A shield of faith

Apostle Paul refers a shield of faith to one of the most important kinds of spiritual weapon. We can see it when reading verse 16 from the sixth chapter of the letter to Ephesians, "With all of this, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one". In order to better understand this verse let's take a look at the Greek original. There, instead of words ‘with all of this', is a word epi pasin. This expression describes location of one object in relation to others, and this means that the shield of faith should be the first in relation to other kinds of weapon; what's more, it should protect all warrior's weapon and the warrior himself.

At times of apostle Paul, Roman warriors used two kinds of shields. One kind they used at times of celebration, exhibitions; it was not of a big size, of round shape and decorated with different ornaments. Thus, it had been a decoration for warriors. In Greek it had been called aspis. The second type of shield had been called thureos, which is translated as ‘wide and high door'. This type of shield Roman warriors used during military actions. The first shield, even though it had been beautiful, couldn't protect warrior in the battle, but the second one fully hided him and granted security.

The size of a battle shield had been near 1,2 m high and 75 cm wide. At sides it had special hooks with which it could be connected with shields of other warriors. In this way warriors formed an unbreakable wall of a turtle shape, which is really hard to break; it could stand not only arrows, but stones as well. With a help of common actions in the wall, made of unbreakable shields, warriors came close to the enemy, avoiding the arrow attack. A shield had been made of three plates - one metal and two wooden. All this had been covered with a fabric, and then edged with a couple of leather layers; between them a space had been left. Such shield confidently protected the warrior and all the army even from the flaming arrows, since at those times arrows were widely used, their ends were wetted in resin and set on fire. This type of flaming arrows had been used in order to assault big, fixed cities or territories, while during a common battle most often simple arrows were used. An arrow got into the first layer of the shield and because of the cavity between the layers, a fire extinguished and did not spread. Whatever firm an arrow might have been, it had no chance to break through the next layer - metal. It's very important to say that before the fight shields were put into water for some time, for wet leather, as you know, can not catch fire. It's also important to say that a shield of a Roman warrior had not only a defensive function, but you could also inflict an enemy with a death-blow since a shield had a cusp in the middle.

Thus, we may conclude that a shield had been a very serious type of weapon used by Roman warriors. And this type of weapon Paul tells every Christian to take on an armament, and actually this type of weapon is faith. Our shield is a strong, inviolable, powerful faith, which always causes a death-blow to devil as in the battle of a separate person, the same in the battle of a separate community, which is part of the Church, and in the Church as a whole.

Apostle Paul, knowing the importance of this type of weapon, explains what faith is, so that we would better understand how to take up arms with such faith, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb.11:1). And further Paul devotes all the eleventh chapter to faith. It's very important to read it over and over again when devil will be trying to draw us doubts according to God's promises. Let's consider couple of main points of this chapter. "By faith Noah, warned by God about events as yet unseen, respected the warning and built an ark to save his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir to the righteousness that is in accordance with faith" (Heb. 11:7). God told Noah to build an ark in which he, his family and all animals that would be able to fill the earth through multiplication, would be rescued. We see that the ark had to be of a huge size, i.e. Noah had to put great effort and this took him far more than one year. And we see that Noah trusted God and got started to work, he didn't wait for explanations, he didn't ask why it should be exactly this way, how is that possible, is that really God's will - he just believed. And Noah's faith rescued him and his family. Noah took the shield of faith into his hands, held it till the end; he didn't step neither to the left, nor to the right, holding it tight till the end.

Let's imagine the situation with Noah. Life goes on, everyone is busy with his work, everyone lives for his satisfaction, looks for something for himself, tries to enjoy every moment, but Noah builds, he spends all his time looking for material. Noah himself doesn't realize what he is doing, his sons don't know at all what is happening with their father, but still they help him. We may only imagine how devil had been attacking Noah and his sons so that they would stop building, what doubts he had been trying to throw them ("Do you think you're special or saint? All normal people live normally, and what are you doing? Just think logically what will come out of this?"), and how the world had been pressing on them. Satan had been trying at any price to attract their attention from the process of building, he realized that only Noah had been left righteous while all other creation was already in his hands, he knew for sure: if Noah would stop, devil would win - humankind would be destroyed and the Offspring, who had to squash satan's head, wouldn't be born. Noah and his family were a derision for everyone, probably no-one considered them to be ordinary, but faith fed Noah and gave power to him and his family. The faith quenched all arrows of devil.

