THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD

Verse 10 says: 'Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might’. Many Christians are not 'strong in the Lord', for several common reasons.
 
The commonest one, is trying to be strong in their own power. They need to stop trying; and accept God's 'Let go, and let me' requirement of them.
 
Modern man places great confidence in his own cleverness. He already has considerable power, in many practical ways; anticipates becoming stronger; and, largely looks no farther than his own self, for what he deems necessary.
 
However, despite genuine, and amazing physical progress; things are much the same as ever in the moral, philosophical and spiritual aspects of life. Man may have changed the world; but he hasn't radically changed himself.
 
His moral and spiritual situation, is still the same as that experienced by St Paul; who taught that mankind will always need the true strength which comes from God alone.
 
The last reason for now, is that so many people have inherited, or developed, the idea that a 'proper Christian' must have a continual awareness of sin; and, therefore, a continual sense of guilt.
 
Such an ongoing awareness is, itself, sinful; because it means that the person in question is holding on to sin; and suffering the consequences; rather than handing things over to God, and experiencing forgiveness.
 
Held-onto sin leaves the sinner unforgiven, and out of kilter with God, and with his own soul. Whatever it is, has to be let go of; and offered to God in repentance and confession.
 
The drive and thrust of the gospel is that God; who meets us more than half-way in all of this; will accept true repentance and confession, and forgive the offence; and that, from that moment; the unforgiven offender immediately becomes the forgiven believer…
 
…still prone to sin; still likely to offend again; but, for that while, forgiven; cleansed, by God's grace; and, therefore, with nothing to feel guilty about.
 
Such a new start enables the forgiven believer to enter more fully and effectively into the joys and responsibilities of the Christian life.
 
Christians who do not develop blind-spots in the matter, see that the only effective way ahead for them, is to hand all things to God; especially weaknesses; for only then can they begin to be 'strong in the Lord'.
 
Verse 11 says. 'Put on the whole armour of God' Comparatively few Christians do put on the ‘whole’ of it. Even those who are used to picture-language concepts; and see the power of God being like spiritual armour that gives protection ...
 
... even such Christians are often wearing, not the 'whole armour', but odd bits and pieces of it. This can easily come about, through the human tendency to divide life into segments, or compartments.
 
A worldly man might feel wonderfully pleased with his progress at work; yet hardly notice that his personal life is falling apart at the seams.
 
Christians, too, can be so concerned about; busy with, or pleased by, one or more aspects of life; as to hardly notice that, in other parts, something is either becoming ineffective, or else has gone missing.
 
Such ineffectiveness or loss, is likely to come about when the protective, spiritual armour is either not properly in place; or else is not there at all.
 
Verse 14 says. 'Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist’. The ancient Hebrews were a down-to-earth people, who used basic concepts to help their understanding of life and faith.
 
For them, the moral centre of a person's being was not so much the mind or heart, but more the belly; which was the first thing to react to shock; fear; anxiety; anger; surprise, grief, and so on.
 
That is why St Paul, who was both a Hebrew and a realist, visualized God's 'truth' as being like a belt around that basic area of the body; for real, life-affecting; life-directing truth is, also, a very basic thing.
 
Through the media, many kinds of 'truth' are offered to us daily. Much of what is offered is trivial. Even so, Christians can get so caught up in the flood of words and information, as to allow the trivial to assume importance; leaving little space for the truly important things of the Christian life.
 
'Stand firm, then', says St Paul, 'with the belt of truth buckled round your waist’. This is something that we do, as we take hold of the great truths of God, and bind them firmly to our lives.
 
Next, says Paul: 'the breastplate of righteousness must be in place'. What do we make of that? Often, we don't feel very righteous; but it is at such moments that we most need to understand and accept Paul's teaching.
 
He says that we, through divine acceptance, are covered by Christ’s right-eousness; which is counted to us, as though it were our very own. And this, not because of what we have achieved, but because of who we have believed, through mercy, love and grace.
 
Jesus taught that the given righteousness, is intended to be seen, and responded to, by others. He said. ‘You are the light of the world. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and praise your Father in heaven'. (Matt. 5..14).
 
When Christ's righteousness is upon us; it is not only a clearly-seen witness to others; but also a piece of spiritual armour which, with all the other parts, helps guard our lives, and keep them safe, in the midst of evil.
 
Verse 16 tells of. 'The shield of faith'. A shield is designed, not to cover any old part of the body; but to protect the most vital and vulnerable areas.
 
If that sounds too obvious, consider how Jesus often criticized the Pharisees for ignoring big issues; and devoting their faith and energy to relatively unimportant things.
 
