Category Archives: Articles

My Calvinist Brothers and the Left Foot of Fellowship

“The Charismatic movement is . . . a work of Satan.”
John MacArthur

“[Arminianism] is not damnable heresy per se.”
Phil Johnson, Grace to You

Why are so many Calvinists heresy hunters?

Calvinists are everywhere. I have served Christ alongside many Calvinists, some of whom I respect greatly and love dearly. But I have encountered numerous times my Calvinist friends—who I consider my Christian brothers—going out of their way to create division between themselves and anyone who rejects their yoke. I am not just talking about heresy hunting, which I also deem unbiblical, but about Christians attacking Christians. This article is my own rough attempt to understand why Calvinists are so often the hunters, and so seldom the prey. A few systematically-minded neo-Arminians like Jesse Morrell or Greg Boyd do return the favor and call Calvinism “heresy.” (I believe John Wesley did the same.) But far more often this unsubstantiated insult is hurled in the other direction. By and large, Calvinists hate Christian liberty.

My own position is one that I have gleaned partly by necessity, from living in multiple countries, where culture colors Christianity differently, and I am forced to exercise patience and forbearance if I want any Christian fellowship at all: being “in Christ” is a spiritual position, not an intellectual one. F. W. Boreham and Joseph Parker remind me that a plurality of voices enriches the church. A. W. Tozer and Richard Foster remind me that our unity is spiritual, not doctrinal, and it is found in Christ, not in any human organization. With these facts in mind, we must allow some latitude in the theology and practice of our Christian brothers.

Calvinists against Christian Liberty

When Calvinists speak of the “doctrines of grace,” this evidently does not necessitate the practice of grace. Where they are gracious to fellow believers, it seems to be the exception. Throughout my Christian life, I have encountered Calvinists who heap insults on those that disagree with them. Arminians do this, too; but they are not usually put on a pedestal for it. The most prominent Calvinist teachers in the world regularly speak of Arminians as “barely Christian”, and no feathers are ruffled in the congregations of their megachurches—rather, they are celebrated for their firmness of conviction. I’ll give some examples, and then discuss why I think this happens.

MacArthur vs. Charismatic Christians

I have study Bibles of various theological orientations, but I have gotten the most use out of my MacArthur Study Bible. In spite of this, I would not hesitate to say, John MacArthur is an outright enemy of Christian liberty. He has unabashedly dubbed the entire Charismatic/Pentecostal movement—which today is just about a majority of worldwide believers—”a work of Satan.” He has written three books on the topic, culminating in his 2013 book Strange Fire, which was pompously launched at a conference, hosted at his church, titled after the book. Thousands attended. Strange Fire was a self-serving and, frankly, depressing display of how Calvinists attack Christian liberty, and celebrate each other while doing so.

Wade Burleson wrote:

John MacArthur would do well to imitate Gamaliel and stop his war against Charismatics. [1]

Calvinist Christians vs. Arminian Christians

If MacArthur sees Charismatics as agents of Satan, he and his colleagues are slightly more tolerant of Arminianism. Phil Johnson, editor of MacArthur’s books and director of Grace to You, magnanimously calls Arminianism “not quite damnable”, referencing the words of revered Calvinist Charles Spurgeon.

Spurgeon did not regard Arminians as hell bound heretics. He regarded them as brethren. Did he think they were in error? Yes. Were they guilty of gross inconsistency in their own theology? He would have answered emphatically, yes. Was their main error significant? Spurgeon did not shrink from referring to it as “heresy”—meaning unorthodox doctrine, heterodoxy, serious error. But he was very careful to make clear that he did not regard Arminianism per se as damnable heresy or utter apostasy from essential Christianity. [2]

Insults aside, in the New Testament, all heresy is damnable (Gal. 5:19-21). I think the use of that word here is culturally informed, not biblically informed, and it shows that their Christian community tests its legitimacy on doctrinal, intellectual grounds.

MacArthur and Johnson put great stock in the words of Spurgeon, but they do not imitate him in the practice of Christian liberty. Charles Spurgeon exchanged pulpits with Arminians. His chosen successor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Arthur T. Pierson, was a Presbyterian, and had not received adult baptism—and Spurgeon was a Baptist. Spurgeon understood something that MacArthur does not: we can trust each other without agreeing—even on major points of doctrine—because doctrine is not the sole grounds for our unity. Christ is.