One more example of inflexible faith is Abraham, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going..." (Heb. 11:8). As in the first story, Paul gives us an example from the book of Genesis. Abraham, living in his tribe with his family, knowing well how things functions and in what way, having good estate, felt very well and protected. And here, God tells him to leave everything, take his family and go no-one knows where. But God didn't leave him empty-handed, but gave him a promise that He would bless him and bring a great nation out of him, that He would make his name great. And Abraham listened to God, left his comfort and followed God. What was his decision ruled by? - Faith. Abraham believed God. Whatever incomprehensible God's words might have sounded at first sight, Abraham believed that God may not lie, and he listened to Him: "By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, "It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you." He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead - and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back." (Heb. 11,17:19). And what's more, Abraham listened to God and brought Isaac as an offering. Contrary to any logics, contrary to any natural law Abraham believed that God is able to raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham did not put his shield down, he remembered God's promise and believed that God may not break His word. Abraham had been in a worse condition than we - Christians - are, he never heard of raising from the dead, but believed that God would do this because of His promise. And with such a shield Abraham did not swing.

The end of the eleventh chapter of the letter to Hebrews is very interesting and important: "Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40). In order to better understand what it's all about, let's take a look at the Acts of the apostles: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). From these lines we may see that any solution is in Jesus from Nazareth. And all old-testament saints, who listened and were obedient to God, were in worse condition than we are - they believed and anticipated the coming of the Redeemer in order to live eternally in God's presence, for even after death they had been waiting for the Son of God Who would destroy death. For many years God had been preparing all creation for coming of the Messiah. And we are left only to accept Jesus from Nazareth, believe in His redemptive offering, believe in the Scripture and live eternally.

Let's imagine that we're having a task to build a house and we know how to build it, we have a designed project of that building, in our mind we have calculated everything, what's more, we have seen how others have already built such buildings and even more complex, but we ourselves hadn't built yet. We do not have a house, we have it only on paper; we don't see it yet, but we believe that we will build it since we have many proofs and reasons to hope. We have an information about materials from which to build and where to take them, we also have testimonies of other people, who have already been building, we see real fruits - houses which are already built, only our house we see only on paper, which actually makes us confident that we wouldn't stray from the course. So, all information that we have is our pledge, and already built houses which we see, are an evidence, a sign for us. Practically, faith which Paul says about, is a complex of faith of a mind and faith of a heart. The bigger the faith of a mind, the faster it develops into faith of a heart and we get conviction that it really would happen so.

How are we to take such faith on an armament? And again Paul tells about one of the super-ways how to do it, what can make our faith strong and unmovable, "So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). When we listen to the word of God, when we hear what God has done for everyone who relied upon Him, when we hear and really see how God acts in life of Christians who believe, then we fill our mind with knowledge about God, we change our way of thinking, a faith of mind starts to grow in us, and step by step it starts to grow into faith of a heart. And in the same way warriors dipped their shields in the water, so that flaming arrows couldn't cause them harm, we need to dip into the word of God. That's why Jesus tells us to be His witnesses, so that with our testimony we might not only bring people to confession, but that the faith might grow in everyone of us. Since after we hear a living testimony, our faith really becomes stronger, that's why Paul says to the Church to encourage each other. A community, in which we grow spiritually, plays an important role. For when one warrior couldn't manage to fight alone because of the intensified attack directed towards him, then other warriors, who were standing near, covered him with their shields not letting him to die.

It's very important to read the word of God everyday in order to be able to confidently rely upon it and so that devil wouldn't be able to throw us doubt. When we would be well aware of God's word, our shield would be strong, since we would know that God can not mistake and can not change His word or not keep it, "God is not a human being, that he should lie, or mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" (Num. 23:19) It should be emphasized that reading the word of God doesn't always mean listening to it. Many people read it but don't hear it, but the apostle says that it's not enough just to read it, it should be heard. If someone had read the Bible, this doesn't mean that he had heard it and implemented into his life. Many people read the Holy Scripture just as an obligation, simply fulfilling the law, and they even don't want to hear that the Holy Spirit is talking to them. Or when they see something that they don't understand, they don't even pay attention to it, they aren't looking for an answer in the Church teaching, they do not ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten them. In such cases it's vital not to lose faith. When we consciously disregard our faith, our shield, then we put the whole community, which we belong to, under threat, we put under threat all members of our Church, because in this case a hole is being created in the common wall of shields, connected together into an unbreakable wall. Then, through us, devil may cause significant loses to God's army. And we would be responsible for this in front of our commander Jesus.

Let's take a look at David: where does a baby get such a great faith that he can step out in order to confront such a giant as Goliath (1 Sam. 17:32-38)! David didn't get scared at all on the contrary to all the Israeli army. We see that he doesn't have fear or any doubt, and these are main types of enemy's arrows. At the right moment and in the right place David's faith did not swing and he gained the victory for all the Israel. We may also see from these lines where did he get such faith from. David had been a simple shepherd, but he had been a good shepherd; he had been faithful to the job God entrusted to him, what's more he loved God more than anything else and had enough time to think over God's works. Obviously, he heard more than once from his father about what God had made for the Israeli people and in what kind of supernatural way He took them out of Egypt. He, probably, also knew that the Lord had always been with those who had been reflecting over God's word day and night and were strong and courageous (Joshua 1:6-9). If God has done so many wonders, taking them out of Egypt, then He can do a miracle now. David didn't waste his time for unnecessary things, he did his job and got satisfaction from God's presence. And he had his personal testimony about how he had been rescuing his flock from predators. David didn't spend God's anointing for unnecessary things. God saw that David had been faithful in little and put him above all Israel.

