When something has been found to be of such worth that it is recorded in the scriptures we obviously need to pay attention to it. If it is repeated twice or three times we know it is sound doctrine because in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established. But what if it has been said by not only prophets and apostles but by the Savior himself. And what if it is found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants? I’d say this it is a pretty significant piece of information that might even be a key that leads to spiritual success in this life and in the worlds to come. So what is that key?
Let’s read about it from our assigned reading for today. Turn with me to Ephesians, chapter 6.
Ephesians 6: 10–11
10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles (devious or cunning schemes) of the devil.
There you go. That’s the key. That’s the metaphor that is found throughout our standard works: putting on the armor of God. It tells us what we need to do in order to ultimately win the battle we have been fighting for eons.
While we can’t recall the precise details about our premortality, here’s how I imagine it. Ever since we were young spirits walking around the celestial corridors and heavenly gardens of our Father’s kingdom, we have had the ability to choose the consequences we desired. But, an eternal law states that there has to be opposition in all things and so someone stepped up to fill that role. In my experience, someone always steps up to fill that role.
Lucifer, one of the most intelligent and I suspect handsome of our brothers, the magnificent light-bearer, decided he was the right man for the job. He wanted glory and happiness and eternal life just like we all did, but he just didn’t want to earn it the old-fashioned way. He didn’t want to submit to eternal principles. He wanted to take a short-cut. He wanted to do things his own way. And so he got his heart’s desire. We always get that which we truly desire.
So Lucifer became increasingly miserable and angry and manipulative and deceitful and greedy. Naturally, he wanted to spread his viewpoints and way of life with others throw a wrench into the divine plan of happiness. He had his own plan of misery and he started to implement it.
He began by gathering followers—others who let pride creep into their hearts and also thought their way was better than God’s way. There were debates and demonstrations and rallies and boycotts and shouting and fighting. The arguments were over things like love and respect, over loyalty and fidelity, over obedience and integrity.
One by one he intimidated, bullied and persuaded like-minded individuals to follow him. He promised them the sun, the moon, and the earth if they would follow him. He had no intention nor ability to fulfill those promises, but that clearly wasn’t an issue with him. Lucifer evolved into a masterful liar. He wanted power and glory and dominion—and he was literally hell-bent on achieving it.
As his followers grew and grew, some close family members of ours—our brothers and sisters who knew us better than we now know ourselves—defected to his side. And they brought with them the insider information that you can only know after spending lots and lots of time with someone. Think of all the little secrets you know about your family members that you’ve acquired in your lifetime. You know exactly what buttons to push, don’t you? You know precisely what will set them off. Now think about all the things you would know if you spend hundreds of years or even thousands of years with that person.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine they created a massive dossier on each of us—their brothers and sisters who they couldn’t quite persuade to join them. Inside that dossier are all of our fears, all of our weaknesses, and even all of our strengths, because they certainly knew that even strengths can become weaknesses if we maximize them out of the bounds the Lord has set.
Possessing this information, and knowing full-well that they were in open rebellion against their creator, they refused to enter into any covenants with him and were not permitted to obtain a body. But they flocked to our earth anyway, as unembodied spirits, with a firm resolve to do everything they possibly could to destroy the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve.
As soon as we left the kingdom and obtained a mortal body, they sought us out, trying to make us as miserable as they are now and as they sense they will be for all eternity. In fact, they have formulated a specific kryptonite for each us—a poison or a pathogen that is so specific that it targets every single weakness that we have in an attempt to destroy our souls both in time and throughout eternity.
Satan’s minions are smart. They are crafty. They are cunning. They are persuasive. And they are very, very dangerous. And they are real. I know. I’ve had first-hand experience with some of them, as have some of you.
They want to destroy us. So they placed this spiritual poison on the end of mounds of spiritual arrows and started after us. And they have been shooting at us, and will continue to shoot at us, until our mortal journey is finally over.
Even then, I’m not sure we’re completely out of the woods. They won’t be around to hassle us, but there will still be other deceased mortals whom they converted to their cause. I’m pretty confident we’ll be sent as missionaries to spirit prison where lots of disembodied spirits will try to convince us to lower our sights even as they dial in their sites on our souls.
Meanwhile, back in our mortal dimension, Satan and his followers have been practicing their destructive craft on our family members for more than six thousand years now. They are becoming quite adept. They have taken billions of casualties and prisoners of war. They know exactly how to destroy what we are trying to create.
They are pretty confident they have the advantage, after all, we have been spiritually blinded with a veil. We can’t see them but they can certainly see us. Day and night they are there, trying to find some way to kill our spirits. They linger around our homes, at the gym, outside our churches, and in our schools and malls, and our government buildings. Of course they love the bars, and the flesh pits, and wherever people gather to buy their favorite mess of pottage.
