10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 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.13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel,
20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
My thoughts -
This is a passage that many of us know well. My sons are studying it in their basketball league right now. Well, I'm not sure "studying" is the right word. It's hard for elementary aged boys to "study" anything, even without the distraction of a loud gym with a basketball game about to start. But they are reading it. And as best as I can tell they are enjoying it.
I remember this passage fondly from my "discovering" it when I was about their age. We built our "full armor" in Sunday school with our belts and breastplates and helmets, swords, and shields and everything. It was pretty cool. We boys loved the war imagery. We loved the idea of guarding ourselves from flaming arrows and attacking with our swords. We could imagine the epic dual between good and evil going on all around us. We were always good, of course. And "the world" was always bad. Bad was out there. We never internalized the message. We saw the battle outside of ourselves and never saw that it was really within.
We also never noticed verse 15. I mean, I'm sure it was read. It must have been. But we were kids. We just read scripture, we never lived with it. A little detail like "the gospel of peace" was sure to slip our young attentions.
So I read this today and I wonder, why all of the war imagery in regards to the gospel of peace? Why did Paul write it this way? I'm sure his perspective was skewed some by his living conditions. Life was a lot rougher for Christians in Paul's day than it is for us. For Paul persecution meant imprisonment, beatings, and ultimately death. For us it may mean getting teased about still being a virgin in high school. Not that teasing is fun but I'd take that over being martyred any day of the week.
But the more I think about this the more I think that the war imagery is not a bad thing. And I don't mind it sitting in glaring contrast against the backdrop of the gospel of peace. I'm good with contradictions. Life is full of them. Wherever we got the notion that they shouldn't exist I'll never understand. I think my beef with the war imagery is not necessarily the imagery itself and more the way my childhood self interpreted it. Let's look at verse 12 again:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, 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.My childhood self couldn't grasp this. Maybe the me I am today can't either, but I'm better equipped to. Our war is not with people, it's against evil. It's against sin. And the war I'm fighting today isn't even against other people's sin. I've got no control over that. Maybe I can be a prophetic witness, maybe not. But what I can control, with God's grace, are my own actions. I want to get closer to God. I want to know and to love God more. I want to get deeper into this Christian living on a daily basis. I want to stop being the wretch that I've been and be who God is creating me to be. I am at war with my own sinful nature.
In this conflict I need to be prepared. I need to have a good relationship with the truth. I need to be honest with myself, with others, and with God. I need to be righteous. I need to be ready. I need to live in peace. I need to have faith. I need to trust God in everything. I need salvation. Do I ever need salvation! And I need the word of God. There's just something about living with scripture. I can't describe it but I need it. Even if I don't completely understand what I'm reading all of the time it helps to focus my thoughts on Godly things instead of my own selfish, sinful nature.
I need to be in prayer. I need to pray for my friends. I need to pray for my brothers. I need to pray for my enemies. I need to pray for people I don't even know. Honestly I'm not sure how prayer works. We pray for healing and some are healed and others aren't. We pray for tough situations that sometimes work out and sometimes don't. But prayer places our trust in God and not in ourselves and places the needs and concerns of others ahead of our own. When we pray for others we connect with our Creator and we connect with our fellow travelers in this life. How it works is not my concern. I've not prayed and I have prayed. Praying works better.
We need to strengthen and encourage each other just like Paul and his churches did. We're all in this life together and it isn't always easy, but peace is coming. Peace will be here soon. We just need to be strong and hold out until then.