Armor of God (LSN 43)

So yes, I teach Gospel Doctrine…

Two things interested me about this lesson.  First, I was intrigued by the changes made in the DC when compared to Ephesians 6.  Second, I wondered why this particular metaphor was in Section 27.

Here’s how the section breaks out:

27:1-4: elements of the Lord’s Supper (Mt 26:29; Mk 14:25; Lk 22:18 for prediction)

27:5-14: extended meditation on the guest list for the eschatological banquet

27:15-18: armor of God

And here are the verses in question:

15 Wherefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice and gird up your loins, and take upon you my whole armor, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all that ye may be able to stand. 16 Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,  having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, which I have sent mine angels to commit unto you; 17 Taking the shield of faith wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked; 18 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you, and be agreed as touching all things whatsoever ye ask of me, and be faithful until I come, and ye shall be caught up, that where I am ye shall be also. Amen.

I have presented the places where Section 27 diverges from Eph 6:10-17 in boldfaced type.  The first instance adds an explicit mention of the Restoration, while the second, which is an allusion to Joel, reinforces a connection with the eschatological battle.  Finally, the Section 27 presents the imagery of the sword as both the Spirit and the word of God.   The first two changes seem readily understandable but the import of the final one is not clear to me.

The use of battle imagery for life is not unique to Christianity.  The Stoics were known to use this trope, although in their case the armor in question was wisdom, reason, and/or virtue.  The Qumran community likewise employed it, but for them the battle was rather more real than the presentation in the NT.

The background for the armor in Ephesians is that of a Roman soldier, that is, the names used for the armor in the Greek text are aligned with those that describe legionnaires.  However, the author of Ephesians did not employ a  complete set of armor.  Instead, he mentioned those pieces that are attributed to YAHWEH in the OT.  Reading from the LXX (Septuagint; Bentsen’s trans.):

LXX Isaiah 11:4-5 4 but he shall judge the cause of the lowly, and shall reprove the lowly of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the word of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he destroy the ungodly one.  5 And he shall have his loins girt with righteousness, and his sides clothed with truth.

LXX Isaiah 59:16-18 16 And he looked, and there was no man, and he observed, and there was none to help: so he defended them [the dispossessed] with his arm, and stablished them with his mercy.  17 And he put on righteousness as a breast-plate, and placed the helmet of salvation on his head; and he clothed himself with the garment of vengeance, and with his cloak, 18 as one about to render a recompence, even reproach to his adversaries.

The earliest use of this metaphor among Christians is that of Paul, who used the armor of God in his first letter to the Thessalonians (~50 CE):

1 Thessalonians 5:8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.

It interests me that for Paul the helmet was the hope of salvation while for the author of Ephesians it was the helmet of salvation.  It may be that the shift reflects the realized eschatology of Ephesians.

(A realized eschatology is one in which the rewards for a life that please God are already available, that is, those who please God have already come into their inheritance.  The other possibilities are a future eschatology, which suggests that promised rewards are yet to come, and an inaugurated eschatology, indicating that some elements of the promises have begun to appear.)

As part of my preparation I drafted a loose reading of the various bits of armor just in case the ol’ class participation was low…so what I’ve got here is my stuff except at one point where I’ll note an interesting contribution:

Purpose of the belt:  binds clothing tightly about the soldier’s waist, so that he can move freely and rapidly.

Truth: At least two major options, truth as something we know, or truth as something we do.  I have opted for the latter.  In this case, then, truth is like a good belt because if all our actions are truthful, our lives reflect integrity, and we insist on this same integrity in others, we will find that we have the freedom we need to do what we wish to do. IOW, dishonesty and a lack of integrity are limits we put on ourselves, either as we try to maintain the deception or as other react to our lack of integrity.

Purpose of the breastplate: protects the vital organs from damage

Righteousness: God’s righteousness is usually closely related to his fidelity and justice.  Likewise, the righteousness enjoined on humans tends to be closely associated with justice, which usually means that the righteous do not take advantage of the marginalized elements of society.   IOW if you are righteous you are not taking advantage of people in your activities.

