Perhaps these were some of Paul’s questions as he sat in his Roman prison writing to the early church in and around Ephesus. I can imagine him glancing up from his writing to think and seeing the soldier standing across the room…
We have continued to use the ‘armour of God’ analogy (Ephesians 6v14-17) into modern times even though these days we don’t wear breastplates or helmets – nor carry shields and swords! Is the word of God comparable to a sub-machine gun? Doesn’t quite fit, does it? It’s a bit too indiscriminate and imprecise… In fact modern warfare can be a really unhelpful analogy for a faith based on love! We must never forget that Paul preceded his description of the armour with v12: ‘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’.
Graham Cooke said it best: ‘Human opposition is to teach us grace and mercy; spiritual opposition is to teach us authority.’ Maybe its good to get aggressive in our prayers, contending with the ‘sword’ of the word of God against those evil forces in heaven, and the powers, authorities and rulers on earth – but we cannot get aggressive with people! That is not true to Jesus. What is more true is Kevin Prosch’s old song, ‘Whoever heard of an army, O God, that conquered the world through weeping and mourning and brokenness?’ If we give too much attention to the enemy and praying ‘against’ things without living servant lives of righteousness, honesty, compassion and mercy, we will not be effective warriors of the Lord.
It seems to get a proper perspective of spiritual warfare we need to start at the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians! First Paul teaches about the way God has blessed and repositioned us in heavenly places through Jesus – all by grace and through love – and then goes on to emphasise unity, the whole body working together, the gifts we have been given to share, morality in speech and behaviour and the importance of right relationships with each other… only then do we attain to chapter 6! Living in the opposite spirit to the evil around us, walking in love as children of light, is the true authority that gives clout to our militant words.
Perhaps one of our major image problems in the world today is caused by the deception that as Christians we have to fight for our rights and prove ourselves strong and important. This power struggle is seen in the choices of the foremost ‘Christian’ nation on earth in its attitude to radical Islam: in fact all the Americans are doing is pouring oil on the fire! It is a natural human reaction to meet force with force, but it is not what Jesus taught us to do – its not ‘Christian’ behaviour, any more than suicide bombers represent true Muslim behaviour! Repay evil with good, love your enemies and turn the other cheek are the message of the gospel.
Paul started his description of our spiritual; armour with the belt of truth: I like that. Because its not about ‘my truth’ versus ‘your truth’: The truth that holds things together, rather than drawing dividing lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is all about Jesus: it is the life of love and the ministry of reconciliation. It is the ‘entrusting ourselves to the One who judges justly’ as Jesus did (1 Peter 2v23) and ‘making every effort to live at peace with all men’ (Romans 12v18)
Even in this post-modern society, where black and white truth might seem so attractive – a real anchor in the chaos – a set of rules and standards, the real Truth found in Jesus is not dogmatic or inflexible: its relational! We are embraced by the width of His grace and love and the openness of His arms. The belt of truth says, JESUS LOVES YOU.
And Jesus loves me, despite my circumstances or feelings: I am ‘girding up my loins’ with that unshakeable fact today!