“in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16, NASB95)
Moving into verses 16 and 17 we find the second division of the six pieces of armor. We read with the first three that these were to have already been put in place in order to remain in place as signified with the word “having.” With these next three we find the tense change to that of a present action— “taking.”
The fourth piece of armor, or the first of these last three, is the “shield of faith.” I think it safe to say that a shield is most obviously a defensive weapon intended to hold off an enemy’s attack whether it be close in by a dagger or sword or from a distance by a spear or arrow. In the comparison used by Paul we not only have arrows, but we have flaming arrows to enhance their deadliness. And, we read that these arrows, as we read a few verses earlier, do not come from the hands of man but are reflecting of the intensity of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged with evil and the evil one.
The evil one is intent on destruction, and he will not hold back anything. Therefore, being able to take up a shield when an attack occurs is an essential part of our defense and our standing firm, just as it was with the Roman soldier. But really, how effective was the soldier’s shield? What kind of shield did he have that would hold off an onslaught of arrows? There were basically two types of shields. One was a smaller one that a soldier might hold in hand-to-hand battle which was easily maneuvered and useful in close combat. It might have been rectangular, but was commonly round as you might have seen in pictures or gladiator type movies.
The other was much larger, and it is the one that Paul refers to here. It is the “Thureos,” which is the Greek word used here. It represents a shield that was approximately 4 1/2 feet tall by 2 1/2 feet wide, and it was sometimes referred to as a “door shield” because of its size. It was typically made out of wood and covered with leather that was treated with a substance that would put out flaming arrows. It could even have been covered with metal to better deflect the arrows. This shield was large enough that, if needed, the soldier could hide completely behind it, and it figured heavily in the battle strategy of the Roman army.
When the army was trying to advance upon their enemy, while under fire, they would form a phalanx, which was a long row of soldiers carrying these huge shields. And behind them the rest of the soldiers could return fire with arrows and spears. Moving steadily forward this this long row of shielded soldiers would work their way in until they came close enough to the enemy to engage in hand-to-hand combat.
This piece of armor, the “door shield” is unique in that it went in front of all the other armor and protected the other armor, almost like a second line of defense. The soldier was not only protected by his breastplate and his helmet, but he was secondarily protected by these large shields.
We are told to take up the shield of faith. There is no guessing as to what the shield is to represent. It is given to us again with the item. But what is meant by faith in this usage? The word faith has two primary usages in the New Testament. It can refer to the entire body of divine revelation or that which you believe in, like doctrine. Or, the term “faith” refers to the act of believing or trusting in someone or something. In Ephesians 6 Paul has this second meaning in mind—it is the action of believing, not the information upon which you believe. It is more than just believing something. It is choosing to stand behind it. It is making the commitment to choose to believe and stand behind what Jesus says to be true. Because we understand something that Jesus said to be true, we choose to respond in a manner appropriate to that understanding.
When we take up the shield of faith we are choosing to act on the basis of truth. Doing this we will find ourselves eventually repelling lies and doubts, or those “fiery missiles of the evil one.” These arrows might include temptations, fears, false guilt, and lusts or desires of all sorts, where doubt may very well be one of Satan’s most common fiery arrows. Doubts might be centered around our position in Christ and the security of our salvation, our acceptability to God, His forgiveness of us, or whether we might or might not be doing the right thing at any given time. Even seeking Him with all of our hearts and waiting on His direction, there may be a constant battle with believing that He indeed will direct our steps and answer our prayers. In my life there have been numerous passages that I return to in these times of waiting on direction and provision. This is particularly true when those seasons of waiting and searching endure longer than I might have ever desired or imagined. One of those key passages is Proverbs 3:5-5 where we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, NASB95)
Disappointment may be another one of those common areas or attack. This might be especially true when job loss, prolonged illness and the death of a loved one come into the picture. We go through life with expectations and hopes, and these feelings are most naturally attached to those things and people closest to us. When this security is attacked we have to choose to believe that God is good and faithful, that nothing caught Him by surprise, and that He will never let us go. For me, Psalm 139 serves as one of many constant reminders of these truths in which I choose to believe and trust. And, when I find myself listening to the voices of doubt and disappointment it is critical for my standing firm to return to His truth and to take up the shield of faith that He has provided. I may have just taken a hit, but that hit is not fatal, and God is faithful to bring me to the other side.
We can stand behind this shield of faith because we know that our God cannot lie and He has promised to be our help. Consider the words of the psalmist in Psalm 121. “A SONG OF ASCENTS. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121, ESV)
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7, ESV)