Last autumn, our women’s ministry went through a series entitled Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer, where we discussed spiritual warfare. It was a really great series, and I’ve been thinking of it ever since. One of my favourite takeaways had to do with the Shield of Faith.
The English Standard Version of the Bible translates the verse like this: In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. (Ephesians 6:16.)
I’ve always struggled with this image. If you’re like me, you have not had the opportunity to use a real shield. Other armor items like belts and helmets are things that we still use in our everyday lives, albeit not in the same way the Romans did. I’m probably never going to fight in a battle using first century weapons, so it was hard to find the parallel with my 21st century life of faith.
What I learned from Priscilla Shirer and other speakers about the topic is that a Roman shield [a Scutum] was huge, the size of a door. A soldier could fit his entire body behind the shield if need be. It was often covered with leather. When they were under heavy fire, the soldiers would band together and create a wall with their shields. Sometimes their enemies would light their arrows on fire. In these cases, the leather on the shields could be doused with water to extinguish the fire, hence Paul’s reference to “fiery (flaming) darts.”
I’ve heard many teachings on this passage, but what struck me on this last occasion was that the shield was best used with other shields. It was not a weapon to be used on your own. One soldier huddling behind a giant shield is still pretty vulnerable, because the arrows could fly over the shield or light the ground nearby on fire. Only when the Roman soldiers banded together would the shields be an effective tool.
What this reminded me was that the Christian life is never meant to be done on our own. No matter how strong our faith is, we are vulnerable when we go at it as lone wolves. However, we are so often consumed with the fight going on in front of us that we forget to look from side to side and to realize that the enemy’s attack on our neighbours is an attack against us. We are so concerned with our own little section of the spiritual battle that we don’t see that our neighbour is struggling. We don’t even realize that we’re both fighting the same battle and the same enemy, and we would do better if we worked together.
What does this look like in practice? I am still learning, but I think it requires us to be vulnerable about our struggles and open about our needs. It is when we become discouraged and think we are the only one with our specific problem that we start to doubt whether God is even big enough to meet us in our situation.
Putting our shields together means asking questions and voicing our doubts, because when we do that, someone might actually be able to give us some answers. It’s about keeping our eyes open to see who is not in our shield huddle, and inviting them to come and take shelter with us. So as we go into our weeks, let’s take up our shield of faith and make sure that we’re using it to protect not just ourselves, but our neighbours too.