Clothing Optional (Ephesians 6)
In the Old English epic poem Beowulf, we have one of the earliest pagan folk tales about a great hero. Beowulf, the prince of the Geats, comes to Denmark in response to King Hrothgar's urgent plea for anyone to rid him of the dreaded demon Grendel. When Grendel returns to the mead hall for his nightly gorging, Beowulf challenges him to hand-to-hand combat. Grendel is immune to swords. Beowulf stripped himself of both armor and weapons. They fought and Beowulf killed Grendel by ripping off his arm. For Beowulf, combat was clothing optional. But for your combat clothing is not optional.
Like Beowulf, you find yourself struggling with demons, but the demons that ravage you aren't physical. They're spiritual. St. Paul writes to you, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (v12). "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings" (1 Peter 5:8-9). What makes the devil prowl around looking to devour you? God has drafted you to be His soldier. He is the general; you are the infantry. And His orders are clear: "withstand in the evil day" (v13). To do that, He equips His soldiers with the armor necessary to win the war.
At Baptism you were clothed with Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:27). Jesus is the armor that we wear as we fight. By faith in Jesus, you are bold to sing, "Though devils all the world may fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpow'r us" (LSB #656.3). St. Paul indicates how each individual piece of armor used by many warriors in the Greco-Roman world to protect them in battle protects us from all the spiritual forces of evil (v12).
He begins with the most important piece: the belt of truth. While the belt doesn't seem to have an important function to us, it was this item that held together the rest of the armor so that the warrior could stand and move and fight. Without the belt, the warrior would have to be most careful how he did everything because the armor might shift and expose a vulnerable spot.
So also in our armor. Without truth, there is nothing to fight for. Everyone fights for one reason: they believe in the cause. We fight for the government because we believe that God has instituted and set every government in place (Romans 13:1). We fight against abortion because we believe that the baby formed in the womb is a human being who deserves the chance to live. We fight for the Biblical understanding of marriage because we believe that God instituted marriage to be where "a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife" (Genesis 2:24; Ephesians 5:31). We fight to preserve the truth. And the truth is what holds us together. Without the belt of truth, the rest of our armor slips and exposes us to attack.
Paul moves inside a layer in the armor: the breastplate of righteousness (v14). "One who has put on a sturdy breastplate is difficult to wound. Especially well-protected are those essential parts of the body upon which life depends" (Jerome, Epistle to the Ephesians 3.6.14). The heart, the lungs, the liver and the stomach are all protected by the breastplate. The breastplate covers all the vital organs. Without the breastplate, the bulk of the body would be vulnerable to attack. The breastplate of righteousness is placed upon us. What guards our hearts and souls in the battle against the spiritual terrors is the fact that we've been given Jesus' perfect righteousness. The purity of life that makes us acceptable to God. The state of being that we find ourselves in as we face the spiritual warfare because we have been grounded in the faith through Sunday School and Confirmation. All of that memorization we had to do as kids. It pays dividends as we face the struggles of life. Knowing God's Word and keeping it in our minds, we are able to "withstand in the evil day" (v13). The breastplate of righteousness covers us so that our heart and soul are protected from the attacks of the devil.
Paul moves onto the warrior's feet and talks about the proper footwear. The shoes protect the feet from the rocks upon the road. They also keep us steady as we move about. As shoes for our battle, we're to "put on the readiness given by the Gospel of peace" (v15). Theodoret of Cyr, a fifth century pastor, said, "Your footwear is not put on in order that you may walk about foolishly but to accomplish the course of the Gospel" (Epistle to the Ephesians 6.15). He reminds us of the Old Testament prophecies: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns'" (Isaiah 52:7). With Jesus we have peace. "If anyone therefore has peace, he is shod with the gospel of Christ. With this footwear he is prepared to walk. Being prepared, however, he does well not to imagine himself already perfect. Rather he merely is prepared to press on and by pressing on hopes to arrive at the goal" (Jerome, Epistle to the Ephesians 3.6.15). Paul himself wrote to the Philippians, "Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own" (3:12). The Gospel of peace steadies us in our battle against the unseen evil forces.
But the largest piece of armor wasn't worn. The shield went from the shoes up to the warrior's chin. It was used to deflect missile weapons like arrows, darts and stones. In God's armor, the shield is the faith we have in Jesus (v16). This faith is impenetrable. As Solomon says, "He shall take holiness for an invincible shield" (Wisdom 5:19). Just as the shield protects against attacks from the outside, faith comes from the outside. As we began our service this morning, "A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon; He helps us free from ev'ry need that hath us now o'ertaken" (LSB #656.1). But what does the shield of faith protect us from? "All the flaming darts of the evil one" (v16). "By 'his darts' Paul means both temptations and perverse desires. He calls them fiery because that is the nature of the appetite" (Chrysostom, Homily 24 6.14-17). The darts are attacks that comes from the outside that excite and inflame our own sinful desires. As the great anthem of the Reformation says, "The old evil foe now means deadly woe; deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal" (LSB #656.1). The shield of faith protects us because Jesus is our shield.
