March 12, 2020

Complete Coverage (The Armor, part 9)


One of the primary goals of this study is to better understand the symbolism used in Paul’s references to Roman military equipment in his letter to the Ephesians. Why, for example, does he pair the shield with faith, rather than some other spiritual quality? And why is faith, which is so extremely important, placed fourth in this list of six items? The answers to both of these questions lie in the broad nature of the word, “faith,” as well as the equally broad coverage of the scutum itself.

Scutum In Action
The Roman soldier’s shield was a surprisingly versatile and effective piece of equipment due, in part, to its large size and relatively light weight. The scutum was large enough to fully cover a crouching soldier, leaving virtually no target available for archers except the shield itself, yet lightweight enough for a legionnaire to wield in one hand while brandishing a sword or spear in the other. The scutum quite literally overlaps every other piece of the Roman soldier’s gear.

In much the same way, faith has a broad array of functions in the life of a believer. Faith, in fact, has an impact on every other facet of our spiritual lives. Surely this is why Paul says…

Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”

While the KJV translation of this verse begins with the words, “above all,” other translations use phrases such as in all things; at all times; in every situation; in every battle; in all circumstances; and in all this. Faith overlaps every one of the spiritual elements Paul refers to in his references to the whole Armor of God.

Salvation? It is faith alone which saves (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Righteousness? It means nothing without faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)
Good works, including preparation and study? They are a product of faith. (James 2:18)

And so it goes for every aspect of our spiritual lives. Without faith, we cannot say that we are Christians, and we cannot please God. (Hebrews 11:6) The importance of faith and its impact on our lives is underlined throughout Hebrews chapter 11, often referred to as the faith “Hall of Fame.”

If faith, then, is such an important factor in the spiritual life of a Christian, why is it placed in the middle of this list? The beginning of a list of things in the Bible is typically reserved for the most important item. If faith is required to acknowledge the truth of who Jesus is, which is where this list begins, why is faith not placed at the beginning? Alternately, faith might have been placed at the end of the list, which is often reserved for an item which has a special relationship to the first. Furthermore, we know that faith always perseveres until the end, so perhaps the final spot might have been an appropriate placement for faith. But no, faith is placed in the middle of this list.

WHY?

In part, it is because faith overlaps with every other entry in this list of spiritual elements, as we have seen. Therefore, its placement in the center is rather appropriate in an intellectually symbolic way.

More importantly, faith must be practiced at all times.  Faith seems easy at the beginning of a project, when everything is new and exciting. At the end of a project, faith shouts “Look what God has done!” But in the middle… when neither the excitement of new beginnings nor the joy of fruition at the end are present, we must press on, and we can only do that by faith. (Philippians 3:4-14)

Putting on the Shield of Faith in this context means we must continue to believe when things get tough, or even when God seems far away. But what is it that we should believe? There are any number of things which scripture tells us to believe. Among these are:

God is real. (1 Corinthians 14:25)
God loves you. (John 16:27)
God will work everything out for your good. (Romans 8:28)

No discussion of faith would be complete without specifically quoting Hebrews 11:1...
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

We must, at all times, continue to believe that God is with us and that He is working within us and in our lives to bring us closer to Him. We must cast aside fear and embrace hope, no matter what our present circumstances may be.

I believe it is for this practical, hands-on kind of reason that faith is placed in the middle of this list. Faith is, indeed, the central part of the Christian life. Our faith guides us, strengthens us, comforts us, and encourages us. In times of great despair, we may feel as though we have nothing left but our faith. When all else fails, if every other bit of our armor has been stripped away, we may yet be able to stand fast against the powers which assail us, if only we keep a tight grip on the impenetrable shield which is our faith.

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