“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” –Eph. 6:13
Of course, the armor is not actual armor, but is an allusion to the parts of the armor—truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. When we put all of these things together we have holiness or wholeness in Christ. The allusion is to wholeness, as has been discussed previously. That wholeness is the object of salvation, faith, peace, righteousness, and truth, and is the central topic of Scripture.
Unfortunately, the allusion to armor has tended to obscure Paul’s point. This idea might be translated as: Therefore take up the wholeness of God that is accessed with the various tools or implements provided (truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the Word of God). That wholeness or holiness provides protection against the wiles of Satan. Satan wants to destroy that wholeness, and he does it by getting us focused on the various parts rather than the whole. Our focus on the whole is the very thing that destroys Satan’s effectiveness. He cannot destroy the wholeness while we are giving our attention to it. In fact, he cannot destroy it at all. All he can do is get us to ignore it by paying attention to the parts rather than the whole.
This is easier to describe than to accomplish. We have been trained from birth to pay attention to the parts, to narrow our focal-length rather than widen it. Notice that our eyes cannot focus on everything all at once. When they focus on something near, the distance blurs, and vice versa. Our attention is similar. We easily pay attention to this or that particular thing. But it takes practice and commitment to pay attention to context and history. The key to wholeness is seeing the long arc of God’s plan and history in the world. What is God’s long term objective? How does He plan to achieve it? Where is the world in that story or plan right now? What is God doing right now to move His plan forward? And what can we do to be of help?
The evil day (Eph. 6:13) is a particular day of great difficulty for many people. It is a day of cataclysm and calamity. That’s what makes it evil—horrible. And yet it is part of God’s plan—not that He wants it or intends it. But that it cannot be avoided—not because of who God is, but because of who we are. God is certainly powerful enough to avoid such difficulty. But in order for us to become who God wants us to be, in order for sinners to become perfect (τέλειος, lacking nothing necessary for completeness), whole, and holy, we must confront and triumph over every difficulty. If the difficulties are avoided, the end purpose cannot be accomplished because it uses them as a fulcrum.
Consequently, suffering and pain cannot be avoided. They are part of this world. Satan balks at this idea, and slanders God for creating such a horrible world. Satan cannot see beyond the suffering, and is captivated by the pain—as are his followers. Satan actually tries to avoid the suffering and pain, and by doing so short-circuits God’s blessings. People then follow suit, which locks them into patterns, beliefs, and behaviors that receive God’s curses.
God uses pain and suffering as a platform for spiritual maturity (Genesis 50:20). God uses these things as a building blocks for discipline and training in the logic and ways of this world. Pain and suffering are pedagogical in God’s hands. They teach lessons that cannot be learned any other way. However, the point is not the pain and suffering, nor even the discipline and training. Rather, the point is the lessons learned, lessons in patience, commitment, love, passion, sacrifice, worship, and duty. These are the things that instill Christ’s character in us. Following Christ into pain and suffering establishes Christian character or God-likeness in both the personal and the social genome.
(from Ephesians—Recovering the Vision of a Sustainable Church In Christ, forthcoming, 2014)