“I am filled with Christ’s love!” she yelled as she threw her Bible at the back of the girl’s head.
This is the scene I stumbled upon as I was flipping channels while watching television – a scene from the movie, Saved!, a movie I haven’t seen for many many years and one that parodies or critiques some attitudes or behaviors of Christian groups. And this scene is perhaps one of the most memorable and funniest – a teenage girl, in her zeal to intervene in her friend’s life – throws a Bible at her.
“I am filled with Christ’s love!”
Her friend picks up the Bible and tells her, “This is not a weapon.”
I’ve been thinking about this scene as I’ve reflected on the vivid image we are given in Ephesians this week: an image of armor and of battle. This is perhaps one of the most popular images of the New Testament – the Christian, decked out in Roman military gear – only the uniform is spiritual in nature. The belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation. Shoes that will help carry out the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.
These are the final exhortations in the letter to the Ephesians. Last week, we were reminded that time is short and Pastor Karl pressed upon us the importance of worshiping in community together. Today, we are told to stand firm and to put on the whole armor of God. In this text, too, there is urgency. Urgency in knowing that we need the strength of the Lord.
We can probably all guess that picking up the sword of the Spirit and putting on the whole armor of God does not look like throwing a Bible at someone’s head. But sometimes, if we’re being really honest, we think and act like standing firm is making sure everybody knows we’re right and they’re wrong. Or if you’re like me, imagining that Christian decked out in Roman military gear gives a sense of being Superman, puffed up chest and defender of the good. We are ready to stand firm in the battle; the problem is it’s usually the battles that we have chosen.
When we choose the battles and when we stand firm with anything other than the clothing of God, we find ourselves in trouble – rather than standing firm with the strength of the Lord, we are immovable and stuck. Attached to being right or being important. Or if that isn’t resonating with you today, sometimes we find ourselves easily pushed around, by others or by our desires (sleeping in on Sunday mornings) or our insecurities. And rather than relying on the strength of the Lord, we look for other ways to feel strong or to fill our time and our lives. We waver.
But there are three things about our text that point us in a different direction. First, that we do not fight flesh and blood, but powers and authorities and spiritual forces of evil. Second, that most of this armor is defensive, intended to protect us and simply enable us to stand without failing. Being strong in the Lord. And third, we may not really know how to dress ourselves in this kind of armor, and that’s why we must pray in the Spirit at all times.
We do not fight flesh and blood, but powers and authorities and spiritual forces of evil. We are in a spiritual struggle. Those who have fought long and hard against injustice probably more readily recognize this than others of us – it takes real people to embody systems of injustice, but even in the midst of the struggle, we may sense that we’re combating something far greater and more insidious, that overtakes individuals and shapes entire communities. Sin and death permeate our hearts, not only as individuals but as societies. We see the powers and darkness in our commercialism and our addictions, in our wars and our violence, in our genocides and apartheids, in our racism and sexism, in our apathy and our despair. We see the powers and darkness in the brokenness all around us – in the struggles and pain and break down in our relationships, our families, our church, our city, our nation, our world. Sin and death, feeling like tight webs throughout our collective lives. We know this struggle. We are in the middle of this struggle.
We do not fight flesh and blood, but powers and authorities and spiritual forces of evil. Sin clutching at our hearts. But knowing that we are not fighting against flesh and blood will free us. We take up the armor of God knowing that God provides for the struggle. In our text, Paul is said to be an ambassador in chains who must preach this gospel of peace. To who? To his jailors. The gospel of peace is to free them too. The powers and authorities and forces may feel overwhelming and may chain us, but that is why God strengthens us with spiritual gifts.
We are girded with protection. Truth and righteousness and faith and salvation – they flow through our lives. They are our defense. Truth cuts through the lies of all the powers that we have already named. Righteousness covers us. Faith turns our eyes to the one who protects us. Salvation reminds us that the victory is already won in Christ Jesus. We clothe ourselves in Christ.
Now if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking, that’s a great picture, Paul – wonderful metaphor – but how exactly are we supposed to pick up the shield of faith and put on the belt of truth. How exactly is that done?
Pray in the Spirit at all times. Keep alert and persevere.
Pray in the Spirit at all times. If there is one thing we may take from God’s word this week, may it be that we would pray in the Spirit at all time. Just as Pastor Karl urged us to press forward in gathering together in worship, let us press forward in praying together at all times. Pray for truth that cuts through our lies. Pray for faith that shields us. Pray for righteousness that we carry with us in all our relationships and conversations and struggles. Pray for each other. Pray for our hurts and our wounds. Pray for our world. For oppression and violence and need.
And praying together in the Spirit, we will keep alert and persevere. In prayer, we will clothe ourselves in such a way that we will not be throwing Bibles at people’s heads, but walking in the gospel of peace. Praying in the Spirit, we will stand firm. Firm in the light of God. Firm in the victory that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Firm in the waters of baptism as children of God. We will stand firm as witnesses to God’s light breaking through the darkness. We will take up the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, as a proclamation of God’s peace and of God’s love. Together, praying in the Spirit, we will stand.