Chapter 9: The Whole Armor of GodWhy, LORD, do you stand at a distance and pay no heed to these troubled times? Arrogant scoundrels pursue the poor; they trap them by their cunning schemes. The wicked even boast of their greed; these robbers curse and scorn the LORD. In their insolence the wicked boast: "God doesn't care, doesn't even exist." Psalm 10:1-4, NABOpening Prayer: Heavenly Father, there are times when I just can't understand how this world has gotten so crazy, and why the trend is worse instead of better. Help me see the world from Your perspective, and recognize the survival tools that You have created for my benefit, I pray. Amen.
Making Your Joy Durable
So far in this book, we have discovered how God can give us joy through the operation of His Holy Spirit in our hearts. The question now is whether God's joy can be durable enough to survive enemy attacks.
Face it: life doesn't make sense at times. It feels like we're under attack from all directions at once. There are warped people everywhere, abusing drugs, abusing alcohol, abusing each other, and planning ways to abuse you.
Why do people act that way? It's not rational. Forty years ago, my college professors taught, with religious fervor, that human beings are basically good and will behave rationally when provided with the proper education and economic incentives.
If they were right, there should be relatively few irrational people these days, because knowledge is so widespread and cheap, and psychology has had more than 100 years to help man perfect himself. Unfortunately, education has not made the bad guys into nice people. It has made them craftier and wealthier.
Who is the real enemy?In the aftermath of the September 11 tragedy, the television commentators spent endless hours coming to grips with the magnitude of the attack and the bizarre nature of the terrorists involved. To paraphrase one frustrated newsman: "How can you protect yourself against an enemy that hides himself, pretends he doesn't exist, masks his activities behind a smokescreen of innocent civilians, maintains an army of spies and undercover agents, hates you with an irrational hatred and will try to attack you at any opportunity?"
The newsman was speaking of the terrorists behind the September 11 attacks. But his description perfectly fits a different type of enemy, the real enemy responsible for all the unrest in this world.
- Our real enemy is not radical Islam, although the real enemy has been able to use the Islamic militant groups to do his bidding.
- Our real enemy is not communism, although the real enemy has used communism to enslave billions and murder millions of people.
- Our real enemy is not secular humanism, although humanism has become the politically correct religion of our government and educational system.
- Our real enemy is not the popular news media, although some commentators speak with his voice.
- Our real enemy is not a religious myth, although he has instigated all the religious foolishness that has plagued mankind since Adam and Eve.
The apostle Paul describes the real enemy very succinctly in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (NKJV)
Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says that we shouldn't waste time complaining about our visible enemies. Our real enemy is the devil, Satan himself, supported by an invisible army of demon spirits and their hierarchy of regional commanders.
Your politicians can't legislate these creatures away. The FBI can't tap their phones or monitor their e-mails. Your door locks won't keep them out of your home. Your dog can't bite them. Your "nice" behavior won't prevent them from attacking you and your family.
Good news: You can protect yourself and your family from the invisible enemy. The principles are simple and can be learned by any school-age child. Furthermore, the techniques are 100% effective and can be researched in any public library.
The Whole Armor (Panoply) of God
Today's vocabulary word is panoply. It is a Greek word meaning the complete set of armor, shields and weapons that a soldier would take into battle.
Followers of Jesus are permitted to wear an invisible panoply. It is completely effective against the attacks of the enemy. But very few people actually bother wearing it. There are two reasons:
- Eligibility. Not everybody who calls himself or herself a Christian is actually following Jesus. Most folks are drifting through a comfortable rut that might or might not include attending church.
- Ignorance. Many eligible Christians think spiritual warfare is for pastors or other folks. Most don't realize the danger they're in, or the protection they forfeit.
The apostle Paul vividly describes the need for the panoply in Ephesians 6, verses 11-13:11 Put on the whole armor (panoply) of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world's rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Therefore take to yourselves the whole armor (panoply) of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (NKJV)
Verse 11 makes it clear that the devil and his henchmen actively plot and set traps for people. When these plots come to light, as in the aftermath of September 11, we realize that nobody is able to completely escape "the wiles" of the enemy. Without special preparation, we won't be able to stand against them.
Verse 12 gives us a brief glimpse into the devil's chain of command. There are greater and lesser demon spirits assigned to geographic regions and to specific projects. Since our enemy is spiritual and attacks us with invisible weapons, we need spiritual armor and weapons not available in earthly gun shops.
With our normal eyesight, we can't see these monsters directly. But we can read history books and see how demon-possessed men and women have cut a bloody swath through people of every generation. Many of you reading this book are old enough to remember Adolph Hitler, one of the more-recent and more-remarkable puppets of the devil. Hitler was typical of these evil leaders, who usually reserve their worst attacks for Jewish and Christian people.