Not a pretty picture is it. We might as well give up. How can we fight an unseen enemy that vastly outnumbers us and has every lethal weapon at their disposal? How can we win against someone who knows us better than we know ourselves?
Well, that kind of thinking is exactly why far too many of our brothers and sisters have surrendered. They forgot that God is on our side. They forgot that the magnificent Jehovah is in charge of the armies, and that he is flanked by generals like the mighty Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Isaiah. And then there’s Peter, James, John, and Paul. And Nephi, Benjamin, Alma, Helaman, Moroni, and Mormon. And let’s not forget Joseph, Brigham, Wilford, Lorenzo, Spencer, and Gordon, just to name a few. These noble and great leaders know exactly how to conquer our enemies—we just have to listen and obey.
Plus, we’re not alone. Fighting alongside us, even though we can’t see them, are millions of our valiant brothers and sisters who minister to our needs and have been sent to help protect us. In fact, if we had spiritual eyes to see we would see that “those that are for us are greater than those against us” (2 Kings 6:16).
But what is most important is this. We have something the evil ones will never have—the blessing and assistance and direction of an all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving, all-powerful eternal being, the great King of the Universe, our Holy Father. Even though he knows exactly how all of this will end, we don’t. We have to find out for ourselves whether or not our spirits can subdue our bodies and overcome the world. And God has promised to give us what we need, when we need it, if we put on his armor and then stand and fight.
Paul said it well when he said, in verse 12:
Ephesians 6: 12–13
12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.
I like this metaphor. I like how we are told to stand and face the devils head on. This isn’t some passive fight. It isn’t some existential threat. This is real warfare. Someone is in your face threatening to destroy you and you have to stand your ground and fight back. We can’t be passive nor pacifists. We have to stand our ground and fight.
The evil ones are going to strike out at any vulnerability they find. They try to persuade you that you don’t need armor or that you can take it off whenever you want to. But if you do that, you will regret it. They always attack when you’re least expecting it.
The Armor of God
So let’s take a closer look at this armor we are to wear as we are fighting for our lives. First, let’s read verses 14 through 18 and then we’ll go back and talk about each piece of armor in more detail.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;
18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;
Verse 14 talks about “having your loins girt about with truth.” A girt is something that stabilizes or supports a particularly vulnerable area. The word that shares the same root as girt is girdle. A girdle supports or stabilizes a particularly vulnerable area. I’ve only worn a girdle a few times, but I am very familiar with a belt. So some people use the word belt here, but I like the word girdle better. It is larger. It covers more area.
If you ask a butcher of quadrupeds, the loins are the area between the ribs and the upper legs. For bipeds, it is the region of the hips and groin and lower abdomen. It is this area that houses our reproductive organs and is often the center of our appetites and passions. In the scriptures the loins symbolize virtue, or moral purity, and vital strength.
As Paul is writing this epistle, he is under house arrest in Roman. He has a guard. I’m not sure whether or not that guard was in full battle dress, but Paul had certainly seen his fair share of Roman soldiers. Around their loin area was something called the cinculum militaire, or solder’s belt. It was composed of tough leather strips and small brass plates or studs for extra protection for this particularly vulnerable area of the body.
So the metaphor suggests that we will be attacked in a way that will cause us to misuse these parts and passions so that we die spiritually. So to protect our chastity, we should wear some sort of belt or girdle. But what is it composed of? Truth.
First, let’s define truth. According to the Lord, “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). So what unchangeable eternal truth will protect us from unchastity?
Here’s one. Only a man and a woman who have been married in a manner that is legal and lawful according to God—only this couple has been authorized to engage in sexual activity. Since Adam and Eve, they are the only ones who have been placed under covenant to “multiply and replenish the earth.” All other sexual activity in any other setting or relationship, or lack of relationship, is prohibited. It has been prohibited since the very beginning and it will be prohibited until the very end. That is an eternal truth. It will never change.
When we violate this truth, there is always a consequence. It his letter to the Romans, Paul said, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It kills our family relationships, it destroys trust, it breaks our mother’s hearts, it negates our good works, it expels the Holy Spirit from our lives leaving us vulnerable to attacks from the evil ones. We may not die immediately, that is true, but it is like we have been shot with a dart gun. Normally a single dart won’t kill us, but if we continue to be shot, we’re going to go down.
There are other truths out there that if we know them they will protect us from being deceived. If we are surrounded with them, and keep them close to us, our chastity and virtue will be preserved. Dressing modestly, wearing sacred garments, avoiding language, conditions or circumstances that you know lead you into temptation—these are all behaviors that are based on truths. When we know the truth, we can recognize evil for what it is and call it out when we see it. When we internalize these truths, they will protect us and save us from being victimized by the master of lies, because all of these things are eternal truths.
