Armor of the Lord (a new look) Eph 6:10-18

Apr 25, 2021 // By:Dave // No Comment

Just about every christian is quickly exposed to the Romans 6 armor of God. Picture poor Paul, chained to a roman prison guard, trying to encourage us by using a metaphor of the guard’s armor to strengthen us in our walk.

Children’s sunday school rooms, coloring books, bibles, the internet, are all full of depictions of roman soldiers wearing their armor as a reminder for us to always wear our armor as well.

Eph 6

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

14 Stand firm therefore, having belted your waist with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,

15 and having strapped on your feet the preparation of the gospel of peace;

16 in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

just last week I saw an advertisement from Bradbury Exchange of a bronze casting of a medieval knight, in full armor, big cross on the shield, with colorful reds and blues, sword drawn, “the armor of God”.

I commented online about the ad saying “too bad it’s not a roman soldier to match the context of scripture (many agreed with me)

what is the armor ?

  • is it invisible armor that glows in the spiritual realm (demons and angels can see it but we can’t)
  • is it something we slide on piece by piece each morning to psych ourselves up to face the day

how do we practically use it ?

tradition … (I love to question traditions that go back to where I simply accepted them because someone else said so)

What if this is not what Paul meant  … what if we are leaning too heavily on the NT cultural context and missing the OT context.  One o those “scripture interprets scripture” situations ?

a few facts:

  • soldiers (especially guards) did not wear armor while guarding prisoners inside buildings (they put on their armor when preparing for battle) (so it’s unlikely that Paul is actually looking at a Roman soldier in armor as he wrote Ephesians in prison)
  • there is no actual belt in verse 14, there IS a verb meaning to gird up (tie up) and it is a very hebrew based phrase (not roman)
    • the greek word is περιζώννυμι, perizōnnymi,  gird, dress for service
  • there are no shoes in verse 15, it’s another verb 
    • ποδησάμενοι ( hypodeō,  (mid.) to fit, prepare
    • Mounce NT renders this verse “by fitting your feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace
  • another key hint is found in verse 17 “ most translations say “take the helmet of salvation”
    • δέχομαι, dechomai, v. . to welcome, receive, accept
    • whereas take in verse 16 is taking ἀναλαμβάνω, analambanō, v. lift up, bring up
  1. unlikely Paul is even seeing a Roman soldier in full armor while in prison (not that he hasn’t seen them before)
  2. there is no belt in verse 14
  3. there are no shoes in verse 15
  4. take means lift up in verse 16 (in reference to faith)
  5. take means receive in verse 17 (in reference to salvation

What if we found OT writings that not only explained these same elements of armor, but also align with the body of scripture better than going off on a bunny trial of expertise of a roman armorer and blacksmith to understand it.

