Ephesians 6 v 14b
It has been said that the weakest part of a city needs the strongest guard. So it is with our bodies – the most vulnerable parts need to be covered and kept warm. (William Gurnall) There is no doubt that our most vulnerable area is the chest and abdomen.
So Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, in describing the spiritual armour that every Christian needs likens it to real armour that protects a body.
Last week we considered the first piece that we possess as Christians -
Piece Number 1 – The Belt or Girdle of Truth.
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth,
The Belt of Truth is listed first because it holds the other pieces of the armour together. Truth is the integrating force in the life of the believer. Physically, the soldier that Paul thinks about and uses for an illustration is an infantryman who wore a short tunic. The belt was buckled around the waist to keep the folds of the tunic secure and to strengthen the muscles of the midriff by holding them firm.
Truth is the foundation of everything. Truth stands for the whole truth concerning salvation, the great message of salvation, the theme of the Bible centred as it is on the person of the Bible the Lord Jesus Christ.
This morning we come to the second piece of defensive armour, that in the second part of verse 14 is called
2. The Breastplate of Righteousness.
v 14b and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
Godly King Solomon when writing to his son said this – in Proverbs 28 v 1
The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Today’s society with all of its sophisticated ideas of sociology and psychology, has an obsession about Assertiveness. I have been reading application forms for posts in a local school. Almost every letter containing a supportive statement has words of self-commendation. “I am a good timekeeper; I have a pleasant outgoing personality; I am the right person for this job because I have all the experience that you need.”
People today are taught to sell themselves, to commend themselves, to build themselves up and to push themselves forward. There are courses that teach you to do this. There is a requirement that you excel in boldness – the bolder you are the more chance there is of you succeeding in life.
But notice what Solomon said –
The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
The truly bold person according to the Bible is the RIGHTEOUS person. So it is clear that righteousness is what is needed, righteousness that protects the inner vulnerable parts of the soul. Worldly boldness may give a temporary boost to one’s feelings of self worth and self esteem – but Bible boldness is in a covering – a breastplate – a breastplate of righteousness.
It is, as we shall see, a “life that is right with God and with man.” There is so much in this and we need to discover what the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul is saying.
1. What is the breastplate?
Roman soldiers usually wore a tough, sleeveless piece of leather or heavy material with horn or hoof pieces from animals sewn on. It covered the soldier’s body from his neck down to the belt, which in turn as we saw last time covered the loins, the upper waist. The Greek word for breastplate is THORAX. We use this word medically for the chest, or the upper region of the human trunk or torso – from navel to neck. The thorax ends at the lower end of the rib cage. Thinking about this the ribs they are themselves a breastplate, a protective covering for the contents of the chest – namely the heart and the lungs. We cannot live without well functioning hearts and lungs. They are called vital organs. At the lower end there is the upper part of the abdomen containing stomach, liver, kidneys and intestines and a few other organs. The soft middle of a soldier’s body, from neck to loins is vulnerable to injury and needs to be protected – with a breastplate. There is a division between the commentators about the nature of the breastplate described. All say that the breastplate came in two halves. Some say that there was a right section and a left section that buckled or fastened in some way at the front. But others maintain that there was a front and a back fastened together under the arms like a tabard. If the latter is true then there seems to be some provision for the back after all, despite the fact that we said last week that there is no provision for the back indicating that retreat was out of the question.
In mediaeval times soldiers wore chain mail to protect their bodies – a heavy garment of pieces of metal sewn together that could repel arrows and in some cases sword thrusts. These would have had a back and front.
However it was arranged, the breastplate was primarily designed to protect the heart and lungs and some of the abdominal organs too.
Centuries ago people believed that the seat of our emotions was somewhere in our middles. Our English language is rich with expressions referring to our emotions linked to organs. “ My heart was in my mouth; I need to vent my spleen; I am sick of love; I feel very liverish today.”
The Bible too has similar expressions. Paul yearned in his bowels Philippians 1:8
For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.
The beloved in Song of Solomon 5:4
My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
1 John 3:17
But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
We read of the reins in the Book of Psalms – this refers to the kidneys.
Great significance was attached to nearly all of the bodily organs by ancient peoples believing that the affections had their origins somewhere in the middle of the body – the very area covered by the breastplate. Whether or not we believe that today is hardly the point.
What is still true for us is this – that we are vulnerable to the attack of Satan and his minions in the area of our affections and emotions. He knows how to hit us where it hurts – in our feelings. And leading on from our feelings is a route to our conscience, our desires and ultimately to our wills.
How prominent feelings are in our lives! Therefore how much they need to be protected from the wiles of the devil. He certainly knows our weak spots.
Thankfully so does the Lord Jesus Christ – and He has provided the glorious armour for such a purpose – and in particular the breastplate of righteousness.
