Examining Your Armor

June 17, 2018 Sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

Ephesians 6:13-15

What battle are you facing today? Could it be an issue like temptation, conflict, uncomfortable truth, or doubt? Ephesians 6:13-15 recognizes the struggles of Christians, and offers the picture of the protection of God Himself in describing the “full armor of God” as we believers prayerfully and actively “stand against the devil’s schemes”, trying to pry us from God’s kingdom both on earth and eternally.

I. Our actions in this spiritual battle:

A. The “belt” encourages us to be truthful. (Ephesians 6:14)

Just as the soldier’s belt is foundational in anchoring the breastplate and holding the sword, truth is foundational in Christianity.  Certainly we must decide if Jesus’ claims are true or not, but we must also be truthful ourselves in our words and our reception of truth from others. Although telling and receiving the truth may at first seem and be dangerous, real safety in God’s kingdom lies in long term speaking and responding to the truth.

B. The“breastplate of righteousness”encourages us to do what is right. (Ephesians 6:14)

Just as the breastplate (translated “thorax” in Greek) protects the soldier’s vital organs, doing what is right ethically protects us from the spiritual attacks of Satan where one unethical action can lead to uncontrolled ripples of sin and undesirable consequences.

C. The “shoes” encourage us to make peace. (Ephesians 6:15)

Just as we are to have our “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”,  we as Christians are to be willing and ready to make the first effort toward peace with others.

Although it is naïve to think that all will be resolved each time, we will stay safe in God’s kingdom by pursuing peace because we have obeyed, and now all is in His hands.

II. The one basis of our all our actions in this battle = The Gospel.

The power of the Gospel is what moves us from “thinking” about right action to “doing” it. As we personally continue to turn to God, He exchanges our own flawed selves for the person we were created to be, as we are transformed by God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Holy Spirit enables us to reach out to others in the overflow of this same love, mercy, and forgiveness. We might not see resolution to all struggles in the short term, but we now can stand firm in our Father’s power and be who Jesus wants us to be: full of strength and courage to walk in truth, righteousness, and peace.

Will we choose to stay in our own strength mist the struggles of life, or will we obey by turning to God for His continual help in being truthful, doing what is right, and making peace? Our hope is not in our flawed hearts and wills, but in our God who sent His own Son to help us.

Discussion Questions

  1. The belt of truth can be telling the truth or receiving uncomfortable truth. People usually struggle with one of these more than the other. Which do you struggle with? Examples?
  2. Have any unethical behaviors ever kept you back in the spiritual battle for your soul? No need to be specific, but how has or is it working out? Any rippling effects?
  3. How does the “gospel of peace” relate to backbiting, gossip, our thoughts, our actions?
  4. Does peace-making always mean taking all the blame? What is the difference between peace-making and peace-faking?
  5. Can we be truthful, righteous, and peace making without the Gospel?
  6. Are you ready to respond to areas that you are battling with? What does it mean to be armed with the Gospel? How can your small group support you?

Introduction

Jill is a faithful ministry leader in her church. She teaches a Bible Study for Middle aged women, and she is very responsible as a leader. She’s always on time. She follows up with her students. She’s always prepared. She is very knowledgeable. In fact, Jill would have said she was an excellent ministry leader in her church until precisely three days ago. That was when Jill got the email from Lois. Lois is her co-leader, and she’s generally a pretty good partner. But as they finished their spring study of the book of Ruth and got ready to head into summer, Lois wrote Jill a really hard-to-swallow email. She thanked Jill for her leadership and praised her reliability, but she said she had prayed about it and she really needed to talk to Jill about being argumentative. She also used other words in the email like confrontational and thin-skinned, but argumentative was pretty much the gist of it. She mentioned two ladies that had left the study after having what Lois called “challenging encounters” with Jill. She closed the email by saying she really hoped they could talk about it at their regular meeting at 3pm on Wednesday.

It was now 2pm on Wednesday, and Jill still hadn’t decided how to respond. She thought about pointing out alternative reasons those two ladies might have left or showing Lois that she herself had some less-than-desirable qualities, but that seemed, you know, argumentative. She thought about making small-talk for most of the meeting, so they really didn’t have time to get into the real issue. She thought about suggesting that Lois find another Bible Study to join. All those responses occurred to Jill.

