April 8, 2018

Shod to Soothe (The Armor, part 7)

I have a confession to make: I’m cheap. I don’t really like to spend money on something unless I believe it’s going to be of benefit. Case in point: in times past, I refused to spend more than about $30 on a pair of shoes. Why? Because shoes always wore out so quickly! I’m a big guy, and I had never had a pair of shoes last more than about a year (usually less).

Right now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Well, no wonder! They were $30 shoes!”

How right you are. About 5 years ago, I broke down and bought a pair of Nikes – all leather Air Monarchs, to be precise. Aside from being a little bit discolored (they are white!), they are still as sound and sturdy as the day I bought them. After living for 40+ years with cheap shoes, I’m still surprised by the durability of my Nikes on a regular basis.

Likewise, I was surprised at the mileage I would get out of studying about the Shoes of Readiness in Ephesians, chapter 6. I suppose a Roman soldier wouldn’t be surprised, as they would have known all too well how many miles they could get out of a pair of caligae.

Of course, the durability of a shoe is only a benefit if you can keep it on your foot without experiencing pain (I have never understood how women can wear heels… but that’s another matter!). Both my Nikes and a Roman soldier’s boots provide a desirable degree of comfort. One might say that the shoes are rather soothing for the feet.

This brings us to the final point to be made regarding the Shoes of Readiness (or the Boots of Preparation, if you prefer). As we go out into the world to spread the Gospel message, we must be mindful of the purpose of the good news, which is to make peace between humans and God.

You see, many well-intentioned Christians who very actively attempt to draw lost souls to Christ actually drive people away. They don’t mean to, nor are they even aware that there is a problem with their methods. What are they doing wrong?

The Gospel must be presented as a salve to the damaged human soul. It should not be parceled out condescendingly or in a judgmental fashion. Now I’m sure we have all seen the Christian who constantly bemoans the evils of the world, points out all of the wrongs which come from the ungodly, and proclaims loudly that sinners need to find Jesus. To be fair, that Christian is not wrong about these things, but their ongoing negative commentary is far from Christ-like. This kind of person reminds me of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, who worked very hard to keep the Law but often failed to show compassion.

Being right is of no benefit when the truth is being used as a weapon. Notice how Paul describes the Gospel…

“…and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”

Let me assure you that I know firsthand how it feels to be assaulted by a hostile gospel. As I have mentioned before, I did not grow up in a churchgoing family. I was decidedly agnostic for many, many years, and I found nothing of benefit from “fire and brimstone” preachers who seemed to want to scare me to Jesus by threatening me with Hell. I was not drawn to Christ by being told “thou shalt not” over and over again. The only effect these techniques had on me was to make Christianity, the church, and Jesus himself all less desirable. To be blunt, it kept me away from the truth of God’s love for a long time.

But don’t just take my word for it. Scripture tells us plainly that approaching the lost with a judgmental mindset is wrongheaded…

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
~ John 12:47 (NIV)

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.”

Sadly, far too many Christians make a point of shaming those who exhibit certain faults and/or are not Christians, and it often happens under the pretense of “speaking the truth.” We will not draw lost souls to Christ by continuing to condemn them for everything they have ever done wrong. Instead, we must actively seek ways to connect and communicate through loving and peaceful interactions which heal rather than harm. 

Peace must be not only our goal, but our method.

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
~ Psalm 34:14 (NIV)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
~ Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
~ Romans 12:18 (NIV)

Jesus, as always, provides a perfect example for us to follow. John 4:1-42 presents the well-known tale of Jesus' meeting with a Samaritan woman. Now, if there was one place in the world during Jesus' time where Jews were ever unwelcome, Samaria was the place.  Yet here we see Jesus traveling through this area in complete peace, spreading the truth of God's Word. His methods drew not only the woman at the well to Him, but many others. The Samaritans responded so well that Jesus was urged to remain in Samaria for two days. These people who were otherwise hostile toward Jews were begging Jesus to stay with them! Behold, the power of peace.

"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you..."
~ John 14:27 (NKJV)

Now in order to tie the principle of peace back to the armor of a Roman soldier, we would do well to consider the Pax Romana, literally meaning “Roman peace.” For over 200 years (at a minimum, lasting from 27 BC to AD 180), the Roman Empire provided an unprecedented era of peace, stability, and safety for over seventy million people. The Roman legions were absolutely vital to keeping the peace during this time, and their funky sandal-boots carried them along all the way.

It’s also interesting to note that Jesus’ entire life and ministry on Earth took place during the Pax Romana, while Israel was part of the Roman Empire. How appropriate that the Prince of Peace should appear on Earth during such a time! Furthermore, the Pax Romana lasted throughout the time of the Apostles and allowed the Gospel to spread far and wide during a time of relative peace and safety.

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