We’ve been looking at the Apostle Paul’s teaching about the struggles that all of us face in life - the spiritual battle that’s taking place around us - and this illustration of Paul’s - the Armor of God - where Paul is explaining in a very practical way how we can live - in the midst of all that’s going in us and around us - how we can live in the strength of our Lord.
This morning we’ve come to Ephesians 6:16 - where Paul - describing the armor of God - Paul writes: “in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
One of the most prestigious events of the Olympic Games is the Marathon - 26 miles - 385 yards of one of the most severe tests of human endurance. In the 1968 Summer Olympic Games, held in Mexico City, John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania started with the other runners but fell way behind the leaders.
At the finish line - the 100,000 plus spectators packing Olympic Stadium - cheered the winners of the race. Other runners entered the stadium and crossed the finish line to the cheers of the crowd. The race was over. Other events took place. Thousands of spectators had left.
Then, one lone runner entered the stadium - John Stephen Akhwari. Akhwari’s pace was slow. His steps were wobbly. His knee was bloody and bandaged from a fall earlier in the race. He looked terrible. As He entered the stadium and began to slowly complete that last lap around the track the few remaining spectators began to realize who he was and what he was doing. As Akhwari slowly - painfully - crossed the finish line - they cheered - saluting the man’s determination.
After the race, Akhwari was asked - what kept you going? Why didn’t you quit? Akhwari said, “My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me here to finish.”
That’s what we want to look at this morning - what keeps us going when by every standard of the world we should just give up and quit.
Paul writes take up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. To find that strength that keeps us going we need to first understand Paul’s illustration - the shield of faith - the flaming arrows of Satan.
The shield Paul is referring to was well known to the Ephesians. It was an essential part of the Roman soldier’s armor. Imagine a door - 2½ feet wide by 4 feet tall - made out of 2 pieces of solid wood glued together - wrapped in cloth - then covered over with layer to tough leather. Then whole shield was edged in iron.
These shields also could be locked together - linked together - to form a solid wall. The soldiers could also lock the shields over their heads to form a protective roof. Imagine a whole line of interlocked shields - a moving wall - a moving fortress - impenetrable - moving across a battlefield.
The Roman soldier could stand behind this big - heavy - formidable shield - turning it in any direction an attack would come from - and behind the shield the soldier was safe.
The second image Paul gives us is of flaming arrows. While this moving wall was coming towards them the opposing army would take arrows - wrap the ends in cloth - dip them in tar - set the arrow on fire - and fire them at the Romans. Imagine, if a soldier was hit by one of these arrows - the arrow with burning tar would penetrate the body and literally burn the soldier from the inside out. That’s a hideous image.
Paul says, take up the shield of faith and no flaming arrow of Satan will be able to harm you. Satan is constantly shooting his flaming arrows at us - arrows lit by the fires of hell - that seek to inflame our hearts against God.
God places Adam in the Garden of Eden. God tells Adam he can eat from any tree in the Garden except one - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Then God brings Eve to Adam - and they both are to be obedient to God’s command. Satan comes to Eve - crafty - with lies so close to the truth its difficult to discern the difference. Satan asks, “Has God really said you shall not eat from any tree of the garden?”
That question is one we’re still answering today. There are times when doubts and fears and anxieties and blasphemies flow through our minds. How can you believe this? Is this really the truth? Will God really take care of you? How can you believe that an infinite God loves and cares for you? Isn’t Christianity just a bunch of wishful thinking - some ancient philosophy - a hoax? With the swiftness of arrows they enter.
Attitudes come to us - greed - pride - ego - vanity - envy - hate - lust - prejudice - seemingly out of nowhere - piercing our minds and hearts.
Evil thoughts and imaginations - even here in church on a Sunday morning or home reading our Bibles - in times of prayer - thoughts and ideas - burning desires to sin. “You’ve got mail” often means “You’ve got filth.” Email that carries messages of temptation - filth flashing into our minds with the speed of the internet. Satan using this world to take constant cheap shots at us.
We wonder, “What kind of Christian am I that I can’t seem to have victory over all this? As a Christian, how can I have thoughts like these?” We struggle against all this. We struggle and too often we fail. As we try to suppress our feelings - repress our thoughts - we find ourselves being led into doubt and depression and confusion and emotions that pull us down.
Lurking below the surface is this conflict that sometimes erupts in our words and actions that embarrass us. The mental and emotional strain and tension of all this becomes unbearable. We become angry - defensive - depressed - struggling to keep it all together.
We need to remember that all this is of Satan - “the flaming arrows of the evil one” - his lies - not our lack of faith. We need to stop beating ourselves up with all this. And second, we need to understand that all these things are an attack on who we are in Jesus Christ.
When Satan speaks to Eve in the garden it’s to lead her away from God. Always Satan seeks to lure us out from behind our shield into the open field where he can destroy us.
Remember that the Roman shield was made of layers - two layers of wood - a layer of cloth - and then tough leather. When the flaming arrow struck the shield - as it penetrated the layers it was smothered - the flame went out - the arrow was no longer a threat to the soldier.
