… with the breastplate of righteousness in place …
(Ephesians 6:14b NIV)
Paul is instructing the Ephesians (and us) to prepare for spiritual battle, because the enemy is bringing in the fight to our doorstep.
Paul uses the analogy of a Roman soldier’s gear to explain how we are to outfit ourselves for our battle. Last time, we looked at the belt of truth buckled around our waist. Today, Paul tells us to have the breastplate of righteousness in place.
The breastplate has taken many different forms, from a single piece of formed metal, to a series of interwoven metal rings or links (like medieval “chain mail”) or other materials. While the materials or construction may vary, the purpose is the same – to protect the heart and vital organs.
As with so many Scriptures, there are multiple layers of understanding and application in this passage. In Paul’s day, the heart was both the organ that pumped blood throughout the body, as well as representative of the mind, the seat of reason and thought. The vital organs, in Paul’s day, were collectively referred to as the “bowels”. These represented the seat of emotion and affection.
Paul says that we need to cover both our minds and our emotions from the attacks of the enemy, just as a soldier covers his heart and his vital organs.
So what does Paul say our breastplate, our covering, is to be made of? Righteousness.
And what is righteousness? A right relationship with God.
And who defines a “right relationship with God”? God.
If we try to define our own righteousness, then it quickly becomes self-righteousness, and it’s very selfish and protective, in an attempt to make ourselves look good at the expense of others. And when all of us try to do that, we quickly break up the unity Paul told us we have in Christ, and descend into factions, and if left unchecked, into anarchy, and we cease functioning as the body of Christ.
In case we somehow delude ourselves into thinking that our self-proclaimed righteousness is something of value, let’s remember Isaiah’s words:
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
(Isaiah 64:6 NIV)
Solomon also recognized that we are all guilty of sin – no exceptions:
Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous,
no one who does what is right and never sins.
(Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV)
Jesus also addressed this self-righteous attitude with the religious rulers His day:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 5:20 NIV)
Thankfully, we are not dependent on our own righteousness to get us into heaven. Only Christ’s righteousness can provide salvation for us; we cannot earn it on our own.
Is Christ’s righteousness something to be put on a shelf, like a fragile piece of fine china, a cherished gift from a close friend?
It is absolutely a cherished gift from a close friend – we cannot possibly pay for it or earn it.
Is the righteousness God gives us like a fragile piece of fine china? Not at all. It is durable, it is for our protection, it can withstand the strikes and blows of the enemy. Think of God’s righteousness like a bulletproof vest for our heart and vital organs, the seat of our mind and emotions. We cannot buy it or earn it, but we can receive it as a gift and wear it.
Will we take some hits from the enemy? Yes, no question. Will they hurt? Absolutely. Are we protected? Yes, with God’s righteousness, that covers us completely.
Be encouraged, friends – God does not send us into the battle without equipping and training us.