Homily for 12/09/12 - P27 - the armor of God
- Ephesians 6:10-17
The Holy Apostle Paul uses the image of going into a battle to describe how we as Christians should live our lives. Indeed the daily struggle we face against temptations and our own fallen natures is a battle of extreme difficulty. Every moment of every day, our self will and our own desires attempt to assert themselves. Our own fallen reasoning tries to supplant the understanding of the Church and our hearts ache, not for the Kingdom of God, but rather for the pleasures of this world. Such is our fallen state. And as if that handicap does not make the life in Christ difficult enough, we also have to contend against the outside temptations of the demons who seek to pull us away from the path of Salvation onto their own path of self condemnation.
In order to help us in our struggle, the Holy Apostle Paul tells us to “put on the whole armor of God”. Notice that he tells us to put on the whole armor, not just this or that piece, selecting those things which we think might help or only taking those things which we find comfortable, but rather to embrace the whole of God’s provision for us. Often in our lives we try to take a little bit from here and a little bit from there, some advice from our family, our friends and the “experts” and then wind it all together with some things that just “make sense” and others “just for fun” and from these bits and pieces put together a “personal philosophy” that we use to guide ourselves through life.
There is the amusing cartoon of a little girl who every so often comes up with a “new philosophy” which usually amounts to a catch phrase or a question that is repeated over and over in response to all situations. This phrase seems to be a good, even wise, response in some situations, but in others it is completely irrelevant and out of place. This little girl is an example of what happens when we do not “put on the whole armor of God” but rather take a little piece here and a little piece there. That piece of God’s armor that we choose may be very helpful in some situations, but it is easily avoided by our cunning enemy who finds the unprotected and vulnerable area in which to attack us.
The Apostle gives us the various elements of the armor of God: truth, righteousness, faith, the Gospel, salvation, the word of God. Truth is that which the Church teaches us, not “what makes sense” or our own ideas. Remember that God is Truth and that He has revealed Himself to us. That revelation, which is perfected in the incarnation of Christ, is preserved for us and presented to us within the teaching and life of the Church. Truth must be taken in its entirety, for truth mixed with error is no longer truth, but a very clever lie. If only a tiny bit of poison is mixed with a glass pure water then that glass of water becomes deadly to us for it is no longer pure. A “half truth” is no longer Truth and thus we must beware not to embrace only a part of the truth. The Apostles says to “gird your loins with truth” by which he means means to embrace the life and teaching of the Church which is the means by which the Truth revealed by God is imparted to us.
Righteousness is the application of the Truth in our lives. Once we have embraced the truth, then it has an impact upon our lives. A life lived according to the Truth, that is in harmony with God, results in righteousness. St Ignatii Brianchaninov in the Arena writes “Scripture calls the righteous those who try in the most careful manner to carry out truly and solely the righteous will of God, not at all their own erroneous, apparently righteous will.” This kind of life affects the heart – hence the Apostles speaks of the “breastplate of righteousness”. Living the life of Christ impacts our heart and makes it into the place where we meet God in our lives.
How then do we live this life? The key to living the life of Christ is given to us in the Gospel which serves as the instruction by which we live His life. St John of the Ladder tells us, “A (Christian) is one who is guided only by the commandments of God and the word of God in every time and place and matter.” St Seraphim of Sarov also repeats this for us saying, “We should so train ourselves that the mind, as it were, swims in the law of the Lord by which we must guide and rule our life.” Therefore the Apostles tells us to be “shod with the Gospel of peace” that we might walk in the way of the Lord.
Faith is the shield which defends us from the attacks of the evil one. Our trust in God, our belief in Him and our hope are all tied together in our faith. By faith, we depend on the revelation of Christ, even though we don’t always understand it, even though it doesn’t always “feel good”, even though it is sometimes unpleasant. We don’t rely on ourselves, on our own understanding or our own feelings because our fallen nature and fallen reason will lead us astray. Rather we put our faith in the understanding and instruction of the Church to correctly grasp and apply the truth given to us in the Gospel. By faith we can ward off the temptation to separate ourselves from the Truth by allowing our fallen will and intellect to distort that which we find in the Gospel. Faith is, in fact, setting aside our own life, our own ideas, our own understanding and living the life of Christ given to us by the Church.
The Apostle then tells us to put on the helmet of salvation. Salvation is the transformation of our mind and heart into those of Christ. Salvation is the actualization of the image and likeness of God in us. Thus when the Apostle tells us to put on “the helmet of salvation” he is referring to the transformation of the mind which is the guardian of the heart. By acquiring the mind of Christ, we then allow only those things into the heart which are profitable. The mind is the means by which the impressions of the outer world (gathered through the senses) are admitted to the inner world of the soul. If we guard the entrance to the soul and do not permit that which is detrimental to enter within, then we reduce the temptation to sin.
Finally the Apostle tells us take up the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Remember that the Apostle and evangelist John tells us in the beginning of His Gospel that the “Word is God” The Word of God which is our sword is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself. It is our Lord Jesus Christ Who is the One Who has overthrown the evil one and Who has conquered hell and Who has freed us from the power of sin. Jesus Christ is the invincible weapon which defends us from all attacks of the evil one. We cannot do any of this ourselves but we must rely upon Christ. Even with all this armor, we cannot defeat the enemy, only protect ourselves from his attack. It is our Lord Jesus Christ Who alone has defeated our enemy for us and Who has freed us from captivity. We do not defeat the devil – Christ is the one who does this. We simply enter into His already accomplished victory.
Choose your battlefield! Many a battle is won or lost by the judicious choice of battlefields. Military commanders plan very carefully to press their attacks in a location which will not only minimize their weaknesses and enhance their own strengths, but which will also leave the enemy’s weaknesses exposed and which will bypass his strength. It is important to place ourselves not only in the armor of God but also within the environment which nurtures our spiritual growth and development. This environment is found in the divine services. In the divine services we try to recreate, even just a little, the heavenly worship. We should learn to love the services of the Church, to come to them as quickly as a starving man comes to a fully laden table and to remain in them as long as possible. When we speak of the divine services, we do not refer just to the Divine Liturgy, but also to the daily services – daily vespers or the Saturday evening vigil service for example.
The basis for all of our activities, the beginning and the end, is the services of the Church. All things are done with prayer, and not only with private prayer, but with the corporate prayer of the whole body together. Thus, we should strive to be in the Church for services as often as possible. Each service that we have is a chance to surround yourself a little more with the life of Christ. If we come out of duty or guilt then the services will be difficult, but if we learn to love the services and come out of that love, then they will be a constant source of joy for us, something which we eagerly anticipate, not dread; something which strengthens us rather than drains us. In the divine services we will experience a little bit of God’s kingdom.
We are called, by the Holy Apostle, to put on the whole armor of God, not just this or that piece. We must begin with the Truth which produces a life of righteousness. Faith is our shield which protects us from the temptations of the evil one. The Gospel is our constant guide which leads us to the salvation of our soul, the actualization of the image and likeness of God in our lives. And in all this it is our Lord Jesus Christ Who conquers our enemy and it is His victory into which we enter. All of these things must be employed most effectively, not in the arena of the enemy’s choosing, but rather within the walls of the Church strengthened by frequent participation in the divine services.
“Be strong in the Lord, my brethren, in the power of His might.”
Archpriest David Moser
St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)