To be clear, doctrine may limit our Christian unity; but it does not define it.

R. C. Sproul is a little more gracious: in the same breath that he refers to Arminians as “barely Christian”, he goes on to state that he sees such theological debates as occurring “intramurally”—that is, within the confines of the church of God, not equivalent to dealing with unbelievers. It hardly mitigates the force of his “othering” of Arminians!

John Piper vs. Universalism

John Piper, like John MacArthur, is a Calvinist. Unlike MacArthur, Piper believes that spiritual gifts are still legitimate today. When it comes to doctrine, though, Piper doesn’t exhibit any more Christian liberty than MacArthur does. When Rob Bell published a book in which universal salvation was (undogmatically) stated as one possibility on a spectrum of Christian ideas on the afterlife, John Piper famously tweeted, “Farewell, Rob Bell.” The implication was that Bell had committed the sin of heresy, irreversibly exiting Christian fellowship. I find the idea of universalism as repulsive as the next guy—but I find no warrant in Scripture for considering someone reprobate for entertaining it. Piper treats our Christianity as a matter of intellectual assent; but the Bible says “he who has the Son has life.”

A Case Study: Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker

Another case is Calvinist treatment of Joseph Parker, prolific writer and preacher. Joseph Parker was a close friend to Charles Spurgeon, though Spurgeon was an adamant Calvinist and Parker a confident Arminian. Spurgeon wrote:

There is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. [3]

In today’s terms, Parker and Spurgeon would be megachurch pastors. Both preached to congregations of thousands, even multiple times a week, year after year. A. Cunningham Burley, the author of Spurgeon and His Friendships, fittingly described them as “two great lamps”:

It is really difficult today to explain the significance of Spurgeon and Parker, or to make credible the enthusiasm of those who listened to them years ago. Yet there they stood, like two great lamps, burning on each side of the River—Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and Parker at the City Temple.

There were striking similarities between these two men. They both began as boy preachers in remote country villages . . . They eventually gravitated to London and became the pastors of ‘downtown’ churches. Both men gained the ear of the crowd. Spurgeon’s audience varied from five to seven thousand. Parker was in the habit of addressing three to four thousand hearers a week. They were prodigious workers who put their own church first. When they were able to preach at all, they were always in their place when Sunday came round.

They learned (surely in the school of Christ) to praise each other’s genius and to rejoice in each other’s success. [4]

In spite of all this, I have several times encountered Calvinist writers going out of their way to discredit Joseph Parker. [5]

Even when Spurgeon was alive, a member of his congregation sought to discredit Parker, accusing him of insulting their orphanages. In fact, Parker was working to take up an offering for Spurgeon’s orphanages, and the man had overheard Parker saying that the children needed better clothing and food. On Sunday, as the story goes, Spurgeon blasted Parker from the pulpit, outraged that his friend would insult helpless orphans. Since sermons were reported in the newspapers, all London knew that Spurgeon had done this. At Parker’s next pulpit appearance, thousands flocked to his church, waiting with bated breath for his response. Parker merely took up an offering on behalf of Spurgeon and his orphanage, as he had planned before. Spurgeon had to apologize in person, and they were reconciled. [6]

Why Calvin’s Followers Belittle Christ’s Followers

As an outsider, I cannot truly understand why followers of Calvin belittle followers of Christ. But I can name here some incorrect premises that may drive these ungodly insults against Christ’s followers, who will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3).

1. “Calvinism is the Gospel!”

