Travel for us may be something of a struggle; no trains, traffic jams, airport strikes, the usual Bank Holiday chaos. For St. Paul his travels involved a constant struggle with those in authority. The religious authorities opposed his preaching and the civil (Roman) authorities dealt with him severely whenever his activities threatened public order.
It is unsurprising that when he wrote to the Ephesians about the Christian life he spoke of a struggle against those authorities. For Paul the Christian life was not just a battle against earthly forces but also a cosmic struggle against evil.
In every city that he visited Paul saw Roman soldiers, the physical expression of Roman power. As well as being garrisoned they could also be sent relatively quickly to restore order or crush rebellion. To Paul they were a constant embodiment of his sense of spiritual oppression.
Far from being defeated by the visual signs of imperial power Paul used them for his fight. He turned the enemy's weapons back on itself.
How? By telling the Ephesian Christians to 'put on the whole armour of God', thus equipping themselves for spiritual warfare. It's a familiar idea but it does us no harm to recall it once again, to look once more at the Gospel armour.
- The belt of truth around the waist. Truth is currently a hot political issue - the Hutton enquiry. Spinning the truth has hindered good government. Christian truth is likened to a soldier's belt. On it hung weapons ready for action, whether offensive or defensive. By acting as a girdle to hold in flowing tunics it also facilitated fast movement, in fight or flight. Christian truth facilitates fight and movement, St. Paul tells us.
- The breastplate of righteousness. In ancient warfare most deaths occurred as a result of infection in wounds. As well as protecting the wearer from a quick death by spear thrust to the heart, the breastplate offered some protection from wounds and the resultant slow poisoning. If we are righteous then we are protected from innuendo and scandal. Our enemies won't be able to get the dirt to stick. (Being self-righteous is not the same thing at all.) Sinful as we are the history of the church is all too often a history of festering and corrupt wounds.
- Shoes on your feet making ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. The Pax Romana was dependant on military power and as we all know footwear was and is a bane of a soldier's life. (Good boots) Roman soldiers had sandals that enabled rapid movement and were cool in the hot of the Mediterranean campaigning season. Christians need whatever enables us to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Adaptability and flexibility are important.
- The shield of faith to quench the flaming arrows of the evil one. Roman troops used very large shields when coming under attack from defenders. They must have created an effect a bit like a tortoise shell. Our faith that is always shared acts in the same way against evil.
- The helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Helmets protect heads and swords bring victory. For the Christian the Bible is the source of assurance that the victory is ours through Jesus Christ, the word of God. If we know our Bibles inside out then we will be well protected and well equipped by God.
- A secret weapon. Paul's leaves his analogy based on Roman armour and continues by talking about prayer. Prayer is the most vital weapon in the Christian armour one that we can use whether we are weak or strong, young or old. We can prayer for others, for boldness in proclaiming as Paul suggests. By it Paul in prison, an ambassador in chains, was made strong.
It is good to be reminded of the struggle that is the Christian life and once again to draw strength and encouragement from St. Paul's armorial picture. So we are led to pray for one another and to realise how important a weapon prayer is in the Christian warfare.
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Last updated 24/8/2003 18:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd