THE SHIELD OF FAITH

EPHESIANS 6:16

 

Play Audio

                                                   

            Ten years have passed since that fateful day, and most of us have gotten on with our lives.  But will we ever be able to simply go on?  Something changed that September day that will never simply go away.

            We now know that we are vulnerable.  We now know that the threats of terror are no longer a half a world away.  We now know things change — and not always for the better.   We now know that evil exists.  Can that person sitting next to us on the plane be trusted?  Things are different now.

            So the question is, how can we live triumphantly in a terror-stricken world? Perhaps a prisoner of war by the name of Paul can help us.  In the last chapter of Ephesians this old soldier of the cross declares war on evil.  He advises Christians to get dressed for battle.  His military metaphors sound offensive to those of us who no longer sing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  To be perfectly honest, I would much rather preach a sermon that invites you to a party than to talk today about preparing for battle. But like I said, things are different now.  So let us listen to the instructions of this prisoner of ancient times.

 

            Read Ephesians 6:10-16

 

            Today we turn our attention to the fourth piece of armor we are to put on ... well, in this case carry more than put on, the shield of faith. 

            There were two shields that a Roman soldier commonly used.  He used one type of shield for ceremonies and military parades, and the other type of shield for battle.  This shield was a small round shield that was primarily a decorative piece of equipment. It was decorated with all kinds of etchings, engravings and was beautiful to see. Although this shield was very beautiful to see, it was never used in battle for it was just too small.  This shield offered little to no protection for the soldiers who carried them because they were not designed for battle but for show.  It’s the shield Peter carried through the gospels, not through the Book of Acts, but through the gospels.

             Remember the disciple Peter?  Peter, in his early days, talked a big game even going so far as to brag to Jesus that he was willing to go to jail and die with him.  During the gospels, he was toting a ceremonial faith shield.  Why do I say this? Because when Christ was arrested, Peter’s response demonstrated that his faith was not as strong as even he had thought it was.  The faith that he had was not able to protect him and he ended up denying that he even knew Christ.  But then, in the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit, on the Day of Pentecost, outfitted Peter with a battle shield.  That’s the type of shield Paul encourages us to put on.

            A battle shield much larger than a ceremonial shield.   You can see one on the back of your bulletin.  The battle shield attached to a clip on a soldier’s belt when not in use.  This kept the shield readily at hand in case he needed it quickly.  These military shields were made of wood, covered on the outside with thick leather, which deadened the shock of an arrow or a sword.

            These shields were extremely tough and exceptionally durable. Because the Roman soldier’s shields were made of leather, it was important for the soldiers to take good care of them.  Each morning when the soldier awakened, he would reach for his shield, and would also reach for a small vial of oil.  After saturating a piece of cloth with oil, he would begin to rub a heavy ointment of oil into the leather portion of the shield to keep it soft, supple and pliable. If a soldier failed to provide this type of care for his shield, it could mean certain death in battle for the shield would dry out become hard, stiff and brittle.  The other thing that the soldiers did to protect the shield, and themselves, was to soak their shields in water before going into battle.  They soaked their shields in water until the shields were completely saturated with the water. They did this because their enemies would shoot arrows that carried fire.  By saturating the shields with water, even if those dangerous flaming arrows hit, they were extinguished upon impact by the wet surface of the Roman shield.

            This morning as we consider this next piece of spiritual armor I want to address two questions:  what are flaming arrows of the evil one and how does faith extinguish them?

            That Paul would describe them as fiery darts alerts us to the fact that they are very troublesome and dangerous.  Imagine a soldier who is seriously burned by one of these arrows.  There are few injuries as painful and incapacitating as a burn injury; and an ancient soldier both respected and feared flaming arrows.  Likewise we need to have a healthy respect and fear of them as well.  

            But what are these arrows like?  Of what do they consist?  The puritan William Gurnall suggests that these flaming arrows can be easily divided into two main categories, namely, those temptations which are very appealing to us and those temptations which frighten us.  Now at first glance, we may wonder why temptations which appeal to our flesh would be described as “flaming arrows.”   William Gurnall put it this way,  “Satan’s enticing temptations have a fiery quality in them.  They have an inflaming quality.  There is a secret disposition in the heart of all to all sin.  Temptation doth not fall on us as a ball of fire on ice or snow, but as a spark on tinder, or as lightning on a thatched roof.”

            The image is vivid and striking. Temptation does not fall on us as a ball of fire on ice and snow, but a spark on tinder, or lightning on a thatched roof.  There are times, of course, when a certain temptation does fall on us as a ball of fire on ice and snow.  We simply do not respond to the temptation.  But there are times when our hearts are like dry tinder that flares up the instant the dart of temptation strikes!  The heart is aflame with the passion of sin.  Think of David.  Committing adultery and murder was probably the last thing on his mind that terrible evening when he left his bedroom to walk on the palace roof.  Had you talked to him a half hour earlier that evening, I’m quite certain that he would have denounced adultery and murder as terrible sins which he had no intentions of committing.  But as he was walking on the palace roof, he was struck by one of the devil’s fiery darts.  He saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful to behold; and David’s heart was instantly ablaze with the fire of lust and passion —- like a pile of tinder instantly engulfed in the flame.