Calvinism is received differently from Arminianism. Arminianism and Calvinism surely predate Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin, respectively, but within Protestant theology, the former was delineated as an “ism” in response to the latter. Calvinism is treated by many as a kind of gnostic “special knowledge” required for salvation (“the doctrines of grace”). The native language of Calvinism is both dogmatic and exclusive. Calvinists frequently make it clear: if you do not hold these Calvinist doctrines, you are not in Christ; if you are in Christ, you must hold them at least unknowingly. A litany of quotations from Calvinist theologians show how common this sentiment is:

Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.
Charles H. Spurgeon [3]

Calvinism is pure biblical Christianity in its clearest and purest expression.
Leonard J. Coppes [7]

Calvinism is the Gospel and to teach Calvinism is in fact to preach the Gospel. It is questionable whether a dogmatic theology which is not Calvinistic is truly Christian.
Arthur C. Custance [8]

Arminians deny the efficacy of the merit of the death of Christ.
John Owen [9]

Arminianism is the plague of the church and the scourge of sound doctrine. . . . Arminians do not understand the Bible.
Gordon H. Clark [10]

Salvation as the Arminians describe it is uncertain, precarious and doubtful.
Gordon H. Clark [11]

An Arminian may be a truly regenerate Christian; in fact, if he is truly an Arminian and not a Pelagian who happens to belong to an Arminian church, he must be a saved man. But he is not usually . . .
Gordon H. Clark [12]

I believe that some Arminians may be born-again Christians.
Edwin H. Palmer [13]

They’ll say, “Do you believe that Arminians are Christians?” I’ll usually say, “Yes, I do—barely.”
R. C. Sproul [14]

Is the Arminian Jesus the same Lord and Savior as the Biblical Jesus? Not even a little. . . . If you believe and serve the Christ of Arminianism, you must recognize the fact that you do not serve the Christ of the Bible.
Steven Houck [15]

A religion of conditions, contingencies, and uncertainties is not Christianity—its technical name is Arminianism, and Arminianism is a daughter of Rome. It is that God dishonoring, Scripture-repudiating, soul-destroying system of Popery—whose father is the Devil.
Arthur W. Pink [16]

. . . rank Arminians, preaching another gospel.
Arthur W. Pink [17]

Satanic malice and the natural darkness of the human mind are, no doubt, contributory causes of Arminianism in its various forms.
J. I. Packer [18]

There is a stereotype in North American Calvinist circles that someone who becomes enlightened by “the doctrines of grace”—in their view, Calvinism—often becomes a rabid defender of those doctrines, unable to deal kindly with opposing viewpoints, condemning of non-Calvinist believers. It has been called “cage stage Calvinism”. But in the section above, I’ve quoted many similar reflections written soberly by the greatest sages of Calvinism. The reason that Calvinists old and new think this way is because it is part and parcel of the theological system. It is a system that is transmitted in such a way that prejudice against other Christians is somehow transmitted with it. It is conflated with the gospel in such a wholesale way, that it leaves its adherents with no alternatives.

2. “Calvinism Is Biblical!”

Calvinism and Arminianism tend to correlate with two different approaches to Scripture. In my own experience, Calvinism tends to thrive in an environment of systematic theology, and Arminianism tends to thrive in an environment of biblical/narrative theology. These are two different but complementary approaches to forming theology from Scripture. Systematic theology looks for specific inter-related propositions in the biblical text, unifying them into a coherent theological system. Biblical theology makes context king, over against any overriding need for theological coherence. Systematic theology compares logically-related propositions; biblical theology compares historically-related texts. Both approaches can produce good theology and bad theology. An illustration of this that I frequently come back to is Psalm 139.

In Psalm 139, David is profoundly affected by God’s omniscience. God knows his thoughts (v. 1-6); God sees him no matter where he is (v. 7-12); God knew him even before he was born (v. 13-18); God knows how he is grieved by his enemies (v. 19-24).

A line in Psalm 139:16 is somewhat puzzling for translators. The NIV reads: “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The KJV fits the context better, substituting “all my members” for “all the days ordained for me”. A Jewish translation, The Israel Bible, sounds more like the KJV: “Your eyes saw my unformed limbs; they were all recorded in Your book.”

For many Calvinist/systematic theologians, this line proves that God has ordained every event of our lives. For many Arminian/biblical theologians, it is affirming the same thing as the surrounding context in verses 13 to 18: God was active in David’s life before he was born.

The proof-text approach, employed, for instance, in the outlines of Lewis Sperry Chafer’s Systematic Theology, can lead to a dogmatic and staunch confidence that your theology is found uncontroversially in Scripture, and anyone who contradicts you is contradicting the Word of God! You could use Psalm 139:16 in the NIV, ESV, or NLT to dogmatically affirm that God foreknows and foreordains every event of our lives, even sin and evil; but looking at the Hebrew Psalm in detail may lead to a completely different understanding of this verse.

