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Author Topic: 1 Thessalonians 5:8-11, Part 4  (Read 319 times)

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Hidden In Him

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1 Thessalonians 5:8-11, Part 4
« on: November 13, 2018, 02:19:57 PM »
Putting On The Whole Armor Of God, Part 4

     Let us now take a look again at what Paul was saying about the armor of God in First Thessalonians. He made some driving points here that he left out in Ephesians:

     But concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to be written to, for you yourselves know accurately that the Day of the Lord comes as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, "Peace and security," then sudden destruction shall come upon them as labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they shall not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness that the Day should overtake you as a thief, for you are all sons of light and sons of the Day.... we who are of the Day should remain sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of deliverance, for God has not appointed us unto wrath but to obtain deliverance through Him who died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ, that whether you may watch or we may sleep, we may live together with Him. Therefore exhort one another and edify each other, even as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, 8-11)

     As in Ephesians, many think the armor of God was for engaging in spiritual warfare, but nowhere in this text was spiritual warfare mentioned or discussed. The entire context was about preparing for Christ's return as a Deliverer from afflictions and persecution. As in Ephesians, the context was about standing "in the evil day," when persecution would flare up against them. Spiritual armor was needed to protect them against the slander and false accusations that would be leveled against them, when they would be dragged before city magistrates and sanhedrins and interrogated. With the apostles Paul, Silas and Timothy, it sometimes ended in them getting flogged and beaten.
     The driving point here in First Thessalonians was to always be ready for enemy attacks, for they could come at any time. This was evident in what he said in verses 5-7:

     We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then, we should not sleep as the rest, but watch and remain sober, for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who drink get drunk at night. But we who are of the Day should remain sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of deliverance. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-7)

      What he was saying here was that the spiritual army they were a part of must always stay on alert. They could never let their guard down, because if they did like soldiers who got drunk at night and/or fell asleep on their watch, the enemy's attacks would take them by surprise. They had to be "soldiers of the day," or in other words remain vigilant and focused upon one thing only: Defeating their enemy, and not letting their guard down and giving themselves to drinking and sleeping.
     Needless to say, this is what the body of Christ needs today. He needs soldiers He can raise up who will be more disciplined than any army in the flesh, because our enemy never sleeps and is watching our every move. Only if we have trained ourselves to be on guard against him at all times will we succeed.


Why Put On The Breastplate Of Faith And Love?

     Believers are commanded to put on the breastplate of faith and love because these are proofs of our righteousness before both God and man. This can be seen in viewing what Paul said about the armor in Ephesians and then comparing it with what he said about it here in First Thessalonians. There are a few subtle differences, so let us again quote Ephesians to compare the two passages:

     Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the strategies of the Devil, because we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against [spiritual] authorities, against the world rulers of this dark age, against the spirits of wickedness in the heavens. Because of this, take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having subdued all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having girded your waist about with the truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having strapped your feet with the readiness of the gospel of peace. Above all, having taken up the shield of faith, with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the wicked one. Also, through all prayer and supplication, receive the helmet of deliverance, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying in the Spirit at all times, and remaining wakeful unto all perseverance and supplication so as to pursue this same need for all the saints, and for me, that in the opening of my mouth with boldness there may be given unto me utterance to make known the mystery of the gospel. (Ephesians 6:11-19)

     To repeat, New Testament believers were wrestling against principalities and powers in that these high-ranking spirits were inciting wicked men under their influence to raise up persecution against the church, with "the evil day" being whenever this persecution would flare up against them. The faithful were to put on the armor of God to help them stand before interrogators. The belt of truth served as a defense against lying witnesses and false testimony; the breastplate of righteousness as a defense against accusations of "sinning" for disobeying authorities, both religious and civil; their feet shod with the readiness of the gospel of peace to potentially convert their interrogators should opportunity arise; the shield of faith as a defense against attacks especially on their faith in Christ; the sword of the Spirit to expose falsehoods with the truth through the use of scripture; and the helmet of deliverance as an encouragement to always continue fighting for the truth, knowing the Lord would continue to deliver them until their ministries were finally completed.
     Like in Ephesians, the helmet was "the hope of deliverance," and like in Ephesians he was talking about deliverance from persecution, only here he described it as coming at the return of Christ, adding "for God has not appointed us unto wrath but to obtain deliverance through Him who died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ, so that whether we watch or sleep we may live together with Him." Like in Ephesians, the focus here was on the living. The dead (i.e. those who "slept") didn't need to worry about being delivered from the wrath to come because they were already dead. But Paul's point was that the Lord had promised to deliver His own who were alive on the earth before His wrath commenced. Thus, whether delivered by the hand of providence (Acts 9:29, 2 Corinthians 11:33), by the supernatural power of God (Acts 14:19-28, Acts 28:3), or at the return of Christ (Mark 13:26, Matthew 24:30), the faithful would be delivered one way or another.
     But there were also subtle differences in the breastplate. In Ephesians it was Righteousness, whereas here in Thessalonians it was Faith and Love. That both are mentioned together suggests they were to be interpreted as one. Thus, the breastplate was essentially "faith which causes believers to act in love," and by acting in love they meant towards their enemies especially, since this teaching was given in context of using a warfare analogy.
     Christ likewise spoke of responding in love in this same context:

