“…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:”
The juxtaposition of this piece of the whole Armor to the helmet of salvation is important, because it is the direct object of the verb, “take” or “receive.” This object is given to a soldier for use at his discretion. Paul goes so far as to clarify that this sword IS the word of God by way of the Spirit of God.
Scripture always defines itself and backs itself up, and if you have been familiar with the Word for some time, or been involved in church for a while now, you have heard the verse: “The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper tan any two-edged sword. Piercing even to the dividing asunder of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
In a way, folklore had it right when describing the sword in the stone that the legendary King Arthur would pull to claim his throne. Many men of valor and strength had attempted this seemingly easy feat, only to find the sword unmoved. One day, a young lad pulls the sword with ease from its resting place, not because he was strong, but because he was righteous. The sword discerned him.
Many Christians will spend their days attempting to discern the word of God. Seeking to pull it apart and claim prideful power. But, as these verses indicate, it is not your job to discern the word. The word was given to discern you. It pierces through all outward protection, and discovers the heart’s deepest thoughts and intents.
This sword is no ordinary sword, and should be used with extreme caution. It reveals secrets as it cuts deep into the heart. It’s power cannot be faked, and its strength cannot be compared. There are those who attempt to wield this sword for their own benefit and pleasure, but the anointing power of the Spirit will always be evident and unmistakable in the lives of those who hold the Word of God dear. I learned as a child that a weapon should be equally appreciated and feared. Take comfort in knowing that the sword you carry knows your heart. Take caution; Maintain a righteous fear of the fact that the sword you carry….knows your heart.
“And take the helmet of salvation…”
One word jumped out at me in this piece of armor. I have probably read this passage at least one hundred times, but today I saw something I’ve never seen before. “Take.”
Twice in the verses preceding, the word “take” or “taking” has been used. That word, “analambano” means “to raise up, carry, or use.” That makes perfect sense considering the application of the former pieces. Each of the other pieces of armor are optional. We choose each day to put them on, take them up, and put them to use. But salvation does not work that way on a practical daily basis.
The word “take” here baffled me! So I pulled out my concordance only to realize it is an entirely different word! “Take the helmet of salvation…” Take, or “dechomai” means "to receive and take hold of.” BAM! There it is! I have received the helmet of salvation! I have taken hold of this gift, and no one can remove it from me!
My salvation rests atop my head. It shields the command center for my body in an assurance that dispels fear of injury. The helmet is the only piece of armor that provides 360 degrees of protection. Attack me from the front, push me from the side, or sneak up on me from behind, I don’t care! The enemy cannot control my thinking, unless I let them in my head.
There have been times where my faith has been weak. My unrighteousness has allowed sins darts to pierce my heart. I have run to hinder peace, and my movement hindered by untruth. In many ways, I have allowed the enemy access into different areas of my life. Those pieces of armor are personally developed, and daily strengthened. But this one…this one is different because it was a gift of the King. I do not own it. I did not make it. I cannot hide it. But I can trust it.
An effective communicator may detail a plan of action or list various issues, but at the end of their talk, it is their intention that the listener walk away with one “main idea.” I can remember two pastors (Regier & Phelps) who poured into a teenage boy and helped develop my communication skills as a preacher. They both insisted that I sum up and entire message in one sentence. When the congregation gets up and walks away, what did they glean from your 20 to 40 minutes of communication.
Paul, one of history’s greatest communicators, delivers this list of armor with one caveat, “ ABOVE ALL, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” In other words, “right in the middle of this list I’m giving you, if you remember nothing else, take the shield of faith!”
I love the irony that not only is the shield of faith “above all” in importance, this piece of armor literally stands above all the others. A shield in this day was no “Captain America” circular disk. Rather they were large and heavy, often standing near five feet tall. The shield of faith does not have to be maneuvered with skill, it is a full-length protection we can hide behind. Faith shields our security in salvation right down to the peace we seek to hold.
In a military advance against the enemy, they often seem to have the high ground. From their distant perch overlooking our lives they fire down fiery darts. I’m reminded of the James 3 passage, “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth. You see, the most dangerous darts are not often literal ones, but the little ones that search for holes in our faith. If you have ever given ear to gossip, you know that it does not have to be true to dilute your perception. It only takes a little fire...
While advancing against spiritual wickedness in high places, armies would rally and use their shields to form a complete overhead covering. These shields that were often lined with tough leather had been dipped in water and treated with fat, so that when a dart touched them, it was immediately extinguished. Once again, the symbolism is so great! Daily you must choose to dip your faith in the water of life, so that it is able to extinguish those darts. A shield of faith that is not treated can begin to crack, putting your life in danger, and the lives of your fellow soldiers.
