Dressed Fit to Kill
Clothes make the man and the woman, they say. How you dress is how you feel about yourself. Your dress makes a statement about you. If you dress for failure, you will probably fail. If you dress for success, you have a better chance. If you dress inappropriately for the job, or your position, or the situation, you will feel uncomfortable, and will probably create an unnecessary obstacle to success. Few would go into a trout stream wearing a three-piece suit with a tie. We wouldn't go to a Black and White Ball in nikes, or go scuba diving wearing cowboy boots. Not only would we fail, we'd probably drown as well.
The Scripture lesson this morning is Paul's suggested wardrobe for success. Perhaps we will not make the Ten Best Dressed Men or Women list, but Paul says if we wear his choice of clothes, we will be victorious in the great adventure called life. When you dress in the morning, reviewing where you will be and whom you will meet, consider wearing a belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shoes of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit? Wouldn't you look spectacular? Would fashion magazines take note? Wouldn't you be dressed fit to kill!
That's exactly Paul's point. Dress fit to kill the enemy; that which would tear you down, compromise, intimidate, even destroy you, and the kingdom of God. Paul believed there are unfriendly forces at work, besides unfriendly mortals. The phrases in this passage are not familiar to us: "wiles of the devil" refers to the seductive powers of Satan; "rulers, authorities, cosmic powers of this present darkness" refer to the Roman gods which were not regarded as dumb idols but as malignant spirits of great power; and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" are astrological terms referring to the power of heavenly bodies to determine the fate of individuals.
Regarding these forces at work seeking to control us, Paul says we do not have to accept as our fate what astrologers and fortune tellers predict for us. Paul says we are free moral agents. We are not called to accept our destiny as unalterable, but to grapple with the evil stars, battle the mighty rulers of the heavenly spheres as soldiers of Christ, dressed in God's armor.
These concepts may seem bewildering to us, but in this century we have seen a totalitarian regime based on the economic philosophy of communism rise and fall. It became an evil force that seemed to have a life of its own as it intimidated and enslaved entire populations. It hardly seems real that the Communist Party in the Soviet Union has not only been defeated, but banished, outlawed. Institutions, regimes, movements can take on identities of their own and become forces in themselves, forces for good or forces for evil.
On the individual level, not everyone you know or meet is concerned for your best interests. Not everyone is your friend. Some will try to gyp you, exploit, use, manipulate, defeat you, some may even try to destroy you. Not everything works for your success. There is evil and there are evil forces. There is cancer lurking about, seeking entry into your body. Diseases, greed, pride seek to devour and destroy you. Alcohol and drugs seek to enslave you. There are philosophies, even religions and cults seeking to inhibit, weaken, distract, and even destroy you.
Going out into such a world, how do you dress for success? In Paul's wardrobe for victory, there are three classifications of garments to put on. First, put on the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. These garments have to do with your core, your foundation. The belt of truth around your waist is a foundation garment, a girdle. The Roman soldier wore a breastplate to protect his heart from swords and spears. The breastplate of righteousness means to get right with God, establish a solid relationship with God. Put right living, dedication to high standards, integrity, honesty, and truth, in total commitment to God at the center of your being.
Secondly, put on the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith to protect you. We don't see many people with shields. A shield is a novel idea to us. We are told to be open, to let it all hang out, to be vulnerable. But, sometimes we need to be protected, to hold off the fiery darts, the flaming arrows of the evil one. When someone gives you the finger in traffic or hollers out the car window at you, hold up the shield of faith. When someone cuts you down, or berates you and rains curses upon your head, wear the helmet of salvation. When someone tells you you are not good enough, or smart enough, or capable, hold up the shield of faith. Wear the helmet of salvation, the certainty that you are among the saved, the chosen, the redeemed. Your salvation is a gift from God; no one can take it from you. You are not just anybody, you are a child of God, created by the Creator, redeemed by Jesus, and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Besides truth and righteousness at the center of your being and the protection of a helmet and shield, thirdly, put on offensive gear. Paul challenges us to take the offense. The Christian life is not just protective and reactive. We are not to wait for things to happen, and then resist or fight. We can make things happen. Don't just react to your environment, but create your environment. Take the initiative.
Put on shoes, Paul says, that enable you to move to proclaim the gospel of peace. Go, do God's work. Proclaim shalom. Teach shalom. Live shalom. Take the sword of the spirit and attack. Paul says the sword of the spirit is the word of God. Hebrews 4:12: "For the word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword." Go forth to do battle in the confidence that God will give you the right word at the right time. Have you ever found yourself in a situation when much was expected of you and suddenly you found just the word? When it really counts, expect in faith to be given the word, so you can stand any test and be victorious. A familiarity with the Scriptures, with the word of God, helps you discover the right word for the right time.
With your shoes of peace and the sword of the spirit hanging on the belt of truth, go forth in prayer. It is interesting how Paul ends his description of the wardrobe for success with prayer. "Pray in the Spirit at all times," he wrote. Prayer is more an offensive than a defensive tactic. Prayer is not a retreat from the battle of life. Prayer is the call to arms. Prayer gets us in shape, gets us mentally ready. Prayer sharpens us, focuses us. It is like discovering that elusive state of "flow" that athletes talk about--where the whole body, the whole mind, and the whole spirit are completely engaged and perfectly coordinated. When that happens, look out world, here we come!
There you go, Miss America! Dressed fit to kill, not in an evening gown or a bikini, but with the belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness, protected by the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith, taking the offense with the shoes of peace, the sword of the spirit which is the word of God, and propelled, fueled by prayer. Dressed like that you will be undefeatable.
When you get up in the morning and decide what to wear--or are you one of those who decides the night before and has the clothes all neatly laid out ready to put on?--consider not only the cloth clothes you are going to wear. Put on God's clothes as well. Be the best dressed in your neighborhood. Dress for success. Dress for victory. Dress fit to kill.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris