The Armour of God
The moment a soul is converted, he will find himself in conflict with a deadly foe. No longer a slave of sin, he is now, by virtue of belonging to Christ, placed in opposition to Satan. We ought therefore, to be very thankful that God has provided us with a complete suit of armour for our conflict with the Enemy and his hosts: “Put on the panoply of God, that ye may be able to stand against the artifices of the devil” (Eph. 6: 11). The word here used for artifices is methodeia from which we get our English word methods. The Devil knows the best weapons to employ, the weakest side to attack and the most favourable moment for launching his assault. It follows that it is not enough to have on some of the armour some of the time—our conflict is not with a brute but a military genius. The word is to put on the panoply or whole armour of God.
The apostle Paul goes on to tell us that “our struggle is not against blood and flesh” (where there would be some equality), “but against principalities, against authorities, against the universal lords of this darkness, against spiritual [power] of wickedness in the heavenlies” (v12). The Greek word here translated “heavenlies” is the same as in verse 3 of chapter 1: “Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ”. The place where our blessings are located is also the place where our conflict takes place: it is a spiritual realm. The OT type of this conflict is what is seen in the book of Joshua, but we are opposed, not, as was Israel, by blood and flesh, but by a power of spiritual wickedness. And just as Canaan seemed to swarm with hostile kings, so we are opposed by numerous “lords of this darkness”. Again, as the Canaanite nations sought to prevent the children of Israel coming into their God–given inheritance, so these powers would hinder Christians from laying hold of all the blessings they have in Christ. We have a right to these things (just as Israel had a right to the land flowing with milk and honey), but like them we must also fight in order to come into the practical good of what is our own.
“For this reason” says Paul, “take [to you] the panoply of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, having accomplished all things, to stand” (v13). As individual Christians we have to make a positive move and see to it that we actually put the armour of God on. Sadly, many true believers have very little concept of what God has blessed them with, and even less of the spiritual power arrayed against them. Consequently, they see little need of armour at all. This is a gift to the Enemy. We need to wake up to the fact that the days are evil, and that we are soldiers not holiday–makers. If we don’t, then the battle is as good as lost, and Satan has effectively robbed us of our inheritance. The shallow Christianity of today is a direct result of an unwillingness to engage in the striving and conflict necessary to come into the good of the land. Spiritual progress carries a price with it, and the further we go, the greater will be the fury of the opposition. Every parcel of ground will be hard won, and having occupied ground, we must be prepared to stand in defence of it.
The first part of the armour is significant: “Stand therefore, having girt about your loins with truth” (v14). Girding the loins carries with it the idea of what braces up, or sustains the whole man. It is therefore right that truth has the first place in the armour of God. Put simply, I must know that what I am resting on is really true. If I don’t, then I will not be able to withstand any attack on it. The more I am uncertain, the more I am weak. Sadly this is increasingly the position of many Christians today, who neglect the certainties of God’s Word for what is, in reality, little more than a Christianised form of mysticism. Talking about ‘spiritual warfare’ is well and good, but it sounds a little hollow when the revelation of God’s mind in the Scriptures is more or less ignored. A soldier who goes into battle missing the first part of his armour is not brave, but foolhardy. In spiritual terms, no less than physical, we live in a dangerous world.
The first question in the Bible was that of the serpent to Eve: “Is it even so, that God has said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” (Gen. 3: 1). This is but a sample of his behaviour ever afterward—always striving to introduce an element of doubt into the certainty of what God has said. No truth is safe from attack by Satan, and his subtle darts fly thick on every hand. We live in days when all that has been accepted in the past as sure and definite is now questioned, or a crafty doubt suggested to the mind to shake it. This is surely the Devil’s work. Now we may not be able to explain everything to cleverer minds than our own, but standing in the truth is not about winning arguments. We are to believe what God has said simply because God has said it. This is a fundamental principle of Christianity, and yet how many profess to believe what God says about their salvation while rejecting just about everything else! Is it any wonder then that, in the West at least, Christianity appears to be in full retreat? Girding up the loins suggests a readiness for action, but unless I have it as a settled principle in my soul that all that God has said I will believe, then I will never be properly ready for the battle. We are to be girt about the loins with truth. In conflict with the Devil, the Lord Jesus is the supreme example. At every assault, he appealed to the Word of truth: “It is written …” (Matt. 4: 4 etc.)
