My friend Gary Zimak recently wrote, “One of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to treat the Bible as an ordinary book. Although it may look like a book, it is so much more. When we open up the pages of Sacred Scripture, we can actually hear Jesus speaking directly to us.” It inspired me to spend some time in God’s word so I opened to one of my favorite books, Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, and was drawn toward his section about putting on the armor of God.
I have felt the pinch of the “culture war” in the past few days – very, very lightly to tell the truth – but I needed this encouragement:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph.6:10-13)
This is very important for us to remember, it’s what allows us to remain charitable when we find ourselves engaged in debate with others. No matter how outlandish their claims may become or how low the discourse may descend, we engage these human beings out of a sincere love and desire that their eyes be opened to reality. These people are not the Enemy. In our heart of hearts we want to maintain compassion for them because they have been deceived, tricked, their understanding of the world and how it was designed to function distorted. We’ve all been there! There are undoubtedly areas of our lives where we’re still there, where the Lord’s truth has yet make its way. So we come from love, not a false sense of superiority, and we maintain that vision through the Lord’s grace, “His might,” because left to ourselves we give way to our baser instincts in the heat of battle. A little further down in Ephesians, Paul gave us the means for doing so:
Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel. (Eph.6:18-19)
Paul made the segue to exactly the next point we need to consider. (It’s like he’s “inspired,” or something.) We do need to speak up, to cooperate with the Lord Jesus in opening people’s minds to God’s vision of the world. In our love for them we will sometimes need to be very blunt. Out of compassion for them we will dig in our heels and take an unyielding stand on what human behaviors are objectively right and wrong, and with God’s grace we will endure the ramifications. (Paul became God’s “ambassador in chains.” [Eph.6:20]) So we pray, and we speak, and we act; but before we head out the door (or get online), we need to make sure we’re dressed:
Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; and besides all these taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph.6:14-17)
Lets unpack what Paul means, at least a little. First, truth is to be our belt; it keeps our pants up and allows us to hang our sword, which is the “word of God.” We are convinced that there is an objective order out there, established by God and by-and-large discernible through reason. When that is disputed by other Christians (and it is in our culture – abortion, same-sex “marriage,” contraception, for instance) then we need to clearly articulate the word of God, Scripture and Tradition. We need to know how to interpret Scripture correctly, in the light of contextual research and Tradition, to cut through the fog and explain it to others.
We need to wear the “breastplate of righteousness,” Christ’s righteousness. As we fight the devil and the darkness he has sown throughout this world, our “vital organs” need to be protected by Christ’s grace, and we need to call out for that grace to make us above reproach in our words and actions. (Ouch – I need a lot of work.) We don’t want any behavior on our part to become an excuse for someone to ignore the Message we deliver.
To keep our thinking straight and our actions consistent with those of Jesus’ life, we need the “helmet of salvation.” When we’re tempted to feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the forces rising against us we need to remember that the war has already been definitively won. “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world!” (Jn.16:33). We need to remember that our ultimate salvation depends upon continuing to live lives that give witness to Jesus and His Message. “Because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt.24:12-13). “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory (Lk.9:25-26).
To bring Jesus’ word to others, we need good support for our feet – the “equipment,” or “readiness to spread” the “gospel of peace.” As said above we need study of God’s word – present in Scripture and Tradition, but also available to us through observation of the natural order and the use of reason (abortion, contraception, same sex “marriage” – biology and natural law show the glaring problems in all of them). We need to study this information with an eye to how we will articulate it to others. Ultimately, our Christian Faith is a gospel, good news “of peace.” It puts us at peace with God, one another, and ourselves. We share from a place of joy, knowing that our God and His vision is what will lead to human fulfillment and the proper functioning of society. (I can’t get Cardinal Dolan’s face out of my mind – what a great witness for us.) “In your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense, to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it will gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet.3:15). In the end we don’t want to simply convince people of the rightness or wrongness of certain behaviors; we want to introduce them into a relationship with Jesus of Nazareth!
And lets not forget that “shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One.” Satan will make use of the insults and actions of others to try and discourage us. He will whisper in our ears, “It’s hopeless, you’re going to pay too high a price.” But we continue living and speaking as the Lord instructed, knowing that “Blessed is the servant whom his master, when he comes, finds doing so” (Mt.24:46).
Let me give Paul, and the Holy Spirit Who inspired him, the final word: “Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph.6:13).