We are well aware of the war in Iraq and Afhganistan. It, like all wars, is violent with many casualties and deaths on both sides of the conflict. War and violence is present in history from the beginning of mankind. Adam and Eve?s son, Cain, violently murdered his own brother Abel. St. Paul?s use of the language of armor and struggle in today?s Epistle reading from the 27th Sunday, Ephesians 6:10-17, is neither surprising nor misunderstood. The nation of Israel had a deep history in military battles and the Roman army occupied the Middle East during St. Paul?s life. However, Paul is speaking here, not of physical violence and warfare. Rather he speaks about spiritual warfare which is also violent. It requires cunning strategy, firmness, resolve and violence, meaning swift, intense, rough, injurious force. Let me explain.
St. Paul says that our struggle is not against ?enemies of blood and flesh? but against ?spiritual forces of evil? (v.12). In other words, another person who hurts or harms us, who strikes us or slanders us is not our real enemy. Rather, the real enemy is the demon(s) who possess these very people to do such evil things. We are called to fight against evil in our interpersonal relationships but that does not mean using physical force or violence to do so. Nevertheless, the spiritual effort we exert and the weapons and tactics we use, require parallel tactics and methods of swiftness, intensity and roughness. Listen to Jesus? words from Matthew 11: 12And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15He who has ears to hear, let him hear!
According to ancient patristic interpretation, the Kingdom itself breaks into this world violently. For instance, through powerful miracles, alert and daring people take hold of it aggressively. Whoever is a hearer and lover of the Word of God takes the Kingdom ?by force,? exerting all earnestness and desire to enter the reality of the Kingdom. For this martyrs shed their blood, making their confession of faith, being ?made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men? (1Cor.4:9). The Kingdom of Heaven belongs not to the sleeping or lazy. Rather, the violent take it by force. (OSB, p.32) Therefore, by resisting and fighting evil, we help to establish the Kingdom, or more correctly, we enter it and take possession of it.
How do we fight evil? We take-up and use the weapons that St. Paul mentions in today?s epistle. He uses a soldier?s armor to help us understand the importance of the battle and how to use the analogous spiritual armor and weaponry. Thus, a belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet and sword (modern day sidearm) to show us God?s spiritual armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
A belt is used to gird and strengthen us. A weightlifter uses a belt to reinforce his abdominal and back muscles. A belt is also used to attach other armor or weaponry. When we are truthful and honest, especially with and about ourselves, we can name our weakness and sin. This helps us to confess it and strengthen our integrity and credibility. By being truthful with others in a caring manner, we can help them to do the same.
An ancient breastplate is the modern day equivalent of body armor. It protects a soldier?s vital organs against bullets and shrapnel. Righteousness is doing good, doing the right thing. It is also the avoidance of doing the wrong thing or sinning. Righteousness protects our most vital spiritual organ, our soul, from the stain of sin. Just like evil begets more evil, righteousness can spread from one person to another.
Shoes or modern day boots allow the soldier to walk, run and climb places he could not without them. Think of the of walking barefoot from your house to your car on a cold winter day like today versus using your shoes or boots. A gentle, calm and non-reactive demeanor can help us to approach others and overcome anger, bitterness and resentment.
A shield was a large round metal plate that a soldier would hold in front of himself to protect from the thrusts of spears, rocks thrown or arrows shot at him. Our faith, our total belief and trust in God?s mercy and protection shield us from ?the flaming arrows of the evil one? (v.16). The Church Fathers equate these arrows to thoughts of envy, pride and lust that the demons constantly launch towards us. By making conscious effort to identify and reject these thoughts, by praying the Jesus Prayer, we lift up the shield of faith against these flames of passion.
A helmet is worn on the head, protecting another very vulnerable part of our body, our brain. Helmets have saved countless soldiers from blows that would render them unconscious, disabled or dead. Knowing and remembering the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ and His life-giving Resurrection, we understand how He has saved us from sin and death. Thus, we are empowered to hope in Him and His salvation.
Finally, A sword is a long, thin piece of metal with a sharp point to pierce and a sharp edge to cut, and a handle to wield about. This made it one of the most lethal weapons in ancient battlefields. St. Paul says the Holy Spirit is our sword against the devil. He also says this same sword is the Word of God (v.17). Listen to Jesus? words about spiritual warfare and the sword.
Matthew 10: 34?Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35For I have come to ?set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law?; 36and ?a man?s enemies will be those of his own household.? 37He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
Hebrews 4: 12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.
Revelation 2: 12?And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ?These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13?I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan?s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. 16Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
In conclusion, for a soldier to carry all his armor and weapons in battle is a huge load. For modern-day soldiers all this can way anywhere from 40-60 pounds. It takes great strength and endurance to just carry it much less use them. To carry and use the armor of God is impossible for us alone. St. Paul instructs to ?be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power? (v.10). He did not say be strong in our own power. Jesus says in Matthew 1129Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.?
Only by using God?s armor with His strength, can we fight against the spiritual forces of evil. We must not fight against each other causing harm and injury. If we are truthful, righteous, peaceful, and faithful we will cause numerous casualties for the demons and bring death to sin and evil. Amen!