3. “Calvinism Is Logical!”

Calvinism is touted as “logically consistent” by its proponents, and as a philosophical system it truly is. But—like Arminianism—some of its logical presuppositions are arrived at and defended somewhat mystically—through intuition, not through the biblical narrative.

Such a premise is found in Calvinism’s philosophy of time. There is no direct, biblical grounding for believing in a timeless eternity, even if there is indirect, philosophical grounding for doing so. There is also no direct, biblical grounding for denying the same doctrine—it is simply not a question that the Bible answers, no matter how fiercely we believe one way or the other.

As I explained above, I believe a systematic approach to Scripture lends itself to intolerance (healthy and unhealthy), but a biblical approach to Scripture lends itself to a plurality and diversity of voices (healthy and unhealthy). Both approaches have their extremes. A biblical approach helps me to gather inspired words about the afterlife, and see what ideas come of them; but a systematic approach teaches that these ideas are not created equal, and some are dangerous!

If I overextend the systematic approach, though, I may discourage or even destroy Christian liberty through my teaching, as MacArthur, Piper, Packer, Morrell, and so many others have done. A systematic approach to Scripture can lend itself to seeing heresy where there is none, because we become trapped by the premises we used to formulate our systematic theology.

A biblical/narrative approach allows me to accept opposing viewpoints with different premises—again, for good or for ill. Joseph Parker states this view repeatedly in his sermons:

Each man has his own view of God . . . The mischief is that we expect every man to speak in the same tone, to deliver the same words, and to subject himself to the same literary yoke or spiritual discipline. The Bible sets itself against all this monotony. Every man must speak the word that God has given to him through the instrumentality of his own characteristics.
Joseph Parker [19]

These words were preached and printed in 1892. They still resonate today. It’s obvious, though, that this way of speaking could easily lend itself to a post-modern viewpoint, in which the Scripture authors themselves may not have even agreed on any basic doctrine. Biblical theology frequently fails to produce a coherent ontology for those with sincere questions about reality. A single biblical theologian can entertain the contradictory theological frameworks of the Reformed, Arminian, open theist, and process theist, exploiting each framework in turn, without any statement about which, if any, is really true!

To live by the laws of reality, we must state that of two contradicting alternatives, only one (at most) is true. Likewise, if both alternatives are part of historic Christian doctrine, as Calvinism and Arminianism are, then we do not dismiss or condemn adherents of either doctrine.

End the Heresy Hunt

The Roman Catholic church in medieval times militated against aberrant theology and practice, ordering the execution of thousands, including great ministers like John Hus, Jerome of Prague, and William Tyndale. After the Protestant Reformation, it was Calvin and his friends, such as Zwingli, who kept up this legacy of intolerance in Europe, drowning numerous believers in Switzerland for rejecting infant baptism. Anabaptists were tortured and killed by both Catholics and Protestants. Calvin himself was directly responsible for the execution of Michael Servetus, who denied the Trinity.

There is nothing in the New Testament to motivate, justify, or excuse a Christian condemning to death those with aberrant and even dangerous theology. But John reminds us that “everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15). Those who are still on the heresy hunt may not be killing others, but they are reliving the cycle that began before Martin Luther, of seeking to quench opposing viewpoints. Like Job’s friends, they have a corner on the truth (Job 12:2). This kind of intolerance is not found in Christ or his apostles, and was directly rebuked by Jesus (Luke 9:49-55).

Jesus sought to correct the Sadducees on the resurrection (Mark 12:24-27). He did not hesitate to call the Pharisees “evil”, “a brood of vipers”, “a wicked and adulterous generation” (Matthew 12). Many theologians of our day, prone to post-modern thinking, need to learn to call a spade a spade when future generations are on the line. Others—and many of them are Calvinists—need to learn to show grace to those they disagree with, because they are insulting Christ’s body and bringing dishonor to his precious church. They would do well to consider the words of Herman Bavinck:

Arminianism [is] undeniably present in American Christendom. There is much humbug in it. But I think we do better to incorporate and imitate the good things, than to condemn it all. . . . After all, Calvinism is not the only truth. [20]

By the foreordination of God, Jesus himself was killed as a blasphemer, as also were most of the apostles in time. Let us take care that we identify with Christ and the apostles more than we identify with their murderers.


