Gleanings from the Text
There were many threats against the fledgling church in Asia Minor. Gnostics, Judaizers, Libertines, Roman bullies - each got in their licks. Because this epistle was likely an encyclical letter meant to be read in a number of communities in the region, not just Ephesus, we can’t say with confidence what precisely the author had in mind when he warned his audience to stand against the “wiles of the devil” and the “present darkness.” Some say it wasn't anything in particular, but more an apocalyptic consortium of cosmic powers that had the author spooked.
The epistle begins with a gentle swell of praise for God, whose covenant of grace has been revealed in Christ to be not just for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well. God will unite them into one body – very comforting.
Halfway through chapter four, however, the author changes gears and takes on a more practical tone, advising that this new unity in Christ must be reflected in a transformed life, and that transformed life will run counter to the prevailing culture. The author anticipates excuses from his readers, protests of helplessness in the face of all the forces arrayed against them. The author will brook no excuse. The strength of God’s power is theirs to claim. What more do they need?
In Ephesians 6:10, the author begins a summation of the letter designed to punch home his main themes. He resorts to a common militaristic image of body armor that his audience would see on Roman soldiers daily, but in a nose-tweaking twist, he reinvents the image in a most non-militaristic way. He appropriates the common parts of armor – belt, breastplate, shield – but he assigns them uncommon values: truth, righteousness, faith. Consequently, the armor, usually a symbol of self-reliance, is transformed into a symbol of utter dependence on God.
Food for Thought
One could make this passage last an entire season, preaching each Sunday on another piece of armor. Or, one could pick apart the skeleton of armor, bone by bone, in a single sermon. A meatier course might be to skip the tedious piece-by-piece analysis and explore in general what it means for a congregation to imagine radical dependence on God and to consider living a transformed life in Christ. The implication of Ephesians 6:10 is clear: God's grace has enemies; God's justice has a bounty on its head; God's peace is marked for attempted demolition. We are known by our associations, and when we hobnob with known forgivers and peace-mongers we must expect a strong reaction from those who traffic in accusations and innuendo.
It is, in the end, all about power. Human distortions of power thrive in secrecy, in dissembling, in violence, and in the capacity to drive a wedge between groups by promoting fear and suspicion. But the strength of the Lord, the non-armor armor that ensures our victory, is transparency, mercy, peace and an absolute trust in the dynamic interplay of Spirit and Word.
Sink Your Teeth Into This
The shoes of the gospel of peace interest me. My son has autism and doesn't speak, so much of the communication in our house is non-verbal. When my wife and I come down each morning the first thing my son does is check our shoes. He's learned that the shoes we have on speak volumes about the kind of day we have planned. Dress shoes mean work. Scuffed slip-ons mean a casual, more relaxed day around the house.
In Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner writes, "If you want to know who you really are as distinct from who you like to think you are, keep an eye on where your feet take you." Peace is the goal. Our feet, not our words, will get us there. The author of Ephesians doesn't commit to any one style of shoe as THE most appropriate for spreading the gospel of peace. I suppose wing-tips or high heeled pumps will do, even Crocs or flip-flops. But my experience is that spreading peace is hard work. My money would be on work boots as the best, probably a pair with steel toes.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, New York: Harper & Row, 1973, p. 27.
Perkins, Pheme, Ephesians, Abingdon New Testament Commentaries, Victor Paul Furnish, General Editor. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967.
Witherington, Ben III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistle. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Erdmans Publishing Co., 2007.
David Cameron is the pastor of Rockfish Presbyterian Church in Nellysford, VA. He was birthed into ordained ministry by Columbia Seminary but adopted into the Union-PSCE fold first through a semester of study at PSCE and more recently as a supervisor of three summer interns from Union from whom he has learned much. He is married to Kathryn Johnson Cameron, also an ordained PC(USA) minister and graduate of PSCE. They have two children.