Defending ourselves

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After World War I, the French Minister of War André Maginot, had built a line of concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, artillery casemates, machine gun posts, and other defences, along its borders with Germany and Italy. The German line was called after Maginot

Military experts extolled the Maginot Line as a work of genius, believing it would prevent any further invasions from the east (notably, from Germany).

It was strategically ineffective, as the Germans indeed invaded Belgium, defeated the French army, flanked the Maginot Line, through the Ardennes forest and via the Low countries, completely sweeping by the line and conquering France in days.

The term “Maginot Line” has come to mean a strategy or object that people put hope into but fails miserably. It is also the best known symbol of the adage that "generals always fight the last war, especially if they have won it".

So how do we defend ourselves without building a Maginot Line?

Ephesians 6:10-18 makes this very clear. We must ‘Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes’ (Ephesians 6:11)

A word of caution – don’t limit your view of the powers.

Traditional view

Mostly we think about “the powers” to mean personal demonic tempters of the individual Christian. Many Christians have dismissed the powers as being separate from most human affairs, with the exception of major acts of evil. Others often portray themselves as being demon hunters behaving as if there is a “demon-under-every-bush.” Whatever the case may be, the powers are often limited to the influence that they have on individuals. That is part of but not the whole picture.

Modern view

Walter Wink, in his book, The Powers That Be, describes the powers in the following way:

We might think of “demons” as the actual spirituality of systems and structures that have betrayed their divine vocations. My main objection to personalising demons is that by doing so, we give them a “body” or form separate from the physical and historical institutions through which we experience them. I prefer, therefore, to regard them as the impersonal spiritual realities at the centre of intuitional life.

For Wink, the powers are to be understood as the “ethos” at the centre of systems of institutions.

Third Way

“…there is at least a grain of truth in the theory, made famous by Walter Wink, that the inner or hidden forces latent within organisations, companies, societies, legislative bodies and even churches are the sum total of the spiritual energies which humans have put into them, abdicating their own responsibility and allowing the organisation, whatever it is, to have it instead. I believe there is more to it than that, but not less.” NT Wright

We cannot afford to allow Western thought to influence and secularise such interpretations our understanding of the powers. They are personal, corporate, natural. Just because they do not fit with our secularised worldview we are not allowed by Scripture to dismiss them as illusion and myth.

What it this armour? Picture a Roman soldier…

1. Shield of faith (v16)

That extinguishes all the arrows of the devil. Paul points us to the impregnable fort of a Roman legion standing shield to shield. Remember – this faith is not wishful thinking, it is faith based on good evidence. When I am tempted to doubt or not believe I ask myself –what happened on the cross? Did Jesus die? Was he raised? Is this true, despite my doubts?

A shield guards. While a physical shield protects us physically, faith can protect our spiritual lives even in the middle of physical trials.

A shield deflects. Satan is always hurling his fiery darts of fear, doubt and worry in our direction, but the only time they can hit us is when we let our shield of faith down—when we stop believing that God is in control; that He is working everything out for our good; that whatever happens is for the ultimate best of everyone involved, however little it seems to be that way.

A shield is the first line of defence. While the rest of our armour helps protect us from Satan’s onslaught, it is not what you ideally want to be using to absorb every hit. You do not, for instance, go out into battle intentionally blocking everything with your head.

A shield can incapacitate. When Christ was being tempted by Satan, His faith in the Word and commands of God repelled Satan for a time (Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Christ was tempted in all things, so this was certainly not the only encounter Christ had with the devil). The boss (the metal knob in the middle) on the Roman shields allowed soldiers to give their enemies a stun-inducing shove that would allow them to follow through with an attack.

Our faith in God, as demonstrated by Christ, can also give Satan a good shove backwards and give us a chance to fight back by doing God’s will and work. Because God tells us that faith cannot just be in our minds, it must produce actions—works of obedience and service (James 2:20).

When enemies would begin firing arrows and other projectiles at the army, the soldiers would close ranks into a rectangular array—called the testudo, or "tortoise," formation—and those on the outside would use their shields to create a wall around the perimeter. Then those in the middle would raise their shields over their heads to protect everyone from airborne missiles. The result was a formidable human tank that could be stopped only through a tremendous effort.

