This Sunday our Epistle Reading again finds us being taught and encouraged by the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians. In particular, we find Paul using the imagery of armor to paint a picture for us of our relationship with God (Ephesians 6:10-20). Prior to giving us this memorable analogy, St. Paul challenges us to strive towards the unity that is to exist in the church and describes how that unity should be maintained by one’s use of the Gifts of the Spirit and in the way in which we live our lives. In particular, we are to be imitators of God, both in our avoidance of moral depravity and in our pursuit of Godly character, and we are to achieve this Godly character by observing the life of Christ and modeling our lives after His holy example.
As Christians we are given a mandate to be imitators of God in all aspects of and relationships in our lives. This is not an easy task and we can expect resistance, both internally from our own motivations and our propensity towards selfishness and pride, and externally from a world that is content to exist in the chaos of self-promotion and scapegoating. We can expect, therefore, an amount of tension in our lives between how we are tempted to live and how we are expected to live. In light of this tension, St. Paul urges us to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (6:10) and to realize that we are not simply engaged in a physical struggle, but are embroiled in a spiritual battle against the Devil and his minions (6:11-12). As a result, we cannot expect to succeed based on our own physical might but instead need “the whole armor of God” (6:13-17).
If this were merely a physical battle we may be able to rely on our own physical prowess, cunning logic, strength of will, steadfastness of thought, or conditioned responses to ensure we refrain for submission to the temptation. This is not simply a physical battle, though, but is instead a spiritual battle. If we rely on our own physical and mental capacities alone to withstand the temptations of the devil we cannot hope to succeed in imitating God. Rather, we need to rely upon the help that comes from submission to the Holy Spirit as we pray for His protection, with such prayer being not only for ourselves but for each other (6:18). Even St. Paul acknowledges his own need for the prayers of his fellow Christians so that he can maintain boldness in the face of persecution (6:19-20); how much more then do you and I need to seek the prayers of others?
This is the Christian life. It is a life that is lived not for ourselves but for others. It is a life that is patterned after the self-sacrifice, humility, compassion, forgiveness, love, and holiness of the incarnate Son of God himself. It is also a life that cannot be lived divorced from the support of the unified Body of Christ, the church. We need each other. We need to pray for each other. We need to support each other. This requires a two-way street of trust as we not only need to be available to stand alongside those in need but also to be transparent and vulnerable with others for them to see our needs so they can stand alongside us.
This armor of God does not make us island fortresses that are isolated from each other, but should urge us to stand alongside each other, guarding each other from our unique weaknesses as we allow our unique strengths and gifts to be used by God, through the Holy Spirit, to help each other better imitate the example of Christ. May we each develop a fervent desire to pray not only for our own spiritual fortitude, but also for the spiritual protection of each other, so that the unity of the church may be advanced and the image of God may be projected into the chaos and darkness of the world around us.
(as published in St. Luke's Weekly Newsletter, 8/22/18)