This section of Ephesians always reminds me of the flower children of the 1960’s. It evokes the image of peaceful protesters sticking flowers into the barrels of guns held by military police during a march to the Pentagon on October 21, 1967. Both the text and the image are compelling pictures of just how powerful peace and love can be.
At a time when God’s people were undeniably in danger from the physical forces of the Roman empire, Paul recognized an even greater danger – “the cosmic powers of this present darkness… [and] the spiritual forces of evil.” Paul did not encourage people to lie down and be doormats. No, Paul rallied the troops to prep for battle. But a different kind of battle. “Fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness… the shield of faith… the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” Paul encouraged people to gird themselves with truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, and God’s word.
What might our world look like if we were to gird ourselves with these weapons of the spirit? In light of racial and religious tensions, might we speak our truth and at the same time listen to the truth of another? Could we not put on airs of pretentious righteousness, but instead be righteous? Could we live lives of faith, loving and accepting all God’s children despite our differences? What if we were to proclaim salvation to our Muslim neighbors? Not a salvation contingent on conversion, but a gift offered freely by a loving God. Could we let God’s word work inside of us instead of using God’s word to beat others down?
The battles we face may not be against other people. Instead, as Paul suggests, these might be battles against the forces that corrupt humanity – the forces of ignorance, arrogance, and hatred we find inside ourselves. Perhaps we are primed to win these battles when we surrender ourselves to the hope, peace, and love of a loving God.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Ephesians 6:10-20
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.