Check Your Panoply
“Stand, then . . . with all taking up the large shield of faith,
by which you will be able to extinguish all the fiery arrows
of the wicked one!” (Ephesians 6:14,16)
THE ONLY PROTECTION against the fiery arrows of Ephesians 6:16 is the large shield of faith. This means that we should take refuge behind that which is ours in Christ, while walking wisely in the Lord, for we are engaged with the second half of Ephesians, which deals with our deportment. This is why this series runs under the imperative headline: “Check your Panoply!” In the preceding articles under this title, we have attempted to demonstrate the important scriptural substructure which is climaxed by the prison epistles. In addition, we have tried to show that our active cooperation is needed on many points. We are reminded of this necessity by a string of imperatives in Ephesians 6:10-20. At this juncture we will mention only the first three:
Put on the panoply of God!
Take up the panoply of God!
Stand . . . with all taking up the large shield of faith!
Here we have three very definite orders which we should always obey if we truly want to enjoy, in spirit, our celestial status at the present time. Surely we know that the celestial allotment is ours, for God has said so. After having been called above to meet our Lord in the air, we will receive that part of the allotment for which the Father has made us competent (Col.1:12). But right now we need to cooperate, so we may stand and withstand by faith.
It is certainly true that our relationship to Christ is as close as can be imagined; this is why it is depicted by the figure of a body and its members (not by branches which could be cut off the grapevine). In our relationship with Him, we have no work to do, for He has completed it all Himself (Col.2:10). Even though Christ, as the head of the entire body, sees to it that the members receive their spiritual sustenance in order to grow, we are, nevertheless, exhorted to exercise true love in making all grow into Him (Eph.4:15).
It seems certain that, even with our renewed minds, we will never be able to fathom all the riches of the glory of the enjoyment of God’s allotment among the saints. However, in order to enjoy some of these riches now, in spirit, we need to be invigorated with God’s mighty strength and to put on His protective panoply (Eph.6:10,14-16).
A LIFELONG EXPERIENCE
The meaning of panoply is complete armor (EVERY- INSTRUMENT); and so far we have dealt with the first four pieces of it, the girdle of truth, the cuirass of righteousness, the sandals of peace, and the large shield of faith. In each case, God is the Giver, but we are supposed to appropriate the gift if we really want to enjoy it fully. This definitely cannot be accomplished by an occasional reading of Ephesians 6:10-20, or even all of Ephesians. A thorough knowledge of all of Paul’s writings and activities is required, in addition to our knowledge of the rest of the New Testament, and portions of the Old.
Due to the frailties of the human mind, we have to set aside a certain amount of time regularly, in order to come to a good understanding of God’s Word. This will certainly take more than a year, more than ten or twenty or even fifty years.
Putting on the complete armor of God will prove to be a lifelong experience and will provide a lifelong celestial blessing to those unashamed workers who endeavor to present themselves to God qualified, correctly cutting the word of truth, and nourishing themselves regularly and sufficiently with the words of faith and the ideal teaching of Paul (1 Tim.4:6; 2 Tim.2:15). This is the way by which we may vitalize and energize our spirits.
We are always in danger of confusing our secure position in Christ with our efforts in the Lord, and the operation of the might of God’s strength with our cooperation with Him. We are also in danger of overemphasizing one side of the truth and ignoring or minimizing some other aspect which may be just as important. We may be boasting that we are no longer under law, and at the same time forgetting to exercise love which is the complement of law (Rom.13:10). We may be glad that Paul does not prescribe tithing, yet not be aware of the fact that gracious giving, as practiced by Paul and his helpers, would amount to far more than just a tenth of a believer’s income or time, or even both.
