Sunday, January 13, 2019

War by means of Peace – Eph. 6:15



It at first might seem strange that the apostle puts the gospel of peace as part of the Christian warrior’s armament.  But this is what he does.  He exhorts the Ephesian believers to stand and wage war against our spiritual foes by the gospel of peace.  The KJV translates the verse this way: “and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” which is a very literal translation.  The ESV puts it this way: “and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”

The reason why the mention of peace in this context might seem strange to us is because there are two different types of peace, one of which is in fact antithetical to waging war.  This would be external peace, peace in our circumstances, a cessation of hostilities between warring parties.  But there is no peace for the Christian in that sense.  There will never be a day when we will not have to fight our enemy, the Devil.  There will never be a day when we will not have to resist the world and the flesh.  As the hymn puts it: “Ne’er think the victory won,/ Nor lay thine armor down;/ The work of faith will not be done,/ Till thou obtain the crown.// Fight on my soul, till death/ Shall bring thee to thy God;/ He’ll take thee, at thy parting breath,/ To his divine abode.”[1]

Nor does the gospel give that kind of peace.  Our Lord himself cautioned us once and for all against falling into that frame of mind: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Mt. 10:34).  Following Christ does not mean we will have peace in this world. 

But there is another type of peace that is completely consonant with the outward confusion and clamor that comes with the din of war.  It is inner peace, and this is the peace that our Lord gives, that the gospel gives: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).  Here you have two promises: a promise of peace and a promise of tribulation.  They don’t cancel each other out.  However, the peace that our Lord gives is a peace that enables us to endure tribulation.  A submarine at the depths of the ocean is being pressed upon by the force of the water bearing down upon it in all directions; but if it is made right, it will withstand the pressure.  Even so the Christian is a person who has been engineered by the grace of God to withstand the pressures of the world which call it to capitulate.  The irony is that if we give in, if we stop fighting, we will achieve a sort of peace.  But it would be a false peace, a peace with the world that does not last.  It is the inner peace that Christ gives that enables us from giving up for a false and temporary external peace and that enables us to keep fighting.

I think this is what the apostle is referring to here in our text.  Though some have taken it to mean that we are to be ready to share the gospel at all times, I don’t think that is what the apostle is referring to here, though I agree with the sentiment.  We should always be ready to share the gospel, ready to give an answer to those who ask about the hope that is in us (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).  But here the apostle doesn’t say that we are to have a readiness to proclaim the gospel, but that we are to have a readiness which is given by the gospel.  It’s not a readiness for the gospel, but a readiness of the gospel.  To put it another way, the gospel here is not the object of the readiness or preparedness of which the apostle speaks; rather, the gospel is the source of that readiness and preparedness.  He is saying that holding to the gospel of peace makes us ready to stand and fight our spiritual foe.

Now the question is, what is the connection here between the boots the warrior puts on and the readiness given by the gospel of peace?  It is thought that the apostle here is referring to the caliga, which was a sort of boot worn by the Roman soldier “with soles made of several layers of leather averaging 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) thick, studded with hollow-headed hobnails.”[2]  His footwear enabled the Roman soldier to march long distances as well as giving him sure-footedness in the battle.  Of course what you wear on your feet depends on what you are doing.  I remember once working cattle with the Shafer boys wearing sandals, and deciding very quickly that that was a mistake.  The same thing applies here: you wear combat boots into battle, not flip-flops. 

Good shoes on your feet give you two things: mobility and sure-footedness.  They enable you to move and move quickly; they also enable you to move without falling down.  Now I know the overarching command here is to stand (ver. 14), but we shouldn’t take that to mean standing still.  Rather, the apostle means something more along the lines of standing tall, or standing firm.  It is the opposite of falling down and becoming an easier prey for your enemy.  And you are never going to be able to stand without good footwear. 

To sum up, I think what the apostle is getting at is this: the readiness here, associated as it is with the combat boot the soldier wore, is a reference to our readiness to stand firm and stand tall.  No one is prepared to fight if they can’t stay on their feet in the battle.  So I think the readiness and preparedness here is specifically tied to one being prepared to stand on their feet.  In fact, in the LXX, this word (“preparation” or “readiness”) was used with the meaning of an “established place, foundation” (cf. Ezra 2:68; Ps. 89:14).[3]  Thus, the NEB translates this verse, “let the shoes on your feet be the gospel of peace, to give you firm footing,” which I think gives the sense of this verse very well. 

