Having instructed us to put on the belt of truth, he said we should add the breastplate of righteousness. A breastplate protects your vital organs, the inner structures that work to give you life and health. Another word for righteousness is justice, and it refers to doing what is right – helping those who have been injured, helping those who are helpless to help themselves, picking up people who have fallen along the way. If we focus on justice for the disadvantaged and oppressed, people who are observing from the outside won’t be able to accuse us of hypocritical living. When we let justice be our breastplate, how can anyone attack us for helping the poor and sick? (Many Christians attack you for wanting to do this, too.) These programs for justice are the vital structures that keep us healthy and alive.
“Shod your feet with whatever helps you to share the good news of peace.” Peace. Not war. Not fighting. Walk in the way of peace. Not aggression. Since when did the word “evangelical” turn into “aggression,” or attempts to “overcome other systems of belief with insults,” or even to “attacking the people in your own huddle if they hold a different view?”
I grew up singing this hymn, Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ the royal master leads against the foe; forward into battle, see his banners go. Can you see Jesus leading anyone into war?
We live in a society that justifies war and fights evil with evil. Even fellow Christians quickly accuse you of being unpatriotic if you’re against any war America is fighting. Paul says “prepare yourself for these attacks” by wrapping your footsteps in peace. Let that be the way you walk and don’t yield to what the world wants – they want to fight back. The world wants to retaliate. The world wants an eye for an eye justice. Don’t join them in the battle. Walk in peace.
The next piece of armor is the shield of faith. By faith, Paul doesn’t mean your church doctrine or religious ideology. Faith means your “trust” in a good and loving God. In ancient warfare, fiery darts were launched in great numbers at the beginning of an attack. The idea was not only to injure the enemy, but to shoot at him from all sides to confuse and create panic. Fear, accusation, facts – all can be used as fiery darts to attack you. Satan used Scripture to try to confuse Jesus. When you trust that God is good all the time, you’ll never be confused when someone tells you that God wants you to do something that will hurt your neighbor. Your trust in the goodness of God will help you reject false claims about God’s will, no matter who or where they come from.
The helmet of salvation is your hope in Jesus Christ, that he has rescued you from wrong teaching and has taught you the right way to live. Hope is what protects you from discouragement and assures you that you are making a difference in a world of pain and sorrow.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God. Paul was not talking about the Bible that we hold in our hands. The New Testament wasn’t even written yet. Paul wasn’t saying his words were the word of God. The word of God was the word that the Spirit speaks to your heart – and the word the Spirit speaks always leads to peace, joy, love, hope, patience, joy, unity. Your sword of the Spirit is forged from words of kindness that are spoken with love and respect.
This is a better image of the armor of God. Our best offense is to have no reason to defend ourselves. Don’t use hurtful words or actions against each other or against those outside our communities. We are to (1) bind ourselves together with the truth we know in Jesus Christ, (2) walk in peace in our own communities to show the world it can be done, (3) trust completely in God’s goodness so we aren’t confused by the ways of the world that say ‘fight back,’ (4) let a vision of positive outcomes overthrow discouragement, (5) and trust the word of peace God gives you to speak to those who criticize and condemn.
The evil we have to defend against is that which pulls us away from our true purpose. Rather than joining in the fighting, we keep our focus on continuing Jesus’ work in the world – helping others, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, visiting those in prison.
St. Francis said, “Spread the gospel, use words if necessary.” I think that was a nice way of saying, “Keep your mouth shut. Just lend a helping hand to your neighbor.” Our best defense will be found in our actions of justice, love, and peace.