Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Shield of Faith

This message is the sixth in the sermon series on The Armour of God

Shield of faith

 “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” Ephesians 6:16

"from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour,” for we are members of one another."  Romans 4:16-25

We now proceed to consider yet another piece of this “Whole Armour of God” which the Apostle reminds the Ephesians is so essential to a successful warfare against the devil and against “the principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”

The Apostle introduced this fourth piece with “Above all - taking the shield of faith” We had dealt with the first group of three, and now we come to the second group. The expression, “above all” as used in the Authorised Version does not mean “above everything else in importance” It really means “in addition to all” that is to say, in addition to the three parts of the armour that “I have already mentioned”. The “above all” introduces everything that is to follow not only “the shield of faith” but also “the helmet of salvation” and “the sword of the Spirit” as well.

We must also notice another difference in introduction. So far he has been using the word “having”. “Stand therefore, he says, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness and your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace” But now he changes his word to “Above all” he says, “not having” the shield of faith, “but taking the shield of faith, wherewith you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” and “take the helmet of salvation”, and “take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God” The difference between the three portions that are to come and the three portions already mentioned is the difference between “having” and “taking”.

Two main differences are suggested – The first three parts of the armour are firmly fixed to the body by this special fastening so that they are immovable; but with the next three – you do not fix a shield onto your body, it is something separate from you. You take it up and use it. The same applies to the helmet and the sword. You have the first three pieces on always but you take up the shield, the sword and the helmet and put them on when you need them.

Another difference which follows from the first is that the first three pieces are more or less passive and preparatory; the soldier puts them on and keeps them on. But when we come to the second group there is a suggestion immediately of activity. The soldier may be sitting down in his room and taking a period of rest; but he still keeps on his girdle of truth, his breastplate and his sandals. Then suddenly an alarm is sounded that the enemy is already attacking, and he immediately takes hold of his shield and his sword and puts on his helmet and rushes out. You do not have the shield in your hand when you are resting; you put it down, and likewise your sword. You take them up the moment the enemy becomes active. The shield which was used by the Roman soldier, whom Paul is taking as his example, was a very large shield. Shields today are much smaller, and then an average shield was four feet in length and two and half feet wide. But still more important is the fact this shield had a fire proof metal lining laced upon it, the significance of which, of course, is immediately obvious. The shield was made of wood but it had this fire-proof metal lining on its surface so that as you held it up to face the enemy who was throwing his fiery darts at you, the darts would fall upon this fire-proof metal lining. Clearly the idea is that in addition to the breastplate which you already have on, and the girdle of truth about your loins, and your feet shod, you must protect yourself in a still more general manner with the shield. You need your shield to protect you against the things that may be hurled at you as a preliminary before the enemy comes in person, sword in hand and attacks you still more directly. This is the picture here.

The fiery darts of the devil

The fiery darts in those days were made either of wood or of metal, but their special feature was that they had a sharp point. They were like arrows or darts; and were soaked in some inflammable substance which ignites on contact. These were used to prepare the way for the mass attack of the troops upon the enemy. In modern warfare this can be compared to artillery shelling or mortaring or pounding or even harassing air-raid or guerrilla-grenade-attack. They disorganize the enemy to enable the ground troops to attack. It comes from all conceivable directions to cause confusion so that the troops would attack.

These darts are thrown at us by the evil one – the Authorised Version calls it “the wicked”. This conveys an abstract meaning or makes it impersonal. This is wrong. Paul says we are confronted by the wiles of the devil and not only by the devil, but also by principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places. His whole purpose is to emphasize that we are fighting spiritual persons, forces and beings. This emphasis is needed today; when the world no longer believes in the devil, still less in spiritual beings and entities. The world does not believe in angels or in devils. It is a trouble in our society.

The wicked one is the devil. He is a person and controls and commands a diversity of powers and agents. We believe in a Triune God –Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is personal. He is not just a force or a power. So also are the ones against us – not forces or powers but personal agencies. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood. Our striving, our problem is not merely man and his sin and his evil. Behind man there are these infernal powers, these devilish agencies. Our Lord Jesus Christ had to meet the devil, a person, in the temptation in the wilderness. Evil is not abstract. There would be no evil human beings unless there were evil spiritual beings who entered into God’s creation and tempted man and seduced him in the calamity of the fall.

But now let us turn to the spiritual application of our theme. The apostle is telling us that we must be prepared for what we may describe as satanic attacks and assaults which at times can be unusually fierce and fiery. The devil uses his fiery darts. One very common example of one who had experienced the fiery darts of the devil was Martin Luther. Most Christians have heard the famous story of Luther and his ink pot, and of his throwing it at the devil. He was deeply conscious of the devil’s presence in his room and he could not get away from him. Whatever he tried to do, the devil was there hurling his darts at him. John Bunyan testifies in his own way, a similar experience.

What of our own experiences? Do we not all know something of this? Do we not know something of what it is perhaps to wake-up in the morning and to find that before we have had time to do any thinking, thoughts come to us, evil thoughts, perhaps even blasphemous thought or anger? One of the fiery darts of the evil one!

It is important for us to realize this because it is a part of the enemy’s strategy to prevent our understanding that he is the cause of this. He would have us believe that all these things originate in ourselves, and then he persuades us that, in consequence, we must be very evil persons who have no right to be called Christians at all. And so he drives us to the depths of despair and utter hopelessness about ourselves. Let us consider some more examples.
Have you not found that, when you have been engaged in prayer or are trying to pray, these darts come from all directions at you? You seem filled with all these distracting and perhaps evil thoughts and notions and ideas.
Where do they come from? Have you not experienced this also when you are reading the Bible? You can read a newspaper and concentrate on it, but when you start reading the Bible, thoughts and ideas come from all directions and you find it almost impossible to concentrate. Where do they come from? These are the fiery darts of the devil. The point we must grasp is that they obviously come from outside of ourselves; they strike us from outside.

