Throughout history the shield has been the most widespread defensive weapon in the world. You might think you don’t need one. But after today’s lesson, I believe you’ll see why it is essential. Even critical.
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Shields are often adapted to the use for which they’re intended. In biblical times, smaller more mobile defensive shields called “bucklers” were often (you guessed it!) buckled onto the arm for use in close hand-to-hand fighting. Larger shields not only offer more protection, but also add an element of significant military strategy; since they can usually be combined to create a wall around and even above the warrior.
The Roman Army perfected this in their “tortoise formation.” (For the purists among you, it’s official designation was “testudo.”) Soldiers in the front row would carefully align to form a wall behind which they could advance closer to the enemy. Those on the sides and rear of the formation faced their shields outward. Soldiers in the interior ranks would position their shields above their heads to provide top cover. By working together and relying upon each person to carry out their assigned mission, Roman soldiers increased their strategic effectiveness as a fighting force. This formation allowed Roman military units to move well within lethal range and bring a devastating attack. It was their deliberate cooperation that allowed the Roman army to rule the known world.
There are a few good lessons in that approach for us today.
Today’s verse says ABOVE ALL – TAKE UP THE SHIELD OF FAITH
First of all, we need to take up the shield of faith. It is the single largest protective element of our spiritual armor. Second, it is the only element that we can directly control; as such, it can be used either defensively or offensively. Our helmet, breastplate and boots offer protection, but only to our person. But our shield is designed to be placed between us and the assault we’re facing. Third, it is the only part of our armor that we can both USE and SHARE at the same time. As we’ve already seen, cooperative warfare delivers a significant strategic advantage. Fourth, if you haven’t taken up your shield, then you are not able to be an asset in the protective formation advancing against our enemy.
The shield of faith has another element to it that you may not have considered. The faith of a follower of Jesus establishes a relationship between Jesus and His follower. When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. That seal is like a badge of authority, and you operate with an authority you never had before you chose to follow Jesus. It’s similar in many ways to the view the officers of the New York City Police Department have of the badges they are issued when they take their oath. They never call them a “badge” – but always refer to them as their “shield” because the authority they carry conveys an element of protection and solidarity. There is a fraternity among law enforcement officers, they stand together in their call to protect and serve. But each one of them is also shielded by the full authority of the government agency they serve. That authority is represented by their shield, just as ours is.
Of course, the critical element of making the shield effective is staying within the confines of its protection.
So, ABOVE ALL – TAKE UP THE SHIELD OF FAITH. We are not spectators in the battle. As servants of the Most High God we are called to fight the good fight of the faith and take full hold of the eternal life to which we have been called. It is an active battle, not a passive waiting.
You and I are called to fight. We are called to fight TOGETHER. To do that well, you’re going to need a shield. And as you fight, stay behind the shield and it will serve you well.