Roman soldiers engaged a dangerous world with full battle armor. A strong leather belt and then a breastplate to protect vital organs got things started. Good shoes protected the feet and made it possible to go long distances. It’s hard to fight with blisters. What then gave Roman soldiers a competitive edge, transforming them into a fighting machine, we’re the shield, helmet and sword. Shields were covered with leader and then soaked in water to putt out flaming arrows. The soldier wore a helmet to protect the head from blows, much as a motorcycle or bicycle rider would do. Finally, fully protected, the sword inflicted lethal wounds to utterly subdue an enemy. One did not trifle with a Roman soldier, clad with the most advanced military equipment do the day. With force they brought about the Pax Romana, a peace by force that made slavees out of some and millionaires out of others as money was siphoned from around the world to build Rome, the eternal city.
Jesus’ vision of how to engage a dangerous world was quite different. It is not to strike with the sword, but to turn the other cheek. It is to love ones enemies. He believes conflict is most often abated by turning the enemy into a friend. The writers of the New Testament echo this. It is a counterintuitive approach. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him,” says Paul in Romans 12.
So today’s reading from Ephesians 6 should come as no surprise. The author of Ephesians tells us to suit up for engagement in a dangerous world. But the “armor” he would have us put on is spiritual, not physical. Here is how followers of Christ are to “suit up.”
Put on truth, righteousness/justice, peace, salvation, faith and the word. Then, almost as an afterthought, he reminds his listeners to pray: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=213003502
The way people of faith engage a dangerous world is by speaking truthfully. This is your leather belt that protects and strengthens your core. We practice justice and righteousness. Jesus makes it clear what righteousness we are to pursue in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. It is embodied in love of God and love of neighbor. We engage the world by proclaiming peace. The Hebrew Scriptures say, “How blessed is the one who brings good news of peace.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
We are to put on a helmet of salvation. Salvation means wholeness. It is not just salvation of the soul in the afterlife, but a holistic well-being that begins now. We are to be people of peace and joy and hope. Our shield is faith. Faith is putting our trust in God above all else. Finally we are to engage with world with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The Holy Spirit is what gives us our cutting edge, if you will. The word of God here is not the New Testament as many assume, because it has not been compiled. It is likely the gospels have not yet been written. Its unclear what the author means, but I vote for the good news of the resurrection and eternal life, because the only other place the author uses the word “word” in this way is in 5:26, in a reference to baptism, which is “water and the word,” which can only mean the good news of Jesus.
So, in the morning, while the Romans were suiting up for the day, preparing to engage a dangerous world, Christians were suiting up as well, but with a very different kind of armor.
When you get up and get dressed to engage the world tomorrow, what will you be wearing?