  1. The armor of God is the Old Testament armor of God. As most commentators observe, the clearest allusion made by Ephesians 6 is to Isaiah where:
    1. the LORD God himself puts on his battle garments including righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation.  (Isaiah 59:17)
    2. the LORD has a sword (Isaiah 34:5-6; 66:16).
    3. the Coming Christ has trustworthiness (truth) as a belt around his waist (Isaiah 11:5) (trustworthiness means “truth”)
    4. His mouth is like a sharpened sword (Isaiah 49:2). Looking at the wider OT (Isaiah 49:5 proves this is the Lord Himself)
    5. the LORD is found giving himself to his people as their shield (Gen. 15:1; 20x in the Psalms), 
    6. even as their shield and sword together (Deut. 33:29).
  2. The armor of God is Christ the LORD. William Gurnall who wrote 1700 pages on the armor of God put the matter very succinctly when he commented: “By armor is meant Christ.” Paul’s whole letter to the Ephesians, as all his letters, has been dominated by Christ. 
    1. Christ is the truth (John 14:6). (girded up to avoid being entangled by the worlds garment of confusion)
    2. Christ is our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). (breastplate)
    3. Christ is our peace (Eph. 2:14).  (feet prepared with)
    4. Christ is our salvation (Luke 2:30).  (helmet)
    5. the LORD is our salvation and our righteousness (Ex. 15:2; Jer. 23:6) and it is perfectly consistent with Paul’s thought that we should put on Christ and clothe ourselves in him (Rom. 13:14; Gal. 3:27).
    6. A sword comes out of His mouth in Revelation (judgement) and scripture tells us that the (word of God can divide …)
    7. verse 10 says “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.” meaning He is our strength and might.
  3. The words for the pieces of armor in Ephesians 6 are not technical terms for pieces of Roman armor. 
    1. The word ‘belt’ is not actually there in verse 14. The phrase ‘girding round your loins’ has a Hebraic flavour and suggests getting ready for action. 
    2. Breastplate (v14) and Helmet (v17) use common Greek words found 10 and 9 times respectively in the LXX (the Greek OT), including where they both appear together in the key passage Isaiah 59:17. 
    3. verse 15 should use caliga, the Roman soldier’s battle boot, but Paul doesn’t actually mention boots. He says simply, ‘feet shod with readiness’ – the word readiness calling to mind the ministry of John the Baptist (Isaiah 40:3-4; Luke 1:17,76; 3:4-6). 
    4. The shield might make us think of the famous rectangular red scutum of the Romans, used in their famous tortoise formation, but Paul uses a common word for shield (thurein) found 19 times in the LXX (e.g. the shield of King Saul – 2 Sam. 1:21). 
    5. The word for sword is one of two common Greek words for sword, both of which are used extremely frequently and often interchangeably in the NT and LXX. Sometimes a distinction is made between the short stabbing battle sword (machaira) of Eph. 6:17 and the long sword of justice but it is the machaira which appears in Rom. 13:4 as the sword of justice and in Isaiah 27:1 (LXX) as the sword of the LORD himself.

This is not to say that it is impossible that Paul was not thinking at least partly of the Roman soldier or that his first readers might not have thought of a Roman soldier. But it is to say that the most important background to Ephesians 6:10-20 is not the first century imperial legionary or centurion but the Old Testament and also Pauline and NT thought.

So what?

  1. Scripture Alone. 
    1. Scripture interprets Scripture. You don’t need to be an expert in first century Roman warfare to understand Ephesians 6. Certainly the Bible was written by humans in particular cultures at particular times but again and again we find that 
    2. all the background we need to know is in the Bible itself. 
    3. We know what we need to know about Ephesus from Acts 19. 
    4. We know what we need to know about the armor of God from the OT. 
    5. The approach that leans heavily on external sources and historical reconstructions a) takes us into uncertain territory (Which expert do you believe? Which rank of Roman soldier are we talking about? Did they all have plumes in their helmets? What if another historical source turns up that changes our understanding of the context?); and b) takes authority away from the text and the reader and gives a dangerous amount of power to the ‘expert’ as he tells me what I could never have known on my own. This has even more important implications in other parts of the NT where the historical reconstructions of liberal scholars tell us, “I know that it looks like the Bible is saying this but if you really know the culture and politics in first century Ephesus then you would know that it actually means the opposite of what it looks like it means.” Scripture is our guide to Scripture.
  2. Grace Alone. 
    1. The Roman Soldier analogy tends slightly towards seeing the pieces of armor as passive instruments with the soldier (me) as the active fighter. 
    2. In contrast, if we see the armor of God as the OT armor of God – The LORD himself, Christ the Lord – then it is closer to the mark to see us as the more passive ones and God as the more active one. 
    3. He is giving us His armor, He is giving us himself. He is surrounding us as a wall of fire and a fortress and shield. Yes there are imperatives to ‘Put on’ and ‘Take up’ and ‘Stand’ – we need to walk in the calling we have received (Eph. 4:1) but it is first and foremost something received, gift. 
    4. So let us not turn Ephesians 6 in to a series of things for us to do. That is fig leaf armor. We need the armor of God. 
    5. We need to put on Christ and glory in his sovereign grace. “According to Ephesians 6 believers need to be armed with God’s own righteousness if they are to be protected against the blows and arrows of their spiritual enemies… The position of power and authority with Christ to which they have been raised is greater ‘than that possessed by their mighty supernatural enemies’. As they appropriate this salvation more fully and live in the light of their status in Christ, they have every reason to be confident of the outcome of the battle.” (Peter O’Brien)
  3. The Church of God. 
    1. The Roman soldier analogy tends towards making us think of an individual centurion or an army of individuals each putting on their own armor. 
    2. But the letter of Ephesians has been about the church. In Ephesians 6, as throughout the letter, the address is second person plural . It’s not addressed to the Lone Ranger solo Christian. It’s not little me being called to stand firm and put on my armor and fight. 
    3. It is the whole church being called to clothe themselves in the gospel armor. The one new man (Eph. 2:14-16) – the Church – must put the armor on. The armor of God himself. So that, as the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD will surround his people, both now and for evermore (Psalm 125:2).

