“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16)
A shield is a piece of armour that we are probably very familiar with. Soldiers have shields, knights have shields, police have shields, superheroes have S.H.I.E.L.D (ok, that one is slightly different!), but we are familiar with the job of a shield – to protect the carrier. This particular shield (Scutum) was made from 2 layers of wood glued together and covered first with linen and then hide, and bound together with iron. It was large: about 4ft x 2ft. It completely covered the body and was essential in protecting against the weapon of choice for that time – arrows dipped in pitch which were set alight before being fired.
Paul likens the devil’s attacks to those flaming arrows. Arrows that ignite everything they touch. Arrows that spread fear, doubt, guilt, disobedience, anger, lust, rebellion, anxiety, revenge, hate – the list is endless! It is not uncommon for Christians to experience these feelings/thoughts on a regular basis. Satan will keep firing those arrows, looking for a way in, for a weakness in the armour and, once he’s in, that feeling or thought has the potential to spread like wildfire. And this is where faith comes in. Faith, or ‘pistis’ (which means firm belief), is our shield and our protection. Faith will guard us from the arrows and extinguish the flames, stopping the lies, doubt etc in its tracks. But faith in what?
As Christians, we are to have faith in the fact that God created the world, and that he sent His only son to die for our sins, so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16), so that we might live in the peace and protection offered to us by God. It is not something that we can earn by good deeds; rather, it is a gift that is given to us by God. Ephesians 2:8 – 9 says “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God…”. It is the greatest gift we can receive. Faith in God, in His goodness, His mercy, His forgiveness, His power, is what covers us and protects us from the flaming arrows. It can be overwhelming whilst in the midst of struggles, but Isaiah 41:10 says “Fear not, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed. I am your God. I will strengthen you ; I will uphold you with my victorious right hand”. Faith reminds us that God is true to his word, even when we might not be able to see the end in sight.
When someone says the word faith, we often tend to thing of an airy-fairy feeling (or, if you’re like me, the George Michael song!), that isn’t really based on something we can necessarily prove. But that is wrong! Hebrews 11:1 says “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see”. It is not a blind belief. It is something based in reality, which means it is tangible. It is something we can evidence, which means there is solid proof. Therefore, faith, by definition, is not some fuzzy feeling without any grounding in reality. It is real. It is irrefutable.
Unlike a shield, faith is not a thing that we visibly hold. So how are they the same? Our faith in Christ can guard us during trials in the same way a shield would guard a soldier during battle. It is our first line of defence. But a shield is only effective when it’s raised. Likewise, faith can only protect us if we are in a restored relationship with God, if we have our feet planted in the good news, and are living out the truths we find in the bible. Once raised, faith can not only handle the impact of the arrows, but can put out false truths. It can not only protect us but help us fight back. The biggest example in the bible of this is when Jesus was in fasting in the desert and Satan came along to tempt him. In Luke 4:1 – 13, we see Jesus standing up to Satan and his temptations using scripture, and only scripture. To defeat him, Jesus simply stood firm in his knowledge of God and God’s promises.
Faith fails to protect us when we lower our shield. When we give in to temptation and believe that what it has to offer is better than what God promises. It fails when we allow doubt to creep in and question God’s character, or doubt His power. But, in those moments, we shouldn’t pretend like our doubt doesn’t exist. Being a Christian is not a walk in the park, it’s more of an extreme iron man event. In those moments, we need to recognise that we have lowered our shields, and pick them back up again.
Here are 7 suggestions that will help you keep that shield held up:
- Read the bible regularly. It is the only way you will become familiar with what is truth.
- Obey scripture in daily life
- Pray that God will arm you in all circumstances: “You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it” (Matthew 21:22)
- Resist temptation: James 4:7 says “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”
- Quote scripture back to Satan. Jesus did it, so why shouldn’t we!
- Focus on overcoming: “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.” (1 John 5:4-5)
- Unity with other Christians: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reminds us of the importance of surrounding ourselves with other Christians. In fact, there was a tactic the Roman army used when under attack called the testudo (the tortoise). They would band together in a circular formation, with those on the outside holding their shields facing outwards, and those in the middle holding their shields above their heads, meaning that they were completely covered and protected on all sides. When we come together with other Christians, we can hold faith up in a similar formation so that we are spiritually covered from all sides.
So, whilst faith may not be a physical shield that we hold in our hands, it is the most powerful protection we have against Satan. So, ready yourself for the attacks, because they will come. But by believing in God’s power and His promises, you have the ability to overcome the devil. God rarely takes us out of a difficult situation, but He will sustain us through it. Daily, pick up your shield and allow the grace of God to protect you as you walk/run/fight through life.
Faith is unseen but felt, faith is strength when we feel we have none, faith is hope when all seems lost. – Catherine Pulsifer