The shield of faith
Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Ephesians 6:16
If you were a soldier in the first century, you would be subject to flaming arrows raining down from above. Like the initial bombardment in modern warfare, arrows were used as a way to prepare the way for the following frontal assault by the infantry. And as suggested in our text, often these arrows would be dosed in a flammable substance, set on fire, and then shot with the potential of not only piercing an enemy soldier but also setting him on fire. It was a ghastly business.
What then did a soldier need to defend himself against these flaming arrows? He needed a shield. And the bigger the better: the shield the apostle refers to here was almost as big as a door – four feet long and two and a half feet wide. It consisted of two pieces of wood glued together and covered in hide. The edges would be secured by a metal frame. Sometimes before battle, soldiers would dip their shields in water for the specific purpose of reducing the effectiveness of an incendiary missile. It was the perfect cover.
The purpose of the flaming darts of Satan - the wicked [one] referred to in our text - is to destroy our faith. And yet, according to this verse, our faith is the very thing that quenches the fiery darts of the wicked one! But how does it do this? How do we wield the shield of faith?
Well, first of all, we need to see clearly what the object of faith is. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out in his sermon on this text, the cults will tell you to have faith in your faith, but this is not what Paul is exhorting us to do here. What this really means is that they want you to work up to a feeling that something good is going to happen for you, whether it is healing or a new job or a new relationship. It is blind faith in the ultimate sense, because there is no object for faith – it has been reduced to a psychological state of the mind. But again, that is not what the apostle is telling us to do here – he is not saying that you are to have some unfounded confidence that everything is going to turn out for your best.
Nor is he saying that you should have faith in yourself. That is the big lie our culture advocates these days. “Have faith in yourself,” they say. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it,” another blatantly false idea. In any case, when confronted with a supernatural foe the last thing you should be thinking is how ready you are to meet Satan on your own. The fact of the matter is that whoever you are or whatever you have experienced, you are no match for Satan. He is in a different league altogether. Putting you up against Satan is like putting a tee-ball kid in front of Nolan Ryan. He’s going to smoke you every time.
The object of faith is not yourself nor a feeling; it is Jesus Christ. True, biblical faith looks away from itself to Christ; away from our weakness and inadequacy to his strength and faithfulness. And it is when we recognize our need of him that we will fly to him for deliverance from our enemy. This is what our Lord was getting at when he told his disciples, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:4-5).
I used to think that God made me to be somebody. But the older I get, the more I realize that God didn’t make me to be somebody but to know Somebody – God: Father, Son, and Spirit. And that’s why he created you: to know him and to know him not only as your creator, but as your Savior, as your provider, as your deliverer, as your delight. Resting in him, we find him to be a perfect shield, and find complete protection from all the darts and missiles of the evil one.