So far, in thinking about the armour of God in Ephesians 6:10-18, we have been preparing ourselves for battle, knowing that we need to be ready.
We are dressed in what God has given us to wear – we have our breastplate, our shoes and our belt - everything we need to show our identity as a soldier of Jesus.
Now, Paul turns his attention to our equipment, and the tone of the passage shifts into a new gear - we are in the battle!
"In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."
Paul uses the phrase 'in addition to all this' or 'above all' to emphasise that wearing the armour isn't enough to handle the coming fight… we are still in danger and vulnerable to the wounds Satan wants to inflict on us but there is equipment God has placed at hand.
In a fierce battle, flaming arrows were designed to do serious damage. They could penetrate armour, and would injure, maim, damage and burn what they didn’t kill. The only adequate defence for a Roman soldier was his shield – no wonder it was the size of a door!
But we need to point our shield in the right direction! We need to be aware of where the attack is coming from.
Often we think of our enemies as the people who give us a hard time and hurt us or those who persecute or criticise – but for a Christian, it's clear [Ephesians 6 v11,12] that they are just the puppets in someone else's hands. Satan is the one who is attacking us. It's his agenda to damage the Lord Jesus by undermining our faith and wounding our relationship with God. But what are the arrows he uses?
Just as the flaming arrows of the Roman army inflicted much damage,
Satan wants us to be wounded and bruised by his attacks. He uses all his resources to pull us away from Jesus through filling our minds with temptations and doubts, fears, and lies.
It's a battle for our minds.
Look at how he played with Eve in Genesis 3:6. He tempted her by filling her mind with questions - Is God really good? Can God be trusted? Am I missing out on something?
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in Luke 4: 1-13 his tactics were aimed at exploiting Jesus' physical weakness (v3) when he was hungry and thirsty, holding out false promises (v5) and twisting the truth of what God had said (v10).
Satan often tries to make us fearful by attacking when we are vulnerable - sometimes he brings suffering directly, as he did with Job, sometimes he just exploits whatever struggles we are in. He uses our circumstances to make us feel afraid and question - Is God really there? Does he care about me?
He plays with our desires too – those things that to us 'look good and pleasing to the eye' –
He makes us feel dissatisfied by comparing ourselves to others - Am I missing out on something?
"Notice that these arrows are shot at us: therefore they do not originate from within us. It is very important for us to remember this, because one of the main intentions of the devil in using them is to bring us to despair. He wants us to believe that if we think and feel in this way, then we cannot possibly be Christians."
Peter Jeffery, 'Stand Firm'
Of course, there will be times when we put ourselves in vulnerable situations and make his attack easier, but the devil knows exactly where to poke to stir up our old sinful nature, and exploit our fragile belief. Belief, or rather unbelief, is at the heart of all his flaming arrows.
When we fear - we have forgotten what we believe about who God is.
When we doubt – we fail to believe that what God says is really true.
When we are tempted to sin - we don't believe that God's way is best.
That's why we need to pick up our shield of faith. God has given us all we need to see who He is, that He means what He says, and that His ways are always best. Our best defense is to fill our minds with what we know is true, even when we don't feel it.
Faith says - Yes! I believe!
"Faith is simply the bringing of our minds into accord with the truth. It is adjusting our expectations to the promises of God in complete assurance that the God of the whole earth cannot lie."
When Jesus was tempted by Satan he fought back with total trust in his heavenly Father. He knew with absolute clarity that God keeps his promises and saw straight through the devil's mind games. When we make it our daily practice to fill our minds with God and his word, we are much more able to respond in faith.
What are the things you hold onto about God's character?
What are the promises that you can call to mind?
God is faithful and He will do it.
But sometimes it is especially hard for us to keep remembering these things on our own.
It is easy to be distracted by other things. Sometimes reading God's word feels like really hard work or just unappealing. That's why we need each other. As Christians, we are not designed to go it alone. A soldier isn't armed to fight a battle in isolation.
The Roman soldiers had a great way of using their shields to help each other. It was called the tortoise! By locking their shields together, their stand was all the more secure, they were protected on every side against the flaming arrows.
We mustn't underestimate how important it is that we are part of a church family of Christians - with others who will stand with us, remind us of the truth when we forget and stand shoulder to shoulder with us, and us with them, in battle.
At the moment we can't meet together and church has gone online for most of us. Whilst we thought it was just for a short time that was ok, but now the novelty is wearing off, and keeping going is getting harder.
Who would know if I wasn't there? Is it really necessary? There are other things I'd rather be doing... Can you hear the temptation?
1 Peter 5:8,9 says:
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings."*
We're not on our own. Others are in the same situation, and some are very isolated right now. Let's lock our shields and form a tortoise, by reminding each other of God's promises each day so that together we can sing out:
“The Lord is my strength and my shield: my heart trusts in him, and he helps me… my heart leaps for joy and with my song I praise him”
All Bible references taken from New International Version (c)2011