David, in Psalm 18, speaks about how God helped him in battle, and his words underline the importance of being sure-footed in battle.  He writes, “God . . . equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.  He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.  He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.  You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.  You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip” (Ps. 18:32-36).  I think that is similar to the idea in our text: when you put on the gospel of peace like boots on your feet, you will be ready to stand so that your feet will not slip.

Now how does the gospel of peace do that?  Before we answer that question, we need to think about what is meant by the gospel of peace.  The gospel, of course, is the good news that Jesus God’s Son has come and made peace between God and man, and between man and man (Eph. 2:11-22).  “For he himself is our peace, who has made both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near” (2:14-17).  The peace here is both subjective and objective.  It is subjective in the sense that hostility is removed and it is objective in the sense that the thing (sin) that separated us from God has been removed by the atoning sacrifice of our Lord.  The gospel is the gospel of peace in the sense that it is about peace and it brings peace: peace with God and peace with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, whatever their background or nationality. 

But the Bible makes it clear that this peace ought to result in the tranquility and quietness of heart that rests in our being at peace with God.  Our Lord said to his disciples and he says to us today, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn. 14:27).  God is a God of hope who fills our hearts with joy and peace through believing the gospel so that we abound in hope through the power of the Spirit (Rom. 15:13).  The peace that comes from the gospel is not a peace that we simply have like money in the bank, it ought to be a peace that permeates our souls and enriches our lives.  It ought to be a peace that fills us with joy: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into the grace where we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1-2, KJV). 

Now how does this play into the battle?  Why is this important?  The point is this: you will never stand strong and stand firm if you do not have that inner confidence that comes from being at peace with God, a peace which only the gospel can give.  You don’t want soldiers on the battle line that go to pieces.  A soldier can be fully equipped but unless he is filled with confidence and courage he will never last.  Even so the Christian needs that confidence which only comes through peace with God. 

We don’t want to be fearful; we want to be courageous.  We want to stand firmly, not fall easily.  But my point is that you fight fear and gain courage by being at peace – and for the Christian this is rooted in our being at peace with God before anything else.  This is what the apostle implies when he tells us “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).  How do you fight fear and anxiety?  You fight it by taking your burdens to the Lord, and he gives you peace.  Fear is replaced and removed when peace from God fills its place.

So what this tells me is that if I want to stand firm and not run away out of fear, I need to have that inner confidence and stability that is the fundamental characteristic of a man who is at peace.  And if I want to have this peace, the only way I am going to get it is by going to the gospel, the gospel of peace.  Let the gospel fill you with peace.

How do we let the gospel fill us with peace? Well, by understanding what the gospel says and appropriating it by faith.  Consider the following points: these apply to all who are in the battle, who are following Jesus as Lord and you wear his armor and bear his name.  All who are in Christ can rightfully apply the truths of the gospel to themselves.

Primarily, we need to understand and believe that God is for us.  This is what the gospel tells us: Christ came and made peace between us and God, so that God is no longer hostile toward us.  He is no longer your enemy; he is your Father through the Son.  The apostle writes, “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  And then note how this expostulation is explicitly tied to the gospel: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:31-32, KJV).  God is for us freely and fully through his Son and this is the only way God will be for anyone. 

Now it is easy to believe this in the abstract.  But that is not what is called for on the battlefield of life.  There are a million things that rise up in our lives and threaten us and our prosperity and earthly happiness and comforts, and we are often ready when they take place to think that God has abandoned us or that he hates us or at least doesn’t care about us.  We tend to tie our inner peace to our material happiness.  Like Job, we take our earthly successes as signs of God’s approval.  And when he takes it away, we think we are the subjects of his displeasure.

We need to hear the logic of the apostle.  We tend to measure God’s love by his gifts.  That is partly right.  But the problem is that we measure his love by the wrong gifts.  God doesn’t mean for you to measure his love by earthly trinkets, but by the supreme Gift of all – the gift of his Son.  The logic of Rom. 8:32 is that since God has already given you his greatest gift, he will therefore not withhold from you “all things.”  The giving of the Son for you is the greatest proof that he will withhold nothing that is for your ultimate happiness and joy.