Next we have the “breastplate of righteousness” (Eph. 6: 14). This is the external consequence of truth in life: the practical walk being in accord with the truth held. This is a very weak spot with many of us. We may have much truth; but how little does conduct correspond with it! ‘Creative accounting’, “respect of persons” (James 2: 1), and so–called ‘white lies’—these are but a sample of matters that readily provide a chink in the breastplate through which the arrows of the Enemy may enter. How many a Christian warrior has fallen sorely wounded in the fight because there were serious flaws in matters of practical righteousness! Money, sex or power—the Devil is a skilful Enemy and knows how to trip up even the most illustrious of God’s servants. The breastplate is there to protect the heart from the blows of the Enemy. If he can get at the heart then all is as good as lost. Be careless in matters of practical righteousness, and the affections will rapidly become chilled. How vulnerable we are in this respect! We may know the truth, but unless it colours our lives we shall be just cold and hypocritical religionists—lifeless towards God, and ineffectual towards man.
A crucial part of a soldier’s uniform is his shoes, hence: “shod your feet with [the] preparation of the glad tidings of peace” (Eph. 6: 15). This is the foot armour, making one always ready and alert for what may come; for unless properly shod, one can neither stand securely, walk easily, or fight victoriously. For this, peace is of the first necessity. The Israelites in Egypt were not fighters but slaves. The Passover was to them, “the glad tidings of peace”; and they ate it with their sandals on, sandals that were, as a figure, never put off for they did not grow old upon their feet (see Deut. 29: 5). Thus shod they were always prepared to “stand still,” or to “go forward” or to “fight” (Ex. 14: 13, 15; 17: 9). By contrast, it is to be feared that many pilgrims today are so poor that they walk, or rather crawl, barefoot. Contradictory as it may at first seem, peace is preparedness for war. If one is not at peace with God he is not prepared for anything. He cannot wrestle with spiritual foes if he has any question as to his relationship with God. I must know that God loves me, and that I am clear in His sight, and that death and judgment are behind me forever. This and this alone, will produce peace in the heart and conscience. If I know these things, then I can fight. The Enemy will soon make short work of any fool that enters the battle barefoot.
What of those sandals that Israel wore all through the wilderness that had “not grown old upon thy foot” (Deut 29: 5)? Surely the feet of the younger pilgrims must have lengthened—would they not have outgrown their shoes? Certainly they would if the shoes had not also expanded. But without in the least pressing such literal details there can be no question that the whole narrative compels us to assert of the antitype—“[the] preparation of the glad tidings of peace”—that shoes made of this material do expand as the wearers grow. There are some Christians who do not think the shoes expand, and they just remain at the most fundamental and primary truths of the Gospel all their lives. They never enjoy the deep things of God—in essence they despise the grace of God, of which redemption is only the beginning. By contrast, there are others who think that they have outgrown the shoes, and they look down almost contemptuously on these Gospel truths as merely milk for babes. Both attitudes are quite wrong. The Gospel grows as we grow. We find greater depth, and greater breadth in the Gospel as we progress in our souls. The “light” that arrested Paul on the road to Damascus, had become a “great light” in the presence of the chiliarch, and a “light above the brightness of the sun” before King Agrippa (Acts 9: 3; 22: 6; 26: 13).