But something else occurred too: There might be some truth to it. This wasn’t the first time that the word argumentative had been used to describe Jill. People at work, her first husband, even her own mother had said that, or something very like that, about Jill. There might be some truth to it. How will Jill respond? Is she going to receive that criticism or is she going to disregard it? She has one hour to figure it out.

Stan is a nice guy. In many ways, he’s got it all together. He’s in his 30’s, and his career is coming along nicely. He has a beautiful wife and three adorable kids. Truth be told, he is pretty competent in most of the things he does. He’s a good mechanic. He’s got a decent golf swing . He’s good at his job. And he’s a good Christian. Well part of the time, he’s a good Christian. He takes his family to church, and he reads a devotional book once in a while. But there are times that he doesn’t feel like much of a Christian. Because Stan has a secret. He uses pornography, and he’s used it a lot in the last year. It’s not like he would call himself an addict, but whenever he decided he was going to stop it just never seemed to work out. It started small just kind of a shady movie or two. There are lots of people around him say it’s fine. The guys at work and the people on the morning radio show he listens to make it sound completely normal. It’s not like you’re cheating on your wife, and his porn is always there for him. But he’s not so sure it’s causing real problems in his physical relationship with his wife. He goes through these cycles of messing up and intense shame and self-hatred and of resolving to try harder, and he takes his family on this spiritual roller coaster ride with him. But it seems like he’s always gives in sooner or later. Last night he and his wife had another go-round. She went to bed without speaking to him, and Stan found himself on the computer again playing solitaire but thinking about a particular website.

Lisa is in a different struggle altogether. Lisa loves her job. Her work is meaningful to her. She loves the company she works for. She has the chance to lead teams, which she loves. She’s good at what she does. It’s a great job, but there’s a problem. About three months ago, there was an opening in the next level in her office, an opening that really belonged to Lisa. All her friends said so. They said she was a shoo-in. She had more experience than anyone in the office. Her teams got more done than anyone, and she worked longer hours than anyone else. But when it came right down to it, the promotion went to a co-worker named Christine. That was a hard pill for Lisa to swallow. She could deal with it if Christine deserved the promotion, but she had less experience and less productivity. In fact, Christine said she wasn’t even going to apply for the promotion. Lisa is pretty sure that the real reason she got it was that she kisses up to the boss. She’s always fawning all over him and making a big deal out of his personal life, which Lisa despises, and complaining about her co-workers. To top it all off, in an office of 14 people Christine is the only other person that claims to be a Christian. It’s just about more than Lisa can bear.

But last week something changed. Lisa was talking the office gossip, who mentioned something about Christine’s political views that Lisa knows her boss will hate. She knows for a fact that if the boss finds out it will drive a wedge between him and Christine. And he might even find a reason to change his mind about the promotion. Of course, Christine will be mad as a wet hen but Lisa figures she’s had it coming for a long time. And now Lisa is in a private meeting with her Boss when he says something that is a perfect segue for Lisa to drop the bomb on Christine. She has a split second to decide what to do.

Three different kinds of Christians with three very different struggles, some that they kind of opened themselves up to and some that were sort of thrust upon them. But they are all temptations, they are all attacks that our enemy, the Devil, uses to take us out of the game, to sideline us from the battle (which is his goal). Notice that that is a distinct possibility in each of these situations. It could happen. They could be taken out of the battle. If it was all about them,  these struggles would be no more than minor existential crises. So what if Jill is argumentative? Everyone has their faults. So what if Stan looks at porn again? Chances are, he’ll repent later. So what if Lisa has a little conflict? Who doesn’t?

But it’s not just about them, is it? Jill has a group of women that really need her to shepherd them. It’s hard to do that when you’re driving people away because you are quarrelsome. Stan has a young family. He has a wife who hungers for a spiritual companion and kids that are really going to need Jesus as they grow up in an increasingly confused world. And Lisa? Lisa has an office where people really need to see Jesus. There are people there who scoff at the idea that Christianity makes any real difference in someone’s life and they need to know it does. In different ways, they are each in danger of being sidelined from the battle and the mission that God has called them to. Jill’s desire to disregard uncomfortable truth, Stan’s temptation and Lisa’s conflict are all attacks that could result in them losing precious ground for the Kingdom.

Jill, Stan, and Lisa are not alone in their struggle. There’s not a Christian out there who won’t at some time battle with truth and temptation and conflict. Some of you are wrestling with one of these right now, and I’m praying for you as you wrestle with uncomfortable truth and temptation that eats your lunch and conflicts that gnaw away at your relationships. We all face these things, because we’re all in a battle.