But we can add this further point that there is a curious periodicity about these experiences. They are not with us permanently but can happen at any moment; but there are times and seasons when the enemy is unusually active in this respect. In warfare this is also the case. There are periods of lull and periods of very fierce battle. The only problem is that we do not know how long the lull or fierce battle will last. There are times when the enemy concentrates on individual Christians, on Christian Churches or sections of the Christian Church. These darts can take almost any form. The commonest form of all is with regard to thoughts. The devil hurls darts at us.

But there is something even worse! The devil has often plagued some of the noblest of saints with blaspheming thoughts about God and about Jesus Christ. Sometimes the devil hurls words and phrases, oaths, horrible language at the Christian.

Sometimes the darts take the form of imaginations. There is nothing the devil cannot do in that respect. He can conjure up scenes, he can depict events, he can paint things very vividly, and he can make them appear real. Thus he hurls his fiery darts at us in the realm of imagination. He does the same in the realm of the desires and passions and the lusts – inflaming, inciting, and arousing them with tremendous heat. We must always have our shield of faith in a convenient position so that we can take it up at any moment. That is our only hope.

The history of the Church has much to say about fiery trials. Indeed there are many Christians today who are passing through fiery trials; they are in a furnace, the young men were in Daniel’s time. Peter in First Peter 4:12 says: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you” It is not strange, it is the lot of God’s people. It always has been, it will always be. Paul tells Timothy: “Yea and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution” (Second Timothy 3:12) The wicked one can bring all these things suddenly to bear upon us.

Faith is the only protection

The Apostle’s teaching is that there is only one way to deal with these attacks. We must take and use the shield of faith. It is the only thing that can quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one – the devil. As these things are hurled at you, you do not hold forward your breast and allow them to strike the breastplate of righteousness; you must hold up your shield so that they hit it and cause you no harm. You must be ready to meet them from all directions. Remember, your feet must be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. You must be mobile and agile, and hold the shield in all directions.

Peter conveyed the same idea when he said: “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour; whom resist steadfast in faith” (First Peter 5: 8-9). Faith alone enables you to meet these particular attacks. Apostle John said the same thing in First John 5:4: “This is the victory that overcomes the world; even our faith” Faith is the shield that you have to hold up to quench these fiery darts of the wicked one.

Faith here means the ability to apply quickly what we believe so as to repel everything the devil does or attempts to do to us. Faith is not merely an intellectual belief or theory. Faith is always practical “Faith without work is dead” “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” It is the application of what we believe. Faith never points to itself, it always points to its object and in that way it makes us strong. Paul demonstrates this in Romans 4: 18ff in relation to Abraham. Faith saved Abraham by giving glory to God; by pointing to God. The secret of Abraham was that his faith led him to God, and God’s character and promises; and he relied upon them and all was well. In Hebrews 11 we are told of the great heroes of faith: “out of weakness they were made strong”. They were men who believed God; they accounted Him able to do that which He had promised. That was faith in action.

Faith points to God and His promises. The Bible is full of such promises, get to know them and you will be able to hold up the shield of faith. The moment the enemy comes, and the darts are flying around, you will be able to hold up a statement of the Scripture, a promise of God, knowing that God is always true and faithful. He is unchangeable! “He is the Father of lights with whom is no variableness; neither shadow of turning”. So when the devil comes and says: “I grant you that God did bless you once, and seemed to be your father; but now He is no longer interested in you” You can lift up the shield of faith and say: “”But that is impossible, God cannot change. What God promised He will perform! His promises are very sure.”

Then too you must remember the power of God. When the enemy sends his fiery darts and you feel very weak and frail and are tempted to believe that you would be hit and defeated, take up the shield of faith; hold it up. It points you straight to God and to the power of God. “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” That was the strength of Abraham. Remember when through the fiery darts, he asked God “What is the point of God blessing me when He has not given me an heir – what is the use of all these great promises?” God reminded Abraham of the shield of faith by saying: "Fear not, Abram; I am your shield and your exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15:1) “I am your shield!” God is our shield and His power is endless and eternal. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble” (Psalm 46) and the Book of Proverbs adds: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe”. That is the shield and in Psalm 84 we read: “The Lord God is a sun and shield” When we run into the limitless power of God we can say let the forces of hell come as they may, they cannot touch me.

Paul in Romans 8:33-34 shows how Christ shares in our need when he asked: “Who can condemn us? It is Christ that died (for us); yea, rather that is risen again, who is ever at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” So when the devil hurls his darts at us, we hold up the shield of faith by saying: “Christ has proved His love to me by dying for me and rising again.” The devil hurled all his darts on Christ but Christ defeated him on all grounds. The same Christ makes intercession for us today. This thought should strengthen us. So when the darts come let us remember that “we have not a high Priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin”. He is able to succour us!

The holding up of the shield of faith reminds you that you are looking to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. It means that you are depending upon God and the grace in Christ.

The Hymn writer says:

I need You every hour, stay thou near by

Temptations lose their Power, when You are near
In another Hymn:
I need Your presence every passing hour

What but Your grace can foil the tempter’s power?
I fear no foe, with You at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where grave your victory?
I triumph still, if You abide with me”
May God enable us to understand this teaching and to implement it whenever the enemy comes in his malignity and hurls his fiery darts at us. Hold up the shield of faith! "Whom resist steadfast in the faith"

For the rest of the series, follow the link: The War You Must Win

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