Our armour is not yet complete: “besides all [these], having taken the shield of faith with which ye will be able to quench all the inflamed darts of the wicked one” (Eph. 6: 16). The wicked one probably refers to that particular spiritual foe that makes the attack; but as he acts for the Devil, it may be applied to the Devil himself. He throws darts that are fire–tipped, causing, if not caught on the shield of faith, intense pain. Job so caught them when he could say, after losing his family and all that he had, “Jehovah gave, and Jehovah hath taken away; blessed be the name of Jehovah!” (Job 1: 21). Days of sorrow are peculiarly favourable for these darts, where circumstances appear to confirm the awful suggestion that God does not love or care for us at all. Oh for the shield of faith, for such a knowledge of God and His love as to render null all these efforts of the Enemy! We need a practical and living confidence in God, a faith that keeps the eye on God and His Word and not on circumstances or foes. Whenever you are tempted by untoward circumstances to doubt God’s love to you, ask yourself two questions: Who hung on that central cross at Calvary, and why was He there? You will find the shield of faith then deflects the doubt.
We now come to the protection of the head: “Have also the helmet of salvation” (Eph. 6: 17). In verse 11 we were to “put on” the panoply of God, and in verse 16 we were to be those who have “taken” the shield of faith—we actually have to get up and do these things. Here the sense is different. “Have also the helmet of salvation” carries the idea of simply receiving it from God. Thus when it comes to salvation, all we can do is just to take—we can do nothing of ourselves. So the saints of God have always found, through all dispensations, as witnessed by David in Psalm 116: “What shall I render unto Jehovah, [for] all His benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of Jehovah” (vs 12, 13). The “helmet of salvation” sits very comfortably on the head, the seat of the intelligence, the reason and the conscience. Many people seem to think that salvation is all about feelings and only a question of the heart. No, my head needs the light of God: my mind and conscience must be satisfied by what God says He has done for me. My feelings may vary, but God's Word never.
There is but one offensive weapon in the armour: “And the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word” (Eph. 6: 17). Note that it is not the sword of the flesh, but of the Spirit. The first man must not touch it, or he will be cutting the wrong people. Yet in how many of the wretched contentions between saints has the sword been used in this careless way? When the flesh uses this sword it is always destructive to everything that feeds, comforts or edifies the Lord’s people. The Spirit of God alone knows how to wield it; when, and against whom to apply it. Then again, note, the sense here is not exactly the Word of God as a whole, but that particular word, or saying that fits the occasion. Apart from the Spirit, even the most intelligent of Christians are very apt to misapply Scripture, and get quite a wrong word for the particular circumstance. There is some particular word to meet every crisis and every attack of the wicked one.
There is one final piece of armour, strange though it might at first seem: “Praying at all seasons, with all prayer and supplication in [the] Spirit.” (v18). This is actually a very necessary weapon, and very effective, for:
“Satan trembles when he sees,
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
Notice that we must use this weapon “at all seasons”. It must be at hand in prosperity as well as in adversity, in joy as well as in sorrow, in health as well as in sickness, in the smiles of the world as well as its frowns, in gain as well as in loss, in rest as well as in activity, in business as well as in the home. Every state, every season, every place, has its own peculiar dangers and so prayer is needed in all. But not only this, it is “all prayer” (my emphasis), that is, our diverse needs give occasion for diverse prayers. When you always go through about the same form of words in prayer, it is obvious that you are simply in a rut, and not realising the peculiar needs of that moment. Your prayer is a form—you are ‘saying your prayers’. Did Peter ‘say his prayers’ when the water was going over him? (see Matt. 14: 30 ) Hardly! But we do not stop with “all prayer” for “supplication in [the] Spirit” is added. But what is supplication if not prayer? Is this not meaningless repetition? Not at all. We learn elsewhere that prayer is to be made “unceasingly” (1 Thess. 5: 13), but supplication is for times of special pressure. Some specific need or lack is pressed upon us, and this leads to supplication. Prayer is the general spirit of dependence; supplication meets special needs. If I might so put it, prayer brings me to my knees, supplication throws me on my face.
Now, my beloved brother or sister, let us press upon our souls the need for practical use of this armour. It is not like those antiquated suits we are accustomed to look at with curiosity in the Tower of London, or elsewhere, it is for present use, and has never been improved upon. Modern weapons are out of date in a few years—the armour of God never. God does not tell us to look at it, to admire it, but to wear it, for armour is not one atom of use until it is put on. Let us see to it then, that we “put on the panoply of God” (Eph. 6: 11, my emphasis).