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The Armor of God
L. R. TarsitanoóSaint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity--November 12, 2000
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh" (2 Cor. 10:3).

When St. Paul admonishes us to put on "the whole armor of God" in todayís Epistle, he is informing us that the glorious armor of Almighty God himself is now available by grace to every Christian. We read about that armor in this morningís Old Testament Lesson: "For [God] hath put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance [justice] for clothing, and was clad with zeal as with a cloke" (Is. 59:17). 

It is important for us to understand, then, that St. Paulís commandment presupposes that the grace of God has lifted every Christian to a new dignity in Christ that was impossible for the people of the Old Testament, even as a Chosen People. The members of Christ are now fellow warriors with God himself in the cause of salvation and truth, and, thus, St. Paul can say to every single Christian in particular:

Stand therefore, 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; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which the is word of God: praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel...(Ephesians 6: 14-19).

It is equally important for us modern Christians to recognize that we tend to visualize a different kind of armor from what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote about "Godís armor." We hear the word "armor," and we immediately think of the days of chivalry, of men on horseback, dressed in metal suits. But chivalry came into the world hundreds of years after St. Paulís martyrdom, so "knights in shining armor" cannot be the image he is using to teach us about effective Christian living. In fact, without being mind readers, we can know exactly what kind of armor St. Paul meant. The Greek word he uses for "the whole armor" is "panoply," a technical term for the complete equipment of a particular type of soldier: the Greek hoplite.

The Greek hoplite wasnít a remote, isolated aristocrat riding on a horse. He was a foot soldier, a heavy infantryman, and not a knight; but he was the backbone of the Greek armies in the heyday of Greek civilization. The hoplite was the military means of Greek self-rule. He was also the highest human expression of the Greek principle of self-government.

For, you see, the hoplite was a "citizen-soldier." The purchase, ownership, and maintenance of his armor and other military equipment were his personal investment in his own freedom. His willingness to fight was exactly what made him a citizen in the first place; and in comparison to the slave soldiers of other nations, inside his heavy armor he was a "human tank", always advancing, always closing with the enemy, always trying to bring his sword or spear to bear. He had to advance, once he took the field, since his armor provided no protection in the retreat. His back was essentially uncovered, and retreat meant destruction.

Furthermore, the hoplite didnít fight alone, as he placed his life on the line to purchase his vote, his precious franchise and citizenship, even at the price of his blood. He couldnít fight alone, since his armor required him to fight in mass armies, with his fellow citizen-soldiers at his side, shoulder to shoulder in a huge formation called "the phalanx," which meant in Greek that they became together the "finger" of their nation, since each man was joined as closely to the other as the joints of a finger. And there were only two orders every hoplite needed to remember: advance against the enemy and protect the man at your side.

Now the connection between this sort of soldier and the true, practicing Christian ought to be obvious. God makes us free men and free women by grace, the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven; and he provides us with the whole spiritual armor necessary to fight in his cause. Our persistent, unyielding, united warfare in Godís own cause is, above all else, our perfect freedomó the only true freedom there is. And we must be ready to fight the world, the flesh, and the devil: to war against apathy, passivity, and disbelief every day of our lives, in order to remain free of them. Just as those ancient Greeks fought for their earthly kingdoms, we must exercise our rights and duties as the citizens-by-grace of the Kingdom of God, if we intend to keep them. 

Anything less will have the same effect on us as withdrawing from the battle would have had on an army of ancient Greek hoplites. Running from the field will get us slaughtered. Abandoning the fellow soldier on our right or on our left will be adjudged an act of treason by our King. We will lose both our citizenship and our lives. And even if we do survive, at least for a time, we will be forced to face the tragic, awful truth that the opposite of the citizen-soldier in Godís army is not the non-combatant or the pacifist, but the slave.

Spiritual warfare means working, praying, and struggling together, united in the Body of Christ. We are called to be the "phalanx," the "finger" of divine grace at work in the world, pursuing the utter defeat of the devil, not just in our own lives, but in our life together as the Church. We canít stand, each of us on our own. But we can stand together; and we are called by God to be the final protection of every faithful Christian. Otherwise, we will be nothing, and our individual efforts will come to nothing, for God has given us in his own Name the hopliteís orders: advance against the enemy and protect the man at your side.

On a larger scale, St. Paul intends us to understand that if there is going to be a Christian civilization, it must be founded on the Christian equivalent of the hoplite. Godís loving grace, at work in the lives of his people and actively embraced by them, has the power to build a civilization that will reveal the empires of the Greeks and Romans, and of every earthly power, as pitiful, ungainly, unartistic, illiterate, and most of all transitory, because they were not founded on a redeeming fellowship with God.

We all know that we live in a time of social change and instability, and so our dedication to spiritual warfare in the Name of God must be stronger than ever. St. Paul charged the Corinthians in just this way, commanding them to "[Cast] down imaginations [or "arguments" or "wasteful disputations] and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God,...bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). 

Modern spiritual warfare has been less than successful because too many who have called themselves "Christians" have made little effort to bring their every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. Others have actually resisted the efforts of the soldiers at their side to remind them of their duty. The Word of God, perfectly and exclusively available in the Bible, is the Constitution of Christianity. It takes little imagination to foresee the fate of an army made up of soldiers who take the field debating the constitution of the country they claim to serve. What is worse, we too often judge our success or failure, whether as human beings or as the Church, by the standards of the world, by the private standards we choose for ourselves. But once we take this position, we are no longer a part of Christís army. We go over to the other side, wittingly or not, ignoring St. Paulís warning, "For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth" (2 Cor. 10:18).

Victory is sweet, but victory is always bought at a price, chiefly at the price of doing those duties that go against our natural inclinations in a disciplined way. Victory is never free. Just ask those Christian soldiers, gathered now around the throne of God. They have won their victories over sin and self, giving their lives to God that they might receive them again at his hand, as the perfect, glorious tokens of their spiritual conquest. These victors, whom we call "saints," did not achieve a salvation that suited their private needs or wants. They achieved the only salvation that exists: as surely as they answered Godís call to battle on earth, they stand in victorious fellowship with God, Christ, and the saints forever. 

It is, moreover, the same salvation that we need, if we are to be saved at all. And so we must put on the whole armor of God at his command, and under his orders, we must stand by the brethren at our right and our left until the Lord returns and all our appointed battles are won. 
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.