As Paul continues through God's armor that He has given to us, he goes to the place we think is most important: the head. More than anything else, we want our head protected. You walk into a construction site and there are signs everywhere that it's a "Hard Hat Area." We wear (or we should wear) helmets on our bicycles, motorcycles and ATVs to protect our head in case of a crash. We want our head to be safe because that's where our brain is. That's where the senses of sight, hearing, taste and smell are housed. The head is very important. It needs to be well-protected from attack.
Paul tells us to put on the helmet of salvation (v17). Paul tells the Thessalonians this helmet is "the hope of salvation" (1 Thessalonians 5:8). The placement of salvation as the helmet, you could say, is a no-brainer. Jesus is our head. We are His body. "He descended to us and redeemed us by His own mystery. It is He indeed who guards the heads of the faithful. Therefore He is the 'helmet of salvation'" (Marius Victorinus, Epistle to the Ephesians 2.6.17). "Solomon in Ecclesiastes notes that 'the eyes of the wise are in the head.'[2:14] ... If Christ is the head of a person of faith and 'the eyes of the wise are in the head,' it follows that all our senses, mind, thought, speech and counsel (if, that is, we are wise) are in Christ" (Jerome, Epistle to the Ephesians 3.6.17). With the helmet of salvation on our head, our minds are filled with the Holy Spirit. As with the breastplate, we see the promise of our Savior with the helmet of salvation: "The Holy Spirit ... will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). Salvation unto us has come. We use it as the helmet to protect our head against the wiles of the devil.
With this sanctified common sense, we see (Chrysostom, Homily 22 6.11):
- The enemy does not make war on us straightforwardly or openly but by his wiles. What are the devil's wiles? They consist in trying to capture us by some shortcut and always by deceit. ... The devil never openly lays temptation before us. He does not mention idolatry out loud. But by his stratagems he presents idolatrous choices to us, by persuasive words and by employing clever euphemisms.
Through the influence of the Holy Spirit, we can spot the traps the devil lays out for us. We can see where they are and how to avoid them (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can also, like the archangel Michael, dispute with the devil saying only, "The Lord rebuke you" (Jude 9). The helmet of salvation doesn't mean you have all the answers. It simply means you KNOW you don't have all the answers. But you also know where to find the answers.
The answers in battle come from the offensive weapon being used. One of the most prominent weapons in the Roman army was the sword. The sword had many functions. It slashes. It hacks. It stabs. All depended on the size and weight of the sword. The soldier wielding the sword determined the efficiency of the sword. The sharper the sword, the more damage could be done. The more experienced the swordsman, the more damage that is done.
The offensive weapon in our arsenal against the evil spirits is the sword of the spirit, the Word of God (v17). Isaiah said, "[The LORD] made my mouth like a sharp sword" (49:2). The author to the Hebrews said, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (4:12). "This is the sword that for our health spills the noxious blood that animates the matter of our sins, cutting out and excising whatever it finds in our soul that is carnal or earthly and, once it has made us dead to vices, causing us to live to God and flourish in spiritual virtues" (John Cassian, Conferences 20.8.11).
Once again, the weapon is only as good and skillful as the one wielding it. One who never opens their Bible is like a warrior who fumbles around with his sword. Worse case scenario, he might do more damage to himself than his enemy. One who is constantly in their Bible, making use of the Holy Spirit's indwelling through the helmet of salvation, becomes a master swordsman. Moses encouraged the Israelites to do just that: "And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you" (Deuteronomy 4:1). God's Word is pure and undefiled of itself. It teaches us the way we should and the way we shouldn't go. As the Psalmist said, "Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:129-130).
With the sword of the Spirit in our hand, we can strike back at the devil and his evil minions. This sword will never strike back at us as we will sing in just a moment, "By grace I'm saved, grace free and boundless; my soul, believe and doubt it not. Why stagger at this word of promise? Has Scripture ever falsehood taught? No! Then this word must true remain: by grace you too will life obtain. ... By grace! This ground of faith is certain; as long as God is true, it stands. What saints have penned by inspiration, what in His Word our God commands, our faith in what our God has done depends on grace--grace through His Son" (LSB #566.1, 4).
Now that we've looked through all the different pieces of armor that God has given to us, we see that going into battle with the evil forces of this world without any clothing or weapon is ludicrous. We need each and every piece of armor that God has given to us. Why should we go into battle naked, scorning the gifts our Lord has given us? It makes no sense. Don't underestimate the power and might of the devil. It is considerable. "On earth is not his equal. With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected" (LSB #656.1-2). The valiant One fights for us still as He did while He was on earth. Jesus Christ descended into the heart of the devil's kingdom and challenged him to one-on-one combat. Like Beowulf, Jesus chose to strip Himself of all armor and weapons by setting aside His glory and power. Unlike Beowulf, Jesus won the victory by dying, letting His opponent kill Him. Jesus had the power to raise Himself from the dead. This resurrected Lord is the One who fights for you. That is the good news. The victory has been won, and the spoils go to you. A crown of glory awaits you if you are faithful to the point of death (Revelation 2:10). Amen.