The Armor of God

Ephesians 6:10-20

On Wednesday our son, Elijah, turned 17 years old which reminded me of some of his past birthdays.  On Elijah’s 3rd birthday he received a gift that changed his life, at least up to that point. He got the first of many pairs of batman pajamas. They were gray with a black cape that Velcro-ed onto his back. They were winter pajamas with long pants and long sleeves but his birthday is in the summer, and on his third birthday, it was very hot. But, he did not care. He was so excited, he put them on immediately. After a short time, he was red faced and sweating but he would not take them off.

His third birthday was day one of two solid years of wearing a batman cape. We purchased some summer pajamas with a cape, we had batman t-shirts and batman Halloween costumes, but the most important part was always the cape. No matter what he had on, we pinned a cape onto his shoulders. It was the first thing he asked us to do after he got dressed for the day. He went everywhere with a cape pinned to his back. Everyone thought it was cute. But after months of this, we started to get concerned. I discussed it with a teacher friend and she said, “the cape makes him feel confident and powerful.” She said, “Don’t worry about it; I know that he will not go to High School with a cape pinned to his shirt.” And she was right. He wore a cape every day until he was 5 years old and then one day he just stopped. He no longer needed the power of the cape.

When we put on “the whole armor of God,” it is like putting on a superhero cape. We receive divine confidence. We receive divine power. —

Ephesians has been traditionally thought to be written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus from a Roman jail. However, in the oldest manuscripts that we have of Ephesians, there is no reference to Ephesus in the letter. The original writings did not include titles for the books or letters, let alone chapters and verses. The titles were added later by the early church. In addition to the title, some scribe along the way added the phrase “who are in Ephesus” the oldest manuscripts of this letter simply say, “To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus.” The older manuscripts lead scholars to believe that this was originally an open letter to the church.

While tradition says that the letter was written by Paul, it has a different vocabulary and style than Paul’s letters. There are seven Epistles or letters, that Bible scholars call “the undisputed letters of Paul.”  Bible scholars are all confident that Paul wrote: Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. These seven letters are all written in the same style, using a similar vocabulary and with the same theology.  Almost all scholars agree that Ephesians was written by someone other than Paul, probably a follower or disciple of Paul, after Paul was excuted.

It was common in ancient times for associates of a well-known person to write in the name of that person. It was generally seen as an honor. Paul’s associate wanted to address a new situation in the church. The author most likely knew Paul and wanted to tell the church what he believed Paul would say about this situation of the church.

So, as an open letter to the church, Ephesians, is concerned with the influence pagan religions was having on Christians. The author tells the people of the church to put on “the whole armor of God” against rulers and authorities and evil cosmic powers. They were to fasten the belt of truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, put on the shoes of peace, and take the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit of God.

These same pieces of armor are used in the book of Isaiah although some of the meanings of the pieces are different.

The use of the analogy of God’s armor is powerful. The early church was all too familiar with the armor of the Roman soldiers. Giving a new and Holy definition  to things that represented oppression and suffering was a powerful statement. It turned things associated with violence and oppression completely upside down. It turned swords into plowshares!

Besides the soldiers’ armor, people of the first century wore different clothes depending on who they were. For instance only male Roman citizens wore togas. A purple border on the toga it meant they were senators. Wigs and jewelry also showed a particular status. The lowest classes, like herdsmen and slaves, wore coarse dark tunics.

While we do not have laws that tell us what style of clothes we must wear, our clothing does say a lot. Some of us wear scrubs to work or a uniform. I put on a robe and stole when I lead worship. There are some young men who wear pants so baggy they have to hold them up with one hand. When I attended Jessie Clark long ago, it was important to wear tennis shoes with a swish on the side. Some kids identify themselves as preppy, some as goth, some as rednecks and some as metro. Even the kids who do not want to be confined to a category are judged by the clothes they wear.

Our actions and reactions toward people is based on how they are dressed. A few years ago, Scotland had the largest jewelry theft in history. It was a store that kept its doors locked at all times. You may not go there and browse like the stores in the mall. You must be a millionaire to be able to even look at something in this jewelry shop. Every piece is an original and everything is made from the finest gold and gems. But when two men dressed in expensive suits, wearing fancy watches and glasses were let out in front of the jewelry store by a limo, they were let into the store. They were given access based on their appearance and they walked out with millions of dollars of stolen goods. You can’t judge a book by its cover they say.

