“Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
So we come to the remaining items of armour from Paul’s analogy – the helmet and the sword. So far he has listed the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the Gospel of peace, and the shield of faith. He looks at his soldier companions in his prison cell, and wonders for a few moments about what the helmet achieves. It protects the soldier’s head from a blow that would otherwise kill him. The head contains the brain and it is particularly vulnerable to an enemy’s attack. So it is with us – our brains are where battles are fought and won or lost. In 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 we read, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ”. Paul had his finger on human thinking and behaviour when he wrote these words. He correctly noted that “human reasoning”, “false arguments” and “rebellious thoughts” are all strongholds. Places where our thinking can be trapped into an apparently indestructible state of falsehood. Our human minds can develop all sorts of tricks to tick all of Paul’s boxes. Consider the following scenario. A thought pops into our minds. But intuitively we know that what we are thinking is driven by our sinful natures, and in our minds we then go through thoughtful gyrations to try and rationalise that our resulting actions won’t be too bad, or that we can even repent of what we intend to do at a later time. Paul summed up our problem very well in Romans 7:23. “But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!”. Paul knew the value of the helmet of salvation. If we read on in Romans 7 and 8 we see how our salvation is essential to fending off these attacks.
The second weapon in this verse is the “sword of the Spirit”. This is the only offensive weapon mentioned by Paul, and it is extremely effective in fighting off the devil’s schemes. Again this morning I am conscious that the devil doesn’t want me to write these words because he knows the power that we have at our finger tips – the Word of God. In His temptation in the wilderness Jesus used His knowledge of the Scriptures to frustrate the devil’s onslaught. Three times Jesus refuted the devil’s temptations with references to Scripture and we read that because of this the devil finally left Him, for another “opportune time”. The devil has no defence against the Word of God. None at all. The Bible we have access to, wherever it is, on paper or on our smart phones, tablets or on-line, is a powerful weapon that should not be underestimated. A Roman soldier, if under physical attack, would not dream of not using his sword in some way. He would not forget it and leave it strapped to his side. With his shield and his sword, protected by all the other items of armour, he would have been a fearsome opponent in hand to hand combat.
One thing we should note. Our Roman soldier didn’t one day put on all his armour and become a warrior. He would go through a period of training. With fellow soldiers, they would have trained together to develop the combat skills needed. The skills needed were not automatically available. I’m reminded this morning about young David, in the passage in 1 Samuel 17. “Then Saul gave David his own armour—a bronze helmet and a coat of mail. David put it on, strapped the sword over it, and took a step or two to see what it was like, for he had never worn such things before. “I can’t go in these,” he protested to Saul. “I’m not used to them.” So David took them off again. He picked up five smooth stones from a stream and put them into his shepherd’s bag. Then, armed only with his shepherd’s staff and sling, he started across the valley to fight the Philistine“. David had never used the traditional armour and weapons of his day, so they were no good to him. However, he was equipped with a very effective weapon that he had trained himself to use. I can imagine that on many occasions he had taken his sling and lobbed stones at the equivalent of tin cans, in his days spent watching his father’s sheep. And we read that when wild animals turned up hoping for a tender, juicy, lamb steak, then they received some well-aimed missiles, hitting them in painful places, discouraging them from their endeavours. David’s response to King Saul was basically that he couldn’t fight the traditional way because he had not been trained.
The illustration of David is crucial to our journey as a pilgrim. Without being trained in the right way, we will inevitably fall by the wayside and never reach our promised destination. So we must read the Word of God, absorbing the Scriptures into our minds, getting used to our armour. Our training in the university of life constantly improves our skills. But occasionally we will be knocked down by the devil’s onslaughts. We will be bruised and battered. Full of remorse for not having done better in the fight. And we find that our loving Heavenly Father is there for us. He picks us up, dusts us off, forgives us and helps us on our way, loved and healed and ready for the next steps in our journey. What an amazing Father we have!