     But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who despitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer [him] the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, forbid [him] not the tunic also. Give to everyone who asks you, and from him who takes away what is yours, do not ask [for it] back. And whatever you desire that men should do for you, do likewise unto them. For if you love those who love you, what credit is it to you? For even the sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is it to you? For even the sinners do the same. And if you hope to receive from those to whom you lend, what credit is it to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, that they may receive in kind. But love your enemies and do good to them, and lend, hoping for nothing back, and great shall be your reward, and you shall be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (Luke 6:27-35)

     In another place, Jesus corrected the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees, for they taught the exact opposite:

     You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." But I say unto you to resist not evil, but whoever strikes you on your right cheek turn to him the other also... You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say unto you, Love your enemies and bless those who curse you. Do good to those who hate you and pray on behalf of those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in Heaven. For He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust... therefore you shall be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:38, 43-45, 48)

     By their own testimony, the apostles obeyed this command, as always in the context of enduring persecution, defamation, character assassination, slander, and ridicule from their religious enemies. These were proofs of their righteousness before all:

     To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, are insufficiently clothed, receive beatings, and wander homeless. But we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless. Being persecuted, we forbear. Being defamed, we encourage. (1 Corinthians 4:11-13a)


The Importance Of Never Taking The Breastplate Off

     Again, by telling them to stay "sober and alert," Paul was saying that like soldiers they needed to remain prepared for attacks at all times. This is because those who proclaim the truth have targets placed on their backs, and the enemy watches night and day for when they might have their guards down. For Christians who proclaim the word, it is no accident if in traffic drivers inexplicably start harassing them, laying on the horn, or otherwise driving rudely; if strangers in the marketplace seem to despise them for no apparent reason, without a word even being spoken; if family or friends turn on them unexpectedly and betray them; even if fellow Christians begin slandering them without provocation or just cause. There are demons driving this opposition, and even if you don't give people reasons to attack you, these spirits will fabricate them in order to make life Hell for you for proclaiming the truth.
     But Christians were to provide good conduct in the sight of all men by walking continually in love, even when vehemently opposed. Walking in love is what Paul referred to as "putting on the armor of light":

     Recompense evil for evil to no one, providing good conduct in the sight of all men if possible, from yourselves [at least] living peaceably with all men, not avenging yourselves, beloved, but giving place to wrath. For it has been written, "Vengeance is Mine. I will repay," says the Lord. Therefore, if your enemy should hunger, feed him. If he should thirst, give him something to drink… [and] be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
     Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For "You shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit murder, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, you shall not lust," and if there be any other commandment, it is [now] being summed up in this word, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love works no ill towards [his] neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. And knowing this, the time, that it is the hour to be awakened out of sleep. For now is our deliverance nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent and the Day has drawn near. We should therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 12:14, 17-21, 13:8-12)


     Paul was essentially equating love here to righteousness, because by walking in love believers were fulfilling all of the law simultaneously. But they needed to do so continually, as James also taught. The commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself" was like a mirror believers needed to never turn away from. If they did, they would lose sight of the person they were becoming in Christ, fall back into their old sinful ways again, and begin returning evil for evil once more:

     Therefore, my brothers, let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath, for the wrath of man does not cultivate the righteousness of God. Wherefore... receive in meekness the implanted word which has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if a man is a hearer of the word yet not a doer, this is like a man observing his maturing face in a mirror, yet he observed himself and went away and immediately forgot what he was like (James 1:19-23)


The Breastplate With No Sword Is Meaningless

     As strange as this may sound, in terms of fighting the spiritual war against the kingdom of darkness, it is of little value to walk in love if we are not proclaiming the word of truth. The sword of the Spirit is what the enemy fears because it is what has the power to convert men's souls, and he largely concentrates his energies on those opening their mouths to speak God's word.

