This is the second in a series of three posts on Ephesians 6:10-20, the passage that the Life group that I’m a member of is studying. In the passage Paul portrays the Christian life as warfare against Satan using resources supplied to us by the Lord. In this post I’ll consider the middle four verses, in which Paul describes the armour of God that in the first four verses he encouraged his readers to put on to stand against Satan and his forces. The post consists of two parts: comments on the passage and the questions on it that the Life group will discuss. (Originally there were to be four posts in the series, but I combined the two on the Christian armour to facilitate scheduling of the Life group’s meetings.)
14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
I’ve quoted the passage from the English Standard Version. The Biblical quotations below are also from it.
Comments on Ephesians 6:14-17
For each item in the armour of God, I’ll note what part of a Roman soldier’s armour it refers to and suggest what part of a Christian’s life it probably represents.
1. “having fastened on the belt of truth”
The belt’s being the first item mentioned, it was probably the leather apron which hung under a Roman soldier’s armour like breeches to protect the thighs and to tuck the skirts of a robe in for greater freedom of movement rather than the sword belt or strap that some soldiers wore over the armour.
Since “the belt of truth” alludes to Isaiah 11:5, “Righteousness shall be the belt of [the Messiah’s] waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins,” probably “truth” refers to believers’ doing what is right and being faithful to God.
2. “having put on the breastplate of righteousness”
The breastplate was either a metal plate worn over a soldier’s chest to protect it or a coat of mail (a flexible armour composed of scales or plates) worn to protect the chest and back.
The figure of righteousness as a breastplate comes from Isaiah 59:17, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate,” where it describes how God prepared for going to war against evil. Here it probably refers to believers’ acting righteously in their daily dealings with God and other people, which would involve their practising the “faith and love” that Paul encourages them to put on as a breastplate in 1 Thessalonians 5:8.
3. “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace”
Roman soldiers wore heavy sandles or shoes with soles made of several layers of leather studded with hobnails enabling them to dig in and stand against the enemy.
The imagery comes from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet who brings good news, who publishes peace.” However, although that passage refers to the announcing of the gospel of peace, here the idea probably is the appropriating of the gospel of peace so that believers can stand against Satan and his forces. In Ephesians “the gospel of peace” has vertical and horizontal components, peace between God and man and peace between Jew and Gentile.
4. “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”
The shield is not the small round one which protected only part of the soldier’s body but the large rectangular one made of wood covered with canvas and leather which protected his whole body. Before battle it was soaked in water, which would help extinguish flaming arrows shot by the enemy.
Taking the shield of faith probably refers to believers’ trusting God to protect them when attacked by Satan with temptation, false teaching, persecution, doubt, or despair.
5. “take the helmet of salvation”
The helmet protected the head and for the Roman soldier was made of bronze and had cheek pieces.
The figure of salvation as a helmet comes from Isaiah 59:17, “He put … a helmet of salvation on his head,” where it describes how God prepared for going to war against evil. Here it probably refers to “the hope of salvation” that Paul encourages believers to put on as a helmet in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, that hope being for salvation in both the present and ultimately at Jesus’ second coming.
6. “take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
The sword is the only offensive part of the armour mentioned here. The Roman’s soldier’s sword had a short handle and a double-edged blade two feet long and two inches wide and was ideal for close fighting.
“Which is the word of God” identifies “the sword of the Spirit” as words spoken by God and, because of the Greek word used for “word,” probably refers to the proclamation of the Gospel message rather than to the Bible. “Of the Spirit” indicates that the Spirit makes the sword effective.
Questions on Ephesians 6:14-17
1. What did we learn about spiritual warfare in our discussion of Ephesians 6:10-13?
2. What are the six pieces of the Christian armour, and what does each piece mean? [On the sheet that I’ll give to the Life group, I’ll ask them to fill out a chart with columns titled “Piece of Armour” and “What the Piece Means.”]
In the Life group we’ll consider question 1 at the beginning of our study of Ephesians 6:14-17.
In my next post I’ll consider Ephesians 6:18-20, in which Paul encourages prayer.