Paul writes, “Take up the shield of faith.” Our shield is Jesus Christ. We stand behind Him - in His strength - in His victory - and nothing Satan can attack us with will be a threat to us spiritually.
Two time Olympic gold medallist Darrel Pace was giving an archery exhibition in New York City’s Central Park. Shooting steel-tipped hunting arrows - Pace hit bull's-eye after bull’s-eye without a miss. After this went on for a while the crowd was convinced that Pace couldn’t miss. Pace asked for a volunteer. Pace said, “All you have to do is hold this apple in your hand, waist-high.” ABC news correspondent Josh Howell, who was covering the exhibition, took the bold step and volunteered.
Howell just stood there - a small apple in his hand - afraid to move an inch. Pace took aim from 30 yards away. The crowd held its breath. Then with a thwack a clean shot exploded the apple and hit the bull’s-eye behind. Everyone applauded Howell who was smiling a very relieved. Until Howell’s cameraman came up - a kind of nervous grin on his face - and said, “I’m sorry Josh. I had a problem with my camera. I didn’t get the shot. Could you do it again?”
Faith is not what we believe its what we do with that belief - our actions based in what believe. Looking back at Ephesians 6:14,15 - how Paul has been describing the Christian’s armor - notice that Paul writes “put on” the belt of truth - “put on” the breastplate of righteousness - “put on” the shoes which are the Gospel of peace. Previously when we looked at these first pieces of armor we saw that all of these deal with our belief in what Jesus Christ is to us.
There’s an order here that we need to understand. First “put on” - believe in Jesus Christ. Second, “in addition - take up” - act on what you believe. Move from belief to faith.
Jesus is the truth. Jesus is our righteousness. Jesus is the Gospel of peace. We believe this. So, in the specific situations - the times when we’re assaulted by Satan’s flaming arrows - will we take up the shield of faith and act on that belief? Do we do that? Do we know how to do that?
Every New Year’s Day - Pasadena holds the Tournament of Roses Parade - with these incredible floats covered with flowers and seeds and all kinds of natural things. If you’ve ever seen those floats up close they’re really impressive. Some of them are huge and very complicated.
One New Year's Day - in the Tournament of Roses parade - a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. The amusing thing was that this float represented the Standard Oil Company - with its vast oil resources - its float was out of gas.
James writes - James 4:7: “Submit therefore to God - choose to put your life in God’s hands - choose to act in faith - Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Once we’ve put on Jesus, Satan has no ultimate power over us - no authority over our lives. It’s a lie that he can’t be resisted. We don’t need to buy into what he’s selling. Rather than allowing Satan to lead us away from safety in Jesus we can take a step of action towards Jesus. Chose to take up the shield of faith. Satan will flee. The arrows will be extinguished.
Jesus did it - out in the desert when Satan came to tempt Him - Jesus did it by quoting Scripture at Satan. Do we know Scripture - God’s truth - well enough to use it against Satan’s lies?
David did it - in all those years of pursuit and struggles against sin - when his family turned against him - David did it in prayer and worship. Do we have that kind of deep intimate relationship with God that nothing else can distract us from it? That we’ll follow His leading regardless of our circumstances?
Jeremiah - the weeping prophet - did it - when his whole nation captivated by sin was crushed between Egypt and Babylon - Jeremiah did it by clinging to the promises of God. With no possible earthly hope in sight, Jeremiah wrote, “Great is Thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:23) Do we know the promises of God - to dwell on them - to claim them in every attack of Satan?
There is song we used sing years ago. The chorus is this:
All through the day, all through the night,
Dwell in His promises, walk in His light.
Darkness will flee at His command,
All through the day and night we’re in His hand.
That’s the action - the choice - of taking up the shield of faith. Faith shapes our actions. What we do each day. How we live in each circumstance. What we choose to accept into our lives. What we choose to dwell on.
Willard Aldrich, in his book “When God Was Taken Captive” writes about a photographer who was a skydiver. He had jumped from a plane along with numerous other skydivers and this photographer was filming the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. The film showed - as the final skydiver opened his chute - the picture went berserk - panning all over the place. It seems that the photographer - when he reached for his ripcord - realized that he was free falling without a parachute. Nothing could save him. He’d placed his faith in parachute that wasn’t there.
The Apostle Peter writes in 1 Peter 4:12,13: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing; as thought some strange thing were happening to you” When we choose to act in faith Satan still shoots flaming arrows at us. In fact, he may even shoot more of them. But, Peter writes, we should expect that. Verse 13: “But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.”
God never intended us to go through life alone in some sort of free fall - hopeless - trapped in our circumstances - fearful and depressed at the final outcome - at the whim of Satan struggling in sin - somehow making it into heaven by the skin of our teeth. We can trust in Jesus because He has been there for us - is there for us - will be there for us.
What we’ve looked at this morning should prompt questions in our minds. As Christians who have “put on” Jesus Christ will we live in faith? What choices will we make to increase our understanding and application of God’s word? What choices will we make to deepen our relationship with God? What promises will we claim? Choosing to resist Satan, will we step out in faith trusting in Jesus?