Today we are in the middle of a short series about that battle called “Hold your ground.” In the first sermon of this series, we talked about the battle we are in, about how our job is to stand and to hold the ground God has called us to and establish a base of operations from which his kingdom can grow. We talked about how our enemy’s real goal is to take us out of the game, to remove our influence from our families, and jobs, and neighborhoods. We began to talk about the fact that God has given us armor to help us stand against the attack of the enemy, armor that covers us from head to toe. There’s a piece of armor for every attack we face.

Today we are going to look at three of the six pieces of armor that God has given us to help us hold our ground for his kingdom. Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 6:13-15. Today we are going to look at the Belt the Breastplate and the Shoes. What we’re going to do is this: Remember we said that each piece of armor has both an objective side and a subjective side? Each piece of armor is based on something objective, something that we receive from God, and each piece results in something subjective, something that we do for God. What we are going to do today is this:

  1. Look at the subjective, the doing part of each of these three pieces of armor
  2. We are going to look at the objective basis for all of them: three pieces of armor, one basis.

Let’s read Ephesians 6:13-15. Paul has already told us that we wrestle with a powerful spiritual enemy and that our job is to hold the ground God has called us to. Now in verse 13, he says this:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.

– Ephesians 6:13-15

We want to start by looking at the “doing” part of the three individual pieces of armor. The first piece is the belt and with regards to doing:

The Belt Encourages Us To Be Truthful

Notice Paul says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist

– Ephesians 6:14

So the very first piece of armor Paul lists is the belt. Here is what a fully armed Roman soldier during Paul’s day would have looked like. Notice he’s a dangerous looking guy . Here’s what his belt was like. It was really more like an apron than a belt. It hung down and protected his waist and his thighs. But more than anything else, that belt held the rest of his armor in place. We may not even think of a belt as a piece of armor, but it was essential. It held his tunic in. It was an anchor for the breastplate, and the sword hung from it. So the belt was foundational to all the other armor. That’s why Paul compares truth to the belt, because truth is foundational. It’s almost so basic that we forget it’s there. But it’s foundational to all that Christianity is about. When you get down to it, Christianity isn’t about feelings we have, or rules we observe, or health and wealth. It’s a truth claim, a claim that Jesus really was the Son of God, a claim that he really died for our sins and really rose from the grave.

Christianity is all about truth. That’s why, when it comes to the subjective/doing part of belt, the belt encourages us to be truthful. Christians, of all people, should be people of the truth. Our Lord told us “We would know the truth, and the truth would make us free.” He told us we should be so truthful that we are the kind of people who don’t need to take an oath to be believed. Our “yes” should really mean “yes,” and our “no” should really mean “no.” Christians should be people who love telling and receiving the truth.

By comparing truth to a piece of armor, Paul is telling us something: When we take off truthfulness, when we don’t speak and receive the truth well, it exposes us to danger. That’s a lesson we should learn in the second grade, right? Truth isn’t what gets us into trouble. Truth is the way out of trouble. But we struggle with it so much, don’t we? Aren’t we so tempted to hide the truth here and shade the truth there? But it’s dangerous. How many Christians have been taken out of the battle, how many are sidelined, how many are living out painful consequences, because they took off truthfulness? If you say one thing and do another, eventually it comes back to haunt you in your friendships (or lack thereof), in your business dealings, in your children.

How many Christians have hurt themselves because they didn’t receive the truth well? They aren’t able to listen to the hard things that they really need to hear. That’s what’s going on with our Bible Study Leader, Jill, right? She has encountered some difficult truth about herself: she’s argumentative. Now she has to choose what to do with that truth. Is she going to receive it as painful, but helpful? Is she going to go “Man, that hurts but I’m going to listen and recognize the truth and grow.” Or is she going to blame everybody else and lose a valuable friend and minimize her influence for the Kingdom? The belt encourages us to be truthful. The second piece of armor is the breastplate:

The Breastplate Encourages Us To Do What’s Right

Look at what Paul says:

Stand firm then with the breastplate of righteousness in place

– Ephesians 6:14b

He tells us to stand in battle by putting on our breastplate. Here’s a breastplate, and what it did was protect your chest. In the Greek, it is literally called “a thorax” for you insect lovers! It was made of leather or maybe metal plates or, if you were really rich, chain mail. It was held in place by your belt, and it’s job was to protect your vital organs. Now Paul calls this piece of armor “The breastplate of righteousness.” Those of you who are familiar with Bible-speak may think of “righteousness” as a word that refers to our status before God. It’s like a status that we receive so that we are forgiven. It’s like being given a “not guilty” verdict in court. We are declared righteous. It often has that meaning. About half the time in the Bible, it means that. But there is also a doing side to the word “righteousness.” The other half of the time when the Bible talks about righteousness, it means “Doing what is right,” what we might call “ethical righteousness” or upright behavior. So Jesus told his disciples “Be careful not to do your righteousnesses just so people can see you.” By that, he means “your righteous deeds.”

As for the doing part of the breastplate, I think that’s what Paul is referring to here. He is calling us to protect ourselves by doing what is right. It’s really not that complicated of a concept: When you do what you know to be wrong you open yourself up to spiritual attack. There’s one preacher on the radio who says “Choose to sin, choose to suffer.”

When you do things that are ethically wrong, whether that is substance abuse or cheating on your wife or cooking the books at work or whatever, you open yourself up to all kinds of damage. Not only is there the immediate result of being guilty and damaging the cause of Christ, but there’s this ripple-effect of all the damage you leave in your wake and the other sins you have to do to cover it up and the taste that you develop for that sin that brings more temptation and the network you develop around you that reinforces that lifestyle.

This is the deal with Stan, the guys that struggles with pornography. Years ago when this first started, he should have done what he knew was right and not played around. If he had done that,  he would be safe right now. His marriage would be healthier. His attention would be on raising a godly family and not on whether he’s going to be able to resist more porn. His computer would a safe place for him instead of a place of temptation every time he opens it. But he took his breastplate off and now he’s experiencing the consequences and they are pulling him out of the battle and hurting him, right?

With regards to doing, the belt calls us to be truthful and the breastplate calls us to do what’s right. The last piece of armor that we are going to look at today are the shoes and:

The Shoes Encourage Us To Make Peace

Now the shoes are probably the most confusing piece of armor on Paul’s list here look at how he describes them in verse 15:  “Stand with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” “With your feet fitted”  is literally “with your feet tied under. ”

In Roman armor, the shoes had a three-fourth inch thick piece of leather for a sole. The toes could be covered or they could be open like sandals. But the main feature of the shoes were hob-nails,  these sharp little nails that were driven into the sole of the sandal, kind of like screw-in track spikes, if you’ve ever seen those. So they were basically cleats designed to help you get traction, old your ground  and push forward. So that’s what the shoes were in a suit of armor.

But what do they represent in this metaphor? What are they telling us to do? Well, we might see that word “gospel” in the description of the shoes and they assume that the shoes are telling us to sort of evangelize, t share the gospel with people who don’t know Jesus, like “The shoes are the gospel go and preach it.” I can see why we might think that there’s another Bible verse that says “Hw beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel”

But notice again how strangely verse 15 is worded. Paul says stand with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Notice that in the metaphor the shoes are not the gospel, that’s not what our feet are fitted with and they aren’t peace. The shoes are the readiness, that’s what we put on the readiness.

Readiness to do what? I would suggest it’s a readiness to make peace. Paul talks a lot in this letter about peace. He talks about peace more in Ephesians than in almost any of his other letters. If you remember from our study of Ephesians, he talks about making peace and breaking down the wall of hostility that exists between Jews and Gentiles and making every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. So I think the doing part of the shoes is always being ready to make peace with one another, being eager to reconcile. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount that whether we have something against our brother or we realize that our brother has something against us, we are to take the initiative and go to him. It’s always our responsibility to go. I think that’s what Paul is talking about here having our feet fitted with a readiness, a willingness, to be the one who goes to our brother to make peace when we have conflict with him.

Paul listed this with the armor, because he’s telling us that, just like with speaking the truth or doing what’s right, a readiness to make peace protects us and enables us to stand in the battle. We can see this with Lisa who has conflict at the office. On one level, maybe she’s justified in being frustrated with her co-worker. Few people would blame her for being at odds with Christine. But wait a minute. Think about the consequences if Lisa pursues conflict rather than reconciliation? What will she and Christine be focusing on for the next few weeks? How to do their job with excellence? How to move the company forward? How to show their co-workers more of Jesus? No,  they will be thinking about how to get even with each other. What’s going to happen to the name of Christ in that office? Satan absolutely loves it when Christians lose their heads and turn on each other in the battle. It’s one of his favorite tactics, and it hurts us.

