The Scriptures abound in military figures, particularly in the writings of St. Paul. Terms like “fight,” “overcome,” “battle,” “contend” occur again and again.
Even the gentle apostle John says,
1 John 5:4 4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
It is not strange when we realize these writers lived under the greatest military power the world had ever seen, and Roman soldiers were in evidence in almost any part of the Empire where one would choose to go.
More than one Roman soldier knew Paul personally. When the Jewish mob nearly tore him to pieces in the temple courts, Roman soldiers rescued him and took him prisoner. When he was sent as a prisoner to Felix, in fear of his life, 470 Roman soldiers were his escort.
To the soldier, it was all about gaining a victory. Nothing was more dishonorable than defeat.
What was the first step toward victory? It was learning to stand. This is why Paul wrote:
Ephesians 6:13 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
This meant being able to estimate the power of the foe and resist it. More than one battle was lost because an army underestimated the force of its enemy.
This is important for Christian warriors too. And never forget, the most subtle enemy lies right in our own cranium.
We may have fought temptations of old habits, ungodly ways, and worldly associates. But the inner self, the evil heart within us, is the most pernicious. What did Jesus say comes from within?
Mark 7:21–23 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”
These are our greatest foes, and will require our greatest generalship and dogged determination to defeat.
These evils are part of the serpent that beguiled Eve. Paul said:
2 Corinthians 11:33But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
That serpent was Eve’s own mind that gave in to the temptation. Because of the subtelty of our own deceitful heart, this battle demands every faculty of our being every hour of the day every day of the year. It is the only way to be able to reach the point where we can say, “Having done all to stand.” There can be no sitting down, no leave of absence, no furloughs, even after we think we have won a victory. We must be constantly on guard, with the drawn sword (of the Spirit) in hand.
These evils in our hearts are lurking foes that wage a constant guerilla warfare against the higher nature that is good. Paul called this nature the “wiles of the devil.”
Ephesians 6:11 11Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
How can we be sure to defeat this devil? We need special equipment, the “whole armor of God.
Let’s look more closely at the pieces of armor that will make us able to stand.
Ephesians 6:14 14Stand therefore, having girded your waist with [the belt of] truth
Put on your belt first of all, the truth of God. No one can stand without being truth-girded. That is why we keep studying, to be sure of our strength. What does James say about the importance of truth?
James 1:8 8… A double-minded man [is] unstable in all his ways.
The truths of the word of God will make us strong to resist evil, even in ourselves. We must be able to say from the core of our heart, “I BELIEVE.” No soft, multicolored, easy flowing belt of “believe-and-do-as-you-please” will support us, but only the strong, mailed, buckled belt of divine truth that has been tested by every officer and private in the ranks before us.
Each soldier must believe that God is, and that His Word is the supreme commander in his life. Anything lighter will not fit us to fight and remain STANDING.
What is the next piece of armor to put on?
Ephesians 6:14 14Stand therefore, … having put on the breastplate of righteousness
The breastplate is out in front. First exposure to the enemy. To wear it, make your life coincide with your creed. You cannot believe one thing and practice another. Live so that the arrows of evil cannot touch you because there are no crevices in your breastplate.
A shining, consistent, blameless life is the breastplate with which we must confront the world. Let it show. Again we go to the very practical James:
James 2:18–22 18But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
What is James saying about the “devils,” those opposed to the truth? Their faith may be real, though not deep enough to be a conviction. (Remember Pilate’s statement about guarding the tomb where Jesus had been buried—“Make it as sure as you can”?) They are opposed, but believe only enough to resist God. Their faith even moves them to a negative reaction, while James says the faith of some who profess the faith isn’t real enough to give them a shiver!—because they are not showing their faith by their works. James continues:
20But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? 21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
Look at Abraham, says James. Here was real faith, a faith supported by his actions, even obeying God’s command to offer his son Isaac.
22Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
Now for footware. The proper footware is absolutely essential to standing firm. We need it also for marching. What does Paul recommend?
Ephesians 6:15 15and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
Be prepared to march straight ahead, says Paul. Do not let there be any clash between “I ought” and “I will.” Let your sandals be tough enough to protect your feet from sharp stones and thorns. Whatever may be underfoot, you must have shoes that allow you to keep that great peace that comes to those who love God’s law, to whom God’s law is supreme above all else. Then nothing will offend, nothing trip you up, nothing cause you to stumble.
What passage says this?
Psalm 119:165165Great peace have those who love Your law, And nothing causes them to stumble.
If our peace is disturbed, our sandals of the gospel of peace have been set aside.
Now we come to the piece of armor that is “above all.” What is it?
Ephesians 6:16 16above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
The shield of faith—without it we are defeated right away! It is our chief weapon of defense. The shield of the Roman soldier with which Paul was familiar protected the body’s essential organs. Whatever weak point there might have been in other parts of the armor, the shield covered for these deficiencies—just as a strong, abiding faith will come to the rescue for us if another grace is failing.
Without the shield of faith it is impossible to win.
But there is yet another piece. Who would enter the conflict with an undefended head? Paul prescribes the just-right helmet we need:
Ephesians 6:17 17And take the helmet of salvation
Who would even think of entering the conflict with an undefended head! The head is an exposed part and very vital. So what does Paul say in another letter?
1 Thessalonians 5:8 8But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.
Take “for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
What keeps us advancing against this foe that is deep inside us?
The helmet that is the hope of salvation!
What gives us courage to keep facing the enemy?
The hope of salvation!
What makes it all worthwhile?
The hope of salvation!
Paul says, don’t expect to be defeated. Expect to overcome. Anticipate victory. Build on your hope of salvation. Think VICTORY.
Let your headpiece be the most conspicuous part of your armor, your confidence that you expect to win and you WILL WIN.
Equipped with this armor, is that ALL we need? No, there is still one more piece:
Ephesians 6:17 17And take the … sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God
This is the very weapon our Master used in His own fight. The very suggestion of evil was met with a strong, quick thrust from the mighty sword of the Spirit:
Matthew 4:10 10Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”
One quick thrust and the enemy was done. This same sword will do as much for us if we become skillful in its use by daily practice.
Jesus would say to us, Keep it sharp, keep it close, because you cannot fight without it.
Then one final concluding bit of advice from the skillful Paul:
Ephesians 6:18 18praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—
Prayer is the Christian soldier’s way of keeping close to His commander, the one who sustains him in battle and enables him to be “strong.”
Armed with the right armor, we WILL be able to stand.
Ephesians 6:10 10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Armed as was Paul, and fighting as he fought, we too can subdue our lower nature into the dust from which it came and pass from conquering to conqueror,
And “having done all, to stand.”
If a soldier goes into battle, he wants assurance he has the means to win. He wants the best intelligence, the best weapons of warfare, the best protection. And he wants the best leadership.
Well, we have our support. But as soldiers, we must have more than this, we need training and discipline by the best Leader. Without this training, we are sure to lose our lives. It is stronger than the legions of Rome, stronger than the greatest standing army on earth in any age.
Jesus is our great Commander, and He leads by the Word of God. We have no excuse to lose the battle against the enemy.
“We win the victory over the world by means of our faith.” (1 John 5:4). But be sure of this, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Unless we become as our Commander, our faith is no faith at all. And remember to keep the lines of communication open through prayer. The Lord loves hearing from His “soldiers” who are at war.
Let us wage a good warfare against our own evil nature as we abide by the law of God because we know that “when the battle’s over, we shall wear a crown in the new Jerusalem!”