Verse 13 is an exhortation to every believer. The armor is freely available to you. It is guaranteed to be 100% effective in helping you withstand the enemy. It might save your life of somebody in your family.
The next five verses (14-18) describe the panoply in some detail:14 Therefore stand, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness 15 and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. 16 Above all, take the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. (MKJV)
Let's look at the panoply, item by item.
"Loins girt about with truth…"
In biblical times, men wore long robes. As a first step in preparing for battle or to run, the men would bind the lower part of the robe around their waist. Picture a man reaching down through his ankles, grabbing the back hem of the robe, and pulling it forward and upward to tuck into his belt. This would make a large "diaper," freeing his legs to run and providing a little protective padding to his groin area.
Having your "loins girt about with truth" means making a commitment to the truth, to avoid becoming entangled in the lies of the enemy. Truth must be more important to you than your personal agenda, your family, your job, your religious rut or even your life itself. You must learn the truth and be committed, in advance, to acting upon it.
Remember that Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light." As part of your study, you must examine the claims of Jesus to see if He really is the Truth. If His claims are true, then He must be the Way. If He is the Way, we must follow Him on His terms.
Jesus described the connection between light and truth in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verses 19-21:19 And this is the condemnation, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who practices truth comes to the Light so that his works may be revealed, that they exist, having been worked in God. (MKJV)
Your commitment to the truth includes being transparent and consistent. Your integrity will require you to come to the light. As a minimum, you will need to confront your own shortcomings and failings. At times, you will need to confess your faults to your spouse or to your pastor when you have fallen short.
In the 8th chapter of John's gospel, Jesus described another benefit of a lifetime commitment to truth and integrity:31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who believed on Him, "If you continue in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (MKJV)
Your integrity and transparency will set you free from bondage to things of this world. Without a commitment to truth, your life will grow increasingly dark and you will become a slave to the entrapments of the enemy.
Paul also warned about the connection between truth and light in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because the thing which may be known of God is clearly revealed within them, for God revealed it to them. 20 For the unseen things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being realized by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, for them to be without excuse. 21 Because, knowing God, they did not glorify Him as God, neither were thankful. But they became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (MKJV)
The truth of God is readily available to any honest seeker. Next time you walk outside, look around at the grass and trees and birds. Somebody designed all those living things. Look at your own body. Somebody really smart designed your eyes and ears and senses. Somebody really smart designed your heart and lungs and muscles.
Can you design an insect? Can you design an insect that can fly? Can you design an insect that can fly and produce honey and build wax honeycomb structures? Me neither.
According to verse 18 above, my college professors (and yours?) were not just ignorant of the truth. They were unwilling to live in accordance to the truth, so they actively suppressed or distorted the truth. As a result, according to verse 21, their foolish hearts were darkened.
Your first item of armor, then, is to commit your heart to discover and respond to the truth. Truth and light travel together, and your enemy cannot stand to be near either for fear of exposure.
"Having on the breastplate of righteousness"
Once you have prepared your heart by committing to follow the Truth, you must protect your heart from attack. Put simply, you must take care to avoid being led astray by your own emotions or cravings.
The word picture of a breastplate is very appropriate. A physical breastplate protects your vital organs from attack. Unlike a shield that must be held and manipulated with conscious effort, the breastplate is positioned during your daily preparation for battle. For the rest of the day, the breastplate protects your heart from clubs and arrows no matter what your hands are busy doing.
The spiritual breastplate of righteousness works in a similar way. It does not attach itself to us by accident. It's built up from the daily decisions we make about the key priorities of our lives.
In Matthew 6, verses 19-21, Jesus commands us to set our hearts on eternal treasures:19 Do not lay up treasures on earth for yourselves, where moth and rust corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. 20 But lay up treasures in Heaven for yourselves, where neither moth nor rust corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (MKJV)
The issues involved are actually pretty simple, according to Jesus. God only gives us two primary commandments, and both involve our priorities and affections. Jesus gave these two commandments in Matthew 22, verses 37-40:37 Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. 38 "This is the first and great commandment. 39 "And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 "On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (MKJV)
Jesus' commands are simple, but not easy. In fact, they're really backwards, like all the other great truths of the Bible. How can we possibly love an invisible God, Who cannot be detected with our natural senses? Worse yet, how can we love others like ourselves when our natural senses assure us that are neighbors are as weak and unlovable as we are?
Consider the implications. In your natural strength, you cannot comply with either of Jesus' two commandments. Compliance requires a miracle.
