ISSUE: 2017, Volume 14, Issue 1
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‘Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’, Eph. 6. 16–17 NKJV.
There is a big difference between the clothes we wear and the tools we use. Depending on the job or career you eventually choose, you may be given specific clothes to wear, and you will probably need to learn how to use the tools of your trade. If you are a surgeon, you will get very accustomed to wearing simple clothing called 'scrubs'. They have the resemblance of bed sheets and there's a good reason why. If you are going to be working around open wounds and deep cuts, you're going to need clothing that doesn't get in the way, that is easily washed and that doesn't carry infection. And while the surgeon works through a procedure, those scrubs will be a part of him through the entire process.
But the tools a professional uses are a very different story. Before ever stepping into an operating room and picking up a scalpel, that surgeon had better know more than just how to put on a pair of scrubs. There had better be some schooling on the resume. A lot of schooling in fact! Anyone can put on a uniform and look the part, but the person with the scalpel had better know what they're doing!
The same was true for Roman soldiers. Like modern-day soldiers or police officers, they were not just given a bundle of equipment and told to hit the battle lines. Training was involved. That training was not simply to learn how to put on the uniform, but, more importantly, to know how to use weapons effectively. A well-dressed soldier was useless to the Roman Empire. In modernday police programmes, new recruits can spend months at a police academy before ever hitting the streets. They never know what circumstances they are going to face in the real world, and they need to be prepared for anything.
Bible translators are undecided on what Paul meant by his first two words in verse 16. In English he simply said, 'in all' - but what does that mean? Some translators thought that Paul meant 'above all', as though the following instructions were more crucial than the previous ones. But Paul has already told us to 'put on the whole armour'. We are not to minimize any part of the armour as more or less important. Other scholars decided that Paul was saying 'in addition to all' which seems to imply that these final pieces of armour were added on as afterthoughts. But again, all the parts of the armour were equally important in battle.
There is a third option that seems to make more sense when we see that Paul is transitioning to a different type of equipment. Up until this point, Paul has used the belt, breastplate, and shoes to help us picture the things we need to face our enemy. Can you see what they have in common? They are all types of clothing. They are pieces of the soldier's uniform, just like the surgeon’s scrubs or the police officer’s uniform and badge. But Paul is about to talk about a shield, a helmet, and a sword. The shield and the sword are not clothing items; they are tools. We wear clothing and uniforms but we must learn to use tools. We wear clothing and uniforms all the time but we use tools only when they are needed. So it is most likely that Paul was saying, 'in all circumstances', as he begins to tell us about the protection we will need in order to stand and fight well.
You may wonder why this is a point worth writing a whole article about. What's the difference between the two types of equipment? Simply this: we must wear the truth, and righteousness and conviction all the time as Christian warriors. It needs to be clothing for us. It must saturate us until it becomes part of who we are. Our character must reflect these three key gospel realities. We must live for what is really there, and not simply for what we think is true. We must rest in the righteousness of Christ and we cannot trust our emotions. We must stand on the solid ground of the gospel of peace with unwavering confidence in our God who fights for us. This must define us as soldiers in the battle. It must become who we are.
But now Paul is turning from 'who we are’ to 'what we do’ at any given moment. Through life our circumstances will change, but we will always wear the gospel uniform. But, as circumstances change and our enemy attacks us in different ways, we must train well to use our weapons effectively against him. We must be ready to use our weapons ‘in all circumstances’, ESV.
Just like a police academy or a military training camp, training is a life-or-death necessity. It is not enough that we've been supplied with the weapons. We must train for the battle. We have a faithful Teacher who invites us to learn from Him as the first disciples did. He provides everything we need to prepare us for the enemy. He is patient and gentle. He will never leave us or forsake us. Our only hope in wartime is to surrender to His instruction and learn from Him through His word.