Sunday, May 11, 2014

Ephesians 6:10-20 - Weapons of all Kinds for all Kinds of Use

As I stated in a previous post, Ephesians 6:10-20 is a much loved, much preached about Bible passage for Christians. The armor of God. The full armor of God. What Christians need to know to engage in spiritual warfare.

But as I think about it, what are these weapons for? The ones listed, coming from a 1st Century context are:
  • belt of truth
  • breastplate of righteousness
  • feet fitted [i.e. with shoes] with readiness of the gospel
  • shield of faith
  • helmet of salvation
  • sword of the Spirit
  • pray on all occasions
Some might say the admonition to pray isn't tied to a weapon used in those days. Fine, I say, so it's not part of the metaphor, but it's clearly akin to the weapons and belongs in my list.

It occurs to me, and I've heard it used before, that of the weapons listed only the sword is an offensive weapon. Yes, it can be used defensively when one comes after you with intent to harm you, but it's more to inflict harm on someone else. The breastplate, adequate shoes, shield, and helmet are all things to protect you from harm trying to be inflicted by another. I suppose the belt has a defensive function as well, though I think of it more as a place for holding supplies and weapons. Prayer, clearly, is both an offensive and defensive weapon.

So why aren't any offensive weapons listed? Why not the spear, which can be used to harm someone fifty yards away? Why not the bow and arrow, which can be used either against a specific foe in sight and in aiming range or against an unseen foe just over the ridgeline? Why not the catapult? Or the battering ram? I suspect these were all part of the soldier's weaponry in the 1st Century. What kind of battle to the weapons listed prepare us for?

While the soldier fights along side other soldiers in a war, and has the aim of either conquering or defeating would-be conquerors, the Christian generally fights alone. Yes, we are involved in community, who help to boost morale, who feed us, and who sometimes fight alongside, but most battles will happen in solitary moments. And most of the time it will be us being attacked by the forces of evil. Hence, defensive weapons are featured.

But I'm not sure that all the warfare mentioned, or certainly all the warfare we are called on to undertake, is against demons and devils, nor is it all defensive. Are we not told to spread the gospel? To make converts? To teach "them to obey everything I have commanded you"? That has an offensive nature to it. But it's the sort of thing we want to do one on one, in a battle of words and love—a somewhat passive battle, if you will. I hope Christians never do it as the Moslems did, conquering and forcing people to convert to Islam, spreading their religion via the sword, not via love. I know some of that went on in the past, but surely we are way, way beyond that.

In this warfare to spread the kingdom of God via love and words, untargeted offensive weapons have little purpose. I suppose a radio or television broadcast is an untargeted offensive weapon, but I think those do little good in this age. We fight a passive war. Not that we are to be passive, but we are not to wield weapons aggressively or indiscriminately. I'm already long with this post, so I'd better bring this to a close. Rethinking what are wars of the kingdom of God are, and how we are to use these weapons.

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