Have you ever read the Bible and seen something new, something you’ve never noticed before? You should, that is if you’re regularly reading the Bible, because it is living and active (Heb 4:12).
Recently our family finished part two of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s allegory of the Christian life. Knowing this someone gave our son an illustrated children’s work, which is very accessible yet without compromising the message.
As Christian carried on his journey to the Celestial City (Heaven) he entered the Valley of Humiliation, but he did so having just visited the Palace Beautiful (Church), being equipped with the sword of the Spirit (the Bible). In the Valley of Humiliation Christian knew he would face Apollyon (Satan). The book says, “Christian was terrified. He wondered if he should turn and run. But he had no armour protecting his back, and Apollyon could easily attack him there.” The chapter makes evident use of Eph 6 and the Armour of God. What struck me were those words, “But he had no armour protecting his back.”
In reading those words a thought crossed my mind; I had to look up Eph 6 to see if this was borne out. Is the armour there described in that way? Firstly, even though portions of a soldier’s armour described there wrapped around a soldiers body (e.g. the helmet and belt) all of the armour described is design with the soldier’s outward orientation in mind (i.e. facing the enemy). Though more advanced and later armour could protect a soldiers back (hence an interpretation of the old phrase “being stabbed in the back”), the backs of those bending legs and the back with the rotating shoulders were oh so hard to protect. So soldiers were safest when they maintained an outward orientation.
The Church, the Army of God pictured in Eph 6, is likewise to have the same orientation. When we forget to stand alert to Satan’s prowling’s (1 Pet 5) and become embroiled in needless internal squabbles about tertiary matters (or even mere opinions like the colour of the carpet) we very much end up looking like the Church in Eph 4, orientated inward.
Changing metaphors, think of Bison. When they are threatened they don’t turn inward and dispute with themselves (or kick aimlessly with their legs). No, they form an outward oriented circle (with the young in the middle). So it should be with the Church. We are strongest when we remain united on the essentials with an outward orientation on our mission.
Turning back to Eph 6 we also see the fight is forward (i.e. it is not a retreat, c.f. Mt 16). While it is true words like “withstand” and “stand firm” are used that don’t seem overly offensive and most of the armour is defensive in nature, combined they certainly don’t suggest retreat either but rather head on confrontation. Building on this, there is a clear offensive streak in the passage. The sword is offensive and so is everything connected with the advance of the Gospel.
Like the Bison, their focus is outward so that they can fight forward against the foe. The Church is not only best when we’re outward oriented but when we’re forward fighting, that is when we—in faith—aggressively conduct ourselves in the Great Commission.
We don’t run away from Satan’s advance, we meet it. We don’t turn inward and implode through futile disputes and carnal controversies, we unite in Christ and face the foe.
Aren’t you glad the Word is living and active?
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.