Being a Christian Is Hard
Ephesians 6:10–17 (NIV)
Main Idea: Living a life pleasing to the Lord and engaging in the mission of the church is not easy because there are powerful supernatural beings that strategize and attack. Because of this, God makes available his power and divine resources to believers so they can resist the assaults of these hostile spirits and advance God’s kingdom into the world. Clinton Arnold
Ephesians 6:10–17 (NIV) 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
In most major conflicts hardly any front-line soldiers know very much about the rest of the war. That’s the job of the generals. But at least they know that something is going on, and that their bit is part of that larger whole. That’s the perspective that every Christian needs to maintain as we hold our bit of the line against attack.
And holding out against attack is what this passage is mostly all about. The weapons Paul speaks of are mainly defensive, equipping us to withstand attack and still be standing up at the end of the day. The belt, the breastplate, the shoes, the shield and the helmet, are all to enable you to remain safe under attack. Only the sword has a potentially attacking capability. We’ll come to that in a moment; but notice what the Christian’s defensive armour consists of.
First, truth. The primary thing about the Christian message is that it is true; if it isn’t, it’s meaningless. It isn’t true because it works; it works (if it does) because it’s true. Never give up on the sheer truth of the gospel. It’s like the belt which holds everything else together and in place.
Second, ‘justice’, or ‘righteousness’. This isn’t just ‘virtue’, important though that is. It’s the fact that the one true God is the one true judge, and intends to put the whole world to rights. Indeed, the process already began when God vindicated Jesus, and vindicated (‘justified’) us in him. The fundamental justice and goodness of God, and the status that Christians have of already being ‘in the right’ before him, is like a breastplate, protecting us against frontal attack.
Third, the ‘gospel of peace’—the message, that is, of peace with God and peace between different previously hostile groups, as in 2:11–22. The enemy will do all he can to knock you off your feet. Holding fast to this message of peace will make you ready, like good shoes or boots would do, to stay upright.
Fourth, the shield of faith. Belief in Jesus as the risen Lord, and utter loyalty to this Jesus, will protect you when the enemy hurls flaming arrows at you. The arrows may take the form of doubt or despair; of adverse circumstances; of sharp temptation that will burn you up if you let it catch light on you; of personal tragedy; or indeed the kind of triumph that tempts you to arrogance and pride. Believing loyalty will quench them all.
Fifth, the helmet of salvation. Knowing that you already belong to the family of the risen Messiah, and that you have therefore already been rescued from the ultimate enemy, enables you to face all secondary enemies. Wear this helmet always.
But this still leaves the one offensive weapon: the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. The ‘word’ in question is clearly the same as in 5:26, that is, the word of the gospel through which God accomplishes his powerful, cleansing work in people’s hearts and lives.
Paul clearly supposes that the forces of evil that put Jesus on the cross have been seriously upset by the victory of the resurrection. They are now positively panic-stricken at the thought that the message of this Jesus is everywhere challenging their power and authority, and that communities loyal to Jesus as Lord and king are springing up, bringing together peoples and communities in a new unity, a new humanity, that shows evidence of the creator’s sovereign power and hence of their own imminent destruction. They are therefore doing their best to oppose this gospel, to distract or depress the young Christians, to blow them off course by false teaching or temptations to anger or immorality (see 4:17–5:20, where these are the main themes).
Sometimes this attack will take the frontal form of actual authorities in towns and cities who try to prevent Christians from spreading the message. Sometimes it will take the more oblique form of persuading Christians to invest time and energy in irrelevant side-issues, or to become fascinated by distorted teaching. Sometimes it will be simply the age-old temptations of money, sex and power. But in each case what individuals and the whole church must do is, first, to recognize that attacks are coming; second, to learn how to put on the complete armour which God offers; and, third, to stand firm and undismayed.
– N.T. Wright