This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled Extreme Devotion, compiled by the Voice Of the Martyrs. In the following passage, the experience of two persecuted saints provide us with fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
In addition to this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16)
"I will kiss the rope but never deny my faith!" exclaimed Tahir Iqbal. The soldiers lifted the paralyzed pastor out of his wheelchair and slipped the noose around his neck. Today he walks freely in heaven with Christ.
In Pakistan, another seasoned pastor heard a gunshot right outside his house. The bullet narrowly missed him and lodged into the wall behind the chair. He thanked God for another day he could share Christ in the Muslim-dominated nation.
Raymond Lully left a comfortable position as an Oxford professor and spent most of his life suffering for the gospel. He wrote, "Once I was fairly rich and tasted freely the pleasures of this life. But all these things I gladly resigned, that I might spread the knowledge of truth. I have been in prisons; I have been scourged...now, though old and poor, I do not despair; I am ready, if it be God's will, to persevere unto death."
Believers like these have a unique understanding of the term "shield of faith." They realized it would not necessarily prevent their suffering, but it gave them courage to face it if necessary. The shield of faith gave them the resolve to continue doing spiritual battle for the cause of Christ, no matter what it cost them here on earth.
A moment of consideration: In these days of turmoil, social unrest, imperious governmental control imposed for health reasons, lawlessness, and more, we Christians stand evermore in need of the whole armor of God at hand, and in use. In the Christian life we battle against rulers and authorities (the powerful evil forces of fallen angels headed by Satan, who is a vicious fighter, [1Peter 5:8]). To withstand their attacks, we must depend on God's strength and use every piece of his armor. Paul is not only giving this counsel to the church, the body of Christ, but to all individuals within the church. The whole body needs to be armed. As you do battle against the "mighty powers of darkness," fight in the strength of the church, whose power comes from the Holy Spirit. Let's take a look at the parts of the armor:
These armorial assets have been provided for times such as these. They provide protection for the spiritual battle we are fighting:
Salvation (Helmet) – make sure that we are saved (2 Corinthians 13:5-8) and that we do nothing to cede or exchange our faith for the world’s seduction--what it has to offer (Colossians 2:8-15)--as many will fall away from the faith, when tested. (Luke 8:13; Matthew 24:3-14) Salvation, and faith in Christ Jesus, is crucial in the present days.
Righteousness (Breastplate) – Know that we have no righteousness within us; we have all sinned (Romans 3:23); Christ Jesus is our righteousness (Romans 6:15-19). The breastplate protects our heart, the “seat” of our emotions. Without Christ’s righteousness active within us, our resolve for faithfulness may falter, our steps waiver, and our usefulness for God’s Kingdom may stumble.
The Word of God (The Sword of the Spirit) – Guides (Isaiah 30:21), Guards (2 Timothy 1:14), Intercedes for us (Romans 8:27), Is our life (Romans 8:9-11), Lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), Is the Spirit of Christ and of God (Galatians 4:6, 1 Corinthians 6:11). Because the Holy Spirit is within us, we have The Sword--God's Word is a mighty resource for use in living holy lives in an unholy world. But…we Christians should know that it is a spiritual sword, not earthly. Our earthly “weapons” are forgiveness, blessing, prayer, and love for our enemies. Important message: Don’t quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19); through God's Word the Spirit renews our mind, and empowers us to be transformed instead of being conformed to the world. (Romans 12:2) As we strive to face the foe, let us not leave the Word of God behind, but have it memorized in preparation for the struggle facing us. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13) Christ said He came to bring a sword, not peace. He came to bring us the Sword of the Spirit.
Faith (Shield) – The shield provides us with means to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; Christ prayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane, that God would keep us from the evil one (John 17:5). Faith is the resource God has provided to us to shield us from spiritual attacks. (Ephesians 6:12). In our struggles against the impact of the world upon us, we are blessed if faithful, and weakened if faithless. (Hebrews 11:6) May we have the mettle, the strength, the courage to withstand the enemy and yet have the Shield of Faith intact; in this we do well.
Truth (Belt) – In armor, a belt serves to cinch together the armor to the person. In our Christian lives, we serve a risen Lord who IS Truth (John 14:6). As ambassadors from the Father, we too are to be accurate bearers of His Truth. We are made holy by the message (John 17:19). It is the truth of the message that separates us from the world, and gives us a coherent message to the world and its denizens--who speak lies and distortions (Jeremiah 9:3-5). Christ’s love in us rejoices in the truth, not in wickedness or evil. (1 Corinthians 13:1-6, esp. vs. 6) Our strategies and approach to the spiritual conflicts is cohesive because it is the Truth that we share and promote.
Readiness (Shoes) – The shoes as part of the full armor of God, refer to the gospel of making peace with God and of readiness to meet Him. In ancient warfare, which was most often hand to hand combat, swiftness of foot was one of the most important qualifications for a good soldier. So the apostle says, as shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. Speaking to the church in Rome, and to us, the apostle Paul showed that, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through Christ.” (Romans 5:1) We are, by studying God’s Word and applying it, to become ready to proclaim the Good News to a hurting world. We are equally prepared for spiritual battle, as we proclaim the Gospel of Peace to counter the spirits of destruction, chaos, strife, and terror.
It is because the whole armor of God is donned for the purpose of spiritual conflict, that believers like Raymond and Tahir have a unique understanding of the term "shield of faith." They realized it would not necessarily prevent their earthly suffering due to the wrath of man, but it gave them courage to face it if necessary. The shield of faith gave them the resolve to continue doing spiritual battle for the cause of Christ, no matter what it cost them here on earth. We, too, should be heartened to the spiritual battle at hand. As noted above, Christ informed us when He came down from heaven, he did not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34-39). When Jesus said that He had come to bring a sword, He meant that this would be the effect of His coming, not that it was the purpose of His coming. He also came to earth to spiritually defeat Satan and his control over death.
Will we have victories in our lives? Yes! Will we have defeats in our lives? Yes. God’s armor is the very best we have, and may well convert some defeats into victories. Will we triumph, spiritually, in this life? It would be in our best interest not to ignore the spiritual side of our lives, and not to ignore our part in standing strong through the spiritual conflict that is underway. For us believers, there is more to life than meets the eye, and what we don’t see may do us harm. Consider the full armor of God. It has been chosen to meet our needs in the spiritual conflict around us. The pieces of the armor may well give us a clue as to the type of conflict that is occurring. What are the world’s counterparts? Lies? Faithlessness? Slothfulness? Carnal thinking? Humanism? These are some of the enemy’s ploys in our lives. And these are spiritual weapons in the enemy’s arsenal. Let us become proficient in applying the armor of God. Several good resources are available: Spiritual Warfare: How to Stand Firm in the Faith, by Ray Stedman, and Praying the Armor of God: Trusting God to Protect You and the People You Love, also by Ray Stedman. Let’s “suit up” and know victory in Christ Jesus as we continue to glorify Him in our lives!