Purpose of the footgear: protect the feet by giving a stable foundation and ability to move over any sort of groundcover

Readiness for the good news of peace: frankly, it’s hard to see this as aimed at a readiness to make the proclamation of the gospel, because it’s a bit of a stretch to see how preaching the gospel provides personal protection against evil.  However, many people have made this suggestion

Better, perhaps, is the idea that the appropriate footgear is readiness to accept the reconciliation, that is, the peace that comes through the gospel.  In the NT era, the main facet of this peace was the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles.

In a broader sense, though, this peace is the result of a reconciliation of people and their Creator, and it leads to reconciliation with other people.  People who seek harmony in their lives, and harmonious relationships with others, do have firm footing in the sense that they are able to deal with life’s little crisis because they’ve developed a network of relationships with people who can offer support in troubled times.

Purpose of the Shield: this is the scutum, a 4’ x 2.5’ piece of wood covered with a thick layer of leather that was intended to protect the whole person. The leather was soaked in water in order to extinguish the flaming arrows that tempted a soldier to drop his shield.

Faith: confident trust and receptiveness to Christ that produces the firm resolve do deal with whatever is thrown at us.

Purpose of the helmet: protects the head; made of bronze and had cheek pieces.

Salvation: Paul used the expression “hope of salvation” but Ephesians thinks about salvation as something that is already achieved by the believer.   In this sense, then, the helmet of salvation protects us from ideas or feelings (things that go on in our heads) that might cause despair.  When we accept our salvation as a present reality, with the full realization of that state yet to come, we can be confident that that the battle will eventually go our way, no matter how it appears at any given time.

Purpose of the sword: short sword, the crucial weapon in close combat.  Edges were sharp and it had something of a point.  Now the odd thing about this element is that it’s usually presented as the only offensive weapon.  But one of the gentlemen in the class pointed out that, in fact, swords were also a defensive weapon because they blocked the blows of one’s enemies.

Spirit and Word: in this context, perhaps the sword is not the Spirit, but the word of God and it is the Spirit that makes this Word effective, that is sharp and penetrating.   The sword, then, is the proclamation of the gospel and the Spirit makes it effective.  I confess myself a bit stumped on this one…

So the bottom line is that we are offered God’s own armor!   God doesn’t need it anymore because his battle was won with the death of Christ.  But although the battle is won, the world is not what it will eventually become.  Hence, Christians must face evil, and God has not left us to do it alone but.  Instead, he has provided a rich and varied suite of resources from which we may draw according to our needs.  I’ll also suggest that these gifts are part of God’s response to our baptism.

These six items can be divided into two sets.  The first set, composed of the first four pieces (truth, faith, righteousness, and readiness to live harmoniously), depend on our participation.  In other words, we choose to live a life of integrity, and that lifestyle is a form of protection.  Likewise, we seek harmony with others and that harmony protects us.  The second set, the helmet and the sword, are completely gifts.

Finally, when I first started preparing this lesson I wondered why the armor of God metaphor appeared in Section 27.  It seems to me that the major elements of Section 27 are linked to each other by a sort of a free-form chain of thought.  The initial message is that it is not necessary to use wine for the Lord’s Supper, and that if wine is used it should be newly made by the saints.

This seems to spark a recollection of the Jesus’ promise in the Synoptics that he won’t drink wine again until he drinks it new in his father’s kingdom.  This, in turn, leads to an exploration of the guests who will attend that long-awaited banquet.  The final verse in that sequence is telling because it promises that invitations will not be limited to the famous.  Instead, many will be invited because among those attending with be “those whom my Father has given me out of the world” (DC 27:14).

So perhaps the armor of God passage was presented in the larger context of Section 27 because it exhorts and encourages us to persistent in our efforts so that we can join the festivities.  And then, again, maybe it’s something else!   In any case, it’s a good conclusion because it arouses an appropriate response, among which are:

Dwells on the need for valorous resistance in a world that is not yet what it will be

Teaches bold Christian living as a form of resistance to evil

Stirs up a sense of reliance on God rather than on self

Assures us that God’s help is complete, sufficient, and available to all

Calls attention to our quotidian behavior as an appropriate response to cosmic evil

To me, I think that perhaps the final idea is the most striking.  Normal, moral behaviors such as an honest life, trust in God’s providence, and harmonious relationships are an appropriate response to evil.  And that is a powerful idea!

0 Responses to “Armor of God (LSN 43)”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Mormon Archipelago

December 2009
« Nov   Jan »

Contact Poor Rustic at:

poor.rustic AT gmail.com

%d bloggers like this: