THOUGHTS FROM EPHESIANS

45 THE SHIELD OF FAITH

A meditation on Ephesians 6:16.

 

The soldier’s shield measured about 120cm by 75cm. The ‘flaming arrows’ were arrows with burning tips. 

The role of the ‘shield of faith’ is to extinguish the burning arrows fired by the evil one. This ‘faith’ which extinguishes the enemy’s burning arrows should not be seen only or simply as our faith with which we believe, but, as the Greek text says ‘the faith’ – that is, the content of our faith. It is what we believe, the one in whom we believe, that gives to our act of faith any power or effectiveness. The value of faith is not in itself but in its object.

We can observe the importance of the object of faith right through the scriptures. In the Old Testament it is not believing that is important, but believing in the one who alone is God. In John’s gospel it is not believing that brings salvation, but believing in Jesus Christ the Son of God. For this reason Paul instructs us to ‘stand firm in the faith’, to ‘be strengthened in the faith’, to ‘hold unswervingly to the hope we profess’ [1 Corinthians 16:13, Colossians 2:7, Hebrews 10:23], and Peter tells us to resist the devil, ‘standing firm in the faith’ [1 Peter 5:9].

Faith that knows that Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be, and that he did what he did for us, is the kind of faith that will shield us from the enemy’s attacks. If we are unsure or uncertain here at this foundational level then we have no real reason not to sin when we are tempted, and no real reason to persist in our faith when the pressure to give it up gets hot. 

It is evident that all the items of the armour go together. This sure certain confidence can only be grounded on the truth, the first item of armour mentioned. Thus John Calvin comments:

‘Now all that is attributed to faith is thereby denied to men. For faith borrows all things needful from God’s pure grace and liberality. Therefore let us note carefully that in this passage St Paul meant to humble us and to show us that God must provide us with all things belonging to and requisite to our victory. And therefore those who make themselves shields to repulse Satan of the other bulwarks that can be devised, they shall have but a spider’s web (as they say) and Satan will only laugh at their presumption, insomuch that when they imagine they have all the mountains of the world to fortify them, that will profit them nothing at all in their need. Wherefore let us learn to make faith our buckler, that is to say, when we intend to enter into the battle and to persist in it, let us consider that we have God as our Father, because of his own infinite goodness he has chosen and elected us to be his children.

'Seeing he has given us his promise that he will always be on our side, and that he is greater than all the world, and that he has put us in good and safe keeping by ordaining our Lord Jesus Christ to be our shepherd, let us gather all these promises together and make a shield of them to set before us at all times, and whenever we are assailed. And let us defy the devil, because we are in the protection of our God, who is of invincible power, and because our Lord Jesus Christ has taken upon him the charge of our salvation (John 17:12) and promised to be a faithful keeper of our souls to the end. When we are once at that point, then we shall beat back the darts of the devil. For on the one hand he will labour to make us distrust God’s grace, and on the other hand, he will make us believe that our Lord Jesus Christ is far from us, and even tempt us to murmur against him, or to raise trifling and unprofitable questions, or else blasphemies, and similar things. And all these are darts.’ [John Calvin: Sermons on Ephesians,  p 672,673, Banner of Truth, 1973]

Let us then be obedient to the Word of God, and take up this shield of 'the faith', with our confidence not in the fact that we believe, but in him in whom we believe.

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2006, 2011