The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York boasts one of the finest armor collections in the world. Virtually all cultures throughout the world have used armor for thousands of years, both in conquest and defense. Pieces in the exhibit range from small swords to helmets to flintlock rifles.
In the same passage of Ephesians 6, in which Paul tells us that we’re not wrestling against other human beings, he instructs us to put on the full armor of God. Paul lists what that armor entails:
“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; 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. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:13-17).
A soldier would never dream of going into battle without his weaponry. Yet we can do just such a foolish thing by closing our eyes to the war sounds around us, keeping distracted with life’s daily busyness, hoping the violence and corruption of our culture will somehow go away – or crossing our fingers that it at least won’t touch our house.
The other temptation is to fail to use the spiritual weapons given to us, and instead use those of the flesh: rely on our own best ideas, look to political and world systems for answers, and all the while be governed by our emotional responses.
For example, I’ve stated previously my admiration for and identification with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A German student myself, I never saw such sharp parallels between the present culture in the United States and that of the rise of the Third Reich until I read his biography. But one mistake that Bonhoeffer made in his desire to conquer the evil of Nazi Germany was to take up the weapons of the flesh, rather than strictly using spiritual ones. He did this in plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler. This notion wasn’t born of the Spirit of God, and it failed.
Most of us, when we first wake up in the morning, aren’t conscious as we shower and get dressed, of the fact that we’re going out into a war zone – a spiritual one. For we have a faithful and victorious Commander, Who has already done the vital part of the battle in shedding His blood for us – and the whole world as well – to be free of the power of sin. If we wait on Him, He will give us our marching orders (and there’s nothing higher or more exciting than bringing about His kingdom!) Conversely, we have a cold, calculated, and ruthless enemy who would destroy every single one of us outright if permitted.
In Luke 11, Jesus says this: “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed. But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder” (vv.21-22, boldface mine).
Who is the strong man that Jesus is referring to? The answer is found in the rest of the passage just before this, in which Jesus has just cast out a demon from a man and is being accused by the Pharisees of enlisting Satan’s help in this task. (This is the same passage that we examined previously in Matthew 12:22-28, in which Jesus talks about the two kingdoms).
The strong man in this passage is Satan. So who is the “someone stronger” who overpowers the strong man, strips him of his armor, and hands out his spoils? It is Jesus, who in this passage has just cast out a member of Satan’s kingdom from a man.
Jesus is saying here that now that He’s come, the strong man has already been overpowered. What he once used to hide himself in for protection has been stripped bare. His house is available for plunder!
We don’t have to wait for Jesus to do anything else. We don’t need to beg Him or try to twist His arm for power or goodness to come into these situations for which we care. No, It is finished. The strong man’s house is open to us. It is only our own passivity, our belief in things the strong man has tried to tell us to keep away from his house, that keeps us from taking hold of which is rightfully ours by the blood of Christ!
Picture this: a thief rips through your neighborhood, burglarizing homes and vehicles. He takes your television, your computer, your phone, and many beautiful paintings and furniture you had in your house. Later, you realize he has taken things even more personal to you, such as photographs. You and your neighbors talk about it, devastated by the loss and trying to console one another.
Suddenly you receive word that the thief has been apprehended and taken into custody. Best of all, the items that he stole have been found in his house. The authorities want you to come and take what has been stolen from you.
However, instead of running to the house to take back your possessions, you just sit there. You start to get these ideas in your head. “You know, it would take some considerable effort to get back my items. That furniture was pretty heavy. And that thief was a bad dude. He and his thugs are intimidating the neighbors, even from where they’re at in custody. Is it really worth it?”
And so instead of rightfully taking back what is yours, you sit there. You figure you’ll suffer the loss, complain about it more to those that will listen, and maybe someday — somehow — you’ll replace some of those items that were stolen.
Jesus is saying to all of us, “What has been stolen from you? Is it a relationship? Is it mental health? Is it time that’s been taken away from you in illness? Is it family members that have been deceived and fallen into sin? Is it peace in your school? I have already done the dirty work! I have done what was needed, and the strong man has been overpowered! Come – take the spoils, and hand the riches out to others as well!”
How easily we are intimidated. How lazy and apathetic we can be in taking hold of what Jesus paid for in full!
Remember that when Jesus spoke of His church in Matthew 16:18, saying the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, He was talking about a church on the offensive. He talked in Matthew 11:12 of a church that takes ground actively and by force (in the spiritual sense, not the physical). He said that His kingdom was at hand (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:15).
Christ is rallying us. “Off the fence and on the offense!” The strong man has been overpowered and stripped of his armor. He is vulnerable. He is, however, still a threat. Paul says, “Put on the armor of God so that you can withstand the evil day as you face this enemy.”
We will examine the pieces of armor available for us shortly.