Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:11 Introduction
Since childhood we have sung the challenge, “Put on the Gospel armor, Each piece put on with prayer” (Duffield). Now we shall study and analyze in depth for several weeks what we have sung about for years.
Eph. 6:11a “Put on. . .”
The verb translated “put on” means to envelop in, to clothe with. God intends for His armor to be the Christian’s daily, life-long attire. We are not to take it off and on from time to time. We are to clothe ourselves in it, wrap ourselves with it, and never discard it. Many Christians forget this, become careless about always donning their armor, and in the moment of temptation, find themselves unprepared. Once the enemy attacks, it is too late to put on the armor adequately. Each piece must be strapped on before a conflict begins.
We must “put on” the armor all the time. This ought to be the habit of our lives, and should become second nature to us. We need to be like the warrior Coriolanus who had so wielded his weapons from childhood that they seemed as if they had been born with him, or grown into his hands (Plutarch).
Never leave our armor hanging on the wall. Cromwell ever deemed himself in danger. In camp, at court, at home, he always wore under his clothing a coat of mail. Seneca said Julius Caesar was quick to sheath his sword, but never took it off. Believers, too, must develop a philosophy of soul-militancy.
God has much more power than Satan, but victory in every skirmish is not therefore automatic for believers. A Christian’s victory in any situation depends not only on God’s strength, but also on our faithful appropriation of His power. God offers us armor; we have to put it on. God’s assistance and man’s resolve are wed. “Without God’s mighty power man can do nothing; unless man put on the whole armor of God, God will do nothing” (Gouge, in BI).
Eph. 6:11b “. . .the whole armor. . .”
“Whole armor” translates one Greek word. “Panoplian” combines “pan,” meaning all, and “hoplon,” weaponry. The panoply, the “whole armor,” refers to a complete suit of armor. Paul’s imagery, drawn from the Roman “man of arms,” pictures the uniform which conquered and controlled the western world.
Roman soldiers were omnipresent in Paul’s day. Having been a prisoner often, Paul had repeatedly seen their armor up close. Even as he formulated the words of our text in a Roman jail, he may have been chained to a soldier.
This famous suit of armor was not viewed as consisting of separate pieces, each optional to wear. Each piece was fashioned in ways which highlighted its need for all the others. Strengths and weaknesses in each piece counterbalanced weaknesses and strengths in all the others. A complete Roman panoply was perfect interdependence incarnate. Every piece was needed for protection.
To leave off any part of the armor at any given time invited disaster. A lack of only one piece of armor left a huge opening for the enemy. Wearing all but the helmet left the head in danger. Without the shield, vital organs were exposed. When no sword was carried, the enemy mocked. David, fleeing Saul in haste, left behind his sword. Knowing he was ill-prepared for battle, David asked Ahimelech the priest for a sword. When offered the very one he had used to cut off Goliath’s head, David said, “There is none like that, give it me” (1 SM 21:9). Once armed fully and properly, David pressed on with confidence.
Similarly, Christians must be fully armed, employing all their faith and all their graces all the time. Christians, put on the “whole” armor. Leave no part naked, unbolstered, exposed to the enemy. In the context of spiritual gifts, we focus on our strengths, but in the context of spiritual warfare, we focus on our weaknesses. Dr. Leavell’s charge to my graduating class at New Orleans Seminary resounds in me, “How far you go in life is usually ultimately determined not by your greatest strength, but by your greatest weakness.”
Have you ever heard anyone refer to an Achilles’ arm or an Achilles’ leg? No, the reference is always to an Achilles’ heel. Why? Because Achilles’ greatest weakness overruled and negated all of his overwhelming strength. As a child, Achilles was dipped in the magical waters of the river Styx. This mightiest of warriors seemed impregnable, but Paris learned Achilles was vulnerable in the heel, where his mother had held him when she dipped him in the river. Thus, Paris killed Achilles by shooting him in the heel with a poisoned arrow.
One weakness often becomes the most important factor in a Christian’s life. Believers, very fond of “pet graces and favorite virtues” (Parker), think their strengths will be enough to carry them through any fray. We sometimes tend to exaggerate our strengths and downplay our weaknesses. Be not deceived. Any flaw in the armor is serious and must never be treated lightly.
Always be prepared on all fronts. A fortress may be ninety-nine percent secure, but if one small gate is left unattended, the whole castle will fall.
Where is your weakness? Unfaithful church attendance, not knowing and using your spiritual gift, no daily prayer and Bible time, no intimacy with God, not regularly practicing the presence of God? I implore you, put on the “whole” armor. Is our eye weak? Satan will accommodate us with many lewd objects. Are we careless with the ear? Satan will force his way into our essence through foul language, gossip, and unwise counsel. Is our tongue vulnerable, a loose cannon? Satan will fill it with mischief, cruelty, or profanity. If we are never inebriated, but selfish, the latter will be our downfall. If we have no sexual lust, but are cold-hearted, the latter will trip us someday. If we never curse, but are proud, the latter will cast us headlong.
In fighting our foe, we must take to ourselves all that God provides for living and for overcoming. If there be even the least loophole in our armor, the wily adversary will discover and exploit it. If we leave any piece in the armor undone, we not only tempt the devil to tempt us, but also reveal to him the best place to attack. However small it may seem to us, Satan sees our weaknesses as his beach-head. He hits hardest any part he finds unarmed.
Do we wear the “whole” armor? To do otherwise is dangerous. The French once entered a battle having thought of everything, almost. They forgot to put proper armor on the horses, and lost the battle due to a shower of English arrows which so galled the horses that they became unmanageable and trod down their own men. One fatal omission bred disaster. Believer, find the hole in your spiritual dike, stop the trickle, or Satan will make it a flood.