God is not so much interested in the actual amount of a gift, as He is in its comparative size and the extent to which it involves the giver, as we see in the case of the poor widow (Mark 12:43). The same rule applies to the amount of time we set aside for studying His Word and sharing it with others. It is our privilege not only to explore the dimensions of God’s grace in His Word but also to practice it in our lives and in our service for Him. Few of us are able to spread the truth by speaking, but almost all of us can use the printed word. Let us endeavor to get acquainted with the pamphlets and tracts and brochures listed in our Concordant Literature Catalog before we give them to others. Let us not miss this wonderful opportunity of exercising our office as an ambassador of peace, an evangelist, or a teacher, as the case may be, or the occasion may require. Everyone is called to a certain kind of service, or of what use are the sandals of peace? And everyone, in the course of time, will specialize in a certain type of service and will accept it in the Lord so as to fulfill it (Col. 4:17). Otherwise, what good is our acquaintance with the Word of Truth, our appropriation of righteousness, or the readjustment received in the deficiencies of our realm of faith? If we want to fully enjoy these spiritual graces, we need to be sharing them with others (Rom.1:11). By doing so, we may be assured that grace will multiply the value of our service as well as our gifts, even though our efforts in the Lord may be feeble.
Although the panoply as provided by God is primarily intended to afford protection against any sinister attacks by spiritual forces (Eph.6:11,12), our recent study of the first four parts of this spiritual suit of armor has revealed the fact that our whole life as a believer is involved, together with all our experiences in the realm of faith, beginning at Calvary’s Cross and reaching a climax in our effort to stand, in spirit, on the celestial allotment, and thus to be enabled to enjoy our present celestial status. Hence we cannot sever Ephesians 6:10-20 from the preceding chapters of this epistle, nor from Paul’s other writings and activities, nor from the rest of God’s Word. There is always a relationship between doctrine and deportment, judging our fellow men and judging celestial messengers (1 Cor.6:2-9), unwise walking in general, and yielding to the pressure exercised by the world-mights of this darkness (Eph. 5:15; 6:10-12).
We are apt to forget the wide range of pertinent information available to Paul during his lifetime (1 Cor.15:3-10; 2 Tim.4:13 b). Even when the period of his dissolution was imminent and he had finished his career, his interest in all of the Scriptures (as available in his day) was not slackening, for he asked for both “the books” (which were papyrus scrolls), and the vellums or parchments, (probably his own annotated copies of some Old Testament books). The papyri might have contained (among other things) copies of his own epistles as well as accounts of our Lord’s ministries. Even if we do not know for certain about these details, there can be no doubt about it that, up to the end of his career, he was interested in a number of papyri and in a number of parchments. In Paul’s days, papyrus was the common material used for writing, while parchment was used for preserving the text of very important documents. It is not difficult to reach a conclusion as to what the aged apostle was thinking about when he was facing death in a Roman prison and was asking for his “books” or scrolls, and especially his vellums or parchments. What kind of reading material would we ask for if we were in a similar situation?
Another question: Who would not want to set aside a certain amount of time for studying Isaiah after having been impressed, for example, by the way, the divine logic in Romans is backed by quotations from this and from other prophets? Thus a thorough study of one special part of the Scriptures necessitates that we familiarize ourselves with another part, and so forth; “for all Scripture is inspired by God, and is beneficial for teaching, for exposure, for correction, for discipline in righteousness, that the man of God may be equipped, fitted out for every good act” (2 Tim.3:16,17).
As we have said before, for the same reason that we would not want to sever Paul’s prison epistles from the rest of God’s Word, we could not sever deportment from doctrine, especially because bad practices are incompatible with celestial service. In order to stress our point we wish to quote from UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, volume 39, beginning with pages 50 and 59 respectively:
“The transcendent truths which overwhelm our hearts and surcharge our spirits are too wonderful for mortal minds to master. They may easily lead us to extreme views and eccentric ideas because humanity is not accustomed to such high altitudes of thought. Like an engine without a governor, it may whirl wildly, or a watch without a balance wheel, it may run erratically, because it lacks control. I have sometimes had to check myself from shooting off at a tangent when probing the depths and soaring into the heights of God’s latest revelations.
