Ephesians Part One: Deep Dive
BREAKING DOWN THE ARMOUR | RYAN KERRISON
After Paul has finished outlining the necessity for the early Christians of Ephesus to live in unity and how to behave in a community (right through to the expected family dynamic), 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 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 the offence and waging war on the enemy as it is about 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 an ever-present reminder to the church of their struggle, and the danger of being Christians. In addition to this, gladiatorial battles were common to 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: As a precursor to putting on the armour of God, one should be continually being led by the Spirit in all things, treating one’s family well, 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 of the armour in place. Without it, many pieces of the armour would be flapping about, getting in the way, and even preventing movement within battle. This piece, if missing, would leave a soldier unsure, uncomfortable and unprepared to stand firm.
The belt parallels the idea of truth, and specifically the truth of the Gospel: that the Christian message is bona fide and correct. 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
The ‘breastplate’ is better described as ‘a coat of mail’ and wrapped around the entire torso, even protecting the neck and hips. It was a plate, protecting the soldier from all directions and from all types of damage.
Essentially, this one is not something we need to put on and take off. It is echoing the idea 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, or deeds. It is Christ, through whom faith has attributed to those who believe.
SANDALS OF PEACE
Ask any soldier, of any time, the question: “Which part of your body is most important to protect?” They’ll tell you it is their feet. Within this Roman context of more primitive warfare, this concern is warranted. Sharps sticks, broken pottery and unforgiving terrain are all factors which could 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. Let's be Christians who continue moving forwards.
Romans 10:15 tells of how beautiful the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace are. Christ’s gospel is intrinsically one 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 referring to Isaiah 52:7, the advancement of the good news. He is saying that one must be prepared 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 be prepared.
Shield of Faith
During battle, archers would often fire flaming arrows, soaked in pitch, so that if the arrow only bounced off the opponent's breastplate, it would still be effective in setting the soldier alight. A shield, often made from wood and leather, and doused in water, would prevent this. The arrow would hit the shield, 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 these can destroy an individual from the inside. Interestingly, scholars note that the Greek and Roman Gods, Eros & Cupid of the day, favoured a certain type of weapon. Arrows. Particularly arrows of sexual nature. The quenching of the arrows in both of these contexts is that of faith, both 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 damage or the severing of one’s head. But the second: focus. 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 only engage in 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. It enables 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
As we come to the main weapon of the Roman foot soldier, it's worth noting that in this whole picture, the sword is the only offensive element of the armour. Traditionally, 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: 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 a disadvantage. 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 to liken it to the close-to-the-front-lines distinctiveness of evangelism. The Word of God is not just the New Testament – 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.
Finally, Paul exhorts the people of Ephesus to pray, with different types of prayer, led and guided by the Spirit. Paul juxtaposes the individual armour 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, and 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