The Armor of God, Ephesians 6:11-17
By Jon Kauffman
Some Christians claim that because Paul used military language in Ephesians 6, then that means Paul is condoning military service for Christians. Is that true?
11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:11-17 NIV
In verse 12 Paul distinctly says that our battle is not against flesh and blood. Our mission is to fight against “the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms.” The mission of the human military is to kill and control human beings through violence. Why would someone say that Paul is condoning human military service if military service is not addressing our real mission?
However, using military language to explain our real mission is very appropriate. We are at war. Our battle is against the evil one and his rulers, authorities, and powers in the dark spiritual world. And how does Ephesians 6 say we defeat the evil one?
First: We need the belt of truth: If we are lying to ourselves about our real mission, how can we even begin to address our mission?
Second: the breastplate of righteousness. If we look at the Sermon on the Mount, we see the actions of the righteous. Let us look at a few actions Jesus says that the righteous do:
- If someone is righteous, he will not murder. Matthew 5:21-36. We shouldn’t even offer our gift to God when a brother or sister in Christ has something against us. Christians live in every country in the world. In the United States, our enemies in military battles always include Christians. If we kill a Christian in our war-making, haven’t we done great harm to our brother or sister in Christ? How can we make things right with the one we harm when we have killed them?
- If someone is righteous, he will be faithful in marriage: Matthew 5:27-32. It is wrong for us to even look lustfully on another woman or we could end up in hell.
- If someone is righteous, he will turn the other cheek and go the extra mile: Matthew 5:38-42. In the time of Jesus, going the extra mile referred to the Roman legal privilege for a soldier who could require a citizen to carry his bag for him for a mile whenever the soldier wanted. If you are going the extra mile to help the enemy soldier, it is difficult to kill him. But if you do go the extra mile, perhaps you will become friends with your enemy? Perhaps your enemy will become your brother in Christ?
When someone goes the extra mile for his enemy, he may die. In the
Sixteenth Century at least 1500 Anabaptists were tortured and killed
because they insisted on living by the teachings of Jesus. An
Anabaptist, Dirk Willem was imprisoned to be killed.
He escaped prison and was fleeing for his life. He crossed a pond
covered by a thin layer of ice. His pursuer fell through the ice. Dirk
turned back and saved his enemy from drowning. The man he saved,
grabbed him and held him for arrest. On May 16, 1569, Dirk Willem
was executed by fire.
- If someone is righteous, he will love his enemies: Matthew 5:43-48. It is doubtful that it is possible to love someone and kill them at the same time.
Third, our feet must be fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. He laid down his life on the cross. He did not kill his enemies when they were killing him. Jesus had the ability come down from the cross and kill them. Jesus said we are to take up the cross and follow him. If we follow his example, we cannot kill our enemies.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Jesus explained his mission with a quote from Isaiah. This is also our mission. In Luke 4:18 & 19 Jesus quoted Isaiah.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[f]
Luke 4: 18 & 19 NIV
It is interesting to notice that Jesus did not finish Isaiah’s quote. “…..and the day of vengeance of our God,” in Isaiah 61:2. NIV. Did Jesus ignore this passage because he is the Prince of Peace and because he came to bring reconciliation? Did Jesus ignore the passage because his mission is not violence and revenge? Is our real mission to bring peace and reconciliation?
It appears to me that Ephesians 6 completely fails to give a Christian ethical support to use violence against his enemies. Christians who would like to live a life following the teachings of Jesus while using violence cannot find ammunition for violence in this scriptural passage.
Many of us have used violence or supported the use of violence against our enemies. If we are to follow the Prince of Peace, we may need to change our thinking. We may need to admit we have been mistaken in the past.
Copyright © 2019 by Jon Kauffman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.
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