Uniform 02.22.2015: Prepared Faith

Ephesians 6:10-20

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As a parent of two infants and a preschooler, leaving the house is a tremendous undertaking. After establishing that all three children are rested, fed, and dressed, I have to make sure that our van is stocked with all the equipment we will need for a successful outing. This includes—but is not limited to—diapers, wipes, bottles, pacifiers, strollers, blankets, extra clothes, a sippy cup, snacks, and toys, all packed into specific, age-appropriate bags. And this is just for a few hours away from home. An overnight trip requires significantly more gear and preparation. I’m exhausted just thinking about it!

All these supplies are my parental armor. They protect me from the unpredictability of life with small children by preparing me to face any number of situations. Spills, hunger, boredom, fussiness—I can deal with trouble on any number of fronts as long as I’ve got the right tools at my disposal.

Reading this week’s passage from Ephesians while looking at the diaper bag that needs to be unpacked from our last outing has caused me to pause and ask myself an uncomfortable question: am I putting this much care and preparation into my Christian life? I wake up every day and pull on the armor of parenthood. Do I think at all about preparing for the spiritual needs of my day?

The honest answer is that I give little thought to what my faith might require of me on a given day. Unlike the early Christians, I have never had to suffer for my beliefs. In my corner of the world, most people share my faith. There’s no need to gear up in defensive armor to go to work or the grocery store or the movie theater because I’m far more likely to hear encouraging words about the God I serve than words of hate or even indifference. Paul’s military imagery feels too aggressive to relate to my faith, which has primarily been a source of comfort and encouragement rather than a cause of stress or fear.

But just because I don’t need to put on full armor for battle does not mean that I am excused from the work of preparing for the demands of my faith. I should meet each day ready to respond to any situation that comes my way as a Christian. Whether it’s comforting a grieving friend, celebrating a new life, or confronting doubt, I need to be spiritually prepared.

Now that I’ve recognized my lack of spiritual preparation, I don’t think I’ll ever see a diaper bag the same way. What object in your life can become a reminder of your need to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11)?

Discussion

1. What situations in your daily life do you have to be prepared for at all times? What gear do you keep with you? What is the significance of each item?
2. How might your faith be different if you prepared to face the spiritual needs of your day like you might prepare for a day at the office or a trip out of town?
3. The military imagery feels less applicable for many Christians today. How might you reimagine his metaphor to better describe the way you should prepare for your Christian life?
4. When have you been spiritually blindsided by a situation in your life? How could you have been better prepared?
5. What steps can you take this week to prepare spiritually for whatever God might have in store?

Reference Shelf

…this passage is not a warrant for any type of war theory. The language here is metaphorical. It was meant for marginalized people who had no resources or means to defend themselves, people who found themselves on the fringe of society. Its intent was a call not to military action but to steadfastness in a society that distrusted new religions. It is more about faithfulness to God at all costs than about power at any costs.

Christians outside the Americas might find this teaching applicable. Some authoritarian governments put pressure on Christians because they want no competition for allegiance. Such governments have replaced God for their citizens and will not tolerate any competitors. In some countries, Christianity is a minority movement and, like most minorities in human societies, suffers for it. Christians are regularly harassed and ridiculed for their faith/commitment. In still other settings, the overall society is so secular that anyone who has any religious commitment is open to ridicule and harassment. In such cases as these, social censure can become so intense that even the most faithful might seek ways to alleviate the pain and to attain a greater degree of social acceptance.

Many contemporary American Christians cannot relate to this imagery because being Christian is not a social liability. More often than not, it is a social advantage. In the early half of the twentieth century, Catholics whose businesses transferred them to the South often became Episcopalians because the Ku Klux Klan would not harass Protestants. Often people in Pentecostal traditions became Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians when they became upwardly mobile socially and/or economically. The option was not whether or not to join a church but which one to join. Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, or Baptist congregations have traditionally been seen as pillars of the community. Thus, some have joined them to ensconce themselves in society. Others have gone from a small rural congregation to suburban congregations; from a struggling inner city congregation to a mega-church in the suburbs for similar reasons. For these and other social reasons, modern American Christianity is a different playing field than first-century Roman society.

However, there is a point of contact between the early Christian community and modern American Christianity: acting out of one’s convictions regardless of the consequences. Modern American life is full of opportunities for faithful Christian witnesses: protests against companies whose businesses harm human life; identifying laws that prevent justice and righteousness; renouncing public figures who betray the public trust. All these things make people unpopular. Living in a “Christian” society, many Christians avoid unpopular causes and risking unpopularity. Christianity does not call us to be popular or successful. It calls us to be faithful. Christianity calls its adherents to be uncomfortable with the way things are and to help make them the way they should be, remembering that we are all ambassadors for Christ (see Eph 6:20).

Resource

Thomas B. Slater, Ephesians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2012) 180-81.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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