Teaching at VBS wrecked my theology
This summer (2016) I taught a children’s class at a Vacation Bible School (VBS). The theme was ‘Lord’s Army.’ Taking the time to teach these little people about the Armor of God total wrecked my understanding of the Armor of God. I spent that week and the following weeks realizing that my understanding of the Armor of God and its purpose was broken. But once everything clicked I was totally ecstatic to tell others what I had learned. Because if anyone was taught about the Armor of God the way I was, then their understanding was broken too! So as I share what thinking was tore down and what doctrines were built I hope to persuade you to the understanding that the Armor of God is Christ and the connected importance of Prayer.
It Not Just the Battle We’re in but Also Who We’re in the Battle With (Ephesian 5:1-6:9)
Walk in Love. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives to husbands and husbands to wives. For this displays the Church. Children to parents and parents to children. Servants to masters and masters to servants. In all instances the lesser submitting to the greater and the greater submitting to the lesser. Not of lesser or greater in value but of inherent responsibility. It is this doctrinal truth of submission that introduces the Armor of God. The context of our spiritual battle is daily life- with other real people. The battle is not some far-off, ethereal and mystical experience. We are waging a spiritual battle among friends (chosen and appointed). If we cannot honor Christ by submitting ourselves to those over and under us, then how will we ever submit to the purposes for putting on the Armor of God?
The Battle is Hard and Old
In Ephesians 6:10 the admonition is to stand strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Even before the Armor of God is mentioned we need strength. The strength needed is not our own. It is God’s! Be strong in the Lord, in the strength of his might. All these years leading up to this summer I was given the impression that I needed the armor of God so that I can stand strong on my own. I know this may not have been the intended interpretation, but it was the understanding that I walked away with. But it would be exegetically and spiritually foolish to believe that I can fight this hard battle in my own strength. Especially when we find out that we are not trying to stand against schemes of man but against the schemes of Satan. The intimidating line-up of enemies in 6:12 should cause us to approach this hard battle with sobriety. Because if we are to stand against Satan’s schemes, then we must understand that the battle is not only hard but is also old.
You Do Not Have Any Armor – God Does
Put on the Armor of God. The simplest reading of this sentence informs the reader that they do not have any armor. Or at least if the reader does have armor it is not even worthy of consideration for the purpose of standing strong in the strength of the Lord. For the Christian, how many times have you been told to put on your armor? Personally that has been the standard command given to me from many respected teachers of the Bible. But this lacks Biblical fidelity in that first, we do not have any armor and secondly if we did it certainly wouldn’t stand up to the deadly blows of Satan. Coming to this realization was the beginning of the breaking of my assumed interpretation of this passage. Realizing that I was donning the Armor of God made me reconsider if I was even able to wear this armor. Or would I look like David wearing King Saul’s armor; small, silly and unable to move?
With this Armor We Will Stand
As already seen we are to be strong. But not only are we to be strong, we are also to stand. Not cower. Not run. Not bend our knee to our enemy. But to stand firm in rebellion against the rebellious one and stand firm in obedience to the sovereign Lord of all. Because the victory has been determined from the beginning we can stand humble and confident. For how can we fail to do what God has commanded us to do?
The Armor is not Just an Analogy; The Armor is Christ!
I once told a friend that it is possible to teach through any of the first four gospels of the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) without teaching Christ. At first he didn’t believe me. I let him know that although doing this is possible, it is not good Biblical exegesis. I believe Ephesians 6:10-20 can be taught in a way that makes this same incorrect Christ-less teaching error. It would be very easy to moralize the Armor of God without actually speaking of the person of Christ and the reason for having the Armor. Too often the American Christian is taught to be an independent moral mercenary working as a hireling of the Kingdom of God. But that is far from the designed reality of the imperatives of Christ. The Armor does not find its value in who wears it, but in who the Armor is. Briefly, look at how the Armor of God is better understood as Christ Himself, and not another superficial Christian clothing line.
- The Belt of Truth is Jesus: Jesus said that he was the way, the TRUTH, and the life. (John 14:6)
- The Body Armor of Righteousness is Jesus: Paul said the Christ is our righteousness. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
- The Shoes of the Gospel is a Message about Jesus Meant to be Spread: Mark introduces his narrative about the life of Jesus by calling it the Gospel about Jesus Christ. (Mark 1:1)
- The Shield of Faith is a Complete Trust in Christ: We are not to put our faith/trust for protection in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ alone. (Psalm 146:3; Romans 3:22)
- The Helmet of Salvation is Christ: Christ alone is our salvation. (Acts 4:12)
- The Sword of the Spirit is the Word who is Christ: Contrary to popular belief, the sword of the spirit is NOT the Bible. The Bible is only a sampling of the Word of God. Instead Jesus is the Sword of the Spirit because he is the Word who became flesh. (John 1:1-2,14)
How sad it was that I failed to see Christ as the very protector of my soul from God’s wrath and in protection from the enemy. Removing Christ from the center piece of the Armor of God is dangerous. It gives us the false impression that in some way we are standing alone against our wounded enemy. We are weak and even our wounded enemy is a dangerous enemy.
The Armor of God is for an Often Neglected Battle Tactic
It is interesting how messages on the Armor of God are quick to call for public action while neglecting the greater purposes of the Armor of God. Any red blooded American has seen enough battle movies filled with enough action and suspense scenes to inform her of how she should behave when wearing battle gear in preparing to face the world’s greatest enemy. We should be fierce. Deadly. Aggressive. Powerful. Eyes blazing with superiority. But if there is anything we should not be it is humble or patient. We should be moving not standing. But after describing the Armor of God, Paul, the author of this letter to the Ephesians, seems to kick the legs out from underneath the newly dressed warrior by telling him to go to his knees in prayer. Because, it is in this proverbial position of prayer that the warrior will do their greatest contending for the faith. We have not been given the Armor of God (i.e. Christ) to punch holes in the walls of Hell. We have been given the Armor of God to pray confidently knowing that those prayers will not be interrupted by the attacks of the enemy. A prayer in the Spirit, protected by the Son, and offered to the Father is not a battle tactic to be taken lightly.
A Prayer Bigger than You!
We need to pray to God for our own needs. We need to go to him for every possible need, want, and pleasure. But we are not called to put on the Armor of God for our protection alone. We put on the Armor of God with the anticipation that we will be praying for our Christian brothers and sisters that we do and do not know. We are not just mighty warriors; we are also faithful messengers. We send our prayers to the Father for the benefit of those who are suffering persecution for the sake of the Gospel. Paul, a warrior of God, humbly submits to his captors’ chains as an ambassador of Christ. What an irony. An ambassador of the almighty and sovereign God in chains is seeking boldness NOT freedom. He wanted a prayer that was bigger than the perceived physical wellbeing of himself. Paul sought after a prayer that would make available the eternal well-being of those who need the Gospel. The mystery of the Gospel spoken of in Ephesians 4:19 is in regards to the startling reality that Gentiles (non-Jews) have been offered the same salvation that was promised for the Jews. Foreigners reconciled under the banner of the God of Israel. Our Armor, our stand, our fight, our salvation is all for the Sake of the Gospel and the Glory of God. What unimaginable love it is that we have been given and commanded to tell and to teach to others! Friends and enemy alike.
Christian, don’t let being protected become more important to you than the eternal salvation of your neighbor. Rather put others (even your enemies) before you and let your love of Christ result in obedience to his commands. Because not only did Christ save us, he is saving us.