Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:16a “Above all,. . .”
We Christian warriors have our loins girt “with truth” (6:14c). We inwardly adhere to, and outwardly act upon, the truth revealed in God’s incarnate Word, Jesus, and recorded in God’s written Word, the Bible. “Having on the breastplate of righteousness” (6:14d) entails a life of moral rectitude, outward purity. Our feet are “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace” (6:15b). Our firm foothold in the conflict is based on a peace with God which results in a peace from God.
“Above all” these three pieces of our panoply is a fourth piece which covers them, and catches flying missiles before they can even reach, much less penetrate, the body armor. This fourth piece, the armor for the armor, relates directly to all the other pieces, and strengthens them. They depend on it for their effectiveness.
Eph. 6:16b “. . .taking the shield. . .”
In ancient warfare, the soldier’s huge, rectangular, door-like shield was four feet tall, two and a half feet wide. Roman soldiers averaged being five feet tall. Thus they could essentially stand behind their shield “untouched and untouchable” (Maclaren). This shield was the piece of armor a soldier most prided himself in retaining to the last. Spartan mothers commissioned their sons headed to war, “Return with your shield, or on it.” It was to be their protection or their bier.
At the siege of Dyrrachium, fighting for Caesar against Pompey, Sceva finished the fray with 220 darts sticking in his shield. He lost one eye, but survived because he protected himself behind his shield. Similarly, a Christian soldier’s victory comes from staying utterly and totally behind his “shield.”
In the Bible, God’s very Person is often portrayed as the shield of His people. David said of the Lord, “He is our help and shield” (PS 33:20). When Abram was in danger, YHWH spoke comfort, “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield” (GN 15:1).
The indispensable protecting power a Christian needs in time of trouble is found in God our Shield. If we try to generate power within ourselves, we are searching in the wrong place. Long after Paul’s conversion, he still readily confessed, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (RM 7:18).
Some Christians labor under a delusion, thinking God is seeking super-saints, hyper-heroes. God is instead looking for yielded vessels through which His awesome power can flow. “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him” (2 CH 16:9). No believer has enough inherent strength to impress God, who is in and of Himself infinite might. Quit trying to impress God. Retain no confidence in self. Stop depending on your own strength and wit and wisdom. We cannot win on our own. Success comes from living in a constant state of dependence upon God. His “strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 C 12:9). God desires a vacuum, an emptiness He can fill. God wants us to provide Him our weakness as a theater in which His strength can be allowed to manifest itself.
God yearns to be our shield, but in a given battle His protection is not automatic. Paul admonishes us to be “taking” the shield, an activity we often find difficult to accomplish. It is neither routine nor spontaneous. Initiative is required. We must reach out and avail ourselves of the shield. Doing nothing promotes failure.
When we suffer a setback in our warfare, the problem is never in the shield, but always in our failure to raise it. Thus, we ask, how can we wield the shield?
Eph. 6:16c “. . .of faith,. . .”
Our protective shield is activated by “faith.” The Greek term we translate as “faith” is based on a root word which carries the idea of oneness. It places the emphasis on communion. A vital, vibrant, deep union with God is what connects Christian soldiers to our Master, and keeps us tapped into the Power Source.
An ongoing high level of intense intimacy with God is necessary for us to be assured He will in a given battle be our shield. The first key to establishing and maintaining this spiritual communion is desire. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (MT 5:6). If we are not filled, we are not hungering and thirsting after God. Begin at the beginning. Before all else, ask God to give you a burning, insatiable desire for Himself.
The second key to vital union with God is to practice regularly the spiritual disciplines–daily prayer time, reading from the Bible daily, and all the Bible annually, faithful church attendance, etc. We must ever be doing those things which keep us mindful of Him. We have to consciously be in His presence constantly. “How can a man sin when God’s eye is felt to be upon Him?” (Maclaren).
Victory depends on our practicing the presence of God. There are no shortcuts, quick fixes, or last minute cure-alls. The only way to overcome any given spiritual onslaught is to be prepared for it in advance. Before the temptation comes, our intimacy with God must be active, vibrant, free-flowing, and constant. The “shield of faith” must be up and operative before the flying missiles are discharged.
When our shield is up, when we are practicing God’s presence, we are ready for any attack, for at least three reasons. First, because our confidence in God’s desire to protect us is firm and unwavering. When we are in vital union with Him, we believe He not only can help us, but will. We become confident He not only has enough power to deliver, but actually wants to help us. When we feel this way, we are bold enough to personalize the promises, to call on Him to act in our behalf. True faith includes absolute trust in God’s willingness, as well as His ability, to do.
When our shield is up, when we are practicing God’s presence, we are ready for any attack, secondly, because by maintaining communion with Jesus we become increasingly confident He would never do us harm or deny us any good thing. As our relationship with Jesus deepens, we trust His goodness more. This in and of itself helps us. Satan’s initial temptation to Eve was to convince her to doubt God’s goodness. Every temptation, at the root, is a temptation to distrust God’s kindness.
Every Christian should be able to say with confidence, “I know God well. I talk with Him often and commune with Him regularly. I know how He acts. He is my friend and is always good to me. He has never failed me, and has always proved He can be totally trusted.” Christians, as long as we maintain this conviction, we will be able to send Satan’s temptation back to the pit from whence it came.
When our shield is up, when we are practicing God’s presence, we are ready for any attack, thirdly, because maintaining communion with Jesus robs sin of its attraction. The luring and tempting parts of sin–fulfillment, gladness, security, contentment, etc.–entail satisfactions we can find in God. When we are right with God, enjoying sweet fellowship with Him, sin automatically loses much of its lure.
“I need Thee every hour, stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh.”