One more thing before we leave this symbol. The loins are linked with reproduction, fertility, and one’s offspring. If we want to protect our family, the “fruit of our loins,” what better way can we do that then to be virtuous and morally clean so that we can teach them eternal truths with power and authority.
Back to verse 14. “Stand therefore…having on the breastplate of righteousness.”
In Roman soldier speak, the breastplate was your lorica segmentata. It protected your chest and upper abdominal areas. Sometimes it was made out of a single piece of brass, but more often it was made out of pieces of metal tied or chained together. You’d fasten it over your shoulders and around your torso to protect your vital organs, especially your heart.
Not only was the breastplate worn by soldiers, but there was a breastplate that was worn by the high priest of the temple. It contained precious stones that had been engraved with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and these fell directly over the heart of the high priest as a constant reminder that as long as his heart beats, he should be righteous so he could bless the lives of all the children of Israel.
The heart is the organ that we associate with our feelings and our attitudes. It is a symbol of who we are deep, down inside. In the scriptures, we are taught about the heart more than a 1,000 times.
So we wear the breastplate so we can safeguard our hearts. According to the Apostle Paul, it is made out of substance called “righteousness.”
What is righteousness? It is being humble. It is recognizing that all that we have and all that we hope to be comes from God. It is eliminating the vices from our life and replacing them with virtues. It is repenting daily. It is being more concerned with how much you can give rather than how much you can get. It is bearing burdens for others and forgiving those who are the hardest to forgive. It is trying to do the very best you can with the help of the Lord, for he truly is, the only righteous one among us.
Now let’s talk about those shoes. In verse 15, we read that our feet should be “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.”
For solders, caligae, their shoes or sandals are a necessary part of their uniform. They were made from leather and laced up the center of the foot and onto the ankle. Many had leather pieces that served as ankle and shin cards. Sometimes, the soles of the shoes were studded with iron hobnails for traction and trampling.
Soldiers need protection as they walk through the mud, rocks, weeds, thorns, and thistles and other obstacles that are in their path. They need something that will help them bear the weight of not only their bodies as they walk, but all of the armament and weaponry as well.
I was watching a television series a while back that featured two men trying to survive out in the wilderness. One of the men was a well-muscled hippie who didn’t believe in wearing shoes. So throughout the series, whether he was in snow or mud or deserts, he went barefoot. It drove his companion crazy because they had to take it really slow and every step was carefully and deliberately taken. If he got a thorn in his foot—game over.
Feet are symbols of our goals and objectives and the path we choose to follow to reach them. Whichever direction our feet are pointed that is the direction we will travel. Oh you can walk backwards blindly from time-to-time, I’ve tried, but you almost always trip and fall and acquire nasty contusions and lacerations.
I think this implies that we need to prepare for future battles by being studying the scriptures, listening to our inspired leaders, and applying all of these true teaching in our lives. That way we can walk down the strait and narrow path (1 Nephi 8:20).
If we look at the Greek version of that verse, it can also be rendered as “having one’s feet shod with the stability or solidity of the gospel of peace.” This means that the gospel is safe and sound and will give us sure footing in life if we rely on it rather that our own wisdom or the philosophies of man. The gospel is the only true source of peace and stability in our world where everything is in a constant state of flux.
If our feet are properly protected, with good-fitting, broken-in shoes, we can be free to move whenever an attacker appears, regardless of the terrain and regardless of the season. So it is with the Gospel. If we are brand new to it, we may develop a hot spots and blisters here and then as we get used to it. But by and by, with enough time to exercise our faith, we almost forget they are there because we are enjoying the scenery so much. And when the storms come, the winds blow, and the rains beat down, we will not fall because of our foundation. We are prepared for any emergency.
Verse 17 says that we should “take the helmet of salvation.”
A Roman soldier’s helmet was known as the cassis or galea, and it protected their brain, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, throat, and neck from enemy blows and falling debris. Fashioned from bronze or iron, the helmet included two hinged side pieces to protect the cheekbones and jaw. The insides were often lined with sponge or felt for the sake of comfort.
Likewise, the spiritual helmet provides salvation because it protects our minds from dwelling on, our eyes from seeing, our ears from hearing, and our mouths from partaking of inappropriate things that pollute our hearts and spirits.
Our head or our intellect is the controlling member of our body. It must be well protected against the enemy, for “as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7.). If we have evil and lewd thoughts in our minds, it almost always leads to evil and lewd behaviors. If our thoughts are filled with lies and doubts, we almost always lose our faith in the Lord and become discouraged. If we fill our minds with things of the world but fail to fill it with the things of eternity, then we will inevitably spend eternity with the things of the world—the telestial world.
A properly protected head protects the entire body because it determines and controls what is allowed to enter the body through the key senses of sight, sound, and taste. For those who take full advantage of such vital protection, salvation is almost assured.