“But God has not left us without trustworthy checks for this condition. His truth is always balanced. This is most marvelously exhibited in Paul’s latest epistles, especially Ephesians. If our heads are floating in heaven in the first three chapters, yet our feet are firmly fixed upon the earth in the last three. If we are seated among the celestials by faith at the beginning, we are standing in sandals among terrestrials in fact, at the end. Our blessings are above, but our warfare is below. One does not contradict the other. Both are true. One must not be divorced from the other. Let us worship God for the first and walk before men in the last.
“I once supposed no one could possibly go so far as to insist that we are actually, literally seated in the heavens, yet I have been severely criticized for my unbelief because I insisted that our feet are on the earth. But there is a tendency in all of us to ‘believe’ one passage of Scripture so passionately that we bring it into collision with another. Those who most appreciate the fact that we were chosen in Christ before the disruption, are tempted to lay less stress upon prayer for those who are seeking to make known the secret of the evangel to unbelievers. I was saved from this only because I had such an overpowering desire to make the evangel known after I had rediscovered what it really was.
“Incredible as it seems, the insistence on the grand and glorious truths which come to us through Paul may actually subvert the faith. We have just read of such a case. The writer insists that fleshly believers cannot see that we are actually resurrected with Christ. This, he says, is a fact, hence we will never be raised and should not look for the Lord’s coming, for we are already seated with Him in heaven! The very same teaching disturbed the saints in Paul’s day. He condemned it unsparingly: ‘Yet from profane prattlings stand aloof, for they will be progressing to more irreverence, and their word will spread as gangrene . . . who swerve as to the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred, and are subverting the faith of some’ (2 Tim.2:16-18). May the Lord preserve us from confusing figures with facts. In spirit, we are already with Him, but not in flesh. And this does not make us fleshly, but spiritual.
“May each one of us test our teaching by the rest of revelation. The deportment of the second half of Ephesians is the best balance for the doctrine of the first. The tendency to be puffed up by the transcendence of the revelations can be largely corrected by our failure to walk worthily as judged by the corresponding exhortation. The temptation to think that we are superior to other saints and are a distinct body, is checked by the exhortation to meekness and humility, endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit with the tie of peace. When I was among the Brethren (some sixty years ago) we considered ourselves high above all other saints, a select company because of our knowledge; yet now, as I look back, how little we really knew! We certainly did not realize God’s grace. May none who read these lines lose their balance as we did!
“Our relationship to God and that to our fellow men should be kept entirely distinct in our minds when considering the dais. There is nothing between us and God to require such a session, but there is much between us and our fellows that needs to be settled by the illumination of that day. Not only must our false and fleeting doctrines face the fire, but our good and bad or evil practices, as regards our fellows, must be requited (2 Cor.5:10).
“Although neither sin nor sins are mentioned in connection with the dais, it is difficult for us to avoid injecting these. Indeed, is it not logical to reason that bad practices must be sins? And if we shall give an account concerning ourselves, would this not involve many mistakes? Such reasoning, even though it seems to be logical, is not wise, because it is not of faith. Faith would rather deduce that, since the word sin, or sins, is not employed of the dais, the character of our acts as viewed there must be different, and accord with the terms that are used. If this is so, then there is no such thing as the adjudication of sins at the dais. We will not be sinners in this sense at the dais, because, at that time, we will be immortal and will have no inclination to sin. The body which we will then possess will be an incorruptible, powerful, glorious, spiritual body (1 Cor.15:42-44).
“We have been justified before God by the work of Christ, but we are not justified among men by our own works. One was settled long ago and is everlasting. The other cannot be determined until our course is run and we are presented at the dais. We are to judge nothing before the time because the spring of human actions and their complexities are hidden from us and are beyond our adjudication. Besides, no judge is competent to sit on a bench where he himself is brought to trial. Let us not judge now, but wait for the day of requital, when all will be rewarded in the light of perfect knowledge, and without the least danger of sin or mistake.