We treat people differently based on what they wear. We do not wear certain clothes so that we can rob a store, but we use clothes like armor. We wear certain clothes to feel powerful, confident or attractive. We wear clothes to draw attention to ourselves or to blend in and not bring any attention on ourselves.

I have known people whose armor was not their clothes but their vehicles. Whether it is an expensive sports car or a big truck with straight pipes, people sometimes use their vehicles as armor too. Woodford County High School has tractor day near the end of each school year when all the kids who have a tractor are invited to drive them to school. For some their tractor is armor.

For some people armor comes in a bottle. They only feel confident in social settings with a glass of alcohol in their hands. They can only handle the bumps of life if they are medicated with alcohol or drugs.

In school, other children can be very mean. They make fun of us when we dress differently or when we talk differently. It takes a lot of courage to get on a school bus, go to school and walk down those halls. It takes courage to walk into the cafeteria and find a seat for lunch.

As adults it does not get much better. We might not feel comfortable going to gatherings where we don’t know everyone. Sometimes we don’t have the right clothes or car or house. We might not use big words and we feel out of place and judged. We are all insecure at one time or another and we all seek armor to hide our insecurities and to protect us from the hardships of life.

But life happens— we get sick, our loved ones get cancer, a parent leaves the family, our spouse dies, our baby dies, we lose our job, we declare bankruptcy…  Life happens and life is hard and we look for something to protect us. But there is not a pair of shoes or a car or a bottle that will protect us from life. The armor we need is God’s armor and it is not made of metal or wood or leather. It is made of truth, righteousness, peace and salvation. It is made of God’s spirit and it is obtained through Jesus the Christ.

Wearing God’s armor does not prevent life from happening but it allows us to get through it. It does not keep other children from saying mean things, but it reminds us that we are loved by God and never alone. For the ancient church, God’s armor did not keep the pagans that worshipped many gods away, but it helped the early Christians to resist the temptation to do the same.

So where can get one of these suits of armor? Ephesians says, “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” — We are to pray. The intention is that we pray without ceasing. Because when we pray we invite the ever-present God into our hearts and minds – into our lives.

When we pray regularly and often, prayer becomes the foundation of all that we do. We pray before we eat and our meal becomes a blessing. We pray before we get out of bed and the morning is more joyful. We start our day with devotion and prayer and our entire day is set by our prayer. We pray as we walk into the school building and we allow God to guide and support us throughout the day. We pray at each stoplight and we don’t get so frustrated to have to stop yet again. We pray at the end of the day and we realize how thankful we are for it or thankful that we got through it. We pray for ourselves and those we love and those we can’t stand and we feel different and so do they.

The more you are in conversation with God, the holier your life becomes. The more you pray, the closer you walk with Christ. It is that simple, it is that hard.

Don’t tell me if I am wrong but I don’t think that there is anyone in this room who does not bathe. I bet everyone here brushes their teeth. Most of you watch television. All of you eat. You do not say to your friends, “I just can’t find time to take a shower. I have not brushed my teeth in weeks. I do not have time to eat anymore. I know that I should but I am too busy.”

Your relationship with God is the most important relationship you have. You can lose everyone and everything you have but you cannot lose God. God is always there. I have not always understood that. It is through your relationship with God that you love yourself, forgive yourself, rely on yourself. In order to have a relationship with God, you must pray. If you need confidence and power in your life but you are too old to wear a batman cape, you must pray. If life happens to you and you want the armor of God, you must pray.

If you don’t have a prayer life, start by praying at meal time. Take a breath, bow your head and thank God for the food. If you pray before meals but no other time, begin your day in prayer. Then begin praying when you drive or when you walk. Pray every time you hear a siren or see an ambulance. Pray every time you get the mail or hear a bird. Strengthen your relationship with prayer. John-Mark and I pray together each morning. It grounds us in God and to each other. Begin and end each day in prayer – pray throughout the day and over time you will be praying without ceasing. Your day, indeed your life, will be a prayer. What a gift to yourself and to the world.

So, put on the belt of truth. Put on the breastplate of righteousness. Tie your shoes of peace. Put the helmet of salvation on your head. Take the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit of God and let life happen.