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
The Roman shield, or scutum, was made from bonded wood strips and covered with leather. The shield was not flat but semi-circular so that any missiles thrown at the soldier would be deflected to one side. Iron or brass rims fitted along the edges of the shield, and a leather strap fastened to the back. The shield had a metal projection in the center (the boss or umbo) which was used to stun or wind an opponent, easing the soldier’s subsequent strike with his sword. For this reason, the shield was both a defensive tool and an offensive weapon.
The shield is a symbol of faith. If we have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will be protected from spiritual death. We will be able to deflect the harmful assaults and quench the burning temptations sent our way. President Harold B. Lee stated:
I can’t think of any more powerful weapons than faith and a knowledge of the scriptures in the which are contained the Word of God. One so armored and one so prepared with those weapons is prepared to go out against the enemy [and] is more to be feared than the enemies of the light. (Lee, “Feet Shod with the Preparation of the Gospel of Peace”)
17 And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
The Roman sword, or gladius, was crafted of iron. Blacksmiths hardened the iron by coating the red-hot sword blade with coal dust, thus forming a hard carbon coating on the blade. Sword handles were made of iron, ivory, bone, or wood.
The Romans used their swords both offensively and defensively. Used in a defensive manner, the sword, along with the other armor pieces, enabled the soldier to deflect the enemy’s blows. As an offensive weapon, the sword was used to attack and counter-attack an enemy until the weapon seriously wounded or killed the assailant. In battle, rows of Roman soldiers pressed back their enemies one step at a time by alternating a forward thrust of the shield with a forward plunge of the sword.
Now Paul talks about this sword as being the “word of God.” However, in D&C 27:18 the Lord says that we should take “the sword of my Spirit, which I will pour out upon you, and my word which I reveal unto you” (D&C 27:18). Christ implies that, through his Spirit and his word (which he reveals through the Spirit), the Saints will be equipped for the battle and will be “caught up” when he comes (D&C 27:18).
Throughout the scriptures we find that prophets repeatedly use a sword to symbolize the words of God, which also includes his commandments and covenants and revelations. Even today, the revelations and messages from the Lord’s servants cut right to the heart of the matter. They quickly separate truth from error. If we’re on the wrong side, their words can hurt as we struggle to repent and get back where we need to be. They are often surgical in precision, but, just like any battle, some of us won’t walk away.
For example, this week, Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve reaffirmed the Church’s position on marriage and outlined handbook changes in Church policy affecting same-sex couples and their children. These changes were made to avoid confusion and to clearly state the position of the church. For a handful of people, these changes were seen as hurtful and divisive; but for many, many others they were seen as loving and uniting. Like a gardener who uses his pruning shears to cut off growth that may be damaging to the plant or its fruit, apostles and prophets use their sword to prune the church from time-to-time.
The symbol of the sword implies that the scriptures, covenants, and teachings of the living prophets, combined with the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, will ensure our ability to return victorious from the raging spiritual battle of mortal life.
If we are well-versed in the scriptures and are in touch with the spirit of revelation we can wield the sword to defend ourselves and those around us. But if we set aside the scriptures, or the modern revelations, or our covenants, or disregard our past testimonies that once were bright but now are dim, we will eventually become spiritually wounded.
As we’ve talked about putting on the whole armor of God, did you notice that there is one part of us that is still vulnerable to an attack?
It is our backside. We don’t have any armor that protects us from the rear. This suggests that if we turn our back on our enemy, or attempt to flee from him, he will be able to whip out his fiery darts, take quick aim—even a poor aim—and hit the back of our bodies. We can’t win the battle from running away from our enemies. It must be fought face-to-face. This requires courage, determination, assertiveness, and even aggression against the armies of evil. We can’t be passive—we can’t wait for others to come to our rescue.
And this is yet another reason why we have been organized into families and wards so that we can have each other’s back. We can’t fight 100% of the time very long when we’re alone. But working together, we can take turns at the front, design strategies from the rear, receive treatment and blessings for our wounds, be fed with food and clothed with clothes, find rest for our weary souls, and acquire the skills and abilities we need to live to fight another day.
Fortunately brothers and sisters, let us always keep in mind that the Lord Jehovah is leading our battle. He knows things about our enemies that we can’t possibly know, so he knows their pits and snares and traps and nets. He knows their schemes and tricks and feints and war plans. All we have to do is listen and obey, and he will keep us safe. Even if we lose our mortal life in the process, he will restore it to us again.
I am going to close with one final thought. There’s one more symbol I want you to consider. As we have discovered, putting on the armor of God means that all of our most vulnerable areas are protected and covered. Please, please remember this: the Hebrew word for atonement means “to cover.” The Savior’s atonement figuratively and literally has us covered, not only in our pre-mortal life, but in this mortal sphere, and the life to come. He has always been and always will be our hope and our salvation. May we sing praises to his name forever!