Ephesians Part One: Deep Dive
WHY WOULD GOD NEED ARMOUR?
After Paul has just finished outlining the necessity for the early Christians of Ephesus to live in unity, how to behave in a community right through to the expected family dynamic, followed by a reminder of the community’s place within eschatology and finally, introducing the idea that there’s more to this life than just the material. The concept of donning armour seems misplaced. However, when looked at in such broad strokes, it fits perfectly. Paul has laid out a methodology, by which one can live, and additionally introduced the divine concept of the Armour of God. The ready defence we must have, to defeat the spiritual attacks of the Accuser. Interestingly, this is the same armour that the author of Isaiah refers to God putting on to deliver Israel from her enemies. (Is. 59:15-17) The connotation here is that the armour is just as much about offence and making war against the enemy as it is for protecting one from attack. With this foundation laid, let’s take a closer look at what this armour is and does, and why Paul chose it to teach the church about spiritual warfare. This armour was seen by Jews and Gentiles almost daily. The military presence of Roman soldiers was ever present the reminder to the church that they were in a struggle. In addition to this, gladiatorial battles were common during this culture. Using this imagery, Paul weaves a tapestry, blending the image of an irreligious, Christian-despising centurion, with some of the richest and most meaningful truths contained within Christianity.
Note: A precursor to putting on the armour of God, is that one is continually being led by the spirit in all things, treating one’s family and engaging in the wider community with a high ethical value.
Belt of Truth: This belt, was simply that, a strong band of material, or skin, that was used to hold the rest the armour in place. Without it, many pieces of the armour would be flapping about, getting in the way, or even preventing movement within battle. This piece, if missing would leave a soldier unconfident, uncomfortable and unready to stand firm.
This is paralleled with the idea of truth. Specifically, the truth of the Gospel. The truth that the Christian message is, just that, true. If one is engaged in the world, and unsure of what is true, they are vulnerable to attack, and a dismantling of their worldview. Without the belt of truth, those at Ephesus may have found their salvation floundering uselessly around their ankles, in a polytheistic context where they were the ideological minority.
Breastplate of Righteousness: This ‘breastplate’ terminology is misleading when seen on a soldier, one could see that this plate, better described as ‘a coat of mail’ wrapped around the entire torso, even protecting the neck and hips. It was a plate, protecting the soldier from all directions, from all types of damage.
The parallel is vast and deep. But essentially, it is not something we need to put on and take off. It is echoing the idea that Paul has previously referred to within his writings, that we have the righteousness of Christ. It is not our own efforts or construction or will and deeds. It is Christ, through whom, faith has imputed to those who believe.
“Sandals” of Peace: Ask any soldier of any time, the question “Which part of your body is most important for you to protect?” They’ll likely tell you it is their feet. Within this Roman context, of more primitive warfare, this concern is greatly exaggerated. Sharps sticks, broken pottery, unforgiving terrain all combine to prevent a soldier from marching or progressing. Having the wrong shoes, or worse, no shoes, prevents one from doing their job effectively. Additionally, the composition of these sandals; commonly leather and iron, made it hard to walk backwards. To do so in an effective way, one would have to remove the armour itself.
Romans 10:15 tells of how beautiful the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace. Christ’s gospel is one, intrinsically of peace. Peace with God, in reconciliation to the Father through the Son, and the peace of God, through the work and mission of the Son and Spirit. Therefore, when Paul says, prepare, he is harkening to Is. 52:7, the advancement of the good news, he is saying that one must prepare themselves when they are taking the good news to someone. That there are snares of the devil, intended to make us flee or fall, and that the believer who is called to bring the Gospel (hint: that’s everyone), must prepare themselves for that.a
Shield of Faith: During battle, archers would often fire arrows, soaked in pitch, and set on fire, so that if the arrow merely bounced of breastplate it would still be effective in setting the soldier alight. A shield, often made from wood and leather doused in water would prevent this. The arrow would hit the shield and remain stuck and be put out, unable to cause further damage.
This piece of the armour is essential in its ability to prevent non-direct attacks. Self-doubt, tragedy, pride, all of which can destroy an individual from the inside. Interestingly, scholars note that due to the context, the Greek and Roman Gods, Eros & Cupid of the day, their weapon of choice? Arrows. Particularly arrows of sexual nature. The quenching of the arrows in both of these contexts is that of faith. Faith in Christ’s redemptive action and future promise.
Helmet of Salvation/Hope: This item, made from leather, or bronze was a battle-only item. It served two purposes. The first, obviously, protection from the damage or severing of one’s head. But the second, due to the straps on the side of one’s helmet it was difficult for a soldier to see anything in their peripheral vision. Allowing the soldier to focus only on what was in front of them and to trust the soldier beside them to warn and protect them.
The picture being conveyed here is the deliberate choice to put the helmet of salvation on one’s head. Mirroring the choice to put one’s hope in the Lord. Enabling the wearer to focus on the things of God, and to not be distracted by circumstance. Furthermore, this picture is one of faith that the people of Ephesus belong to the family of the risen Messiah and therefore serves as a reminder that the ultimate enemy has been defeated, and that by keeping this helmet on, one has the ability, through Christ, to defeat all subordinate enemies.
Sword of the Spirit: We come to the main weapon of the Roman foot soldier, its worthy to note that in this picture, the sword is the only offensive element of the armour. Traditionally, the soldiers would throw spears first, to disable shields, not directly attack soldiers. That was a job reserved for the sword. The purpose of this sword, was twofold, for thrusting and slashing, hence it’s two usable edges. A soldier’s time or resources were never wasted in sharpening and studying the use of the sword.
Paul teaches that the armour is primarily not an offensive tool, and the seeming imbalance is not such a disadvantage after all. The sword of the spirit is ‘the Word of God’ a sword to be wielded. Just like Jesus did in Matthew 4. Paul uses the analogy of the sword because of the close-to-the-frontlines distinctiveness of evangelism. The word of God is not just the New Testament either, how could it have been if it wasn’t yet composed. Surely Paul is referring to the already promised, and now accomplished work through the Prophets and now Christ respectively.
Finally, Paul exhorts the people of Ephesus to pray, with different types of prayer, led and guided by the spirit. Paul juxtaposes the individual amour of a soldier, with the unified cries of prayer by the body of believers to see the victory of Christ appropriated to the lives of the church, to bring about the Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven.
The Whole Armour of God - John Henry Jowett.
The Epistle to the Ephesians – John Muddiman