Updated: Feb 6
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
This is the Epistle selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. In the numbering system that lists each Sunday in an ordinal fashion, this Sunday is referred to as Proper 16. It will next be read aloud in an Episcopal church by a reader on Sunday August 26, 2018. It is important because Paul states that the forces of evil are too much for human souls that are not protected by the armor of God.
It is important to remember that the places Paul’s journeys took him were all technically Greek. There he sought out the Israelite descendants and in the process of spreading the “Good News” of their Messiah having come, he welcomed the Gentiles there. They were mostly Greeks of pagan religious roots. This map shows Ephesus as one of the places where Greek culture had hold in Asia Minor, then called Galatia.
With that Greek heritage, it can be assumed that Greek mythology was still widely known and there were temples still standing, as well as monuments and statues of the many gods of importance that the Greek people worshiped. With Greece under the Roman Empire’s control, there might have been active temples to the gods who were the Roman equivalents of the Greek gods.
In this part of Paul’s epistle to the Christians of Ephesus, it seems he might be using Greek mythology as a way of making a point about God’s protection, where he wrote, “Put on the whole armor of God.” Besides the Greek word “Theou” not having the full effect of the Hebrew name for God – “YHWH” – or even “El, El Shaddai, Elohai, or Adonay – it is drawn from the implication of “a god,” implying one of the many gods known. Even capitalized, “Theou” could mean Zeus to some and Yahweh to others. This helps any implication that the armor was mythological metaphor.
For instance, the Greek theos Hephaestus (Roman equivalent Vulcan) was the maker of special armor. He was considered the blacksmith of the gods. Special devices would be ordered by the Greek theoîn, who would have pieces of heavenly armor be worn by themselves or their chosen Greek heroes.
The mythological story that first comes to mind is that of Perseus, who needed help from the gods to kill the Gorgon Medusa. Athena asked Perseus to kill Medusa. In order to achieve that monumental task, multiple gods helped Perseus. He was given by Zeus a gemstone-metal curved sword and by Hades a cap of invisibility (the helm of darkness). A polished shield (that acted like a mirror) was given to Perseus by Athena and winged sandals, which allowed Perseus to fly, were lent to him by Hermes. The Hesperides (nymphs of the evening) gave him a special sack to safely put Medusa’s severed head in.
Knowing that detail of divine gifts of armor, look now at what Paul says God gives to His “hero” Apostles-Saints:
• The belt of truth, • The breastplate of righteousness, • The shoes to proclaim the gospel of peace, • The shield of faith, • The helmet of salvation, and • The sword of the Spirit.
With all of this armor on, one looks like this:
Physical armor weighs one down to the material realm, so that one is unable to fight from spiritual purity. To stand on even ground “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” one has to be elevated to a force of righteousness by the forces of good in the heavenly places. Innocence defeats evil in the battles between God and the gods of Satan.
With heads bowed, eyes closed, and hands palm to palm, one is armored by the presence of Yahweh, the LORD. Prayer is how one is “strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Prayer is one’s submission to the One God, so one cannot hear “the wiles of the devil.” God hears them and speaks through His servants, putting Satan in his place. Like Jesus, the strong say, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” and “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” (Matthew 4:7 & 10)
Prayer leads one to see through the lies of “the rulers,” the cunning of “the authorities,” and prayer shines the light of truth upon all the worldly ploys (“the cosmic powers” – “kosmokratoras”) that hide in “this present darkness,” which is ever-present in the material realm. Prayer leads one to seek humble positions, rather than be like those who seek prideful roles of leadership and authority. Prayer brings one the light of “day,” so all “evil” is exposed, stripping it of its power to confuse and mislead.
Paul wrote these words of encouragement to the Christians of Ephesus so they would pray for all the “heroes” of God who wore the armor that comes with being reborn as Jesus Christ. An Apostle-Saint is never alone in this battle between good and evil, as Father, Son and the Holy Spirit are always surrounding the soul of life. Still, Apostles and Saints are related to their brothers and sisters in Christ, who gain strength and courage from the prayers that unite all members of the same body, all fighting for the same purpose … in different ways … determined by God.
The belt of truth is the insight of the Christ Mind, which “girders one’s loins” and makes one’s back capable of shouldering any heavy load.
The breastplate of righteousness is one’s heart being protected from external attempts to upset one and cause one to acts irrationally, due to unstable emotions.
