Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The shield of faith - its meaning and applications

20130412-181755.jpgEphesians 6:16 "in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."

Today we consider once again the subject of the believer's spiritual armor. Earlier this year I wrote a post on the first pieces of the spiritual armor, and thus I invite the reader to review the thoughts that were written for sake of reference:

Out of all the pieces of the spiritual armor mentioned in Ephesians 6:10-18, the shield of faith is the largest. Additionally, out of all the armaments listed in that text, the shield of faith functions most directly in defending the Christian soldier in the spiritual warfare of faith and life. Today's post aims to explore and apply what Paul means by "the shield of faith" in Ephesians 6:16.

The shield and enemy darts in times of war
So what purpose did the shield serve in times of ancient warfare? James M. Freeman writes in "Manners and Customs of the Bible", pages 462-463: "There were darts, however, sometimes used in ancient warfare that were literally 'fiery.' They were hollow reeds filled with naphtha or some other combustible material, and, being set on fire, were shot from slack bows. Whatever the arrows struck, the flames consumed. Water served to increase their violence; they could only be distinguished by being covered with earth. Large shields were used by the soldiers against whom these 'fiery darts' were thrown, and thus their persons were protected." Adam Clarke in his commentary on the shields and darts notes: It is probable that the apostle alludes to the darts called "flarkica", which were headed with lead, in or about which combustible stuff was placed that to fire in the passage of the arrow through the air, and often burnt up the enemy's engines, ships, etc; they were calculated also to stick in the shields and catch them on fire. Some think that poisoned arrows may be intended, which are called fiery from the burning heat produced in the bodies of those who were wounded by them. To quench or extinguish such fiery darts the shields were ordinarily covered with metal on the outside, and thus the fire was prevented from catching hold of the shield. 

As can be seen in the above photograph, the shields used by Roman soldiers would had provided ample and perhaps the only defense against the fiery darts mentioned in Ephesians 6:16 and pictured below:

The shield of faith as a theme through the Bible. Taking up the shield of faith means.....

Confidence in God
I find it interesting that the very first mention of the term "shield" in the Bible has to do with a spiritual context. In Genesis 15:1 we read God saying to Abraham, the father of faith: After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you;
Your reward shall be very great.” God as the believer's defense or "shield" is developed extensively in the scriptures. Psalm 56:3 reads - "
When I am afraid,I will put my trust in You. 4 In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?" The Psalmist repeats this same refrain in Psalm 56:11 and then in Hebrews 13:6 we see these words echoed: "
so that we confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?”' Hence when we speak of the shield of faith as being composed of "the faith", we are referring to the gifting of God given at salvation and continually given to believers that persuades them to trust God's revelation in Jesus Christ in the scriptures. Thus to take up the shield of faith first of all means we have confidence in God. 

Choosing the invisible over the visible
To take up the shield of faith in the scriptures secondly refers to choosing what is unseen vs what is seen. Faith by its very nature is the "substance of things hoped for, the certain of things not yet seen." (Hebrews 11:1) Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 - "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Colossians 3:4 states -  "Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth." In Hebrews 11:24-27 we read of Moses -  "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, 26 considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen." The famous "faith chapter" of Hebrews 11 closes out with these words in Hebrews 11:34 - "quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."

The great preacher of times past, D. Martin Lloyd Jones, in his book: Faith on Trial - studies in Psalm 73, points to how faith in what is "not seen" is not just a matter of the heart, but a way of understanding: "Let us never forget that the message of the Bible is addressed primarily to the mind, to the understanding. There is nothing about the Gospel that is more satisfying than this. It does not merely give me an experiences; it enables me to understand life. I have knowledge; I have understanding; I know. I can "give a reason" for the hope that is in me. I do not ,merely say that "whereas I was blind, now I see', without knowing why or how. I know; I can give reason for the hope that is within me." Jones is commenting on a disillusioned man by the name of Asaph who had been discouraged by what he "saw" with his physical eyes in Psalm 73. However it was not until he entered into the temple that his second set of spiritual eyes, the "eyes of faith" were readjusted to conclude that the wicked man's end was approaching quickly. Jones notes: "Thank God that this man when he went into the sanctuary of God found an explanation." 

So to take up the shield of faith means to have confidence in God and to choose the unseen over the seen. Then note finally the result....

Continuing victory
When you and I choose to take up and carry along the shield of faith versus trusting in our own understanding, we establish a track record of faithfulness and thus victory. Romans 8:37 - "But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." Hebrews 11:33 plainly states - "who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions."  1 John 5:4-5 states - "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"

Today we consider the meaning and applications of the "shield of faith" in Ephesians 6:16. We looked at the idea of a shield in antiquity, and then laid out three spiritual applications from a survey of the Bible with regards to the meaning of "the shield of faith":
1. Confidence in God
2. Choosing the invisible over the visible
3. Continuing victory

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