Faith as a Shield
"Above all, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one!" Ephesians 6:16
A shield is a weapon of defense, held in front of the person to prevent the missiles of the foe injuring the body. A "shield" then is a means of protection. In Scripture, it is used as a metaphor of that which affords security against the assaults of the Devil.
Varied indeed are the shifts and shields which professing Christians employ. Some trust in the sufficiency of carnal reasoning to repel the attacks which Satan makes on their souls. Some shelter behind human traditions—and poor protection they give! Some seek refuge beneath the shield of fatalism—but get sorely wounded. It is indeed blessedly true—that whatever comes to pass was eternally foreordained by God; yet, that truth was not revealed in Scripture as a rule for us to walk by.
Others attempt to hide behind an avowed inability to do anything to help themselves, though they act very differently when menaced by physical perils! Others take presumption for their shield: Heedless of warnings and reckless of dangers, they imagine themselves to be strong and armored against the attacks of Satan. Peter fell through self-confidence!
"In every situation, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one!" This is one of the seven pieces of the "armor of God," which the Christian is bidden to "take unto" himself and "put on," in order that he may be able to stand against the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:11-17), here likened unto "flaming arrows" because his temptations are noiseless, swift, piercing, and dangerous, designed to inflame our lusts. And as we are exhorted to "resist steadfast in the faith" (1 Peter 5:9), our Adversary the Devil, who "as a roaring lion walks about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8); so here, we are told "Above all, take up the shield of faith" (Ephesians 6:16), for that is the only effectual "shield" which will stand the soul in good stead when the Enemy launches his attack upon us.
The "above all" has a double force:
First, it means over all the other pieces of armor, serving as a protecting roof above them. The shield of the ancients was made of light but hard metal, having a loop attached to the inner side, through which the hand was thrust to secure a firm hold; and then, the shield could be raised or lowered according as need required.
The different pieces of armor represent the various spiritual graces of the Christian, and the "above all" in our text signifies, second, pre-eminently, chiefly, supremely. It is an all-important and essential thing that we should take the shield of faith.
First, because it is to guard the whole man. Satan assaults the HEAD, seeking to deceive with subtle error and false doctrine, or by unsettling us with doubts. Nothing but faith will enable us to retain what we have received from the Word. When Satan calls that Word in question, faith will interpose with "It is written!" written by Him who "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2), and that is an effectual shield.
Satan assails the HEART, seeking to get us to question the love of God in the day of adversity, or to draw out our affections world-ward in the day of prosperity; but faith declares, "Though he slays me—yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15); and will esteem "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt" (Hebrews 11:26).
Or he may direct his fiery darts at your KNEES, telling you it is vain to pray—for God will not hear you; but faith lays hold of one of the prayer promises and betakes itself to the throne of grace.
But the "above all" signifies not only that "the shield of faith" is for guarding the whole man—but also that it is essential for the preservation of our other graces. As Spurgeon well said in his sermon on this verse, "The man of God is to put on the belt and the breastplate, and he is also to be shod and wear his helmet. Though these are all armor, faith is an armor for his armor; it is not only a defense for him—but a defense for his defenses." In other words, unless faith is kept healthy and active, the other graces will languish and be helpless. As Charnock says, "Other graces may fail and the soul recover—but if faith failed, all would be lost."
Satan will attack our sincerity by attempting to sever the belt of truth (Ephesians 6:14), and only faith in exercise will preserve our sincerity. He will attack our practical righteousness or holiness, seeking to batter in "the breastplate" (Ephesians 6:14); and only faith will enable us to say with Joseph, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9) All the Christian graces need Divine grace to preserve them, and that grace is given in response to the exercise of faith.
"Above all, taking the shield of faith" (Ephesians 6:16). The faith which God has given to His child—is to be made use of. It is to perform varied duties and is fitted to accomplish many useful ends. It is not only the instrument by which the soul feeds on God's Word—but it is also the grand defensive weapon for protecting the soul against Satan's temptations. Since the Christian's faith was imparted by God—it turns to God as its Object. Such a faith is not grounded on fancies and feelings, dreams and visions—but is based upon and built up by the Word. Faith credits the testimony of Holy Writ: It does not regard the Devil as a fiction—but as a solemn reality; and views sin not as a trifle—but as that "abominable thing" which God hates (Jeremiah 44:4).
