Some years ago I was serving on a church drama team in Aurora Illinois. Every year the church put on an event called ’33 A.D.’ and turned the sanctuary into the streets of Jerusalem. There were many people who volunteered a lot of man hours in the construction of the sets. Our director had a passion to do everything with excellence as a result the sets and our costumes were of high quality. Really impressive considering the event was always free to the public. Every actor also assisted in building the props and that gave the event a very personal connection.
My acting role was a Roman soldier. The soldiers interacted in the markets of town and were also tour guides of Jesus final hours through the resurrection. We would take groups of people to different sets that depicted the last supper, the events at the garden Gethsemane, the carpenters shop where the cross was made, and the empty tomb. I was to start the tour as a hardened soldier and end it as a broken changed man at the empty tomb. In one tour a little boy started out clinging to his mom and keeping an eye on me and at the tomb he came up to me for a hug. Not knowing what else to do I picked him up and finished my lines. As I found out when acting the part of a Roman soldier, just wearing armor does not make you a warrior. By wearing armor only for show a person is armed and not dangerous. The only real outcome will be a worn out actor. The only person intimidated by my appearance as a soldier was a little boy that end up giving me a hug.
Like I said our director was passionate about excellence so our armor was borrowed replica of actual Roman armor. I recall it weighing about sixty pounds in total with sword and dagger. Not a heavy burden for me to lift or carry short distance, but wearing it for hours was a different matter. The soldiers had frequent rest breaks due to the physical demands of wearing the costume. This experience gave me a different point of view about spiritual armor.
Ephesians 6:10-18 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying 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,
Paul was using an illustration from a familiar sight in his time. Roman soldiers in armor would have been a common presence. Each piece of armor was carefully designed for efficiency in combat. The shield was just big enough to hide behind. The helmet allowed maximum head movement while causing objects striking it to glance off more often than to take a full hit. Even the sword was short enough to be easily drawn, balanced to be readily maneuvered, and strong enough to be very effective. Roman soldiers were a very imposing sight to enemies. As I stated earlier Roman armor is heavy. It is unrealistic to think a person can simply put it on one day and go about business as usual. It requires training to utilize a full armor properly. Just to be effective with a sword requires many hours of practice. Remember Peter’s clumsy attempt at swordsmanship in the garden? No training equals incompetency in battle. I have wondered if the guards that witnessed Peter did not respond because his attempts were so unskilled.
Christians need to put on the full armor of God daily. As one preacher I know says “too many Christians are running into battle naked and wonder why they are getting their heads bashed in!” Wearing the full armor is not at first easy. It is heavy and awkward to the untrained. Start daily with the helmet of salvation. Not because somehow you lost salvation but remind your head that you are redeemed by Christ. Most of our battles are won or lost in our thinking. A good practice is first thing in the morning thank God for your salvation. I find whatever my thoughts are in the morning will usually direct my thinking for the day.
One of the most common criticisms stated about Christians is we hide behind our faith. There was a good reason soldiers carried shields. In a Roman era battle some of the soldiers would have been throwing darts that ranged in appearance to a javelin, short arrow, or even similar to a lawn dart. Sometimes these darts would be dipped in tar and thrown at an enemy while on fire. Even if the armor held fast from being pierced there is still a burning object to contend with. To hide behind a shield makes a lot of sense to me. For similar reasons it is not cowardly to hide behind a shield of faith.
To be effective with the Bible you must study it with a Christ like mind. To the skilled a sword is an extension of the arm and becomes a precision instrument. Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Too often Christians embarrass themselves by waving around the sword of the Spirit in a clumsy manner. Read the Word, practice what you read, prepare yourself for the day of battle. Don’t forget to put on the shoes of readiness with the gospel of peace.
The last item mentioned in the list of armor is prayer and supplication. Prayer is where we get our marching orders. It is altogether easy to run into battle without a plan and that is where we fail miserably. Prayer is where spiritual battles are won or lost. We support other Christian soldiers through prayer. It is also through prayer we are strengthened to wear the full armor of God.
Rev. Burt Schwab