2. It is a breastplate of Righteousness – what is righteousness?
Righteousness is the character or quality of being right or just. It is a distinctive characteristic of the Lord God. He is perfect and holy in all of His ways. He is faithful to His word always – He does not change – that is part of His righteousness. He is truthful in all of His utterances and dealings with His universe.
God expresses His righteousness in condemning sin – we should expect that of a righteous God.
In early English the same word was rendered RIGHTWISENESS.
Many people in the world would have the temerity to claim that they had righteousness. They would point to a code of conduct that they keep to, or a religious view with certain well-meaning standards that benefit others. Some would say that they are righteous because they are not unrighteous, like drug pushers, thieves and murderers. Others who have no faith in any deity would say that their humanism was their righteousness.
But according to the Bible this is not righteousness at all! This is a false righteousness because mankind has invented it. It is the product of man’s warped and depraved nature that realises that he is not all that he should be – but that he cannot be any better and has to settle for what he THINKS is righteousness.
God’s righteousness is not obtainable by obedience to God’s law; or by any merit that we think we might have or anything else – except by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The standard for righteousness can only come from the Author of righteousness and the One who maintains His own righteousness consistently and absolutely. Only God can do this.
All of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags compared to His.
The Lord God has DECLARED and proved His righteousness in the death of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
What amazing scriptures these are! In fact if we want to know anything about the righteousness of the Holy God, the creator, then Romans is the letter to go to!
The same Greek word translated righteousness in Ephesians 6 v 14 occurs 92 times in the New Testament – 30 of those occurrences are in the Letter to the Romans. In this letter Paul speaks of
1. Righteousness REVEALED.
Romans 1 v 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
2. Righteousness REQUIRED
Romans 1 v 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
It is required because it does not exist naturally in man – see how Paul puts it in chapter 3 –
10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
3. Righteousness RECEIVED
Romans 4 v 3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Romans teaches us that God always does that which is right because of who He is. He cannot be bribed or persuaded to act in an unrighteous way – like we can. He acts righteously because He is righteous.
Whereas we who are fallen sinful human beings and are not naturally righteous do what we do because we are sinners. We cannot act in other way, such is the nature of man. We are sinners by nature, by practice and by choice. We do what is wrong and unrighteous. We are incapable of being like God, the righteous God because we are tainted in thought, deeds and motives.
Now you may ask where this line of reasoning is going. We are talking about righteousness. If we are to have any communication with our maker who is righteous then His nature will repel us. What are we to do? Does God insist that we imitate in some way His righteousness? Does He ask us to study His nature and then seek to so change our lives that we somehow copy Him in order to be like Him?
My friends that is impossible – for a start we are dead spiritually.
But say we were miraculously brought to life - would we then be able to imitate God? Is that what the Lord God sent His Son into the world for – in order that we may look at him and seek to copy His perfect life? No – it cannot be – we just cannot do it.
The marvel of the Gospel is this – by means of regeneration God gives us His righteous nature. When we are born again God the Holy Spirit comes to live within us and it is He, Himself who works to reproduce Christ’s righteousness in us so that it shows through us. This is called IMPUTED RIGHTEOUSNESS and without it no one can call himself a Christian.
The person who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ becomes what the Bible calls
“The righteousness of God in Him, that is Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5 v 21.
This means that a person becomes, in Christ, all that God requires a man or woman to be.
We mentioned Abraham a moment ago. He well illustrates this point. Abraham believed God – he had faith – and God accounted this to Abraham as righteousness.
Let us consider this righteousness.
It is sufficient for ordinary people like us to be right WITH God.
The Righteousness of God as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ and imputed by the Holy Spirit of Christ does 3 things in our Christian souls.
1. It transforms our depravity into holiness.
Several times during these studies in Ephesians 6 we have noted that Satan operates by working on our inward faults and corruptions. He cannot force us to commit sin but he can make sin very attractive to us, and appeal to our natural old nature. He can make suggestions based on his knowledge of our particular weaknesses, with the intention of exerting his will upon us. Even though Christians have been redeemed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is still that remaining sinful tendency in each of us – there is that something in all of us that will not be removed finally until our bodies are laid to rest in the grave.
All men and women are different to our Saviour in this respect. When Satan came to Jesus to try his tempting way with him “he found nothing in him.”
John 14 v 30 Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me.
This means that Satan could find no defect, in the perfect man of God, which he could use to trap him, trick him, suggest to him or lead him into sin.
But when Satan comes to sinful people he finds us predisposed to secret sins – we are ready to be betrayed into his hands. We are like a heap of dry paper and wood doused in petrol – all it takes is a spark from Satan to set us on a raging fire! And only the wonderful grace of God can extinguish such a fire.
However when you become a Christian then your soul is given the righteousness of Christ and things change.
2 Corinthians 5 v 17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Now there is a battle in the redeemed human being – the flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh. This change does not mean perfection in an instant – I say again, the old nature still continues and tries to counteract the work of the new nature.