     And [Jesus] opened His mouth, and taught them, saying... "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt becomes tasteless, with what shall it be salted? It is henceforth good for nothing, but to be thrown out, and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world, a city being situated on a mountain that cannot be concealed. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket but upon a lampstand, and it shines for everyone in the house. Thus, let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in Heaven. (Matthew 5:10-16)

     Jesus here informed them that there was no way they could avoid persecution. Because He had chosen them as His disciples, they were now like a city being situated on a mountain where there was no way they could avoid drawing attention. He had placed them like a lamp on a lampstand, so their responsibility now was to let their light shine and not back away out of fear of persecution. As He told them elsewhere, they were to proclaim it even if threatened with bodily harm:

     If you should suffer on account of righteousness, blessed are you. But be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled, but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give a defense to every man who requests a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that whereas they may speak against you as evildoers they may be made ashamed who speak evil of your good conduct in Christ. (1 Peter 3:14-16)

     Here, love is mentioned in connection with giving a defense of the gospel, which suggests again that their good conduct was a defensive weapon, designed to protect them against accusations of unrighteousness. Others were "made ashamed" of speaking evil against them when they treated them with love, kindness, and humility despite being mistreated and falsely accused.
     But likewise today, without the sword of the Spirit we are not a threat to the enemy. Certainly we must walk in love, but the Lord professed very clearly that He did not come to send peace on the earth but a sword. It is because the sword of His word is what threatens the enemy's territory, and translates men from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son.
 

Stephen's Speech: The Armor Of God In Action

     In closing, one of the best examples found in the word of God on how the armor of God was being used is found in Acts, Chapter 7, where Stephen gave his speech before the Sanhedrin. He was dragged before them to give a defense for why he was supposedly speaking evil of the Jewish temple, and saying Jesus of Nazareth was going to supernaturally destroy it:

     Then they produced men, saying, "We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people, and the elders and the scribes, and having come upon him they seized him and brought hm to the Sanhedrin. And they set up false witnesses, saying, "This man does not cease to speaking words against this holy place and the law. For we have heard him saying that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place, and change the customs which Moses delivered unto us." And having looked intently upon him, those sitting in the Sanhedrin saw his face as the face of an angel.
      And the high priest said, "Are these things so?" And he said, "Men, brothers and fathers, listen..." (Acts 6:11-7:2)


     These were false accusations, and exaggerations of what Stephen likely taught. What the New Testament believers were now teaching was that the Jewish temple would be destroyed by the Romans, and that the church had now become the true temple of God on earth (Matthew 24:1-2, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:13-22). But because Stephen was preaching Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, whom they had crucified, they bore false witness against him to vilify him by suggesting he was somehow in favor of the Jewish temple being destroyed.
      Despite these false accusations, Stephen remained girded in the belt of truth. And once he began to address them, the word of God began cutting through these lies and exposing what Satan had spoken through the false witnesses. Stephen traced through the history of Abraham and his descendants to show how God had specifically chosen the land of Israel to be the place where His people would serve and worship Him (v.7). The tabernacle was the first makeshift temple built in the wilderness (v.44), but eventually King Solomon built a true temple for the Lord in Jerusalem (v.47). But Stephen then used the sword of the Spirit by quoting Isaiah 66:1-2 to prove from the word of God that the Lord ultimately never desired to dwell in temples made by human hands but in the hearts of men, a teaching the Jewish leadership were still unwilling to hear:

     But the Most High does not dwell in temples made by hand. As the prophet says, "Heaven is a throne for Me, and the earth is a footstool for My feet. What house will you build me?" says the Lord, "or what place for My rest? Has not My hand made all these things?" Oh stiff-necked and uncircumcised in hearts and ears, you always contradict the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you as well. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who proclaimed in advance the coming of the Righteous One, whom you became the betrayers and murderers of, who received the law by the ordinations of angels yet did not keep it. (Acts 7:48-53)

     By calling them "stiff-necked and uncircumcised of hearts and ears," Stephen was telling the Jewish leadership they were still carnally-minded, and thus contradictory to what the Holy Spirit was now teaching. But while this was a rebuke to them, it was not spoken in hate. Before Stephen even began his speech, they noticed how he had the face as it were "of an angel, which meant the anointing of God rested heavily upon him, and holiness, purity and love were visible on his countenance. He then began his speech by addressing them with endearing terms, saying, "Men, brothers and fathers, listen." Even when they began stoning him to death, Stephen still displayed love in his heart for them by asking God not to hold that sin to their charge (v.60).
     Thus, from beginning to end, Stephen remained clothed in the breastplate of love and righteousness. Whether he consciously understood "the armor of God" teaching yet or not (given that Paul's letters were not written yet), he nevertheless walked very powerfully in it, and thus served as one of the greatest examples in New Testament times of what a true soldier of Christ was supposed to look like.






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