Following Jesus requires a God-centered life. Such a life is only possible after God miraculously changes your heart, in response to your faith. And you can only protect your heart from sneak attack by daily renewing your commitment to the righteous walk of faith.
The breastplate of righteousness, therefore, is a commitment to love God and to walk with Him in faith, in accordance with His Scriptures.
This is not a simple once-in-a-lifetime decision. It is a daily discipline of studying the Bible, praying for wisdom, and living in accordance with the Truth.
Don't underestimate the strength of the attacks, which are usually subtle and deceptive. Our common enemy will try to feed your natural affections and passions, to lure you away from God and your family. A small distraction can become a fatal attraction, if your heart is not protected. The attack can even be disguised as something helpful or good for you. God knows your needs. At times, He will use supernatural means to satisfy your needs if you trust Him to keep His promises. By contrast, the enemy tempts us to take shortcuts for things we "need." He comes to us whispering:
- "You're a single person; you need some physical companionship…"
- "It's been a rough week; you need a few drinks…"
- "You're short on cash this month; you need to pad your expense report a little…"
- "You haven't eaten in two days; you need to steal that pastry…"
- "You can't afford to pay taxes on all the jobs where you were paid in cash. You need to cheat on your income tax…"
All of us pass through "wilderness" experiences, where we must walk in faith despite circumstances that appear to defy God's promises. Each day, we must renew our heart commitment to love God and trust Him to keep His word.
Special note to men: For us, the breastplate of righteousness includes a pair of optical filters, to keep us from being led astray by attractive women around us. Part of our daily armament is a commitment to not take a second look (or an extended first look) at a woman who is not our spouse. We must study and pray over our spouses' needs, not their faults.
Special note to women: For you, the breastplate of righteousness includes sound filters, to keep you from hearing or saying hurtful things. You must daily resist the temptation to use your God-given verbal skills for harm. Listen to and speak with God, not the TV or telephone.
"Feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace"
The third part of the armor is preparation for a long journey. You must prepare to follow Jesus down the narrow path through the narrow gate.
Following Jesus will take you to places that require change and personal growth. You have probably already experienced some of those changes, and more changes await you tomorrow.
Long journeys require preparation. Following Jesus will bring you to places that you never expected. You will need to stock up on the spiritual equivalent of provisions and maps in order to navigate the road ahead.
The enemy will try to throw briars and boulders into your path. Without the right covering, your feet won't last the trip. Make the decision, in faith and in advance, that you will follow Jesus nonstop from here to the next life. Trust in God's power and protection to get you through, and He will not disappoint you.
"The shield of faith…"
Let's review Ephesians 6 verse 16:16 Above all, take the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. (MKJV)
At the direction of the Holy Spirit, Paul introduces our shield with the words, "Above all…" This tells us that faith is the most-important part of our armor.
Our English word shield translates the Greek word thureos, a large door-shaped shield. It was large and sturdy enough to serve as a portable fortress. The soldier could prop it up and have both hands free to use a bow, sword or sling.
The Christian's shield is faith. It takes a certain type of faith to become a follower of Jesus. But the follower needs to develop more than bare-minimum faith, if he or she wants to survive the enemy's attacks.
Paul gives us a simple formula for building faith in Romans 10:17:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
You cannot have faith in a vacuum of ignorance. You get faith by hearing and acting upon the truth, which is found in Scripture. The more quality time you spend studying and praying over the Scriptures, the more you abide in the truth of Jesus Christ.
In the verse above, word translates the Greek noun rhema. This is not the same as logos, which is ordinarily used to describe Scripture. The word logos, in a biblical context, refers to all that can be known about God, embodied in Jesus and recorded in Scripture. By contrast, rhema implies something spoken, especially at the direction of the Holy Spirit.
To illustrate the difference, picture yourself prayerfully studying the Scripture (the logos) as a daily discipline. At times, the Holy Spirit will make certain passages alive to your heart. For confirmation, He may also speak to you through the words of your pastor or another brother or sister whom you trust.
Faith is conviction, expressed in action, performed in obedience on the truth of Scripture that has been confirmed to your heart. It builds your faith to listen to anointed men of God preaching and teaching the Bible. The specific spoken word gives life to the general written word.
When you are strong in your faith, the fiery arrows of the enemy won't destroy you. You will know the truth and act upon it. With the help of the Holy Spirit, you will also discern the lies, accusations and distortions of the enemy. The flaming arrows will bounce harmlessly off your shield.