In one place he said; in effect: 'Look how you fiddle about with tiny detail; all the while disregarding great matters, which need attention. You pay a tithe of your garden herbs, correct to the last leaf; and then completely neglect the far more important matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness’. (Matt.24:23).
 
Just like those Pharisees; Christians who busy themselves doing small, relatively unimportant things; risk leaving the truly important; vulnerable, and even vital areas of their spiritual lives, uncovered and unprotected?
 
Verse 17 speaks of. ‘the helmet of salvation'. The head is often the weakest place in the Christian life. Not for want of brains; but because of wilful thinking; and concepts of self-sufficiency and self-determination, that cut clean against God’s will.
 
Large numbers of men and women beyond the Church have intellectual reservations about the Christian faith; seeing it as a 'crutch' to lean on; which they feel that they don't need, because of their sense of self-sufficiency.
 
We may understand why those beyond the Church, mostly refuse to consider changing their position; but we must remember that Paul still needed to instruct Christians, at Ephesus, who had, already, entered into faith, and committed their lives to God, through Jesus Christ.
 
Such entering into commitment is a beginning; but there has to be a moving-on, because salvation is a process.
 
For want of a will set unchangingly towards God; the head is often the weakest place in the Christian life; The mind; busy with so many matters; needs protection from all that would hinder salvation, or even prevent it.
 
That is why St. Paul places a firmly-held concept of salvation where it is most needed; upon the head; like a 'helmet', to help protect the mind from wandering away from the Lord.
 
Lastly, verse 17. ‘the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God'. As with an ordinary sword; so with the 'Sword of the Spirit'. It is intended for attack, as well as defence. However, very many Christians don't see it like that; and develop firmly-established concepts of defence alone.
 
The Bible offers such images as The Lord is my Shepherd ... rock … strong tower … shield ... hiding-place … advocate ... mediator ... and my Saviour; promoting and reinforcing ideas of defence and protection; and most Christians can quote several texts in support
 
However, there are comparatively few texts which clearly indicate the attacking application of the 'Word of God'; and most Christians would be hard-pressed to quote two of them. (Isaiah 55. 1 1. + Hebrews 4.12).
 
Therefore, it is not surprising to find the average Christian seeing the 'Word of God' as: ‘something in which we stand firm, and are kept safe’; rather than as ‘something with which we move forward, and are victorious’.
 
How do we view Paul's ‘full armour of God'? The 'armour' that he had in mind, as he wrote; is very different from the mediaeval, European armour that we see in museums; designed to cover the entire body.
 
Much of the Greek and Roman armour of Paul's day, was for the protection of the front and sides of the body; the back being covered by little more than leather straps, and metal buckles.
 
Such ordinary armour, worn by an ordinary soldier, was effective when the wearer faced forward; against the enemy. The soldier wearing such armour, and turning away from the battle situation, would leave his back largely unprotected, and exposed to attack.
 
St. Paul's teaching about 'spiritual' armour gives a similar, implied warning. The Christian who faces up to evil in the situations and events of life; with the 'full armour of God' in place; wins through…
 
... not only because of the protection that the 'armour' gives; but also through the power that the 'sword of the Spirit' gives; in going forward, against all kinds of evil; for you cannot attack evil; and prevail against it; when you are turning away from it.
 
During the first half of this century, vast numbers of people, in this country, left the church,; not because of theological dispute; but because they turned away from the Church as it was, to something imagined, or half-remembered to some dream…
 
... memory…old hope or whatever; preferring the shadow to the substance; preferring the dream of yesterday, to the reality of today. In so doing, they also turned away from things which they ought to have faced up against.
 
Largely, they left themselves open to attack; which was successful; as is surely proved by the fact that most of them became lost to the Church; and, according to Christ's teaching; lost to God's Kingdom.
 
In the Christian life, there is no going back. The 'Book of Genesis' writes of: ‘a flaming sword, guarding the entrance to Eden, into which men and women may no more enter’.
 
There is no going back to the places of our one-time experiences and memories; or into the long-established places of our imagination and dreams. Instead, there can only be a standing at the place where we actually are: and, from there, a moving forward.
 
God gives us faith. When, as Paul wrote, we use it like a 'shield', it protects our most vital and vulnerable parts. We can then say: ‘Throughout our Christian lives; it is not so much that we have kept the faith; but more that the faith has kept us, safe in God’s love, through Jesus Christ’.
 
Faith is not only for protection, but also for enablement. When we use it to work against evil; and to promote good; it is, says Paul...
 
... as though our feet are shod with sandals of readiness; responding to the call of Christ; ready, and able, to promote his gospel of peace.
 
Amen!