As I spent time this morning reflecting on the days’ lectionary passage, I was struck by something for the first time. This passage (Ephesians 6:10-20) I’d grown familiar with, since I was a boy, suddenly contained truth I hadn’t noticed before. More specifically I should say – as I asked God what He wanted me to notice, I became more and more aware of this particular Truth.
I remember learning about Ephesians 6 as a kid. We’d have physical belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, helmets, and even a sword. Putting on these fake pieces of “armor”, and stomping around the Sunday school room like an obnoxious child-soldier, I had opportunity to be the class clown AND teachers’ pet simultaneously. Those moments were always enjoyable for me, as an extrovert who wasn’t always particularly good at answering the teachers’ questions. Thankfully, I’ve matured in some ways since then. (mostly)
As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand the importance of Paul’s words to the church in Ephesus. Whatever battle scenes I may have imagined Paul painting as a child have faded, and I hear the heart of Jesus in his words. He invites the church to cling to these solid foundations as vital to sustaining our faith in a world that doesn’t yet recognize/know Jesus as Lord fully.
It’s important to know and cling to the Truth of the gospel, no matter what our current experience happens to be, and live in that direction. It’s vital to remember the righteousness (the ways of justice, and right-ness) God desires, that becomes our life as we are found in Christ. We’re called to be people always ready to seek/promote the peace of reconciliation, taking it where Jesus leads us. We’re urged to hold fast to our faith, as a shield capable of deflecting the flaming arrows of the enemy (who is not a person/group, but a spiritual power or force/system). We put on our helmet of salvation, offered by the “head” of the body in Christ. We take up the sword, which is the Word of God empowered by the Holy Spirit (not words from a page, but the teaching of the gospel message).
But even in being fitted with all of this armor, there is usually something incredibly important missing. A crucial piece of being ready, and being able to “stand firm” that we don’t often include when we dress up that student in front of the class. Ready for it?
Paul is speaking with plural Greek words. Not to “you”, but to “ya’ll”.
This is not a battle we are preparing to fight alone. This is not something I can “do on my own”. This was not meant even for my family to seek to do on our own. There is something vitally important about the assumption Paul made to his audience in Ephesus – that all of this was something they were doing collectively. This comes through over and over again in his writing, especially as these words come only a couple chapters after he talks about the uniquely gifted parts of the body in Ephesians 4.
John Wesley even called this aspect of “Christian conference” one of the “Means of Grace”. We don’t discover “what is true for ourselves”, but rather wrestle together about what the Truth means for us all (and in each new season). We are shaped in His “Righteousness” as we come alongside one another, confessing our sins and being shaped vulnerably in His Light together. We promote peace graciously in the context of forgiving community, becoming a living refuge in a world where anxious communities form/bond in response to threats/fears. We lock shields of faith with those surrounding us, believing and testifying to the Love of God that has transformed us (and those before us), even when we feel attacked. We are bound together by our trust in the salvation offered in Jesus Christ, the “head” of which we are made one body. Finally, we wield the sword of God’s Word – not as something I grasp fully and completely on my own. Empowered by the Holy Spirit for understanding, we humbly approach the message of the gospel we have received and joined, with the global Church across all times and places.
May we never forget this incredibly important piece of “putting on the full armor of God”, so that we may “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power”…