The shoes that allow one to spread the truth contained in Scripture means one is always walking towards someone seeking peace in their lives. Comfortable feet says one will never hesitate going wherever the LORD leads one, because one is always feeling good to go.
The shield of faith means that whatever flaming arrows of condemnation are cast at one, in attempts to silence the truth unwanted to be told, nothing will bring harm to the one speaking God’s Word.
The helmet of salvation is an Apostle-Saint’s promise of eternal life in heaven, washed clean of sin by the baptism of the Holy Spirit; and the sword of the Spirit is “the word of God,” which cuts through all twists, turns, and spins of Scripture done by false shepherds.
As the Epistle selection for the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s personal ministry for the LORD should already be underway – one is wearing the armor of prayer constantly – the message here is to trust in “the strength of [God’s] power” and “be strong in the LORD” by removing all doubt that keeps one from picking up the shield of faith.
A minister of the LORD knows the difference between belief and faith. Believing in something is a mental exercise, where study and listening to lectures makes sense. It is like learning to do math problems on paper and making good grades on math tests, but never actually applying the principles of math in the real world. One believes math can solve any problem; but knowing how to break the world down into mathematical equations requires faith.
It is the difference between compliance and ownership. Complying with ideals, principles, and concepts means sometimes we are told to go against personal wants, desires and reasons. Against one’s will, one finds a force that makes one comply or be punished. These external forces are often laws written by rulers and authorities. We often have to choose what is right and wrong, based on the wiles of the devil. Too often we are told to project one’s personal problems on those far away, pitting us against them – as “enemies of blood and flesh.” When government and religion bleed together and clear boundaries are changed or erased, one complies with regret; and that bring about doubts of one system of rule or the other.
Religious compliance is like being a fence-sitter. On one side of the fence is faith in God and on the other side of the fence is faith in self. For all the recommendations to jump off the fence and join with God there are many more suggestions to forget all that promise of eternal salvation stuff and come back and play with the pleasurable sins one knows all about.
One can have faith that sin exists, because one knows sin. Because one has yet to actually KNOW God, it is common to fear taking a leap of faith into the unknown.
Faith takes hold when one takes ownership of Jesus Christ. It happens after one has come to KNOW God as His wife (regardless of human gender), so two have become united as one, with the result of that union being the resurrection of the Father’s Son, Jesus Christ. When one is reborn as Jesus Christ, one has put on the full armor of God, just as that which Jesus of Nazareth wore. At that time, all of the metaphor of Paul’s words is known as the truth of God’s Word, spoken through a Saint. One KNOWS God because one experiences God personally, not secondhand.
Ownership is seen through the words of Jesus, when he said to his disciples:
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:10-14)
Jesus experienced God the Father personally. They were united as two in one.
The words spoken by Jesus to his disciples not only asked eleven disciples (Judas had already left to betray Jesus) to believe his words and his prior acts – that he was one with God the Father – and that they should believe they will be reborn “in [Jesus] name” (as Jesus Christ), doing more acts of faith than Jesus had done, Jesus’ words speak to everyone who has ever read them. They speak to all reading this today.
The disciples were committed to complying with the commands of Jesus, because they believed he was the Messiah; but those words had no effect on their faith at that time. This is known because after Jesus was arrested they ran and hid in fear. They were filled with doubts, not faith … and they lived in the presence of a real flesh and blood Jesus, having personally witnessed his miraculous acts. That luxury of personally knowing Jesus of Nazareth is not possible today. If those disciples ran and hid in fear, then the same natural fear of the unknown is expected by all disciples of Christ today (those calling themselves Christian, based on belief of words written and spoken).
It is natural to doubt because one KNOWS fear. One has been there and done that, so often that one has ownership of that automatic response to frightening external stimuli. Doubt comes so easily one does not have to think, “What did the professor say to do when scared stiff?” This natural reaction is how one needs to KNOW God, so one’s automatic reaction to “the wiles of the devil” is to say what Jesus said, “Get outta my face, Satan.”
That emotional absence can only come from KNOWING God and having the ownership of “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” This is when one wears the full armor of the LORD and knows “the strength of his power.” Otherwise, one is walking behind the memory of Jesus of Nazareth, afraid to be Jesus Christ reborn.
Prayer is how one calls upon God to enter one’s heart. Prayer is how God comes to give His armor to Saints. Prayer is how one leads others to come to KNOW God too.