But if the devil's flaming arrows land in a pile of doubt or confusion, you're in trouble. A British friend of mine, a recent convert, was lured into what he thought was a Christian Bible study. Instead, it was a meeting of the local Watchtower Society. Taking advantage of his ignorance of Scripture, the group "taught" him their warped view of God and the Bible. Fortunately, I was able to sense a different flavor to his e-mails and send him a detailed explanation of what this cult group really believed compared to the Bible, and where to find more information. Within days, my friend had done the research, discovered the distorted nature of their teachings, and confronted their leader with questions that exposed their deception.
My British friend had been set on fire by the darts of the enemy. But when the word (rhema) of God was spoken to him, he responded in faith. By faith, he was able to quench the flaming arrows and be strengthened in his walk with the Lord. And he was empowered to fight back using the sword of the Spirit, which we shall soon discuss.
"The Helmet of Salvation"
The Apostle John gives a simple reason for his first epistle, in chapter 5:4 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
The first key phrase is: "…that ye may know that ye have eternal life…" This is an important truth. The follower of Jesus doesn't need to wait until Judgment Day to see if he'll somehow sneak into Heaven. The follower of Jesus can be sure of his salvation right now.
The second key phrase is: "…believe on the name of the Son of God." We intuitively know that we can't be perfect enough to deserve Heaven. However, any of you reading this book can have saving faith in the completed sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. We have peace with God, and we can have peace with our own turbulent thoughts.
The helmet of salvation, then, is having full assurance that our salvation depends on the merits of Jesus rather than the merits of our own good works. This helmet protects your thought processes, to keep you from being ensnared or distracted by religious tradition and false doctrines.
Some denominations never present the clear, Scriptural teaching of salvation by faith, as explained in the earlier chapters of this book. Instead, many have devised complicated systems of beliefs and practices built up over the centuries and enshrined in tradition. People can be devout members of these churches, fulfilling as many regulations as they can grasp, but they can never be assured of their salvation since (in the eyes of the religious leaders) their salvation is tied to their works.
If you aren't really sure about your salvation, your mind is vulnerable to attack from all sides. Take a few minutes to backtrack and re-read the first few chapters of this book. There's a shiny, new helmet waiting there for you, and it's just your size.
If your denomination has lots of traditional beliefs, please study the Scripture yourself to gain assurance of salvation. Don't let the religious folks and traditions deprive you of your helmet. You'll need it in battle.
"The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God"
The Greek word for sword in this passage is machaira. It refers to a personal weapon, like a dirk or dagger or knife. This sword is a powerful weapon for good, when you learn to use it.
Important note: "Word" in this verse is the Greek word rhema.
A few paragraphs earlier, we looked at the difference between the logos of God and the rhema of God. The logos is the Scripture, the truth about God, embodied in Jesus and written down in our Bibles. The logos is God's plan for your life, His general revealed word. On the other hand, the Bible also speaks of the rhema of God - a portion of the logos that is spoken by the Holy Spirit to the heart of a believer. The rhema is the Holy Spirit's word to your heart for your situation.
When God Himself speaks His word (rhema) to you, it is usually by quickening a Scripture to your heart - one that you have already studied. When you take action based on His rhema, you are acting in faith. You can move forward in full confidence that God will keep all His specific promises to you.
When (not if) the enemy attacks you, ask God for a rhema - a Scripture that the Holy Spirit will bring to your attention and energize on your behalf. A perfect example of this type of attack is in Matthew 4, verses 1-4, when Jesus demonstrated the sword of the Spirit:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit up into the wilderness, to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterwards hungry. 3 And when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." 4 But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'" (MKJV)
During an extended fast, the body stops feeling hungry after about a week. When hunger returns - typically at the 40-day point - the body is beginning to die.
In verse 2 we see that Jesus' hunger had returned. His physical body was warning Him of impending death. So the devil tempted Jesus to use His supernatural power to gratify His own physical cravings. It would be a "victim-less crime." Some folks would even call it a good idea. Certainly there was nothing immoral about the bread itself.
But Jesus did not turn the rocks into bread, because He saw the larger picture. His Father had given Him power for ministry purposes, so the power was holy - dedicated completely to accomplishing God's plan. Furthermore, His Father had given Him other promises concerning physical needs. Jesus was dying, but He still had choices, as we saw in verse 4:But He answered and said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'"
In verse 4, Jesus used rhema to describe the word of God that keeps man alive. And Jesus used the rhema of God as a machaira to fight back the attack of Satan.
The point is that we must study God's word - the Bible or logos - to fill our hearts with weapons that God can energize at the appropriate time. Then, when His Holy Spirit speaks the rhema to our hearts, we must act in complete obedience.
There's another peculiar aspect to this passage that isn't obvious from the English translation. The rhema is the sword of the Spirit. It is His weapon. His hand holds the Sword, and His power makes it effective.
The Holy Spirit Himself is using the sword, and not always against the enemy. Sometimes He uses it as a scalpel, deftly trimming away something in my life, or cutting away the blinders that have kept me from understanding His will. I've learned not to grab for the sword, because the sharp end might be pointed at my own heart. I trust the Holy Spirit to use this weapon on my behalf.
"…Praying always… in the Spirit …"
For this critical part of our armor, Paul drops the word pictures, as we see in verse 18:18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.
Instead of a colorful metaphor (e.g. helmet, shield), Paul gives the technical specifications for the type of prayer that can save your neck in battle.
Let's take the specifications word by word:
- Praying: On a personal level, prayer is communicating with God, sharing our hearts and listening for His. On a different level, prayer is the battlefield communications system that enables the Commander in Chief to stay connected with you, to keep you tuned into His will and His heart. Only the discipline of prayer can activate your panoply (armor) and empower you to use it effectively.
- Always: Translates three words in the Greek meaning at every opportunity. Your daily stewardship (your job or ministry) requires diligent attention, but there will still be pauses and transition times when you can rejoice and praise God for His faithfulness. There will also be times of outright attack, especially if you're tired or weak. If you begin the day with intense, strategic prayers, you can get through the day with short, tactical prayers. If you begin the day without prayer, your battlefield prayers will be less effective and you're susceptible to attack.
- All prayer: God appreciates every type of sincere prayer, especially the worshipful prayer of praise and adoration. It is always appropriate to praise God for His love, His character and His faithfulness. Be sure to praise God with your physical voice as often as possible, because it will reverberate through your entire body and give you strength.
- All supplication: Supplication is asking specific favors of God. Study the examples of effective prayer in the Bible. They usually were requests for God to keep His promises that appeared to be contradicted by the circumstances. We must pray for God to energize His Scriptural promises, that His Name and His Word may be honored.
- In the Spirit: Our prayer is to be directed by the Holy Spirit, as we let Him pray through us in tongues (see earlier chapter) and with our understanding. In this way, we allow the Holy Spirit to direct our prayers, for God's will to be done and His power to prevail. If God Himself prays through you to accomplish His will, you can't lose.
- And watching: God calls us to be awake, sleepless, vigilant. God's love gives us peace and casts out fear. But "peaceful" is not the same as "comfortable." If we get too comfortable, we're vulnerable to ambush.
- All perseverance: Prayer takes time and persistence. God's will has a desired outcome, and our hearts burn to achieve that outcome. But His will also has a desired schedule, and we seldom want to hear about it. We must want God's will badly enough to weep for it, and sincerely enough to wait for it.
- Supplication for all saints: Your brothers and sisters have needs. Some of God's promises are not coming true in their lives. The Holy Spirit wants permission to pray His promises into existence through you, for their benefit.
Just remember that there are different types of prayer to accomplish different purposes. Praying in tongues all day at work is helpful, as part of your daily armor. It is not a substitute for getting alone with God early in the morning and late at night. Your short daytime prayers will only be as effective as your long morning prayers.
Think about your Bible-and-prayer time this morning. Was that prayer effective enough to stop a raging demon in his tracks? Would your bedtime prayers last night have been effective in raising your uncle from his sickbed of cancer?
Put it on
Your armor is wonderful and completely effective. But are you making best use of it? Do you wear it often enough to be confident in it? Are you praying enough to stay in two-way communication with the Commander in Chief? Strive to wear your panoply every day, so that you may sing like King David in Psalm 18:30 As for God, His way is perfect; the Word of Jehovah is tried; He is a shield to all those who trust in Him. 31 For who is God besides Jehovah? Or, who is a Rock except our God? 32 It is God who girds me with strength and makes my way perfect. 33 He makes my feet like hinds' feet, and sets me on my high places. 34 He teaches my hands to war, so that a bow of bronze is bent by my arms. 35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; and Your right hand has held me up, and Your gentleness has made me great. 36 You have given a wide place for my steps under me, so that my feet have not slipped. 37 I have pursued my enemies and overtaken them; nor did I turn again until they were destroyed. 38 I have shattered them, and they cannot rise again; they have fallen under my feet. 39 For You have girded me with strength for the battle; You have humbled under me those who rose up against me. (MKJV)Closing Prayer: Lord, forgive me for not taking full advantage of this wonderful panoply. I repent of not praying enough to use it effectively. Thank you for this armor and for the victory you will give me this day. Amen.