Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Sometimes, when considering these words from Paul, Christians have thought that this encourages a “combative” approach to faith and engagement with the world. If we dress like soldiers to face an implacable foe then the temptation is to “take the fight to them to destroy evil.” A great idea. But lets think a little more about what Paul is doing here in this letter. The description of armour is exactly that. It’s defensive: not aggressive. Even the sword (gladius) was used in conjunction with the shield. Paul is reminding his readers that the they are subject to hidden forces and overwhelming odds. They needed to defend themselves and have a realistic view on what they faced and the world they lived in. And it must have worked for them because their story survived for us. Paul is not encouraging an aggressive “stance” rather he is pointing to Christ bringing life and reconciliation (Chapters 1 and 2)
Bill Loader expresses what Paul is hoping for well…
“Love looks carefully enough to be angry at injustice, to identify hurt and pain and attitudes which cause them, and to respond, but not in order to hate, but in order to love and restore. Associations evoked by the military metaphor can distract from that and turn us away from loving enemies. Understood in the context not of fighting (or hating) people but of loving them, which also confronts corruption and hate, it can be life-giving. We need people who love enough to think and discern and see what is really happening in themselves and their world and to hear what God has to say into our situations, cutting through to what really matters.” (http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/BEpPentecost14Ord21)