Many Christians listen to the word of God, take a shield of faith, and then exchange it for the devil's shield. This is exactly how it happens when after going to the Holy Mass, or after reading the Bible, we start to listen to the spirit of the world. This is what happens when we start to waste our time for television or some, at first view, neutral literature or watch occult movies or immoral programs. And after that when God will call us to pray for someone or give a living testimony, we wouldn't be sure what to do, since we wouldn't know whom we believe more: what we have seen in the world or God; and then we would be the one who needs to be prayed for.

Nowadays, in modern Christianity, there is a widespread phenomenon called ‘outward Christian'. In this case, instead of a big battle shield we take a small, nice, demonstrative, round shield which warriors used at celebrations or exhibitions. We want to look very religious, to brag about how great faith we have, to seat in the front rows in the Church, to speak religious words and in the same time be completely closed for the action of the Holy Spirit, and not let God's word change us. But with such a shield we are a target for an enemy, and what's more - devil uses us in order to achieve his goals - to destroy all the army, the Church. All this phylactery may be simply called ‘a showing off'.

We always have to keep our shield in fighting trim, since we are always in the state of war, starting from our birth we are devil's enemies, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel" (Gen. 3:15). During whole our life devil would be trying to destroy us, as well as our close friends and relatives, that's why we shouldn't despise it. And as a Roman warrior took care of his shield because it had been worked up with leather, we should be keeping and intensify our faith. Roman warriors regularly anointed leather, which a shield had been covered with, with a special oil, so that it wouldn't crack and could accomplish its function. And in the same way as we should be permeated with God's word, we should always be open for the action of the Holy Spirit, so that Its anointment would always be with us, and so that the Holy Spirit would renew our faith, so that It would build us. Our way of thinking should become like Jesus'. And because of this Paul says that we have a unique possibility for our faith to grow, so that we could build ourselves and become like Christ. And what's more, people of the Old Testament period didn't have such possibility as every Christian has, which is the gift of tongues, "Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves" (1 Cor. 14:4). "I thank God that I speak tongues more than all of you" (1 Cor. 14:18). This is a unique way to change ourselves from the insideout, to let God's presence heal, so that whole our being would be renewed, so that our emotions would be healed and devil's arrows wouldn't cause us any harm and wouldn't throw us doubts concerning God's truth. On the cross, Jesus had given me everything and I only have to accept it. If we would always abide in God's presence, our faith would be anointed with the Holy Spirit, our faith would be a living faith, and if God would like to use us in some place or time, we would be able to be God's armour.

One of the best ways to maintain our shield of faith in fighting trim, is to receive the living Jesus as often as possible, to let Him abide in us, and let us abide in Him (Jn. 6:47-48): "Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life"; "For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them" (Jn. 6:55-56). When we receive the body and blood of Jesus, we commune Jesus himself, and also have a promise that we would have eternal life and we know that Christ may not tell a lie. Then we may confidently tell to devil "get away", since I have access to the Father through the Christ's sacrifice, and what's more, Christ's sacrifice is accomplished every time at the Holy Liturgy and I have possibility to be involved in it. Every time I receive Jesus' body and blood - God forgives me my sins and devil can no longer blame me and shake my faith. At the Eucharist, God restores His covenant with me, and this means that God himself intercedes for me. We also know that the Holy Spirit rested upon Jesus in the fullness. So where may greater anointment be than on the body and blood of our Savior.

When reading the Gospel, especially according to Mathew, Mark and Luke, we see that the basic precondition for Jesus to heal had been faith. In most cases when Jesus made a miracle concerning healing He said: "Your faith has saved you", or "Let it be according to your faith". We see that faith is a very important kind of armour, which devil is really afraid of and he doesn't want us to use it. Devil knows well that without the shield of faith we wouldn't be able to accept anything from God -healing or any other blessing. That's why he would always be sending fiery arrows toward faith. The most widespread kind of flaming arrows are arrows of doubt. This may be not just a little doubt which relates to some separate case, but a doubt concerning the whole Gospel. Some arrows may even carry doubt concerning our salvation or even the existence of God. Devil would always want to steal our belief in healing or revealing from some bad habit, or belief in effectiveness of our prayer. We may be attacked by thoughts that God doesn't hear us, that this is not the case in which God may listen to us. Very often arrows may strike in the sphere of our yet not healed emotions, he would be trying to use our emotions in order to push us into depression and then to dispatch us. Sometimes enemy's power would be trying to draw us its faith, which contradicts God's word, instead of biblical faith. These may be teachings of different sects, new age, which say that all religions are equally good and a person may get much useful from each of them etc. That's why it is vital that this type of armour would always be at hand and ready.

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