But now in this battle the spirit gains victory over the flesh through many battles and conflicts. The glory of the Christian Warfare is this – that temptations, which would have once been irresistible, can be repelled with firmness. We can say NO to sin! We can be like Joseph who when enticed by Potiphar’s wife, wearing the breastplate of righteousness, said, “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
Righteousness defends the soul by making sin appear to be exceedingly sinful and holiness to be seen as something much more desirable. The breastplate when worn weakens the force of temptation and enables us to resist the tempter.
Righteousness turns depravity into holiness.
Therefore my Christian brother and sister there is only one conclusion to come to when we ask ourselves the question, “Why is it then that I fall into temptation and sin against the Lord God?”
And the only answer can be is this – that Satan has known your weakness, has attacked you in your weakness – and you were not wearing the breastplate! Whenever you fall do not ask the foolish question, “Am I a Christian or having sinned can I be a Christian at all?” Rather ask, “Where was the belt of truth? Where was the breastplate of righteousness? Why was I not wearing them? Why was my knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ not a ready defence on that occasion? Why was the protective righteousness of Jesus Christ not wrapped around my vulnerable soul?”
Remember, in Christ the breastplate is your possession – therefore use it – to protect your soul!
2. Righteousness transforms our cowardice into courage.
Who is there of us here this morning who has not been afraid of what others think of us as Christians? Who has not been fearful of hostile people who do not love the Lord and who begin to mock us, and our faith, and blaspheme the holy Lord Jesus Christ? None of us can say that we have never been afraid. Satan makes us afraid. He strikes at our embarrassment and shame mechanisms; he makes us fear the consequences of being a Christian. So we adopt the similar strategy of Nicodemus the Pharisee – we come to Jesus as it were by night. We come under cover of darkness. We become secret Christians – no one knows of our profession – we hide our lights under a basket. I have met grown men, huge burly fellows who would perform bravely and valiantly on the battlefield, ready to do great exploits as soldiers – but who when it came to openly confessing that they have any regard for God, are like timid little mice – fearful of other men! Solomon said that
the fear of man bringeth a snare – Proverbs 29 v 25.
But righteousness gives us true boldness and enables us to meet head on the hatred of men and the threatening of rulers; it enables us to cope with sneers and ridicule from ungodly people with a holy indifference. Righteousness turns cowards into heroes. Consider the Apostle Peter. Peter the coward huddled one night over a fire in a courtyard. When identified as a disciple of Jesus he swore with curses and oaths denying the Lord Jesus. - No breastplate!
But when he had put the breastplate on and the righteousness of His master was gloriously protecting him, - what a difference! In the presence of the whole Jewish council he charged them, boldly, that they had crucified the Lord of glory and were guilty of murdering their Messiah.
Acts 4 v 19 – 20 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
What courage – but courage that was rooted in the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ, put into Peter’s heart by the Holy Spirit.
Whenever we are dressed in the righteousness of Christ we are emboldened to do God’s will and to suffer for God too. Righteousness turns cowardice into courage.
3. Righteousness transforms our weakness into strength.
We have to realise that our powers and abilities remain the same after conversion when we try to use them without the grace of God. Of ourselves we can do nothing. But His grace is sufficient for us and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. When we look to the Lord Jesus Christ for help He has promised to perfect His strength in our weakness. It is the Lord Jesus and His righteousness that does this. We know we are weak in certain areas – but are willing to trust Him to subdue and crucify those areas? He has already put under His feet the powers of darkness that keep on at us day after day. So why do we try to trust in our own righteousness to resist the devil?
Satan attacks the heart – so my brothers and sisters we need this breastplate. The righteousness of Christ is glorious armour for us to wear in a world of sin.
When people look at us, what should catch their eyes first is the gleaming glory of Christ’s righteousness. Are we known as righteous people? Do we have a testimony that people know us to be honest, people of integrity, trustworthiness, sincerity and holiness? What do they see in us my friends? They should see righteousness – not ours – but HIS. His only righteousness I show, said Wesley.
Jesus Thy blood and righteousness, My beauty are my glorious dress, Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed With joy shall I lift up my head.
Like the robe of Christ’s righteousness the breastplate of righteousness will never wear out.
Are you wearing the righteousness so that all may see it on you?
Our behaviour, our demeanour, our personality is the clothing that people see. We can be in suits and our best Sunday clothes, but inside we can have all kind of wicked things going on. God looks at our hearts and sees whether we are righteous like His son. And we can only be that when we are wearing the covering breastplate of righteousness. It is inevitable that Christ’s righteousness will be seen in the kind of people that we are. It is not that we should be known as righteous in ourselves – but that any righteousness we have is Christ’s righteousness – that’s what people need to see.
May we be those who are bold as Christians because our confidence is in Christ and His righteousness alone. Let us have none of this false confidence that the world offers – but rather the powerful trust in Christ and His righteousness wearing at all time the breastplate that he has provided.