September 5, 2017

Shod to Stride (The Armor, part 6)

A baby’s first steps are a joyful milestone for proud parents, as walking is obviously a vital part of the child’s development. Walking is perhaps the first step (pun intended) toward becoming a fully-functioning independent human being. Parents rightly guide their child’s first efforts to walk, knowing that their precious baby will one day not only walk, but run. And the parents also know that a single misstep can result in something as minor as a stubbed toe, or something as harmful as a broken ankle.

Whether we are speaking of a toddler’s first tentative steps or a Roman Legion’s long march toward battle, both require one crucial element: feet. Wherever we go, our feet carry us there (barring some disability). If we are to walk, our feet must be healthy and ready to go.

As mentioned in a previous article, the Roman soldier’s footwear provided for good foot health, whether by allowing water to drain quickly away from the foot or by fitting snugly to prevent blisters. The Roman Legions had to be ready to go at any moment.

As Christians living with the daily reality of spiritual warfare, we are no different. We have to be ready to face life and all the challenges that it brings our way. The previous article spoke of the necessity of being prepared for spiritual conflict, but let us now consider the topic of readiness. The English Standard Version (ESV) translates Ephesians 6:15 as follows:

 “…and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

Preparation and readiness are words which are often used interchangeably, but for our purposes, let’s separate the two. Preparation, as we learned in the previous article, has to do with study, prayer, fellowship with the Lord, and otherwise becoming spiritually fortified. These things must, by definition, take place before we face whatever life may have in store for us. Readiness, on the other hand, reflects a willingness to go or do as God requires of us in that moment.

Consider the example of Jonah. Now most of us would instantly think of the encounter with the whale (or “big fish”), but let’s remember that there was a reason why Jonah wound up as just so much fish bait…

He was unwilling to do that which God had commanded.

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
~ Jonah 1:1-3 (ESV)

All of Jonah’s troubles arose because of his basic unwillingness to follow God’s direction. Jonah was not ready to share God’s word with the people of Nineveh, because he was viewing the situation through his own eyes, rather than seeing what God would have him to see. (We will discuss the significance of that further in a later article.)

Unlike Jonah, we must be ready and willing to follow God’s lead at all times. The apostle Paul gave his protégé, Timothy, some very sage advice on this point which ties the concepts of preparation and readiness together once again…

“…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
~ 2 Timothy 4:2 (ESV)

There are a couple of tunes in the Baptist Hymnal that come to mind: Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go, and Trust and Obey. One who desires to follow God’s will must respond with active obedience. To do otherwise is to step outside of God’s protection, thus provoking serious consequences. This was a painful lesson for Jonah to learn, as he chose not only to ignore that which God had spoken to him, but also to willfully defy God by doing exactly the opposite. I’ve been in Jonah’s shoes personally (though thankfully I’ve not been literally swallowed by a whale!), and I can confirm that it’s not a pleasant experience.

Understanding that our readiness to go and do as God wills reveals to us some of the ways that spiritual principles interact in our daily lives. Failure to obey God must, by definition, be classified as sin. As we studied the Breastplate of Righteousness, we observed the importance of avoiding sin: sin leads to death. Those words “leads to” are significant in light of the Shoes of Readiness: if we choose sin, we are walking a path which leads only to destruction.

Now we begin to see the brilliant symbolism behind Paul’s description of the Whole Armor of God. Should a Roman soldier neglect the care of his footwear, he would likely start to have difficulty walking because of blisters, sores, and infections, eventually resulting in his inability to continue marching or to carry out his duties. The state of his breastplate becomes irrelevant, because he is too unhealthy to continue moving forward. That fancy belt that holds his tools? Doesn't matter. Even the girding around his waist which would help him to bear the weight of all his gear becomes useless if he isn't able to actually... GO. Likewise, if we neglect our own spiritual preparation (study and fellowship with God), then we will surely fail to be ready (whether unwilling or unable) to obey God’s call when it comes, and we will pay a price for this very specific sin.

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