God’s Armor for Us: the Shield (20)
“Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ephesians 6:16
Fiery darts! Who shall stand in this war against an enemy with arrows that drip with the angry fires of hellish unbelief, selfishness, worldliness, pride, and lust? The Christian soldier armed with the shield of faith, he shall stand! Only he shall stand. Learning war is learning to take the shield.
The activity of taking the shield
The inspired apostle continues his catalogue of the armor of God in Ephesians 6 by describing the shield of faith. He begins, “Above all…,” which means, “over all” or “on top of all.” On the feet are sandals, on the waist a girdle, and on the chest the breastplate. Over it all as a second covering is the shield. The Roman soldier’s shield was not a small buckler comparable in size to an automobile steering wheel, but was large and rectangular, by some estimates four feet tall by two and a half feet wide. Designed to be as lightweight as possible, it was still solid, made of wood and either wrapped in a thin layer of metal or animal skins and sometimes slicked with oil. Over all the body armor the soldier would take this shield in one hand, and with a sword in the other, march forward amid a barrage of fiery aerial assassins. Marching together with shields side by side, the Roman army could create a wall of protection for advancement.
Spiritually, the shield of faith is the shield that is faith. Faith here is not first of all the content of faith (our doctrines) but the activity of faith (our believing and trusting). Even as the physical soldier takes up the shield to protect his whole body in the heat of battle, we must exercise our faith for the protection of our heart from the darts of Satan.
From all eternity God determined to bestow the gift of faith as a shield upon His elect people in Jesus Christ. When we sinners are begotten again and sovereignly grafted into our living Savior, we receive all the benefits of salvation, including the ability to believe and trust in God and His word. Faith then is the powerful, conscious activity of the believer whereby he holds for truth all that God has revealed in His Word, confidently persuaded that the promises thereof are for him personally.
Faith fixes itself on the Word of God and says about everything in it, “Truth!” About the creation of the world in six days, or the virgin birth of Christ, or the everlasting punishment of sinners in hell, or the command to be holy, or the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, the believer says, “Truth!” More specifically, faith fixes itself upon the gracious promises of God’s Word and says, “They are true, and true for me!” About God’s particular promise to His people, “I sent my Son to cover all your sins,” or “For Jesus’ sake, though you be troubled, you will not be distressed, though perplexed, not in despair, though persecuted, not forsaken, though cast down, not destroyed,” or “Because you are grafted into Jesus Christ you shall never be stolen away into the camp of Satan to die there an unbeliever separated from My love,” faith says, “All these promises are true, and true for me!” Believing the promises, the believer clings to Christ Jesus Himself.
How powerful is faith! When everything is going well and the circumstances feel favorable on the battle field, but also when it appears that our sure destruction is imminent, we put our trust in God and walk by faith not by sight. When the whole world taunts a man as mad because it has never rained and he is building what he calls a boat, the man keeps building because God said, “A flood is coming.” When a childless one-hundred-year-old man living in a dead body and married to a ninety-year-old wife with a dead womb hears God’s promise, “You shall be a father of nations, having seed as many as the stars of heaven in multitude,” he staggers not in unbelief, but takes God at His word. Faith is the most remarkable power operating under the sun. It is the very power of its author Jesus Christ.
Faith is our shield, and we take it up when we consciously place our trust in God’s Word. Necessary for taking up the shield is the preaching of the holy gospel, which the Holy Ghost uses to work faith, the sacraments to confirm faith, meaningful personal devotions with the Bible to inform and strengthen faith, and fellowship and studies with fellow believing soldiers to sharpen faith. Not to be overlooked are good songs. The ditties and jams of the ungodly contaminate the soul with greed and lust and eat away at faith, while the weightier spiritual songs of God’s Word settle in our hearts, and the Spirit uses them to strengthen our confidence and joy in God.
To take up the shield of faith is to apply God’s Word to any temptation and threat believing God’s Word of truth instead of what sin deceitfully promises. And believing what God says, we shall stand. Taking our shields together and marching side by side, we are the church of the living God advancing victoriously.
The urgent need of the shield
Our fearsome foe makes the use of the shield urgent. The apostle states, “…wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” “The wicked” refers to Satan. The Bible calls Satan “the wicked one.” Everything about him is wicked.
He has fiery darts or arrows. Like some enemies of the Roman soldier who shot their arrows dipped in a combustible substance and set afire, the devil has fiery arrows or temptations. Should one of these arrows hit the Christian soldier, it could potentially explode and set his passions aflame with hellish desires.
This is real. This is no sport. This is warfare. Satan lurks at work, at school, at church, at home, on vacation, when we have devotions, and when we are holding our cellphone. His craft is great, for his temptations do not come as big battering rams lugged by grunting brutes, but as subtle arrows—flying silently and swiftly as they burn. His wicked purpose as the wicked foe of God is to set our soul on fire with the desires of hell so that we deny God and sin against God until we finally burn in hell.
How urgent that we take the shield of faith and wield it so that the fiery darts are extinguished upon contact or are deflected and fall harmlessly to the ground!
Sexual lust is the most lethal fiery dart, for the Bible speaks of it as burning. I Corinthians 7:9 teaches, “But if they [the unmarried] cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” Proverbs 7 warns against the fool who walks by the house of the strange woman. She comes out to meet him in her seductive dress in the twilight of the evening, kisses him, and draws him into the house. We read in vv. 22–23, “He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; till a dart strike through his liver.”
