Breastplate of Righteousness
At this point in our Ephesians journey, we’re continuing (with apologies for the long gap...) in the section from chapter 6, verses 10-18, in which Paul describes what he calls “The Whole Armour of God”—the tools at our disposal for resisting and combating the stuff in the world that works against its and our flourishing. As Paul has made clear earlier, this isn’t a physical battle (which is good news; we don’t make war against our neighbours; we’re to love our neighbours, always). But we are caught up in a spiritual battle.
In our last episode we talked about the Belt of Truth—letting the truth of who Jesus is hold everything together and in place. Today we’re going to think about the Breastplate of Righteousness.
Righteousness is a kind of churchy word. But most simply it means “right relationship.” One way to describe Christian maturity—the goal of our faith and practice—is growing up into right relationship with God, our true selves, each other, and all non-human creation. It’s to live in active opposition to the stuff that distorts and destroys those relationships. Or more positively, it’s to pursue whole, loving, life-giving relationships in all four areas.
So, first of all, to be righteous means getting our relationship with God right. We let God be God, which means that we are not—which is good news, because we’re not cut out for the gig. To be righteous means that we let God’s will and way hold sway in our lives, trusting that God’s will for us is good and very good. To be righteous is to get after the world as it will be when God gets the world God wants.
Once, when asked what two things were most important for us to do, Jesus said that the most important thing is to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
So, to be righteous means to love God with everything we’ve got. And it means to love the things God loves. Which is you and me, and all creation—everyone and everything that God has made.
It means loving ourselves well—knowing our true selves. It means knowing ourselves as beloved children of God, made in God’s image, and created for good works, to participate in God’s loving care for this world. We need to know this stuff about ourselves. Often I think of loving our neighbours as ourselves as mostly self-sacrificial. And there is sacrifice involved. The way of Jesus is the way of self-giving love. But when Jesus tells us to love others as we love ourselves, that involves learning to love ourselves well. We do that by leaning into God’s love for us, by knowing that God delights in us, and living out of that.
And when we do that, we start to be able to see those around us in the same light—as people meant to reveal God’s grace and goodness, children of God, eternally loved; people worthy of love and justice; people God has given everything to be with and for.
And because we’re in the business of loving what God loves, we learn to love all creation, to remember that God sighed with satisfaction over all that he had made, calling it good and very good.
The Good News of Jesus tells us that God has done the hard work of reconciling us to himself, and has already begun to gather all things in heaven and earth in divine love. In another New Testament letter we’re told that Jesus has become our righteousness. In him, we are right with God. Through Jesus, God’s choice for us is undeniable and irrevocable.
So, when we think about putting on the Breastplate of Righteousness, I think Paul is inviting us to know that that is the reality that protects our hearts from the sin and brokenness and any lies—anything contrary to the reality of God’s choice for us—that we’re tempted to believe about God, ourselves, others and the world around.
In the ancient world, the heart (what a breastplate protects) wasn’t just the place where romantic love and emotions reside; it was the command centre for our whole lives—the source of reason and passion and understanding and decision making.
This image, of the Breastplate of Righteousness, tells us that when we’re seeking after righteousness—living out of the relationship that God has called us to in Christ, for the sake of our true selves, others, and creation—we can have confidence that what’s integral about us is kept secure from anything that would seek to destroy us.
So may it be so. Amen