A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 6:13-20. 3). The armour of God.
The first piece of equipment which Paul mentions is the girdle of truth: *having girded your loins with truth* (verse 14). Usually made of leather, the soldiers belt belonged rather to his underwear than his armour. Yet it was essential. It gathered his tunic together and also held his sword. It ensured that he was unimpeded when marching. As he buckled it on , it gave him a sense of hidden strength and confidence. Belts and braces still do. To ‘tighten one’s belt can mean not only to accept a time of austerity during a food shortage but also to prepare oneself for action, which the ancients would have called ‘girding up their loins’.
Now the Christian soldier’s belt is ‘truth’. Many commentators, especially in the early centuries, understood this to mean ‘the truth’, the revelation of God in Christ and in Scripture. For certainly it is only the truth which can dispel the devil’s lies and set us free (Cf. Jn.8:31-36, 43-45), and Paul has in this letter several times referred to the importance and the power of the truth (E.g. 4:21; 5:6,9). Other commentators, however, especially because the definite article is absent in the Greek sentence, prefer to understand Paul to be referring to ‘truth’ in the sense of ‘sincerity’ or (NEB) ‘integrity’. For certainly God requires ‘truth in the inward being’, and the Christian must at all costs be honest and truthful (Ps. 51:6; Eph. 4:15,25). To be deceitful, to lapse into hypocrisy, to resort to intrigue and scheming, this is to play the devil’s game, and we shall not be able to beat him at his own game. What he abominates is transparent truth. He loves darkness; light causes him to flee. For spiritual as for mental health honesty about oneself is indispensable.
Perhaps we do not need to choose between these alternatives. The judicious Gurnall writes: ‘Some by *truth* mean *a truth of doctrine*; others will have it truth of heart, *sincerity*; they I think best that compromise both… one will not do without the other.’
The second item of the Christian’s equipment is *the breastplate of righteousness* (verse 14). Some expositors have maintained that in God’s armour, although there is a breastplate, no protection is provided for the back. They then go on to argue that we must face our enemy with courage and not run away from him, exposing our unguarded back. John Bunyan made this point in *Pilgrim’s progress*. When Christian reached the Valley of Humiliation, ‘he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him’, whose name was Apollyon. ‘Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back or to stand his ground. But he considered again that he had no armour for his back, and therefore thought, that to turn the back to him might give him greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts. Therefore he resolved to venture, and stand his ground.’ It is a good point of spiritual counsel, but remains a doubtful example of biblical exegesis, for the soldier’s breastplate often covered his back as well as his front, and was his major piece of armour protecting all his most vital organs.
In a previous letter Paul has written of ‘the breastplate of faith and love’ (1 Thess.5:8), but here as in Isaiah 59:17 the breastplate consists of ‘righteousness’. Now ‘righteousness’ (*dikaiosyne*) in Paul’s letters more often than not means ‘justification’, that is, God’s gracious initiative in putting sinners right with himself through Christ. Is this then the Christian’s breastplate? Certainly no spiritual protection is greater than a righteous relationship with God. To have been justified by his grace through simple faith in Christ crucified, to be clothed with a righteousness which is not one’s own but Christ’s, to stand before God not condemned but accepted – this is an essential defence against an accusing conscience and against the slanderous attacks of the evil one, whose Hebrew name (‘Satan’) means adversary and whose Greek title (*diabolos*, ‘devil’) means ‘slanderer’. ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? Is it God who justifies; who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.’ (Rom. 8:1, 33-34 margin). This is the Christian’s assurance of ‘righteousness’, that is, of a right relationship with God through Christ; it is a strong breastplate to protect us against Satanic accusations.
On the other hand, the apostle wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:7 of ‘the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left’, apparently meaning moral righteousness, and has used the word in the same sense in Ephesians 4:24 and 5:9. So the Christian’s breastplate may be righteousness of character and conduct. For just as to cultivate ‘truth’ is the way to overthrow the devil’s deceits, so to cultivate ‘righteousness’ is the way to resist his temptations.
Alternatively, as with the two possible meanings of ‘truth’, so with the two possible meanings of ‘righteousness’, it may well be right to combine them, since according to Paul’s gospel the one would invariably lead to the other. As G.G.Findlay put it, ‘The completeness of pardon for past offence and the integrity of character that belong to the justified life, are woven together into an impenetrable mail.’
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians: Being a Christian. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.