What, or rather, WHO is your faith in? Not just your hopes and dreams…what is your heart so deeply rooted in that you find safety beneath its shadow. Each day you must choose to guard your heart behind faith in Jesus Christ. Then, rally near soldiers who will lift their shield above your life. There is nothing more scary than being a lone soldier advancing toward fiery darts. But what a privilege to know that my fellow soldiers, the ones I love with all my heart, are standing beside me. No arrow can pierce me, or fire consume me, because I know beyond doubt that they stand beside me. My faith is more than my trust. It is my trust coupled with advancing action.
And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
I must admit, I found this piece of armor to be the most perplexing and obscure of them all. My mind immediately referenced Romans 10:15, "...how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace..." and paralleled "shod" with preparing the way for the gospel. But, as we examine each piece of armor, they are presented as state of being, not a function. So, the Romans 10 parallel is inaccurate. Taking note that this is the only time in the New Testement that the word "preparation" is used, we will find this particular piece of armor to be of special significance. With armor's purpose implying war, we first uncover that war must often precede peace.
If you were to take a look at the sandals of a soldier during this period in history, you would find they were much more than a piece of flimsy material. These were heavy duty material, studded with nails, that allowed a soldier to have a strong foothold as he stood his ground. In order to have peace, we must stand for peace, plant our feet, and refuse to grant the enemy what is rightfully ours. No enemy, whether human or spiritual, can take your peace; only you can decide to give it away.
In this passage, the word gospel (euaggelion) doubles in implication, pointing both toward salvation and its common meaning of "glad tidings." The word peace (eirēnē) is both the peace of God, and tranquility between individuals. Understanding the etymology allows us to see that those who wear the armor of God stand firm in pursuit of peace. Peace both with God, and with man. To surrender our peace to the enemy is to render every other piece of armor useless as our life goes crashing to the ground. The WHOLE armor was given to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to STAND. Each piece of armor is built upon our stand.
Satan and those he influences march in opposition of peace, because peace can only come from God; and God is not the author of confusion. Take for example the demoniac of Gadara in Mark 5. Here we find a man in torment. By virtue of his description, he serves as the polar opposite of peace. Parallel passages in the gospels indicate that no man could bind him, so they ceased from passing that way. Jesus brought to this man the gospel, and the city came out to find him at peace. Logic would suggest this city would be excited to know a threat no longer existed in their lives. Rather, a city of people who knew not the gospel of peace requested Jesus depart from their coasts. What they could not control, they chose to ignore, until God supplied peace. Those who have no peace cannot tolerate those who do. In fact, it scares them.
Daily we must prepare and secure our feet on the foundation of the gospel, knowing that the enemy will strive to rob us of our peace. The greater your peace, the greater the battle. My great-grandfather used to tell me every Sunday morning as he shined my shoes and his, "you can tell a lot about a man's character by looking at his shoes." Though this made little sense upwards into my 8 years of knowing him, I now fully grasp the spiritual depth of his astute observation. It is more than scuffs or polish. If a man's feet are quick to spread discord, his mission is not of the Lord.
Daily there rages a war against peace; desiring each piece of you. Your mission is simple, to stand; Don't retreat. Each moment, put on that shoe.
The book of Nehemiah serves as the personal narrative of a man filled with focus and facing foes. As we journey with Nehemiah in chapters one through five, certainly we find some extraordinary circumstances. As cupbearer to the king, his role was vital to the safety of the empire. Considering that the king not only allowed him to disband his post, but also funded the project for a culture in captivity defies all human logic. But isn’t that just like God?
As with any noble project, rebuilding the walls would not come without opposition. Any time God is up to something, the enemy will down it from the start. In Nehemiah 2:10 we find Sanballat and Tobiah hearing about the potential project and it grieved them exceedingly that there was come a man to seek the welfare of the children of Israel.
Right there is where many of us would stop. “Oh no! Someone does not like what I believe God is calling me to do. That must be a sign. I certainly don’t want anyone to not like me!” But verse 11 is one of my favorites in this narrative. “So I came to Jerusalem…”
- Opposition will always accompany opportunity
No pause. No second thoughts. As we read between the lines, we see that Nehemiah gave no consideration to those who had a problem with his vision. God’s calling is not contingent upon the concert of others. When you are presented with an attack, consider the source and selfish motivation behind the attackers. Then keep moving. If you don’t have any enemies, you probably aren’t doing it right.
- To Mock Or Malign Is Never Divine.