In spiritual warfare we need one another.

2. Belt of truth (v14)

Jesus once said “If you hold to my teaching then you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The Belt of truth is to be actively worn – put on.

One of the easiest targets in spiritual warfare is truth. We saw that last week from Gen 3.

3. Breastplate of righteousness (v14)

Righteousness is something that we are given by God – we are made right with him by Jesus’ work on the cross. But, again, we must put it on. When we do, even though the accusations may come, we know they have no grounds – they are not true of us.

Living righteously is a sure defence against spiritual warfare. So when the accuser comes, there is nothing for him to accuse!

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2.12

4. Boots of the gospel of peace (v15)

Peace between us and God as well as peace between each other.

The Romans understood that. The Romans understood that it was essential to make sure that the soldier with everything else that he had, and particularly because what he was carrying and wearing was relatively heavy that he could stabilise himself. And remember, what we’re talking about is standing firm…standing firm. Slipping is not good in a hand-to-hand combat.

In Roman times there are historical accounts of long marches. The Roman army amazingly had long marches over terrible terrain, wearing out the leather in their shoes. Historians tell us that took the toll in thousands of thousands of lives in the battles. Proper shoes were essential. Because if you’re not firm on the ground, it doesn’t matter what you can do. Your whole body will be immediately debilitated. Shoes are vital.

Roman soldiers generally wore a very tough sandal…very, very tough leather with straps holding it firmly on. That gave the soldier the ability to stand firm in his footing as he was engaged in the fight, to run up a hill and to run down a hill without slipping and sliding.

A familiar device in ancient warfare was to place traps in the ground. These are the precursors to mines. In the ancient times, they would take sticks and they would sharpen the points of those sticks and then they would bury them in the ground with the points sticking up. Invariably the points sticking up out of the ground would rip up a barefoot soldier or penetrate readily through a weak piece of leather. These hidden traps were great dangers because if you had your foot injured, you were done. Slashes, bleeding, infection, meant debilitation.

Peace with God and with others – loose it and you get slashes, bleeding, infection, debilitation, sitting down and not standing firm

5. Helmet of salvation (v17)

Protects us from doubt and accusation.

Christians have been called out of this world. Though we remain in it, we are not of it and remain separate from it. Our way of living and even of thinking should differ from the world’s. We are to develop the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:5), and as we have seen, that means having God’s laws written on our hearts and minds so we can remember to always obey God.

1 Thessalonians 5:8-11
But 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. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing.

We can receive tremendous hope and comfort by focusing on the incredible sacrifice Christ gave to save us and the amazing Kingdom that is the goal of our salvation. This hope works like a helmet to protect our minds from the discouragement and despair in this world.

Matthew 13:22
Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

Without the helmet of salvation, we will be unprotected from the "cares of this world" that bombard our thoughts and feelings. Imagine not knowing what the future ultimately holds. The worries and problems produced by living in this world would overwhelm us!

Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

With the helmet securely fastened, we can have the same confidence that Paul did that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). We understand that it doesn’t matter what happens to us now. No matter what trials we face, we know that at the end of it all waits God’s Kingdom and an eternity of His perfect reign—and what could be better than that?

Psalm 3:8
Salvation belongs to the Lord. Your blessing is upon Your people.

Remember that salvation comes from God, and that God is on our side. If we commit to fully follow and obey Him, it is impossible for us to lose our battle or our salvation.

Revelation 21:1-4
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

This is the salvation we are fighting for—to enter this glorious Kingdom! Never lose sight of this. This coming Kingdom, with its worldwide peace and prosperity, makes every price in this life worth paying. No matter what comes, no matter how vicious the attacks our enemy lands on us, we know that as long as we remain with God, we are moving slowly but unstoppably toward an eternal victory. What wouldn’t we give for that?

When Paul awakes in the first resurrection, he will trade in his soldier’s helmet for a far more glorious, imperishable and eternal crown of righteousness—the crown of a victorious soldier of Christ. We, too, can be assured of victory so long as we—like Paul—faithfully follow our God and His commandments from our heart and mind.