You wouldn’t show up for a half marathon wearing golf cleats. Or an ATV race with only a scooter. You wouldn’t show up for a baseball game in your hockey gear, or for a basketball game with a golf ball.
So why do we so often show up for life unprepared?
Several years ago, I remember reading a story in Tony Dungy’s book, Quiet Strength. He told the story of disciplining two players who blew off a public service appearance at a local school, because they felt like sleeping in. He addressed their level of responsibility in a team-only meeting, and thought the episode was over. Then, five years later, while on a family vacation in Europe, Dungy ran into one of his former players, now a husband and father. The young man brought up the story of blowing off his responsibility and being ‘coached up’ about how he should step up into being a man. The lesson had stuck, because Dungy coaches for life, not just sports.
Sometimes, I think we approach church “stuff” as if it’s just for Sundays, or just for church. Like maybe the pieces of advice and ‘coaching’ we receive throughout the Bible are just good advice or directions we can take or leave. [Seriously, when’s the last time you made something complicated to eat but ignored half of the instructions? How did that taste??] Too often, we think we can get by on our own, and dial up the Christian-based resources of prayer and faith when we need it.
We’re going to look at our lives as a competition for the next four weeks, and today, I want to focus on the tools of our sport, the equipment, the armor as Paul calls it, that we’re supposed to use to enter into the daily grind of life.
Before he gets to the equipment, the “full armor of God,” Paul tells the church at Ephesus to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (6:10). None of the pieces of equipment that follow are about us; they are all about the power of God! Romans 13:12 says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” I like that imagery: the armor of light. It glows, it shines, it reflects the power of God because Jesus is the light of the world! Friends, if you are wearing the armor of God, you shine.
The armor of God is what we need to stand against the devil’s schemes (6:11). I do not usually talk about our battle with the devil – I think we’re tempted, and we struggle, and I admit that sometimes the struggle seems complicated. But Paul says that our struggle isn’t just against someone else 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” (6:12). Yikes! Paul seems pretty confident that what we’re up against is more powerful, more complicated, then “just” our temperaments, issues, addictions, family dynamics, and everything else. Sure, all of that is tough, but Paul says that we’re really up against it because there is a spirit of evil and discontent. Call that original sin, call it the devil, but Paul wants us to recognize that every day, we’re battling, competing, striving, against things we can’t even see.
Paul says again to put on the full armor of God, not just picking and choosing the pieces we want – a little prayer here, a little light Bible study there, a couple of church visits a month – but to get all of the armor on. To put on all of these things not just the helmet, or dusting off the shield, all of it.
Most of us wouldn’t set out for a hike without the right shoes, or a night of camping without a tent and a lantern. But Paul wants us to take seriously what it looks like to be ready for battle, ready to compete.
Paul reiterates that we should have on this armor so that “when the day of evil comes”, not if the day of evil comes, get this, “you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
Lately, I’ve been enamored with Netflix’s Daredevil miniseries, the story of a boy who is blinded saving an old man’s life, who grows up to be a superhero. His senses are strengthened because of his blindness, and he trains vigilantly to fight evildoers, to protect the innocents. But he doesn’t have super strength, or some special healing power. He gets beaten up, he gets bones broken. But his dad was a boxer, and he taught his son Matt that he was going to get knocked down, he was going to lose, but he should always stand back up.
Paul knows we’re going to get knocked down. We’re going to lose sometimes. We will draw our line in the sand and stand up for truth and justice, and we will still get knocked down. And Paul says, “after everything, you must stand because you have the armor of God, the power of God behind you.”
Our purpose, the purpose of this armor, is to stand. Because when we stand, we exhibit faith in God’s grace in the face of everything against us.
Friends, you don’t have to win, you just have to stand. God will do the rest.
So, let’s get to the actual armor.
–The belt of truth. We need belts, right? They keep our pants from falling down. They keep our shirts tucked in. They are essential for cosmetic and, er, social customs. Belts keep us put together.
Now, consider truth. Truth is the thing that levels the playing field of life. We work hard to hide the truth sometimes, about say our age, our weight, or our mistakes. But when the truth comes out, it can be freeing, and it can defuse situations where lies and deceit are running rampant. Truth, like belts, aren’t necessarily the “coolest” part of our outfit, but without it, we’d be in trouble.