The project continues on, and now in chapter four, the number of opposition has grown. Sanballat heard we builded the wall, and mocked the Jews. Then he speaks to his brethren, the army of Samaria, and Tobiah. The funny thing about gossipers is that their type has not changed in the last six thousand years. They feed off spreading rumors and accusations. Then, as they congregate together they begin to mock and call into question things beyond their knowledge: We are never more like Satan than when we attempt to accuse the brethren.
a. Identity - “What do these feeble Jews?” People who are quick to point out the problems in others often have the most to hide.
b. Insecurities - “Will they fortify themselves?” Those with deep rooted insecurities are driven to gossip when another sets out to conquer theirs. If someone else’s insecurities disappear, my weaknesses will be manifested.
c. Invocation - “Will they sacrifice?” The enemy would love to claim the corner on the market of spirituality. Pharisaical sin disguised as sacrifice is quick to question the spirituality of another.
d. Improvement - “Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of the rubbish which are burned?” Those harboring evil thoughts against another are unable to comprehend God’s restoration. That which they need most is often what they seek to hinder others from having.
- Oh no! Don’t Go To Ono.
Nehemiah chapter 6 holds a brand new list of enemies: Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem, and THE REST of our enemies! Now that they have observed, formed their case, and rallied to themselves those who would support their cause, they send for Nehemiah to meet in the plains of Ono. You will never accomplish anything by entertaining conversations with those who seek to do you mischief. Nehemiah does not even give these men the time of day! He responds via a messenger, and continues the work. “Why should the work cease while I leave it and come down to you?”
The enemy will not come up to where you are, they only seek to drag you down to where they stand. “I’m hurt, angry, concerned…and you should be too!" One study suggests that the average American will spend 32% of their brain capacity attempting to debate or sway those who have wronged them and are no longer a part of their life. Imagine how much more we could accomplish for God if we refused to waste our time entertaining conversations with the enemy? You will miss what is happening while chasing what happened. When someone tries to bring you down into the gossiping fellowship of Ono… OH NO! Don’t go!
- Private Persistence Soon Turns to Public Persecution
Four different times we find the enemy calling for Nehemiah to come down to them, before the final straw. Sanballat sends an “open letter” reading, “It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it, that thou and the Jews thing to rebel: for which cause thou buildest the wall, that thou mayest be their king…and now it shall be reported to the king according to these words.” One requests to Nehemiah, “Let us meet together in the house of God, within the temple…for they will come to slay thee."
Several things I think it is important to note about the methodology of the enemy:
a. An Open Letter - When anyone wrote a letter, the final step before sending was to melt the wax over the paper and give it an official seal. God calls Christians to confront problems first privately before taking it before the church. The enemy blasts opinion publicly in an attempt to rally like-minded haters. “I’m sending this open letter not only to you…but to the Facebook world, twitter sphere, your friends, and your family.” Why? Because I’m not so worried about the recipient of the letter or the factuality of the statements. It matters more that an abundance of people hear it, and call it into question with me.
b. “It is reported among the heathen, and Gashmu saith it..” I’m not sure this requires very much explanation! When an attack comes your way, CONSIDER THE SOURCE! Translated: “It is reported on the internet, and Glozell said it too!” I'm not all that interested in what the heathen have to say.
c.”You think to rebel and become the king.” We have one servant of the king, doing a great work, with intentions to restore a city and return to his post. On the other hand we have a group of gossiping leaders trying to tell Nehemiah what to do. I do see someone who’s heart is set on being in control, but it is not Nehemiah. The imagination of an unrighteous attacker is limited to the bounds of their own secret sin. Often what the enemy accuses others of is what they are battling deep within their heart.
d. “And now it shall be reported to the king…” When the enemy cannot get their way with you personally, they will attempt to make your life miserable. We see this principle in the life of elementary students. “I’m gonna tell mom on you…” It doesn’t matter how old you are, that method is still just as immature, and ultimately ineffective.
e. “Let us go into the temple…” Since Adam and the apple, the enemy has always attempted to use God as his cover and trap. Not all who come to you with “holy intentions” have actually sent by the Lord. More times than not, they have been hired by the enemy. Nehemiah perceives that he was sent to cause fear, which Nehemiah labeled as sin in chapter 6:13. If the enemy can cause you to doubt your purpose and succumb to fear, not only have they gained control of your mind, they have caused you to sin. There is no doubt they have been spiritually influenced, but just as 1 John 4 says, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world."
At the end of chapter 6 we find the enemies eyes cast down as they have to admit the work was wrought of God. Don’t waste your time trying to convince the enemy of God’s work. Spend your time doing God’s work, and let him be God. The power, blessing, and presence of God cannot be faked; and in the end, consider and compare who God is blessing and using.