Ladies and gentlemen we are coming to one of my favorite times of the year. I have memories of it that go deep into my childhood, memories of sitting with my father and eating Ruffles Potato Chips with Kroger deli French Onion dip. Memories of entire Saturdays spent lying on a pull-out sofa in the living room, watching, hoping, celebrating, and sometimes consoling one another. It brings to mind names from earliest childhood memories of those days like Buck Belue, Lindsay Scott, and of course Herschel Walker and listening to Larry Munson scream It’s raining sugar! while standing in the doorway of an Otasco store.
Ladies and gentlemen, as of yesterday afternoon, the 2018 college football season is officially underway. There were four games yesterday and a host of others starting Thursday night and going through Sunday evening. Fans, pundits, purveyors, and prognosticators will spend the next four and half months looking at game footage, analyzing statistics, and generally taking guesses as to what has happened and what will happen in stadiums across the nation.
For the players, however, the season started five months ago. Two months after the 2018 College Championship Game was played, players began spring practice to continue conditioning for the players and giving coaches an idea of what the fall lineup would look like. After a short time off, summer practices began, though many players probably kept up their conditioning and workout regimens. For the last several weeks, teams have been putting the final touches on plans and schemes, developing chemistry between the players and coaches and putting the final touches on their preparation for the season.
This was not only a matter of winning games, but a serious matter of keeping players safe. Football as a sport can be the modern equivalent of the Roman gladiatorial contests. Players are throwing their bodies at each other with great force and great weight, creating some pretty vicious collisions. To prevent injury, these athletes use a combination of the training we have been talking about and a uniform specially designed to protect their bodies. Helmets protect the head; shoulder pads and their attachments protect the shoulders and necks; rib protectors cover the chest; elbow pads, thigh pads, knee pads, and various other pieces round out the protective gear to deflect some of the force experienced in game action.
While this keeps players safe most of the time, there are no guarantees. Sometimes a hit can twist an arm or leg in just the wrong way. Sometimes the sheer force of a hit is enough to cause a player to experience sprains, breaks, and concussions among other things. Some of these injuries are enough to cause players to have to give up playing the game.
In our passage in Ephesians, Paul uses an analogy for spiritual warfare using the Roman Legionnaire’s armor, one like the idea of the football players protective gear. Like the modern warriors of college football, the Roman Legionnaire trained in uniform, learning tactics, formations, and basic skills for staying alive. They learned everything from how to maintain their equipment to personal hygiene to basic cooking and camp skills, all necessary for the soldier in the field. The armor and habits of a legionnaire was something Paul had a lot of time to observe since he was imprisoned while writing this letter. Day after day he would have seen the changing of the guard and over time become well acquainted with each piece, seeing it as often as he did. In the same way, that a football player’s equipment protects him a legionnaire’s armor covered the main parts of the body that would have been vulnerable in battle.
Paul recognized the armor as a good metaphor for the Christian on pilgrimage through this life. We need this armor to keep our spirit protected from the things that damage it, in this case the things that Paul talks about regarding the unseen forces of evil at work in the world systems and cultures around us. Paul uses these pieces of armor and compares them to the aspects of faith. He points out how each piece is like an aspect of our spiritual life that we put on or choose to wear. The pieces of the armor represent the major points that Paul talked about in the letter.
- Truth (belt) – this is simply the sheer truth of the gospel message, that which holds everything in place.
- Righteousness (breastplate) – not just that we are morally good but more importantly that we are in the right place in our relationship with God and others.
- The gospel of peace (boots/sandals) – Having the message of peace to carry us helps us keep our footing in difficult times.
- Faith (shield) – This is a kind of loyal belief that is grown through experience and sometimes adversity, a belief that knows.
- Salvation (helmet) – This is a knowledge that we are part of the Kingdom of God, a family and community of followers.
- The Spirit/Word of God (sword) – the truth of the gospel that has the power to change the hearts and lives of those who hear and embrace it.
- Prayer (communication with God) – This is the means we have to stay connected to God in the midst of our journeying.
If we go back through the previous parts of Ephesians, we can see how Paul was leading us up to this point. We see that each of these things is representative of something that we can use to ‘be strong in the faith’ or to stand firm as followers of Christ. The question becomes, why put on this ‘armor’? The answer has two aspects: protection and proclamation. We need this armor to protect ourselves spiritually and emotionally from the day to day warring that goes on in our souls against the temptation to live in any way that is not the Way of Jesus. This defensive armor is intended to give us protection for proclaiming the gospel of peace.
In the first part of Ephesians, Paul says, For we are what he made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Everything that follows that verse becomes an explanation on what those good works look like and how we should live them out. That way of life is the way of Jesus which can be summed up simply from what the lawyer answered to Jesus in Luke 10, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself, which Jesus answered and said, You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of these two commands and says, On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets, meaning that everything said in the Jewish Law and everything proclaimed by the prophets of old leads back to love God, love neighbor. The only way to truly love in this way is by following in the way of Jesus, an imitation of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His example of love found in the gospels and throughout the New Testament writings is the only perfect example of this way of life. The armor – those seven things listed – exist for helping us be in a place where we are spiritually and emotionally able to love God and love neighbor. This is the strength of our faith, a faith that has its roots in love experienced inward and love offered outward. All these elements of faith that are mentioned in our passage are contingent on being used with the love of Jesus behind them. Used in hate or with hostility, they become the weapons of the enemy and are used against the Kingdom of God and the person using them.
The point: Armor up (prepare yourself with these elements of faith) for the mission of loving God and others.
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Wright, N.T. Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Louisville: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004
 Wright, 74-75
 Ephesians 2:10
 Luke 10:27
 Luke 10:28