When I was a young adult there was a wildly popular book about dressing for career success. It spawned many copycat books, all proclaiming the benefits of proper attire for everything from boardrooms to schoolrooms. The premise was that your clothes were the first impression others had of you, and consequently had a great impact on your successes or failures in life. There is no doubt that this, and all the other books like it, helped many people achieve their goals in the secular world. As a mother of three teenage boys, the oldest of which is now in college, both my husband and myself have always stressed the importance of that first impression and have given great credence to the fact that clothes actually do matter. But as a mother I have also been thinking along different lines. As much as I want my children to dress for great successes in their lives and in their careers, I’ve been encouraging them to also dress for eternal success. And for that I have turned to Ephesians 6:11-18.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.
What does Ephesians tell us? Notice that the first line doesn’t say put on the armor of God just in case there will be tactics from satan. Right away we are told to put on God’s armor so that we will be able to stand firm against the schemes of satan. We are told, quite clearly, what our struggles will be; they will be against a presence that we cannot see, not flesh and blood, but of a nature that grips our minds, hearts, and souls. Struggles that gain a stronghold and are often more relentless than we are able to handle: anger, envy, greed, addictions, self-doubt, and self-loathing. Without God’s armor we will be as helpless as a newborn babe in the woods against these powers. But what is this armor?
This is where the imagery used in Ephesians is priceless. Our loins are to be girded in Truth. What Truth? The Truth of the Gospel. How do we gain that Truth? Through Bible study and time set aside to meditate upon Scripture and allow it to permeate every cell of our being. We gain the Truth by reading Scripture and asking the Spirit to imbue our hearts and souls with discernment. Notice that it is our loins that are to be girded in the Truth. This is because we all have that “gut” reaction to life’s events and circumstances. That feeling way deep down in the pit of our stomach that signals to us that things are “right” and “true.” We have an internal compass that will always point north, if we understand that “north” is the Truth of His word.
The breastplate we are told to put on covers our heart. It is a breastplate of righteousness. Noah was considered a righteous man. St. Peter calls Noah a “herald of righteousness.” What characteristics did he possess? While there are many adjectives that can help us understand righteousness (just, true, sincere), at the core of it would have been Noah’s relationship with God and with man. It can be said that Noah was in “right relationship” with God. When the world was filled with evil actions that grieved our Creator, Noah was found to be different, he was deemed “righteous.” This begs us to ask ourselves is we are, in fact, in right relationship with our Creator and with one another.
Scripture also tells us that the Lord knows our heart and this is why the breastplate covers that area. It is in our hearts in which God looks at us in the most intimate of ways. And so a sturdy, impenetrable breastplate covers our heart. This is because our hearts are so very vulnerable and we do well to protect them against the slings and arrows of life. They are meant to be filled with love, kindness, and compassion. A breastplate will help protect them so that they do not succumb to the things that may otherwise be their undoing, their hardening.
While our loins are girded in Truth and our hearts are protected by righteousness, our feet are shod in peace. We are all called to walk our earthly journey in tranquility. Christ gave us His peace because He knew its immense value. From calm and acceptance come joy, strength, and an ability to persevere. How fitting that while we walk in peace our minds are helmeted with the knowledge of our salvation in Christ? It is no surprise that we must continually remind ourselves that His ways are not our ways or the ways in which the world operates. We are able to do this with our mind covered in the awareness of our salvation. From this knowledge we can continually bring ourselves back to Him when our inclinations pull us elsewhere.
Finally, we walk into the world with a shield of faith, while in constant prayer and supplication. That shield is our first line of defense and the calling card that identifies us as followers of Christ. As Catholic Christians we understand faith to be one of the three, God-given theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity). We profess our faith in numerous ways: baptism, Apostle’s Creed, evangelization and so on. Complimenting the shield of faith are the words of our mind and our lips that call out to our eternal Father. As St. Augustine said, “Prayer is communication with God.” So we pray, constantly and without ceasing. In all things we move with God and He moves with us. We are dressed for eternal success.