So, in our last instalment of our Ephesians series, we considered the fact that there is something at work—in us and in the world—that is in conflict with God’s desire for flourishing, for abundant life, for goodness. Paul uses a catchall phrase, “the wiles of the devil” to evoke that reality. I talked a bit about how that phrase is complicated, especially if (like me) you come from a tradition that doesn’t tend to talk much about spiritual evil or demonic powers. But I think it gives voice to a reality that—if we’re paying attention—is true. There’s a brokenness about this world that defies our capacity to explain or accept. And in our own lives, I think Paul’s admission in the letter to the Romans feels true: that even he—the greatest evangelist the world has ever known—doesn’t seem to be able to the good that he truly wants to do: whenever I want to do good, evil is close at hand.
The gracious thing about this, though, is that Paul doesn’t seem panicked about evil. He just names the reality, and then tells us what we can do defend against it. And really, we’re not just defensive. We’re leaning into the reality that in the life, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus—the reality that tells us what’s truest about the world—God has already defeated evil. Whatever evil there is, is just running around like a chicken with its head cut off. It’s still making a mess, but it will be ultimately powerless.
So Paul says, almost nonchalantly: since we’re up agains the wiles of the devil, “take up the whole arbor 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.”
First, although it’s a little awkward to read, I love the repetition of the word—and variations on the word—“stand”. This is an active readiness to combat what would attack us, and threaten God’s good purposes for us. We’re not doormats for evil. We stand against it. Stand, stand, stand!
And we stand equipped with what Paul calls the whole armour of God. The first piece of the armour is the belt of truth. We’ve also heard about the breastplate of righteousness, but we’ll think about what that means next episode. We begin with the belt of truth.
Truth with a capital T is a hard thing to get ahold of these days. But it’s not a new thing. When Jesus was on trial, 2000 years ago, Pilate—the guy who was trying him—asked a question lots of us have asked: “What is truth?”
The wild thing about that scene, which you can find in John chapter 18, is that Jesus doesn’t respond. You’d think that would have been a good opportunity to explain everything, to make a case for himself. But instead, he stands there. He stands there, silently, as if to reiterate what he says earlier in the gospel: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
For Christians, the Truth is not a series of facts. It’s a person. Jesus tells us what is truest about the world. Jesus shows us what is true about God. Jesus shows us the heart of the One who is on the throne of the universe. He doesn’t give Pilate, or us, a lecture. He gives himself.
When we wrap the belt of truth around us, we’re saying that the thing that holds our (metaphorical) armour together, what keeps everything in place, is the person and work of Jesus. It’s the love of the One who shows us how far God will go to be with us and for us—who has already put his own body in the way of the spiritual forces that would destroy us and this world.
To wrap the belt of truth around us is to know that, come what may, the truest thing about us is that nothing in heaven, earth, or hell, not even death, will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, for us and for all things.
And when we know that, it changes everything.
May it be so.