So what I need to believe, above all, is that no matter what happens to me in this life, I cannot measure God’s smile by my earthly successes and comforts.  Indeed, Paul goes on to write of tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and peril and sword (Rom. 8:35) – and he says that these cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  And they do not separate us from his love, not by their absence, but in spite of their presence: “nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (ver. 37).  He is for us; no one and nothing can be successfully against us.

Think about what it means that God is for us.  First of all, it means that God loves you and desires your company.  The God of heaven and earth wants to be with you!  He thinks about you!  And not just every now and then, but all the time.  Isn’t that what David said in the Psalm?  “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!   If I would count them, they are more than the sand.  I awake, and I am still with you” (Ps. 139:17-18).  The God of the Bible is not some distant deity who just bears with his creatures.  God created us for fellowship with him.  Surely there is nothing so elevating in the world as that.  No matter what other people might think of you, if you belong to Jesus Christ, then God wants you to be with him.  You may be hated by everyone on Facebook, but if God loves you, what does that matter?

Second, it means that God is for you in particular.  We need to meditate on the particularity of God’s love.  Sometimes, people so emphasize God’s general love for mankind that they end up watering down the special and particular love that he has for those who are his chosen people in Christ.  Hear, for example, the way Paul puts it: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20, KJV).  “Who loved me.”  Can you say that?  Do you believe that?  Not that God loves everyone and so of course he loves me; but rather, God loves me with a love that specific to me.

When you read about the men and women in church history who were the boldest in the faith, you will often hear that what made them bold, was an assurance of the love that God had for them through Christ.  They did not need to fear anything, for they fully believed that God was for them, and that whatever happened it would be for their good.  They stood firm in the fight of faith because they were filled with the peace that comes from believing the gospel truth that in Jesus Christ God is for us.

Third, it means that God does not hold any of your sins against you.  Now, if we don’t repent of our sins, God is certainly willing to get your attention through the megaphone of pain and suffering.  And in this life, our sins often do come with a price.  Forgiveness of sins doesn’t mean that we escape all the consequences of our sins, at least in this life.  This is not a call to treat sins lightly or indifferently.  But it does mean that our sins can never dampen God’s love for us, not once, not ever.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). 

We say we believe in salvation by grace.  We sometimes treat God, however, as if salvation were in fact by our works, and think of God’s love to us waxing and waning depending on the measure of our sanctification.  And though, like any good parent, God is not indifferent to our obedience (because our happiness is in large measure dependent on our holiness and he does want us to be holy), nevertheless, we must never think that our relationship with him depends on our works.  We are not just justified by faith at the beginning of our walk with God, but throughout the entirety of our lives.  God does not take into account your goodness or holiness when it comes to your relationship in his family; instead, he accepts us fully and completely because of what Jesus Christ his Son did for us and in our place.

Again, this does not mean that good works do not have a place; they are certainly necessary evidences of God’s work in the soul.  If we lack the evidence for a relationship with God, we have not reason to claim the relationship.  But neither should we confuse the evidence with the ground of our relationship with God.  Good works are not the ground of our justification, and we need to be careful that we are not trying to over and over again win God’s favor by being good enough.  You can’t do that, and you don’t have to do that.  Christ has already been good enough for you and he has already fully paid the debt you owe to God by shedding his blood for you on the cross.

Finally, it means that whatever happens in this life, you are the heir of immeasurable joy in the next: “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).  We may suffer with Christ now, but we will be glorified in the age to come (Rom. 8:17).  Isn’t it interesting that this is the word that God chose to describe your future state?  Glorified!  Full of glory!  Another way it is described is, “heirs of God and fellows heirs with Christ.”  Nothing in this world can even come close.  Bunyan was right to describe those who neglect the joys to come for the pleasures of this world as “muckrakers.” 

So take the gospel of peace and find firm footing.  And if you do not find yourself as yet in the bonds of the gospel, hear what our Lord says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).



[1] Hymn by George Heath, 1781.
[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Baker, 2002), p. 842.
[3] Ibid.

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