The breastplate of righteousness. The breastplate was the piece of armor that covered a soldier’s chest, where many of the vital organs are. The breastplate of righteousness shows off the way we’re protected from evil by the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are not righteous on our own, but because we are cloaked, armored, protected by the sacrifice of Jesus, our “vital organs” are defended.
Paul wrote in Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith,'” and later, in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.'”
I have to admit, I’ve seen a lot of baseball lately, helping to coach my son’s team. We watch games on television sometimes, too (go, Red Sox!) The people facing the pitcher most often, the catcher and the empire, have their most serious equipment covering their chests and upper body. The sound a fastball makes hitting that padding sounds… loud. I can only imagine what it would feel like taking a pitch to the chest, or a foul tip, with no padding.
That’s what sin would be like into our hearts, if we didn’t have the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can’t earn the breastplate, but if we don’t accept by faith that Jesus died for us on the cross and rose again, if we don’t believe that, then we’re left fully exposed, regardless of what other parts of the armor we have on.
The feet fit with readiness (from the gospel of peace). But not all of the armor is defensive. Paul says that our feet should feet fit with readiness – our shoes should be tied! I imagine it like the little wings on the feet of Hermes, the symbol for speed on the ankles, sometimes the logo of cross country teams. Paul says we should be ready to travel with that energy, that speed, because we have the good news. We should want the armor for ourselves, but we should want it for everyone else, too.
We should be motivated by the gospel of peace to the point that we are willing to do whatever it takes to share the good news.
Peace. It can be so fleeting. I think of the people who represent peace in my life, the people I have emulated. The people I want to be more like in the midst of a culture that says you should fight back.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is one of the people who comes to mind. The power of his story is conveyed pretty powerfully in Selma, where MLK led protesters to march for the right to vote. It’s hard to watch sometimes, because you know what’s going to happen from a historical perspective. But MLK taught his followers that the best way to convey their truth, to promote peace, was to not fight back but to stand. To stay strong, but to not fight evil with evil.
As MLK himself said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The shield of faith (which extinguishes arrows of the evil one). But while we’re running, while we’re sharing, we’re going to take shots. We’re going to be “fired on.” I’m always impressed by those people who run into burning buildings or rush out to attend to the wounded during a war, sometimes carrying simply a plexiglass shield to protect themselves. They have to trust the shield; they have to believe that the shield itself will hold up under fire. Because their focus has to be on the mission, on the person they’re aiming to help or the job at hand. They need the shield to do its job.
Faith works like that, too. Have you ever felt like when you were on the verge of doing something good, or maybe in response to a decision you made that was the right one, suddenly things seemed to make the decision more difficult? Minor distractions, problems you didn’t see coming, things rise up to cause a problem.
But if we hold on, if we have faith, if we stay focused, we can see that God has a plan and that God has not abandoned us. “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
The helmet of salvation. Just about every contact sport – except basketball – requires that you protect your head. Baseball, check. Hockey, check. Football, check. In football, you get a penalty if your helmet comes off before you leave the field! Our heads are important.
Paul wants us to recognize that our faith, our hope, our love, our everything – it’s all second to the salvation we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when we believe.
I don’t necessarily mention it as much as some – but do you know you’re saved? Not in a guilt-you-into-an-altar-call kind of way, but do you know in your heart that this is the way God loves you? Do you know that you have an eternal place in God’s kingdom if you believe in Jesus? It’s pretty simple, and yet, we make it so complicated.
The sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God). Finally! We get an offensive weapon, right? I mean, from sword fighting to playing soldier to cowboys versus Indians, everyone needs a weapon. I mean, I even got chased around the house by a laser gun-toting four year old last week!
But… the sword of the Spirit isn’t our weapon. It’s not even really a weapon if we think about it long enough. It’s the word of God for our inspiration. And if we understand that the word of God is really Jesus, the word made flesh (John 1), the word in which God spoke the world into being (Genesis 1), then the only good offense is… to love. To be like Jesus. To know the Bible in a way that it comes to us when we’re struggling, to grip us and hold our hearts, to comfort and support.
And pray, Paul says. Pray with all kinds of prayers and requests, Paul says. Be alert. Wake up! he says. And keep praying.
So I ask you, are you suited up? Do you know your spiritual equipment in a way that you’re prepared for what the next moment brings? Do you know what tomorrow brings? I don’t. But if we’re submersed in truth, and love, and faith, and peace, then we’ll be ready.
Put me in the game, Coach, I’m ready to play.