            And absolutely every one of us knows what this is like?  Every one of us has been hit on more than one occasion with these fiery darts of temptation.  We were minding our own business not realizing or paying attention to the fact that our hearts were like a pile of dry tinder just waiting to be set ablaze by some fiery dart of temptation.  The arrow strikes and immediately our heart is engulfed in the flames of greed, or lust, or the sinful desire to bend someone’s ear with a juicy piece of gossip.

            And we could easily multiply the examples of fiery arrows that enflame our desire. They are almost endless, but what about those temptations that frighten us?  At first that may strike us as a little odd.  It’s not very often that we think of temptations which frighten us.  So what are we talking about here?

            Well, how about the temptation to doubt God’s existence?  Now it’s quite likely that we recoil from this a bit because the very thought of doubting God’s existence is so utterly abhorrent to us, but bear in mind that what we’re talking about is Satan’s fiery arrows.  Let me ask you a question.  Has it ever happened to you, while you were struggling under some heavy burden or deep sorrow, that you were suddenly, out of the blue, tempted to question God’s existence — troubled by the thought that God’s existence might have been made up by men seeking to get through life?

            Well, the point that I want to emphasize here is that we must recognize this temptation to doubt God’s existence comes to us as a fiery arrow from the Old Redlegs.  It is fiery because it troubles us.  The very fact the thought even crossed our minds frightens us.  It causes us to question whether or not we’re even a true Christian, because surely a true Christian would never have such a thought, right? 

            Another fiery arrow that may frighten us is the temptation to blasphemy.  Again, we recoil from this because the sin of blasphemy is so abhorrent to us, but we must not pretend that we are somehow immune to this temptation when so many of God’s dear people have been subjected to it.  Perhaps the most obvious case of a man tempted to blaspheme God is that of Job.  In this case, of course, the devil used Job’s wife as the instrument of temptation, but that, in some respects, made the temptation all the more difficult for Job to resist.  It is one thing if a stranger tempts us to sin, but quite another if our most intimate partner in life tempts us. “Curse God and die,” she said to Job at the moment of his greatest suffering.

            And we may not ever see ourselves being tempted to actually “Curse God.”  We may not be tempted to overtly blaspheme God, but there are other more subtle ways that the devil may tempt us to blaspheme God.  For example, have we ever had a hard thought about God?   Have we ever, in a time of intense suffering, been tempted to question God’s love or faithfulness towards us?  Again, it’s important to recognize that these are fiery arrows — arrows designed to frighten us — flaming arrows the devil shoots at us in order to confuse us and vex our souls with doubts about whether or not we are a child of God at all.  How could a good, valid Christian ever entertain thoughts like this?

            Fiery arrows.  Sometimes we’re hit by one lonely arrow, and sometimes by a barrage of arrows in rapid sequence, but the purpose is always the same — to set our souls ablaze with sin, doubt, confusion and despair.  But thank God, in Jesus Christ, there is a sure defense against these flaming arrows — the shield of faith.  Which leads us to our second question:  How does faith extinguish these arrows? How does faith extinguish fiery arrows that are meant to inflame or frighten us? 

            Well, first and foremost, faith gives us the ability to see sin for what it is.  Faith, in a manner of speaking, pulls the mask off of sin, and allows us to see the true face behind it; and what we see serves as a deterrence to sin.  By faith, we understand the corruptive power of sin — that giving in to sin once just makes it all the easier the next time around, and that sin initially tastes sweet, but leaves a bitter, bitter aftertaste.   Sin turns us into everything we do not want to be:  shallow, dishonest, doubtful, disingenuous,   Faith unmasks the fiery arrow for what it is.

            But even more than that, faith reminds us of the love our our lives, Jesus Christ, and all he has done for us, and so, when tempted with sin, we say  “How can I do this thing and betray him or hurt him?”  Of course, there have been times, maybe many times, when we have failed to lift our shield of faith, and the fiery darts of temptation have hit their mark.  With that flaming arrow lodged in our hearts and minds, we fell into sin; but the fact remains, nevertheless, we are no strangers to the right employment of this shield.  We know how it is used; and have, in fact, used it many times to extinguish these flaming arrows of temptation.

            Any Trekkies here today.  Remember when the USS Enterprise was attacked and Captain Kirk would say, “Shields.”  The next time we realize Old Redlegs has shot one of his arrows, let’s remember to raise our shields and say,  “Ah, I know what this is.  This is one of Satan’s flaming arrows, and I know what to do.  I look to you, Lord, for deliverance and protection. Help me now. Be Thou my shield. Help me to remember your love and faithfulness in Jesus Christ; and help me to believe all your promises by which this flaming arrow of temptation will be extinguished and rendered harmless in my life.”