This Sunday we explore a section of Paul’s letter that seems in contrast with itself. Filled with images of battle (remember the contextual presence of the Roman armies), verse 15 explicitly states the aim of spreading peace.
Perhaps one way to interpret this text is to consider how we must prepare for the work that God calls us to do: to “preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Ephesians 6:10-20 (CEB)
10Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. 11Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. 12We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. 13Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. 14So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, 15and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. 16Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
18Offer prayers and petitions in the Spirit all the time. Stay alert by hanging in there and praying for all believers. 19As for me, pray that when I open my mouth, I’ll get a message that confidently makes this secret plan [or mystery] of the gospel known. 20I’m an ambassador in chains for the sake of the gospel. Pray so that the Lord will give me the confidence to say what I have to say.
Consider these questions:
- Paul’s letter is written to an audience familiar with languages of war. As we live in an area rich in neighbors who give of their time and spirits serving branches of our armed services, this is not unfamiliar to us. How do you read these verses in today’s context?
- If we can see this letter as an invitation to be prepared, what do you think are the most urgent things for which we must be prepared? Does defining this change how we must prepare?
Post-Sermon Update on 8/28
Audio from the sermon can be heard below, and video can be found at this link (will open in a new tab).
This letter commonly understood as one Paul sent to the church that had begun in Ephesus is one whose context can be difficult to ascertain. Because of its clear message advocating unity between Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians, the letter was likely written in the latter half of the first century. This is important because this timing would put this letter’s authorship near the height of the Roman empire’s power and influence (shortly before the death of Trajan).
It also seems from a close reading of the text that the author may be attempting to reclaim the images of armor. Rather than focus on concepts of war, we are invited:
- to surround ourselves with truth and justice;
- to walk in the Good News of the peace of Jesus Christ;
- to be protected by our faith and salvation;
- and to hold God’s Word and Spirit before us.
This reclaiming has power to shift the paradigms of violence and war and to seek peace. This reclaiming reminds us of the prophesy that swords will be transformed into plowshares and spears into pruning tools, and that nations will no longer engage in violence against one another.
Consider these questions:
- The way this author reclaims these images reminds me of how John and Charles Wesley reclaimed the words hurled at them as insults and now names our denomination: Methodists. This takes away the power to harm and transforms it into something new. How can you reclaim something (words, traditions, ideas, etc.) that has been used to do harm into something that brings newness and joy and life?
- How does the reclaiming of these specific words (belt, breastplate, shield, shoes, helmet, sword) cause you to think about this text? Has anything changed in how you have read this text previously?