I was in church a couple weeks ago with a friend of mine who has a background in first century military history and the topic of the shield of faith came up. What he told me woke me right up, and blew my mind. I’m sorry if that sounds like click-bait, but it’s 100% true.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of the shield of faith, it’s found in Ephesians 6:10-20 with the relevant passage being verse 16:
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;
Now shields are things we are familiar with in the West. After all, one of the most arguably iconic shields of all time belongs to Captain America, and he wields it in a way that is also iconic within the American ethos: single-handedly. If you do a Google image search for “shield of faith” you’ll find many depictions of usually medieval armored knights with a shield standing valiantly in the face of some form of adversity.
What if I told you that’s not what Paul meant when he wrote about the shield of faith?
Paul wrote as a Roman citizen writing in a Roman context at a time when the Roman Empire was approaching its most powerful time period. Perhaps it would surprise you to learn, as it did me, that Roman military tactics have less in common with Captain America and more with another ancient military power: Sparta.
King Leonidas (as played by Gerrard Butler in 300) describes the Greek phalanx this way:
Leonidas: Your father should have taught you how our phalanx works. We fight as a single, impenetrable unit. That is the source of our strength. Each Spartan protects the man to his left from thigh to neck with his shield.
What if we started to view the church and our faith in these terms? My shield only gives me half protection. With only my shield I am weak and vulnerable. but standing in between and next to my brothers and sisters in the faith, we are all strengthened; we form an “impenetrable unit” together, as one.
The idea that “I’m a Christian but I don’t “go to church”” has become popular among Christians my age and younger. Church attendance, small groups, even prayer meetings have fallen out of favour with Gen-Xers and Millenials in recent years. Instead, many of us see our faith as an individual thing, and we wield our shields like Captain America rather than like those 300 Spartans.
Now don’t misunderstand me. Church attendance alone certainly isn’t the answer, but it is a necessary component of a full, and balanced life of faith. Believe me, since moving out of the Ottawa Valley and back to Southern Ontario, the prospect of finding a new church seemed like it would take forever and be draining. In fact, very little has been more encouraging to my own faith than to walk into a new church on a Sunday morning and know that I was surrounded by brothers and sisters who share the same faith, the same Saviour, and even many of the same beliefs and values. That’s true of any Christian church anywhere in the world! You can walk in, and regardless of race, creed, or even language, be surrounded by not friends, but family.
Following Jesus was never supposed to be a lone-wolf, me against the world, Captain America… Click To Tweet
Friends Brothers and sisters, why don’t we do this? Following Jesus was never supposed to be a lone-wolf, me against the world, Captain America thing. After all, even Jesus Himself had 12 guys he trusted around all of the time. We are so concerned, in our social media age, with appearing perfect. Like we have it all together, like our lives are going just the way we planned. When’s the last time someone posted on Facebook that time they really failed as a parent or a spouse, or a friend. I’m talking about Christian fellowship.
Christian fellowship is about more that just meeting at a coffee shop or even a pub and hanging out. It’s about the conversation had there. It’s about gathering together, yes weekly in a church, to sing and hear the gospel preached. It’s about knowing our brothers and sisters and being known in return. Bearing each others’ burdens, praying for each other and so much more.
Let’s endeavour to be that kind of shield bearer. The kind that protects the man or woman to our left and trust that we will be protected on our right. I promise you’ll be amazed what faith can do.