The Armor of God
While the bulk of Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians is concerned with the Day of the Lord, in the third chapter he turns to some other topics that are related but less closely connected to the coming of Christ. In the first five verses of chapter three, he asks that the Thessalonians pray for him and his evangelistic work. In the course of asking for prayer, Paul reveals a concern for the ongoing warfare that rages against the advance of the gospel. Ultimately, his prayer request and his own prayer for the Thessalonians reminds us that the Christian life is a fight of faith.
The fact that there is a fight raging about us (and in us) leads Paul in Ephesians to instruct the church in the armor of God, which God gives to each believer. Paul writes,
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Eph 6:13-18a ESV)
The rest of this reflection will be devoted to some observations on the armor of God.
The first thing to note is that the theme of the armor of God is not restricted to this text. Paul briefly used this military imagery in 1 Thess 5:8 (ESV), “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” It is also an Old Testament image: “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak” (Isa 59:17 ESV). In this Isaiah quote, it is the Lord God who puts on the armor, but that is because God saw that there was no justice and no Redeemer (Isa 59:15-16). That text ends with a promise that “a Redeemer will come to Zion” (Isa 59:20). Christ our Redeemer has come, and now that he has ascended on high, he gives gifts to men (cf. Eph 4:8), which include the offices of the church, but also the armor of God for all of us to wear.
Second, note that most of the discussion is taken up with defensive side of warfare. The belt holds things together; the breastplate protects the heart; a well-shod soldier can stand his ground; a shield deflects missiles and prevents body blows; a helmet protects the head. The point is that every ordinary soldier must have proper protection in order to be useful in a fight.
Third, note the significance of the defensive equipment of the Christian soldier. Truth and righteousness are ethical qualities of the believer. These are fruit of our sanctification, which is a work of God’s free grace in us. The gospel of peace, faith, and salvation are themselves truths that all have an orientation toward the future and a weightiness that comes from Christ’s person and work. While we endeavor to grow in truth and righteousness in our lives, we are ultimately defended by the truth and righteousness of Christ, which is revealed in the gospel of peace, received by faith, and realized in our salvation.
Finally, note the one offensive element of the armor of God: the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Note the interplay between the Word and prayer. The Word is sharper than any two-edged sword, and it is often our prayers that cause that sword to strike against the enemies of God. Paul well knew this, which is why he asked the Thessalonians to pray for him in his evangelistic work. It is also why he prayed for the Thessalonians because prayer is a power weapon against the schemes of the devil.
May we all take up the whole armor of God so that we might endure the fight of faith to the end and receive the victor’s crown, which we can then cast before the throne of grace to the praise of our God.