Picking Up

Tim Imber — March 14, 2021

Picking Up: Pick Up Your Armor

Good morning Church, and I hope God has blessed you with a wonderful morning on this, the fourth Sunday of Lent. We are continuing with our Lenten series of Transformation, talking about the ways that we are transformed when we follow Jesus and different habits that we pick up along the way. We have heard from Pastor Anna about picking up your staff and developing a greater trust in God over time, and Pastor Vannae about picking up your friends and building a community and pouring yourself into others. Today we are going to shift our focus a little bit, and we are going to talk about picking up your armor of God.

Now it’s my guess that we all have some vague memory of the armor of God, but it is not very often we hear about it in a sermon setting. For me, I heard about it most in the children’s ministry or youth ministry when I was a kid. And I gotta say, for me it was a pretty awesome lesson. You see I was your stereotypical nerd kid. I loved the medieval style combat, I played lots of video games and dungeons and dragons, and in high school I was even part of a LARPing group, which is live action role playing, where we would put on our renaissance festival outfits, grab our sticks or bvc piping wrapped in foam and fight for the honor of our kingdoms by beating the snot out of each other. So, when I was a kid, as a kid who was into all that stuff, the idea of putting on the armor of God and partaking in spiritual warfare very much grabbed my attention and made me want to get very involved in church stuff. I didn’t really know what Spiritual meant, especially in the sense of spiritual warfare, but the concept of being equipped with Divinely crafted armor and fighting off the enemies of God was fascinating to me.

Now of course, as I grew up and as I learned more, I understood that there was no literal set of armor and there was no literal battle that was going to take place. But even so, I still think talking about the armor of God is a worthwhile thing to do, so let’s go through this passage together and explore what the armor of god is, and what it has to do with transformation into who God wants us to be. So to put us all on the same page, we are going to start by reading the passage. We are going to start off in Ephesians 6, starting on verse 10, if you wish to follow along at home.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For 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.

I want to take a quick pause here to point out something, we are going to come back to it in a little bit, but it is worth repeating, which is the idea of who our struggle is against. Paul states that people, flesh and blood, are not who we are called to fight. And this is what we are going to be talking about when we say spiritual warfare going forward. I know it can mean different things for different people depending on where you are in life and what kind of background you have in the church, but for the sake of this talk, we are going to be referring to fighting the powers and principalities of this evil world as the verse says. We are not called to fight or struggle against our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. Instead, we are to stand against the principalities and powers of evil, things that we have heard from this stage to stand against, such as nationalism, white supremacy, and a theology of sacristy. We will go into greater detail about this later, but I can’t just skip over that part without mentioning very plainly that people are not what we are to struggle against. Moving on, picking up on verse 13:

13Therefore 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. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Now those of you who know me well may know that I am a big fan of context. I know this is going to sound like a tangent but I promise this will tie in later. One of my biggest pet peeves, especially when it comes to biblical or theological discussion, is when people will take bible passages out of context, cherry pick them, and use them to prove a point or advance their argument. One of the ones I see most commonly is Philippians 4:13, which people will read as “I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me.” People will use it as a motivational quote, saying that as long as God is with me, there is nothing I cannot achieve. And there is nothing wrong with that sentiment on the surface, but the problem comes when people say things like I can get away with something because God gives me strength, or the flip side, and this one someone actually told my wife once when she told them that there was not yet a job opening at a place she wanted to work, “well, if you can do all things with God, then God must not be with you.” However, if we look at this verse in the context it was written in, just by looking at a few passages before this verse, we see it sort of has a different meaning. Using the NIV version, starting on Philippians 4:11,

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul is addressing concern people have for him because of the troubles he is going though, imprisonment not being the smallest among them. Paul is telling these concerned people that it is ok, because God is giving him strength, so he will survive. So, what this passage is saying in this context is that through the strength of Christ, we can be content, we can be happy in any situation. It is almost as if a better translation of the passage would be “I can endure all things through Christ who gives me strength.” So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at the context of the Ephesians passage.

