Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/20/00
In our study of the spiritual armor that allows us to stand firm in the battle for the kind of Christianity and Church we have seen in Ephesians--in which it is about God and His glory before it is about me--we come today to the combat boots: "Having your feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace." We must ask, first, how footgear functioned in ancent warfare,and then, how does the Gospel of Peace perform those functions for us today?
In ancient warfare the function of the Roman caliga, the war-sandal, was first to protect the foot and therefore make long, swift marches possible."Battles are won by movement and fire," said Patton. With both Alexanderthe Great and Julius Caesar, the ablity to make extraordinary forced marches was a key factor in their victories. "Luck follows speed," said BearBryant. This allows you to attack the enemy from directions and at times that he considers impossible; it keeps the initiative on your side and keeps him on the defensive. Second, the caliga was one of the first shoes to have cleats, which made it possible to stand firm in hand-to-hand combat when you got there. Before you can gain ground, you must first not yield it. Effective cut, thrust, and parry are impossible unless your footing is solid.
In spiritual warfare, the footgear is associated in v. 15 with preparation,which means readiness. For an army to be ready for battle it needs precisely what the caliga gave, mobility and stability. Mobility would mean that, rather than our just reacting to the world, wherever Satan turned he would find us already there. And stability means that he would find us not only there but dug in, ready for battle. In Homer's Iliad, Disaster flies with swift wings, but prayers limp on lame feet and always arrive only after Disaster has already been there. This may be a good description of pagan prayer, but it ought not to characterize the Christian soldier. We should be there first, making the enemy react to us. And Lee ought to be looking down from heaven and saying, "There's the Church standing like a stonewall."
In other words, the imagery of the footgear implies that the Church should be taking an aggressive posture, taking the battle to the enemy rather than hiding in our safe fortresses. So little do we have this mentality that we grossly misinterpret Scripture. Jesus said that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against us. When I hear this verse quoted, it is usually to emphasize that we are safe in Christ from Satan's attacks. But when was the last time you saw gates chasing soldiers across the battlefield? Gates in ancient and medieval warfare are a defensive weapon! And they would not keep the Church from overthrowing Satan's kingdom and reducing it to rubble if we would ever actually learn to use the spiritual armor.
How then does the Gospel of Peace give us this kind of readiness for attack? It is the Good News that Peace comes from God as a free gift by his grace. For peace is desparately lacking in our world. The harmony or peace of creation was destroyed by our rebellion at the Fall, replaced by strife that affects every area of life. First, we are at strife with God, whose holiness forces him to adopt the relation to us, not of Father, but of Judge because of our sins. Then we are at strife with Nature which started bringing forth thorns and thistles and forcing the sweat from our brows the moment we fell. Its benevolence survives, but it is also hostile to humanity now as well--it provides us with great beauty and many good things,but would just as soon drown us in a flood or blow us away in a tornado or swallow us in an earthquake or burn us up or freeze us to death--ask the people in Mozambique. And we have deserted our intended role as stewards of the earth so that we have produced an ecological crisis. When you reach my age you will become aware that your own body is rebelling against you, a rebellion that will eventually lead to your death. There is no peace between Man and Nature except in a fragmentary and momentary reminder of what ought to have been. Then we are at strife with our fellow man. From the national to the individual level, we are addicted to selfish and destructive behaviour patterns that poison our relationships as we keep using people instead of serving them. And above all, we are not at peace with ourselves. Peace is not something we know except by momentary and fragmentary glimpses, like the Dwarves view of the Elves feasting fires in Mirkwood.So we are subject to strife, and this strife cannot be resolved through human effort. How can it, when the source of it is within us? We are driven to search for peace, but it is out of our reach, and when we see it from afar we can get no traction on the slippery slope that stands in our way. But the Good News is that what we cannot acheive through our efforts God will grant us as a free gift through his grace, received simply by Faith. Jesus died for our sins so that He could do so, and therfore He is prepared to drop the charges of sin against us, erase the guilt which is the ultimate source of our own inner strife, and declare peace between us once again. We must simply believe that he has done this, confess that we need it, and accept it--in other words, we receive it by Faith. At that moment our hostility with God ceases immediately. If we really believe that our guilt is gone on that basis, then healing of our inner strife leading to inner peace can begin. And if that happens, we can begin working on restoring healthy relationships with others. At the Resurrection, peace will even be restored between us and Nature.
How does this produce readiness for battle? There is no firm place to stand, and no way to effectively engage the Enemy, as long as we are at war with ourselves. But peace with God means I can have one will, one agenda--His--and no longer be the double minded man who is unstable in all his ways. If from this gift of peace with God and myself peace with others flows as it should, then the Church can act as a team in coordinated movments. With the burden of guilt removed, we can walk with alacrity and stand with strength. And, at peace with God, we find that it is no longer we alone who fight: it is Christ in us that is the hope of glory, and faith the victory that overcomes the world. That is why Pilgrim, facing the much more powerful Apollyon, could say, "I am the King's messenger and am in the King's highway; and therefore, Apollyon, take heed to thyself!" Then let the Enemy look to his defenses indeed.
This is the Gospel; this is the Good News. It is the same thing we looked at last week from the standpoint of justification viewed from another angle. And it is not about me; it is about what God has done, it is about the riches of the glory of His grace. Do we want people to be able to hear it as Good News again? Then gird up your loins with Truth, strap on the Breastplate of Righteousness, and pull onto your feet the combat boots of the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace. And having done that, you will stand.
Here endeth the lesson.