Teaching Segment Notes
By Randell Neudorf
June 21st, 2015
Passage: Ephesians 6:10-24
The Commons is part of Mennonite Church Canada. This isn’t the tribe most of us grew up in, so we have been working hard to dive into the theological lens of our wider tribe.
The Mennonite Lens has three core values:
As we are looking at the end of Ephesians I want us to view this passage through these Values
Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld (who I like to call Tom) has written a commentary about Ephesians from a Mennonite perspective. As a Mennonite Tom cautions that,
“…most commentators like to envision the individual Christian in the armour… Support for an individualistic interpretation grows if the passage is read in light of Cynic-Stoic views of life as battle… However this limits what kind of struggle is imagined and misses the biblical allusions to God as the divine warrior. It is much more in keeping with the gist of Ephesians to see this summons to battle directed to the church as a whole, to the body of Christ acting as a unified divine force.” (Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians Believers Church Bible Commentary P.291-292. Please Note that any citations unless otherwise noted are Tom’s words and ideas.)
This is why we are using this Mennonite commentary, written from an Anabaptist perspective. Anabaptism is a communal faith, and that changes things as we learn. In the Mennonite Anabaptist tradition a community reading of scripture is valued. God isn’t just in relationship with us as individuals, God is in relationship with us as a community, so it is in community (even reading the bible together) where God is made known. That is why we don’t have the same person speaking every week. We know God better through a diversity of people seeking God together. Remember that an individual faith is much easier, because you get to ignore everyone else, but I have found this is hollow and incomplete.
Peace Lens Slide
Warfare symbolism is sometimes really hard for people who have grown up in the Mennonite Tribe or other Peace Church Traditions. The language grates on their desire for peace in all things. Now that might not be the case for some of us who were raised in other traditions, but it is still important to not confuse the metaphor for the message. Tom says “…truth, justice, peace, faithfulness, the word of God, and prayer, are the effective means by which the powers are overcome.” (p.298). The armour is the metaphor not the actual ingredients. We shouldn’t get hung up on the metaphor. It is also really important to note that God’s armor & tools looks nothing like our own.
Another element of peace making can be found in the description of our enemy. Tom say,
“Verse 11 identifies the enemy as the devil … the term devil appears also in 4:27 but is rare in the letters bearing Paul’s name… Verse 12 stipulates that the struggle is not with blood and flesh. Why does that need to be said? Perhaps some believers were experiencing firsthand the hostility of authorities or rival religious groups, even if this letter gives no specific evidence of that. They might have been tempted to see such hostile persons as the actual enemy.” (p.295)
This whole naming of the real enemy leads to peacemaking – People are made in the image of God and are to be part of God’s forgiveness plan. They are our potential future brothers and sisters not our enemies. Tom asserts that “Blood and flesh are not the enemy. Blood and flesh are under the control of the enemy. The church must struggle against the enemy, not against the victims of the enemy.” These powers this enemy can also be spiritual or systemic evil. (p.296).
Thinking of the weapons and tools of peacemaking reminded me an Activist Drumming Workshop I went to 2 years ago at Cahoots Festival. It is amazing what a drum line can do in the service of peace and justice. At a protest the drum line can be used to combat Police and Military. If it seems like they are tense the drum line plays something fun to help the authorities chill. It is as if the drummers are putting on their own armour or riot gear, but instead of vest and helmets they have a whole bunch of drums and noise makers. The Drums also inspire protesters – If the Drum Squad want to help knock down a fence they play a pulsing rhythm that helps the crowd gain momentum to beak the barrier. The drums are a motivating call to action. Tom says that this armour section of Ephesians is also supposed to be a “Rousing Call to Action” (P290).
Discipleship is a word that isn’t really used much in society, and when it is used in church circles we may not even be all talking about the same thing.
Some people use discipleship as short hand for teaching converts the things you need to know about God. It is a passing along of head knowledge. You need to be able to say the right things.
This isn’t how the Mennonite Anabaptist tradition uses this word. Discipleship is about following Jesus (God who came to us as a Person). We are to be Disciples of Jesus, copying the actions and values of Jesus so that we can be more like Jesus. So by putting on the “armour of God” we are trying to emulate the character of God – Following Jesus as our example. Tom says that whenever Paul talks about “putting on” or “taking off” something that what is being hinted at is a connection to baptism. Putting on the armour of God is a reference to following Jesus in baptism, putting on new life and way of being in Christ. (P 311)
Baptism is a symbol of our commitment to be disciples (or followers) of Jesus. We symbolically wash away our old self and put on Jesus as our new self. In this passage this idea is framed as putting on God’s own armour. Tom says that Paul is referencing another Armour of God passage in the Old Testament, “…by drawing explicitly from Isaiah 59 for several items of armor, the author makes sure readers see that it is God’s own armor that the community is to don.” (P293)
“The Lord has seen this, and he is displeased that there is no justice. 16 He is astonished to see that there is no one to help the oppressed. So he will use his own power to rescue them and to win the victory. 17 He will wear justice like a coat of armor and saving power like a helmet. He will clothe himself with the strong desire to set things right and to punish and avenge the wrongs that people suffer. 18 He will punish his enemies according to what they have done, even those who live in distant lands. 19 From east to west everyone will fear him and his great power. He will come like a rushing river, like a strong wind. 20 The Lord says to his people, “I will come to Jerusalem to defend you and to save all of you that turn from your sins. 21 And I make a covenant with you: I have given you my power and my teachings to be yours forever, and from now on you are to obey me and teach your children and your descendants to obey me for all time to come.” Isaiah 59: 15b-21
So as disciples we are to follow after Jesus to the point where we put on God’s own Armour the very Characteristics of Jesus.
So let’s quickly go through the list of armour:
- TRUTH is associated with a belt, some translations use the phrase “Girding your loins.” That phrase might need a little explanation. The idea is that you don’t want to trip in battle over your own clothes, whether it be a flowing robe or our pants falling down. Holding on to the Truth (tying the truth close to us) keeps us from getting tripped up. (P299)
- RIGHTOUSNESS which can be thought of as JUSTICE is the Breast Plate. – Doing the right thing is not a passive protection, but an active making things right. You wouldn’t carry all that weight around just in case. Following Jesus is actively working for Justice. (P 300)
- PEACE – shoes of readiness to announce the good news of peace. (P 300)
- FAITH (or faithfullness) – is a shield. Shields are not just defensive, they are also offensive tools. When laying siege to a fortress it is the aggressors that stand behind a wall of shields (think of roman times where shields were linked to form a sort of human tank). This shield is not just that we have faith in Christ, but that Christ is Faithful to us. God is so Faithful that He is in Solidarity with us humans. (P 301-302)
- SALVATION – is a helmet – Salvation isn’t a word that has a lot of meaning in our culture. Tom likes to equate it with LIBERATION. If we are putting on the Helmet of Liberation, it is not that we are just experiencing personal liberation/salvation, we are working to liberate others from oppression as well. (P 302)
- WORD of GOD – the sword of the spirit – It is important to remember that in the bible Spirit, Wind, and the Breath that is used to speaks Words are all interconnected. Tom says, “This sword is the Word of God. In Ephesians the term word of God has not yet come into use as a synonym for Scripture [the bible]. Instead it refers to the whole variety of divine revelation and intervention.” It is closer to the word Logos (translated as Word) used in the beginning of the Gospel of John. (P 303-304). So this sword has more to do with the Holy Spirit then the Bible specifically.
In the Book of Revelation we see another image of a sword. This sword comes from the mouth of Jesus, God the Son. This is also an image of The Holy Spirit, Jesus’ own Spirit. The Sword is the Breath or Spirit of God, the Word or Logos that speaks things into existence. It is a sword used as a creative act not a destructive act.
I would like to end today by us listening to a mash up of this idea of Sword/Spirit/Word/Logos using the opening of the Gospel of John.
I’m going to read the passage and every time I say the word “WORD” I’m going to get 3 people to echo me by saying Logos/Spirit/Sword
John 1:1-5 READING (based on the CEV)
In the beginning was the one who is called the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword
The Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword was with God and was truly God.
From the very beginning the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword was with God.
And with this Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword, God created all things.
Nothing was made without the Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword.
Everything that was created received its life from this being,
and the life of this Word/Logos/Spirit/Sword gave light to everyone.
The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out.
The last 2 verses of Ephesians is a prayer for the listeners of the words spoken today, and I would like to pray those words for you as a Benediction or Blessing for you. If you are able please stand.
“I pray that God the Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
will give peace, love, and faith
to every follower!
May God be kind
to everyone who keeps on loving
our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 6:23-24 CEV