The book of Ephesians is a letter written by Paul to a group Christians about the identity we are to take when we become Christians and about the different challenges that we face when we do. In chapter six, he goes on to say that as Christians, we will be going through a spiritual battle, and we need to be ready for it by equipping the armor of God. And in some cases, for Christians of this time period, under the rule of the Roman empire, spiritual battle included being arrested and killed, as Rome was not the biggest fan of Christians at the time and they were persecuted to the point of death. But Paul is now giving some hope for this persecution in the form of this armor. One of the fascinating things about the armor of God is how it is modeled after the armor of the roman soldier, which makes sense. In part because it is armor that everyone would be familiar with, living under roman rule, but also it was the best armor around. Part of what made the roman military so strong is the fact that they would take the best parts of the militaries they conquered and adapt their own strategies, armor, and weapons to include the best parts. So Paul is saying here that God is giving us the best defense possible from the forces of evil.

But what is the armor of God? Obviously, it is not a literal set of armor that we get to walk around in, so what is it. What does having on the armor of God mean? My day job is that I am a spiritual care coordinator for a hospice company, where I provide spiritual care for hospice patients. One day I was having a conversation with a patient and we were discussing the armor of God passage. I was in the sermon writing process so for kicks and giggles I asked her what she though the armor of God meant. She thought about it for a moment and stated that she believed it meant something different to different people. She said that she believed that when some people look at the armor of God, they see something that they can put on and go to battle, something they can use to attack and spread the kingdom of God, whereas others see the armor not as something for battle necessarily, but as a concept of something that they can use to help, something that can keep them and those around them safe.

Now I’m not saying that either point is necessarily right or wrong, but it is interesting to see how we perceive the armor of God almost as binary, like it is either for attacking our enemies or defense against attacks from our enemies. But the important thing is that Paul is not telling us to use the armor of God for attacking or defending against our enemies, but rather the armor of God is designed to tell us how we are to live our lives. Or perhaps what mentality we are to have while we living our lives.

Let me put this in a new light. Each of the pieces of armor have an attribute, and it would be easy to say that these are all just things that we should become, peaceful, full of righteousness, so on and so forth. And I would love nothing more than to go into each of these armor pieces and talk about them in great detail, But I was asked to give a sermon, not a series. So instead, I would like to encourage us to look at the armor of God this way…

The belt of Truth, John 14:6 says 6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Jesus is the truth.

The Breastplate of righteousness, Jeramiah 23:5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up from David’s line a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.” A righteous branch, referring to the coming of Jesus, Jesus is righteousness.

The Sandles of peace, Isiah 9:6, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus is the Prince of peace, Jesus is peace

The Shield of Faith, in Acts 26:18 Jesus says …to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ by our faith in Jesus we are sanctified, the shield of faith is our faith in Jesus

The Helmet of Salvation, 1 Thessalonians 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Salvation

The sword of the spirit which is the word of God. John 1:1, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The word of God is Jesus

The armor of God that we are called to put on is Jesus Christ.

My dear friends, the transformation that comes from putting on the armor of God is to call on Jesus to be our protection against the powers of the world. Now that is a big statement, and admittedly a little abstract. For me personally, how I see it is that we are called to live as Jesus lived, to accept other people as he accepted, to serve as he served. And when we take those steps to put our trust in Jesus and take those steps to live that way, God meets us where we are and provides the support that is like armor. What I think the big thing that Paul is saying in this passage is to change our mentality as to how we see spiritual warfare. Picking up the armor of God is not a matter of becoming impervious to spiritual battle or conflict, but rather a change in your mentality. You see, we are called to have Jesus be our armor of God, our inspiration, and we can see that even Jesus struggled with spiritual battles. One of my favorite examples that Jesus gives us, in fact perhaps one of my favorite stories about Jesus, is when he is in the garden before he is arrested. Jesus is praying, his sweat like blood, and he says as recorded in Luke 22, Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

Picking up the armor of God gives us a change in the perspective of what we do when we face spiritual battles. Because what the armor of god really is for, is to help us endure all things, though Christ who gives us strength. The encouragement is that no matter what happens, Jesus will be with us to help us endure. Now it is important for me to note here that this does not mean that if you are in a position of domestic violence, or workplace harassment, or any situation where you are unsafe, this is not a call for you to stay in that position. God is not asking us be passive in any situation, but rather, God is asking for your trust, and to allow God to help you endure, then to continue to stand. I am also not saying we are impervious to death. The armor of God will not help us endure being hit by a train. But on an emotional, spiritual level, God will help us endure so that we will not be emotionally or spiritually dead.

