Along the Way: Dethroning Evil #3

​This is the final post in this mini-series. I have made use of Ephesians 6:10-20 to commend Christian resistance to evil. In the first post, we looked at the motive for resistance. In the second one, we explored the mindset for it. In this post, I offer an overview of the sevenfold methodology which Paul instructed the Ephesians to use. He called it putting on the full armor of God.

Before looking at each of the component, I want to repeat one thing I noted in the last post: every piece of the armor was given to the soldier, a way for Paul to remind the Ephesians that resistance is by grace. We manifest the fruit of resistance by the root of contemplation. He made this clear in the seventh method—prayer, which we will say more about farther along. For now, we see that “the battle is the Lord’s,” and God provides what we need to practice Christian resistance. Paul describes this provision using seven pieces of armor.

The first piece is the belt of truth. Paul is not talking about broad-based, generic truth, but rather about a focused truth that resists and overcomes “rulers and authorities.” He does not describe the specifics of the truth he has in mind. I think this is because of the length of time he spent in Ephesus. In addition to a brief visit, he lived there for three and a half years preaching and teaching the faith. That’s more than enough time for him to have taught the people what he meant by truth. In fact, I believe he listed the pieces of armor without commentary because he had previously taught them in detail about each one. By mentioning them again in the letter it was his way of saying, “Remember what we talked about when I was with you; it’s time for you put what you know into practice. It’s time to put on the full armor of God, and use it overcome evil with good.”

With respect to truth as he had it in mind, we can look at passages in other letters where Paul was wearing the belt of truth to resist evil. I would note here his letters to the Galatians (possibly his earliest letter) where he was resisting the evil of the Judaizers, and the letter to the Colossians where he resisted pagan philosophy. It’s impossible to go into detail about this here, but a study of these letters reveals several dimensions of truth that challenged imperialism—i.e. the political-religious collusion which enthroned the evil of egotism and ethnocentrism. I would note the truths of universality (Colossians 1:15-20, and 3:11),  oneness (Galatians 3:28), deliverance from legalism (almost the entirety of Galatians), and freedom (Galatians 5:1). [1]  Truth  of this nature challenged the “rulers and authorities” and offered people another way of living called the kingdom of God. This is the truth that, like a belt, encircles us and holds up our clothing as we move around, giving us dexterity and activity.

The second piece of armor is the breastplate of righteousness (“justice” in the CEB). Both words have strong meanings for both inward character and outward conduct. But the first thing we see is that the breastplate was large and substantial. It covered the vital organs, providing confidence to move ahead.  Similarly, we resist evil through righteousness/justice when we feel inwardly (character) and outwardly (compassion) confident. We dare not move forward exposed and vulnerable. We resist from the wellspring of integrity and the outpouring of concern, expressed through advocacy and caregiving.

Thirdly, Paul points to sandals of peace. He most surely had the seventh Beatitude in mind, “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9), as did Christians later, like Francis and Clare who prayed to be instruments of God’s peace.  Sandals leave our imprint on the path.  God wants our resistance to evil to leave the footprint of peace.  Today, we call it nonviolence. [2] 

Fourth, there is the shield of faith. From William Barclay I learned that the Greek word Paul used was the word for a large, long shield, not the small round one we sometimes see in paintings. [3] Sometimes in battle, the shield was the soldier’s last line of defense. He could literally hide behind it to protect himself from “the flaming arrows of the evil one.”  Likewise, there are times in resistance when evil gets the upper hand, and all we can do is claim faith as our last resort. The hymn writer described it this way, “Though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” That’s a shield-of-faith statement. Our  last defense is the conviction that evil will not have the final word. Sometimes that kind of faith is all that keeps us from quitting and throwing in the towel. 

Fifth, Paul points to the helmet of salvation. Here the word “salvation” does not mean going to heaven when you die; it means keeping our head while we’re here. It literally means “wholeness,” versus flying off the handle or coming apart at the seams. We might say it is staying cool and remaining calm.  It also has the idea of standing firm.

When I read John Lewis’ books, ‘Across that Bridge’  and ‘Walking with the Wind,’ I learned that Dr. James Lawson (a United Methodist civil rights leader) taught the weekly classes on nonviolent resistance to Lewis and others in Nashville—classes that preceded the first sit-ins by a year. Lawson gave his students the helmet of salvation—that is, knowledge that was necessary to inform courage, to instill stability, and to inspire action. Lewis and others summed it up as “strength to love.” It was a mindset that gave resisters a place to stand (literally and figuratively) when they were confronted.

Sixth, Paul mentions the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With it the soldier went on the offensive. The word of God is our offense too. Some say this means the Bible, and there are ways that is true. Scripture is useful in providing momentum and forward movement. But the context of Paul’s words is not about the Bible—simply because he did not have one.

What he had was the logos (word) of God.  He had what John wrote about in 1:1-18 of his gospel.  He had Christ, excarnate (universal, eternal) and incarnate (particular, time framed). I think he saved the best for last because with respect to our resistance of evil, Christ is the ultimate thing we have going for us. The battle is the Lord’s. Christ is our example of nonviolent resistance in the flesh, and he is our empowerment for nonviolent resistance in the Spirit.

And then we come to the seventh element: prayer. Some scholars see it more as the atmosphere of resistance, not a piece of armor. Take it either way; you end up at the same place.  Prayer is the means, Paul says, by which we stay alert, the medium through which we pray for all others who are resisting evil, and via the prayers of others for us, it is the motivation we derive to remain engaged in the resistance. Prayer is, as Wesley taught, the chief means of grace. In that sense, nonviolent resistance begins, continues, and ends in prayer.

Well, Ephesians 6:10-20 is a storehouse of knowledge, a reservoir of wisdom, and our marching orders for action.  They give us the motive, mindset, and methodology for resistance.  We need all three…right now.  We need all three in order to dethrone evil.

[1] Galatians is the biblical text which I explore in my new book, ‘Life in Christ: The Core of Intentional Spirituality’ (Abingdon Press, 2020).

[2] My one-book recommendation for learning about, embracing, and manifesting nonviolence is John Dear’s book, ‘The Nonviolent Life.’

[3] William Barclay, ‘The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians: The Daily Study Bible’ (Westminster, 1958).

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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