Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour 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 armour 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.
Years ago I worked with someone whose hobby was being a re-enactor, a member of a group which re-enacts battles of certain historic periods. Gradually, we were all inveigled into joining him in making chain mail during the lunch break.
One of the intriguing things about this passage is the pieces of armour which the writer chose to highlight: belt, breastplate, shoes, shield, helmet, sword. The undershirt to prevent chafing and which, together with the short leather skirt, help absorb the shock of blows, is not listed. Nor is chain mail mentioned; lighter and more flexible than the earlier form: strips of metal fastened together.
The writer doesn’t say if the belt carries sword and dagger or specifies the heavy broad sword and certainly doesn’t include the greaves and helmet guards to protect the legs and head from slashing long sword blows. “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Heb 4:12
There is nothing in the list for comfort and little for protection, except what is almost the secondary use of the item. Interlinked shields in ‘testudo’ formation effectively make individuals into a fighting whole. We naturally tend to think of “we are all parts of the one body” solely in terms of eyes, ears, hands, feet etc. Protected by interlinked shields of faith we are more than individuals: effectively becoming Christ’s body in the world.
I am not surprised by the inclusion of the caligae, the iron-hobnailed shoe that carried the legions across a continent. This is the call to arms begun in Eph 1:21, 22 now spelled out. The age to come is imminent – be prepared with only the things that further the ability of Christ come again to rule with authority, power and all things under his feet.
Lord you provide for our needs and equip us to help provide for the needs of others and for our world environment. Even as we see the contrasts of people’s lives and the events happening around them you provide the belt of truth which help us to name them.
We lock our shields of faith together, in testudo formation, ready shod to deliver the gospel of peace in politics, to those in authority from governments to international companies and global organisations.
We think of those who have no voice and for whom we must proclaim, sharply as with the sword of the word, the possibility of education for all; freedom from sexual harassment and safety from armed conflict.
In this world of contrasts give us the breastplate of righteousness to protect us from self-righteousness so that, shod with the things which make us ready to proclaim the gospel, we can walk through your world in integrity. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning is a retired minister and member of Thornbury URC