13th Sun after Pentecost: Ephesians 6:10-20
This Biblical passage is quoted often. This encouragement has inspired many sermons, children’s costumes, and for some a prayer practice of mentally putting on the armor. It seems like we gravitate to these instructions in America, because they imply a sentiment of war or striking back. The individual-centric picture of putting on armor is attractive to independent people.
I feel like the imagery of this text is often remembered out of context. This has fueled a false picture of Christianity as one where throughout history we have justified warring against unbelievers (and believers who disagree with us)—a dangerous premise that has cost the lives of many people whom God also loves.
So, it’s important to take the time to put these thoughts back into context. Although this text starts out saying the battle isn’t against flesh and blood, the early Christians were actually being martyred, so their battle was against flesh and blood. Instead of fueling the conflict, the writer is trying to defuse it by showing them their persecutors are being influenced by spiritual forces. This audience is helpless and oppressed, and these are meant to be encouraging words. They do have a recourse. They can build their relationship with God, call on God, and pray against the evil that’s being showered onto them. Part of this armor is the shoes of the gospel of peace. When they do get up and go out, they are to do so in peace. It’s a difficult message to hear when you’re fearing for your life.
The one weapon mentioned is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. This is often reduced to mean the written Bible. Over the centuries Christians have found ways to weaponize verses in the Bible to use against people with whom they disagree. We need a bigger picture, and our written Bible gives us one. The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the Word. John also tells us that Jesus had to ascend so he could send us his Spirit as our counselor.
This text on the armor of God isn’t instructing us to weaponizing Bible verses to prove our point. This audience didn’t even have the Bible as we know it. This passage implies that we should allow our words to be inspired by the Spirit living within us. This Spirit, sometimes also called Sophia (wisdom), is an equal part of the trinitarian God and loves everyone. Our only weapons are the words inspired by God’s Spirit, not for attacking people, but for being the voice of God’s love and wisdom to all people. A challenge indeed.
This passage should inspire a daily prayer practice. I would suggest that instead of focusing too closely on the imagery of armor, we should focus on a practice that strengthens our relationship with God. Something like contemplative prayer that will allow us to become aware of the ways in which God is already working in our lives. This will provide us with a connection to God that allows us access to what the Spirit would have us say or do in difficult situations.