Rom. 13:11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed.

Rom. 13:12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let’s rid ourselves of the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Rom. 13:13 Let’s behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and debauchery, not in strife and jealousy.

Rom. 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Paul is saying “wake up, it’s time to take this seriously.  Put away the flesh and put on Jesus Christ (the armor of light)

notice that he is telling believers to wake up (not unbelievers)  

believers can fall asleep and allow their flesh to guide them right back into sin. (and he is telling them to wake up)

you’re supposed to be on guard against evil (outside and inside) and you’ve fallen asleep on duty.

what do you tell a guard who is sitting down against a tree or a wall and fallen asleep ?

“stand up, wake up, be on alert at all times … do what you have to do to keep on alert

(long hall truck drivers , falling asleep at night, stick their hands out the window to chill them then put it on their face)

you might have to do something physically uncomfortable to stay awake but it is necessary.

2 Cor 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

1 Pet 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

Rom 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

2 Tim 2:4 No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him

yes, we are told to put on Christ, receive Christ, abide in Christ

(and this is the means by which we resist)

the entirety of Ephesians talks about being in Christ 

(chapters 1-3 are what we have)

(chapters 4-6 are what we are to do with what we have)

does it make sense that Paul would suddenly turn off the road and start talking about Roman armor right when he says “finally” which means in summary of all that I have told you ?

look again at how the armor passage starts:

Eph. 6:10 Finallybe strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

Eph. 6:11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

stand firm means resist in greek (histemi)

Eph. 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Eph. 6:13 Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Eph. 6:14 Stand firm therefore,

James 4:7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you

1Pet. 5:6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time,

1Pet. 5:7 having cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you.

1Pet. 5:8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

1Pet. 5:9 So resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brothers and sisters who are in the world.

1Pet. 5:10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

getting the impression that we are to be wide awake, alert, ready to spot attack and ready to resist ?
(and that we are not to expect to get too comfortable while doing so)

Ephesians 6 armor of the Lord might read more like this (if we focus on Christ more than simple pieces of armor)

Eph 6:

10 Finally, grow strong in the Lord together and in the strength of His might.
11 Put on the Jesus Christ, so that you will be able to stand firm as one against the schemes of the devil.
12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, hold up and be protected by Jesus Christ Himself, so that you will be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm, resist and not give way.

14 Stand firm and alert therefore, letting His truth keep you from becoming entangled and deceived, and let the righteousness of Jesus Christ keep you blameless before your Father,
15 and be prepared with the gospel of peace wherever you go, whatever homes or town you touch;
16 in addition to all, lift up your faith in Jesus Christ and let it protect you from  all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 And let the fact that you received salvation from Jesus Christ keep you through all trials and attacks; and let the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, be the tool we use to fight in this world (a tool of unshakable discernment from the mouth of God Himself).

Jesus is:

  • our truth (to keep us from becoming entangled) (John 14:6)
  • our righteousness to stay in right relationship with the Father (1 Cor. 1:30)
  • the entire point of the gospel (the good news) that our sins are paid for in full and that we, who believe, are at peace with God and more importantly, He is at peace with us
  • the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:2)
  • our salvation (our redeemer)
  • the very sword which is the Word of God (john 1:1-3; Heb 4:12)

how do we put on Jesus ?

well first by believing

(John 3)

but verse 18 tells us how to keep the armor on (to remain abiding in Him)


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