Years ago, I had a colleague who kept a reproduction, full set or medeival armor in his office. It stood behind a glass panel...with labels illustrating the various elements of Paul's armor of God. He used it as a teaching aid, allowing people to get a sense of what Paul was probably thinking of when he offered this metaphor up to the Ephesians. All well and good, if a bit anachronistic. Still, visiting with him always left feeling a little anxious. Why would a Christian need a full set of armor? Armor itself in that fashion is not just for protection. It is a sign and witness of the wearer's intent to enter battle...be it the lists of the joust or open combat. Armor, though for the most part a defensive tool is nonetheless a weapon of war. I prefer Paul's metaphors relating the Christian life to an athlete's training. That much is infintely more palatable.
That rumination made sense to me, until a couple of years went by and as a more senior pastor I began to bear witness to the impact conflict has in parishes. Suddenly, a suit of armor was a much more attractive asset to me.
Then, a couple of years ago, an army veteran in my parish gave me a powerful gift...a chaplain's coin. According to him, these coins quoting this passage from Ephesians, is a gift that fighting soldiers give to their chaplains as a token for them...a thanksgiving that these witnesses of pastoral care and the peace of Christ are sacrificing in order to enter into a supporting role for warriors entering into combat. That gift touched me deeply. I keep that coin in front of me in my study to this day. Paul is not telling us to keep apart from the fray of life. He is attempting to give us the tools we need to enter into it, no matter how gnarly and difficult the struggles may be. Frankly, I prefer having that coin to the concept of keeping a full suit of armor in my office...but in any case, it is not the protection the armor affords as the willingness to apply to gifts of faith, righteousness, truth, hope that are testament to the presence of Christ in our lives.