What this means for us now, is while we may not be in the situation Christians were in at the time Ephesians was written, we are truly living in a time where being able to endure is critical. I know not everyone wants to hear about it, but the pandemic is a great example of a spiritual battle we all fight. Every day I see people who struggle against the pandemic, being forced to be separated from friends, family, and loved ones. Not being able to do the things you want to do or go the places you want to go, and conflict that arises from disagreements over what should be done. Not to mention the threat of the virus itself. Even now, a year in, the struggle is still hard. Not that the armor of God will keep you from getting sick, But it is so important to endure, to keep wearing our mask and keep our distance, because on the other side of the battle, if we hold out and endure, there is life. if we put on our armor of God, we can endure and not just destroy or be destroyed.

Because whether or not we do this intentionally, we all have our own set of armor that we wear. We all have our own things we use to survive and to endure. for some people they try to control everything around them. for others, some people try to ignore the battles and wont address anything, others still we use laziness or obsession, even with good things, as a means of protecting themselves. For me it was my privilege, my pride, and arrogance that I would use to lash out at people as my armor to protect me. All the while I knew that there was better armor out there, armor that God had designed. And I wanted to put on that armor, but the problem is church, that it is not possible to wear two sets of armor. I don’t know if anyone has tried to put on two helmets, or two pairs of shoes on at the same time, or carry two shields in one arm, but it is not possible. So what do we have to do? We have to take off our personal armor in order to pick up the armor of God. We need to give up our means of self-preservation in order to pick up and put on the armor of God.

And let me acknowledge that this is hard. It can be terrifying. If we have been using our own armor, our own defense mechanisms throughout our lives, armor that we design and have a dependance on, the idea of getting rid of it, even for just the time it takes to replace it, we can feel very defenseless. We have to lower our defenses in order to pick up the idea of peace and love. But through doing so, we can endure anything that empire can throw at us. Like Pastor Marissa said in her sermon that started us off in this series, saying we no longer have to answer to the powers of the world. The powers of empire have no power over you.

And this is where I wish to repeat that it is these ideas of evil that we are called to stand against. Ideas that are designed to separate us, rather than unite us as people living in God’s creation. I know it is easy to put people in place of these ideas, be it a political party or a particular demographic, to say they are the ones who are to blame, they are the enemy. But that is not what God is calling us to believe. Yes, some people are misguided, and yes, some people acting in these evil authorities are undeniably causing people harm. But they are not what we are to struggle against.

I’ll be honest with you church, this is something that I often have a hard time with. It is so easy to blame a person or people because, there they are, there is something or in this case someone that I can point to and be the face of my frustrations, or my problems. And yes, sometimes there are people who are the cause of my problems, and there are people whose actions are wrong, but when we go against people, people instead of evil principalities, then we do nothing more than hurt others and continue to cause division and hatred. The armor of God helps us to endure what people do, so that we can stand against the powers that they are encouraging. And I know what I’m saying the transformation that God is calling us to  by picking up the armor of God almost sounds like rolling over and letting people do whatever they want. But last year we saw countless examples of people fighting the powers of evil in a way of peace that I feel beautifully embodies the armor of God. The Black Lives Matter protests all around the country are examples of people coming together to overcome evil and try to make things better for everyone, not by tearing down people, but by believing that God loves all of us, and though him, we can endure all things and change things for the better for everyone.

So let me leave you with this, like I say to our youth group, here is the sentence that if your parents ask you what did you learn, this is the one thing I want you to take away from this. By picking up the armor of God, we transform our way of thinking from fighting people, to relying on Jesus to endure all things, and to be able to stand after. And that will look different for everyone. One of the things I want to encourage all of you to do is to look inward at your life and identify something that you are struggling against. Something that is fighting you and you are worried that when all is said and done you will not be able to stand after. And once you have identified whatever it is you are fighting, I encourage you to spend some time in prayer asking God to strengthen you in this area, and to help you to feel the love and power that God has given you so that no matter what comes your way, you will be able to stand. Other’s may feel that you have had your spiritual battle, or may be still going through it, but you feel like you have already lost. You feel like the battle is too much, and you are at the end of your rope and unable to continue on. If this is you, please hear these words, God has not and will not stop fighting for you. God will not give up on you. If you feel this way please let our prayer team know, or one of our church leaders, a close friend, speak out to someone. Because the armor of God works best when we have others who stand alongside us. Amen