John Whitty is a Master’s Student at Oxford University specialising in Patristics: the study of Early and Late Antique Christianity. His main research interests are hidden knowledge in the Early Church, and the Trinitarian controversies of the fourth century.
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
This passage of Ephesians is fundamental in understanding how Paul views Christian faith as armour against the evils of this world. In modern circles, one can often find their Christianity is the object of criticism and ridicule. This inevitably leads to a feeling of alienation, where one feels distant from others, and more worryingly, disconnected from oneself through self-doubt. When we look at the way the queer community is treated, we see the same kinds of alienation, albeit in a much more severe and all-encompassing sense. In response to this threat of alienation, Paul advises us to take the source of this alienation, our Christianity, and turn it into our greatest defence. In the gospel, there is steadfastness, and in faith there is defence from alienation.
The second section of this passage deals with the other fundamental risk an individual took in proclaiming their Christian faith in the apostolic age: physical persecution. Other early Christian texts, such as the Epistle to Diognetus and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch also identify this as an issue. To be a Christian at the close of antiquity was to be an outcast from society, and as such, a member of a marginalised group. Though Christianity is now the norm, and most practitioners do not face persecution at the hands of those in power, some Christians still face persecution from both within and without due to other aspects of their identity. However, we cannot all be expected to suffer as the great martyrs of Christianity suffered. John Chrysostom likens a Christian contemplating the fortitude of the martyrs to a greedy man standing in front of a seven-mouthed fountain, with pure gold cascading from each mouth. As tempted as we are to grab every single nugget of gold, we must instead take what we can, and reflect the fortitude of the martyrs to the level we are able, and allow their deeds to empower us to the actions of which we are capable.
Perhaps Paul’s words can be re-applied to alienated of today: that participation in the Spirit will provide the gifts an individual needs to proclaim their beliefs and identity without fear, in the hope that the alienated and voiceless find welcome and their own voice in the contemplation of the divine.