It does not look upon the warnings and threatenings of Scripture as mere scare-crows, but as danger-signals, which we disregard at our peril. And therefore, as the Psalmist declared, "His truth shall be your shield and buckler" (Psalm 91:4). If the saint is "girt about with truth" (Ephesians 6:14), his soul would will be more secure against the fiercest assault of Satan than was the body of the knight of old who went forth into battle clad in this coat of armor.
Now, as the best of shields is of no value to the soldier in the day of battle, unless he uses it—so faith is of no avail to the Christian when tempted by the Devil, unless he has it in exercise. There is a sacred art in being able to handle the shield of faith, and that are consists of having God's Word stored in our hearts, and then drawing promptly upon the same in the hour of need.
Let us be very simple and practical. If tempted to covetousness, I must use that Word, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (Matthew 6:19). If solicited by evil companions, I must heed that injunction, "If sinners entice you—do not consent" (Proverbs 1:10), and that will prove an effectual shield. If the Devil seeks to enkindle anger or bitterness against a brother or sister, and I lay hold of the precept, "Be kindly affectioned one to another" (Romans 12:10), his fiery darts will be quenched. It is because the details of Scripture have so little place in our meditations that Satan trips us so frequently. How pertinent was the Savior's responses to the wiles of Satan! Without modification, could He say, "By the Word of your lips I have kept myself from the paths of the destroyer" (Psalm 17:4).
But faith is not only to deliver from Satan's solicitations to evil—but also from his temptations to fears and frights, despondency and despair; and therefore, it must make use of the Divine promises, as well as precepts. There must be full confidence in God's faithfulness and power—to make good His pledges. The Devil will tell you, "Things will be so bad after the war is over, and the coffers of the government so empty, that you will starve!" But faith will repel his dart with, "My God shall supply all your needs!" (Philippians 4:19). He may argue, "Things will come to such a pass that no servant of Christ will be allowed to minister unto the saints!" But faith will quench that dart with the grand promise, "I will never leave you, nor ever forsake you!" (Hebrews 13:5). He may answer, "But your corruptions will prove too strong for you!" "No," replies faith, "He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). "But," continues Satan, "you are weak, and I shall yet destroy you!" "No," says faith, "Christ gives to the feeblest of His sheep eternal life, and none shall pluck them out of His hand!" (John 10:28-29). That is what we understand by using faith as a shield.
Some may be inclined to object unto what is said above, by pointing out that the implication throughout is that the Christian has it in his own unaided power, to make use of faith whenever he pleases; whereas, in fact, he is as much dependent upon God for the motions of his faith, as he was for the original impartation of it. That is not disputed; but is it relevant? We are not discussing the Christian's ability or his inability—but rather, are pressing one phase of his accountability; and in so doing, we are but emulating the apostle.
After telling the saints that they were opposed by the whole of the organized forces of Satan, he bade them, "Take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day" (Ephesians 6:13); and then, specified the use they were to make of each particular part of their armor. Therein, he was enforcing the Christian's responsibility, and he did not weaken—or rather, annul the same—by adding, 'though of yourselves, you are incapable of so doing.' Not so did the Divinely-inspired teacher act! While it is true that the Christian is wholly dependent upon God; yet, it is not true that he is wholly impotent as the non-Christian—to insist that he is, is to deny that regeneration has effected any radical change in him, that there is an essential difference between those who have been made new creatures in Christ, and those who are dead in trespasses and sins. If the Christian's faith be weak and sickly, the fault is entirely his own. The way to obtain more faith—is to exercise that which we already have—see Luke 8:18. The best way to exercise the faith we have—is to expectantly ask the Lord for an increase of it—Luke 17:5. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).