“When we treat one another badly or are injured ourselves, this injustice still remains, so far as we are concerned, notwithstanding our relationship to God and Christ. Good or bad, the lack of full faith, due to the activity of the flesh or to the wiles of the Adversary on one hand, and faithfulness and the leading of God’s spirit on the other, have caused unnumbered debts and deserts to be entered to the account of God’s saints and servants, that have never been paid. All of these must be balanced, and the books closed at the dais, for there will be no evil or bad acts to enter and the good will be rewarded without delay, for God no longer needs to hurt and humble us, for we will be able to please Him and serve Him without hindrance.”
THE LARGE SHIELD OF FAITH
Any discussion of individual faith (from the time when we first believed up to our presentation at the dais) and of the whole range of faith (what we believe) would be incomplete without mentioning the special task of the large shield of faith in Ephesians 6:16 by which we will be able to extinguish all the fiery arrows of the wicked one. While the large shield is certainly much more than just Ephesian truth (as we have tried to show in this series of articles), the fiery arrows, however, are intended to dislodge us from our celestial allotment. This is their only purpose: to distract our attention from the enjoyment of our celestial status as described in UNSEARCHABLE RICHES, volume 51, page 225.
During his career, Paul went through all kinds of persecutions, afflictions, and turbulences which he describes in some detail in his second letter to the Corinthians (6:4-10; 11: 23-33; 12:7-10). To the best of our knowledge, however, none of these sufferings ever diverted his eyes from the spiritual truths about his celestial status, so as to become fully absorbed by the anguish of his soul and the outcome of his own affairs. From his celestial vantage point, the apostle was able to view earthly things from the right perspective.
Years ago he had written to the Romans, “What shall be separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor messengers, nor sovereignties, nor the present, nor what is impending, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (8:35,38,39).
In Paul’s case, such afflictions, persecutions, and sufferings certainly were not fiery arrows in the sense of Ephesians 6:16. But there were attempts in his day (as there are now), intended to hinder the progress of the evangel, though, to the inexperienced eye, they looked like genuine efforts with a view to helping the proclamation of the word of truth, perhaps by different methods. There were brethren who announced Christ out of faction and not out of a pure heart in order to rouse affliction in Paul’s bonds. There were others who apparently circulated epistles under his name which he had never written. Others were subverting the faith of innocent believers (Rom.16:17,18; Gal.3:1; Phil.1:17; Col.2:16-23; 2 Thess.2:2; 1 Tim.6:20; 2 Tim.2:18).
There were showers of burning arrows when the lonely apostle learned while facing death, that not one, not two, not three, but all his ecclesias in the province of Asia had abandoned the special truths he had been teaching them over the past years. Such news would have been a fiery torture to Paul but for the large shield of faith, with which he was able to extinguish these fiery arrows. Otherwise, they would have caused him untold mental suffering and agony of spirit. Due to his personal faith and his knowledge of the truth (range of faith), he was able to realize that his real antagonists were not those defecting brethren in Asia Minor and elsewhere, but rather the unseen spirit forces behind them. At the end of his career, Paul recognized that his former friends in Ephesus, Laodicea, Colosse (where his prison epistles had circulated) and in Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium (who had been called “stable in the faith,” Acts 16:5) had been used by the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials as tools to hinder the Lord’s work.
When the apostle, the prisoner in the Lord, wrote the closing sentences of Ephesians he was perhaps not fully aware of the extent of the future apostasy among the recipients of this circular letter, although he had prophesied some faith-subverting activity in Ephesus (Acts 20:28-32). We may rest assured, however, that Paul already had a vast experience with fiery arrows when he wrote the lines about the panoply.
Ephesians 6:10-20 will serve as a reminder in many ways since it seems to cover the whole territory of individual faith and the range of faith as well. Every brother or sister will be able to recognize his or her own deficiencies when the checking of the panoply is made a part of our regular reading and prayer habits. This will never be an easy task if it is done in a proper way day after day, month after month, year after year. Now to Him Who alone is able to do superexcessively above all that we are requesting or apprehending, according to the power that is already operating in us, to Him be the glory!
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