cultivate patience, humility, and love. Can you go to heaven being an impatient parent? Yes, but think about how much better of a parent you could be by cultivating patience? None of us will ever be perfectly patient or perfectly anything (that’s why we need Christ’s righteousness), but we will be more effective warriors in this spiritual battle by being conformed to the image of Christ.
Developing this personal righteousness by the Holy Spirit’s power will help keep you from sins that can devastate your witness or ability to minister. There are qualifications for ministry, and if I fall into certain sins, I can disqualify myself for ministry. If I become a quarrelsome person, always picking a fight with someone, or using my position to steamroll people who get in my way, or fall prey to the love of money or the praise of people, I could very easily do whatever it takes to keep those things and thus disqualify myself for ministry. Could I still go to heaven? Sure. But that doesn’t mean that I could get right back in the saddle to preach again. Sin really does have severe consequences, and the forces of evil would love for us to fall to those things. No, they can’t force you out of heaven, but they can put you on the sidelines. This can even happen without disqualifying sins. I’ve seen guy’s ministries brought to a standstill because they couldn’t get out of their own pride. Fight for holiness.
Stand with peace in the midst of war
Finally, the shoes. We don’t tend to think of these as armor, as the Roman shoe would have looked like a sandal. That doesn’t seem very protective to us, but the real technology was under the shoe! There would have been small spikes underneath the shoe to help grip the ground underneath them which would have given them a solid footing in any terrain. It would have also, obviously, kept their feet from injury and pain, so you wouldn’t have to watch where you were going lest you step on something sharp. Your feet were protected.
Paul likens this piece of the armor to the gospel itself. My seminary professor once put it this way, “Since Paul will shortly explain the soldiers footwear as ‘the readiness of the gospel of peace’ (6:15), he probably has in mind here also the truth of the good news that is centered on Jesus and his reconciling death on the cross (2:14-18).” (Thielman, 424) Put simply, understanding that you are at peace with God gives you a sure stance when you fight. IF you are unsure where you stand with God, any effort you put towards the Christian life is doubly hard. If you have ever experienced dizziness, you know how important a sense of firm footing is. The same can be said spiritually. But with your feet properly prepared and on solid footing with the knowledge that you are at peace with God because of Jesus’ obedient life and death on the cross, His rising from the dead, and ascension into heaven, you will be able to fight knowing that you will be victorious. There is also the sense in which we are proclaiming the gospel as well. There is likely an allusion to Isaiah 52:6-7: “Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.” How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Thielman, 426) As another scholar sees it: “Although some believe that Paul's imagery and explanation of the armor indicates that Christians are to take only a defensive stand, this perspective is probably too narrow. The shoes signifying ‘the readiness given by the gospel of peace’ (v.15) suggest that we should be prepared to advance the gospel message wherever God calls us.” (Merkele, 116)
What is our takeaway from all of this? Well, while the tools come from God alone, we are called to put them on (Hoehner, 842). Preparation for spiritual war doesn’t happen on cruise control. You will need to take steps every day to intentionally live, as John Piper once put it, in a “wartime lifestyle.” Everything should be dedicated to the spiritual war effort. This isn’t meant to drive us to panic because the war is won. Rather, we represent the glorious victor and are honored to fight by His side.
We do this by remembering that our standing with Him is only by the gospel, by walking closely with Him to conform our lives to His character, which will spill out as an honesty and commitment to truth.
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