The devil once used a wicked woman—the wife of Potiphar—to shoot darts at faithful Joseph in Potiphar’s house. That woman cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” He refused until finally she made bold and tried to force him. He fled. Maybe “Lie with me” was not her first move. Perhaps she began with a look— like an arrow coming quietly and quickly through the air. One look. There it was. Joseph had no way to know it was coming. He was not wishing for it. He was busy working, and all of a sudden she cast a seductive glance. Maybe a few days later she said nothing, but deliberately paraded past Joseph in seductive apparel. Joseph had no time to prepare. Then came the bold petition, “Lie with me.” Each move was a fiery arrow of the devil, a temptation designed to ignite blazing lust in Joseph’s heart with the thought process, “No one is around. No one will know. It will be so satisfying,” so that he would go after her as an ox to the slaughter.
Joseph stood in the evil day because he had taken the shield of faith, as must every one of us, whether single, dating, or married, and anywhere we may be, in the car, at work, or with access to the Internet. Joseph had the shield of faith in hand, took it up, and said in his heart, “I believe my God is holy and commands me to be holy! I believe in my God who forbids me to wound myself, dishonor Him, or give occasion to the Egyptians to mock Him. I believe God has saved me to be separate from these sins. I believe that the pure in heart are blessed and shall see God and shall enjoy pleasures forevermore at His right hand!” Quenched! Joseph believed in the God who warns that lust leads to death and promises that in the way of faithfulness there is blessing for the Savior’s sake. Joseph believed, and the fruit of his faith was his obedience in fleeing for his soul-life. Had Joseph not taken the shield of faith, a fiery arrow would have found a chink in his armor, pierced him, and exploded in detestable lust.
Is Potiphar’s wife at your work, on your campus, or on your phone? Of course she is. Diligently attend the chief means of grace and live prayerfully by faith in God’s Word which you read in the morning; and may the fruit of your faith be the obedience to go out of your way to avoid her or block her.
There are so many kinds of fiery arrows in Satan’s arsenal. When an upsetting situation occurs, Satan tempts us to become hot in anger and lash out, behave unruly, or curse in our hearts. Taking the shield we quench the anger-arrow saying, “I believe God’s Word. Anger is sin. He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty. Jesus died to deliver me from the sin of anger. The Lord will help me let this trouble pass and look for the positives in it.”
Satan pressures us to doubt the Reformed faith we were taught from youth and to begin to make minor doctrinal compromises. He hopes that he can eventually kindle within us a raging fire of hatred for God Himself. Taking the shield of faith, we quench those fiery darts, saying, “I believe God’s Word!” Then we refer to those passages and creedal statements upon which our faith was built from childhood’s earliest days.
So many flaming arrows of jealousy are let loose by Satan to ignite within us a burning lust for another soldier’s looks, honor, position, or status. That arrow is quenched by the shield of faith, “I believe my covenant Friend abhors jealousy. He gave to each member a place in the body and different gifts that there should be no schism through jealousy but that the members have the same care one for another. I trust Him and rest in His perfect wisdom in making me as He did.”
The sky is always full of projectiles dripping with the flames of impatience. The youth expect instant results, instant replies to text messages, or the instant posting of grades by the professor. If impatience is not quenched, it grows and becomes a fire of unbelief that culminates in impatience for Christ, with the result that one scoffs at the idea of His near return. By faith we confess, “But my God shall supply all my need according to His riches by glory in Christ Jesus,” and the impatience is quenched.
Many are the fiery darts of the perfectionism of pride, which can explode in the soul and create the fire of anxiety. It has been said that young people in the world are excessively self-critical and more obsessed with perfection than many previous generations were. Young people put tremendous pressure upon themselves to be and look just perfect. Social-media has exacerbated this perfectionism (pride) as the youth are constantly being evaluated. They want to measure up. They rarely do. Anxiety results. We take the shield and say, “God loves me.” Say that, “God loves me.” Do you know how amazing that is? God—the eternal, transcendent God who is greater than the universe He made—He loves us. Live by faith in that knowledge.
Together we fight. Like the army marching behind a wall of shields aligned side by side, we fight together as the church militant against all the iniquities and heresies of Satan. When a comrade is struck and falls, we pick him up and exhort him to take up his shield of faith, believing in the pardon of the gospel and the power of the Spirit. We encourage each other to believe and to look to the cross, where all the fires of God’s wrath against us were extinguished for us. Without the shield of faith the battle will soon be over, you and I will quickly fall injured and die. Standing all alone on the battlefield, we are no match for Satan’s fiery arrows.
The certain victory with the shield
We will take the shield and we will believe because we belong to the Lord, the Author and Finisher of our faith. Taking up the shield of faith, we have certain victory. Ephesians 6:16, “Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.” Ye shall be able! Ye shall have the power to! There has never been another shield in the history of warfare about which it can be said, “No man has ever succumbed to defeat with this shield in hand.” But faith is the victory that overcomes the world (I John 5:4). Indeed, faith is above all in importance. For without faith we cannot believe in the gospel of peace (sandals), cannot believe in the righteousness of Christ (breastplate), and cannot believe in the truth (girdle). Above all, we take the shield of faith. This shield is not the feeble and flawed armor of man and his works, but the impenetrable armor of God Himself. Psalm 3:3, “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” With God as his shield, the soldier will victoriously exit the battlefield one day and be taken up into glory where Christ has a crown for him.