Think of all the damage that is done in friendships, in churches, in marriages by unresolved conflict. Some of you are walking through that right now. You have a relationship that is sitting on years of unresolved conflict, and you know the damage that happens to yourself, to the other person, to the sake of the gospel, because of that unresolved conflict. The enemy has that relationship right where he wants it.

I’m not saying that every conflict is easy to resolve. I’m not saying that just because you go to the person everything is going to be OK. But Paul tells us to protect ourselves from Spiritual danger and from the schemes of the enemy by putting on our gospel shoes and being the one who goes to make peace. The shoes encourage us to make peace.

OK so Paul has given us three pieces of armor here that all have a doing aspect to them:

  1. A belt that tells us to be truthful.
  2. A breastplate that tells us to do what’s right.
  3. Shoes that tell us to make peace with others.

Hopefully you can see what those represent and how they protect us from harm and how they equip us for the battle. So Jill needs to receive difficult truth, Stan needs to do what’s right, and Lisa needs to make peace. But here’s the thing: they already know that. Maybe they weren’t aware how much they needed these things to protect them from spiritual harm and maybe they weren’t aware of how doing these things related to the larger battle, but they know – everyone knows to be honest – to do what’s right to make peace. These things aren’t a secret. They know these things. The problem is doing them.

So what’s the basis, what is the objective part, what is the thing we receive, what is the principle that enables us to live this way? I think there is one basis for all three of these actions, one thing that we receive that enables us to do them and it’s this:

One Basis: The Gospel

The basis of all this doing, of being truthful and doing what’s right, and making peace is not ourselves, not our self-discipline or trying harder. If you try to do this in your own strength, good luck! The basis of these things that we are supposed to do for God is what we have received from God in the gospel. That’s the basis for all this. The gospel. Remember the gospel – this story that God created me wonderfully and he made me to live a life of fulfillment and joy and relationship with him, but sin, my choice to sin and the sinfulness of this world, has harmed me, it has separated me from God and damaged my ability to live as God made me to live. But Jesus came to reconcile me to God. He lived the life I was supposed to live, and he died the death I was supposed to die. God raised him from the dead, so that I could have new, eternal life and a relationship with him. The gospel, that gospel, is the basis for everything we’ve talked about today.

How is Jill going to find the grace to really receive, to really listen to and embrace, that difficult truth that she’s faced with? Nobody likes to do that. So how does she learn to lean into it? Through the gospel. In the gospel, I come face to face with my sinfulness. I come face to face with the truth, both good and bad, about who I am and what I’ve done. In the gospel, I find out I’m way worse than I ever thought I was. It’s bad! But in the gospel, I find that God’s love is ten times  bigger than my sin. He loves me. He really loves me. I don’t know how he does it, but he does. So I don’t have to hide my flaws. I can be truthful. Truthful with myself and truthful with others.

How is Stan going to find the strength to say no to his addiction and behave righteously? Where’s he going to find that? Not by trying harder. Not by more self-hatred. He’s already been there. Where’s he going to find it? In the gospel. In the exchange of Jesus’ life for ours. I can’t say no to all the things that tempt me, but Jesus has exchanged his righteousness for my unrighteousness. He has exchanged his resurrection life for my life, and he has given me his Spirit to live through me and through Christ. Change is possible. If I submit to him moment by moment, Jesus can live through me and change me. Sometimes suddenly sometimes over time. That’s where Stan is going to find the strength to do what’s right. Where is Lisa going to find the will to pursue Christine and make peace with her? Not out of the goodness of her heart! Scripture never calls us to forgive people and make peace with them just out of the goodness of our heart or out of self-discipline or because it’s good for us. Rather, Scripture calls us to make peace to forgive, to reconcile. Because in the gospel, God has made peace with us. He has forgiven us. He made the first move in sending his Son to reconcile with us, even though we were the ones at fault.

That’s why the shoes are called the “readiness” that comes from the gospel of peace. When we see that God has forgiven us and pursued us and reconciled with us, it makes us ready to forgive and pursue and reconcile with others. The armor tells us what to do to protect ourselves from damage in Spiritual warfare:  Tell the truth, do what’s right, make peace. But it’s in the gospel that we find the basis for all these things.

Can I just ask you a question: What battle are you facing today? Temptation? Conflict? Uncomfortable truth? Discouragement? Doubt? Have you armed yourself with the gospel and with the armor that God provides? Are you ready to hold your ground?