Putting on the armour of God is a wonderful and well known metaphor in Ephesians chapter six. But in the 21st century, in the era of Jihad mixing Religion with military imagery is perhaps a bit more problematic.
Though even here, the Muslim concept of Jihad, Holy war, has two aspects; The outward, physical, military war against the infidel (That’s us) but also Jihad has a spiritual dimension; an internal Holy war; the spiritual struggle against internal malign forces, temptations, and impulses within that counter and undermine the influence of God.
And Paul, predating Islam by several centuries makes the same point. He says our battles ultimately, both within and without are essentially spiritual. He writes “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness”.
These forces are unseen but have a power to influence us to do things that we know are counter to the purposes of God. They lead us into what in Medieval times were known as the seven deadly sins; wrath, self destructive anger; greed, sloth, spiritual as well as physical laziness; pride, the belief that we are better than others; lust defined as an uncontrolled desire be it for sex, money, fame, power; envy, and gluttony; defined as over indulgence generally or faithlessness or they can also be powerful cultural and social movements that tempt us to water down and moderate the gospel and our values for the sake of an easy life.
Against all these temptations, Paul urges us to use every tool in the box to defend ourselves against these impulses and temptations. And while they are military metaphors they are nevertheless for our own self defence. The only offensive weapon in this armoury is the sword of truth, the word of God. This array of defensive items are given to us by God so will ultimately be more powerful that any adversary, if we trust in them.
Truth, righteousness, faith, knowledge of your salvation (believing in the resurrection of the dead; and wear courage or whatever else is lacking to make you able to proclaim the gospel.
Finally, Paul instructs us to pray in the Spirit at all times. Not a cursory prayer, but a prayer that earnestly seeks God, to ask and to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and to pray for each other, to build each other up in the Spirit.
Paul, in the piece we heard today (Ephesians 6:19) asks for people’s prayers that when he speaks, the Spirit will give him a message that will make him bold in proclaiming the gospel.
And Paul needed those prayers. I read the book of Acts on Wednesday to prepare myself for a Bible study course in September and was reminded of what a rough time Paul had, in times no more accommodating to the gospel than ours is.
Derided, laughed at, called insane, flogged and imprisoned many times, subject to many false accusations. Paul needed those prayers and so do we. As another essential part of our defensive armour, let us pray for each other.