References

[1] Wade Burleson, Gamaliel’s Wisdom and MacArthur’s War: Fighting Strange Fires Can Also Be a Fight Against God. Accessed April 20 2021.

[2] Phil Johnson, “Why I Am a Calvinist (Part 2)”. Accessed April 20 2021.

[3] Spurgeon’s Sermons, p. 129. This passage is also quoted in Spurgeon’s Autobiography.

[4] A. Cunningham Burley, Spurgeon and His Friendships. 1933.

[5] On the Wikipedia page on Joseph Parker, someone wrote that because Spurgeon had a “stricter theological framework” he “tended to distrust” Joseph Parker. Here was cited a short encyclopedia article, which said no such thing. Some Calvinist went out of their way to propagate a lie that Spurgeon distrusted Parker, when they were in fact friends who praised each other’s work and exchanged pulpits. Spurgeon even invited Parker to speak at his fiftieth birthday.

[6] The story is narrated here and is found in many compilations, but I cannot find any primary source for the story. If you have a primary source, please comment!

[7] Leonard J. Coppes, Are Five Points Enough? The Ten Points of Calvinism (Denver: by the author, 1980), p. xi.

[8] Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), p. 302.

[9] John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), Vol. 10: 13.

[10] Gordon H. Clark, The Biblical Doctrine of Man (Jefferson: Trinity Foundation, 1984), p. 74.

[11] Gordon H. Clark, Predestination (Phillipsburg. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1987), p. 133.

[12] Gordon H. Clark, What Presbyterians Believe (1956), p. 74.

[13] Edwin H. Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p 26.

[14] Sproul is more winsome here than Owen, Pink, MacArthur, Custance, or Piper in the full explanation of how he sees Arminians, but I still wouldn’t call him if I got a flat tire. R. C. Sproul, “Are Arminians Christians?” Clip from footage filmed for Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism. Accessed April 20, 2021.

[15] Stephen Houck, “The ‘christ’ of Arminianism.” Accessed April 21 2021.

[16] Arthur W. Pink, “Comfort for Christians.” Accessed April 21 2021.

[17] Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead.  Accessed April 21 2021.

[18] J. I. Packer, “Arminianisms.” Chapter in Through Christ’s word : a festschrift for Dr. Philip E. Hughes. 1985.

[19] Joseph Parker, “Prophet of Judgment.” The Minor Prophets, The People’s Bible Book 20. Pioneer Library. Kindle edition.

[20] Quoted in George Harinck, “Calvinism Isn’t the Only Truth: Herman Bavinck’s Impressions of the USA.” Accessed April 21, 2021.

A Historical and Biblical Appraisal of “Faith” Missions

The biographies of ministers like George Müller, of the Bristol Orphan Homes, and Hudson Taylor, of the China Inland Mission (now OMF International), dramatically popularized the concept of “faith” missions—meaning that missionaries or ministers are prohibited from soliciting financial help and do not receive any fixed salaries. It is worth asking, where did this idea originate, and is it a biblical model of missions?

The Beginnings of “Faith” Missions

Francke’s Foundations in Germany

In founding his orphanage, Müller was strongly influenced by the work of August Hermann Francke in Halle, Germany. In his autobiography, The Footsteps of Divine Providence, which we have just published, Francke tells of many answered prayers. In 1695, Francke set up a box for anonymous donations for the support and education of poor children. At first, he took in four; within a few years, his boarding house grew to became the largest charitable institution in the world, supported by King Frederick I of Prussia, who was a loyal patron to local Pietists.

While Francke did not outline any philosophy of giving per se, his dependence on prayer and anonymous gifts, and his living “without any settled provision” (p. 42) was an inspiration to George Müller, who read Francke’s Memoirs.

Having thus made a beginning, in the Name of GOD, to take effectual care of some poor, without any settled provision, and without any regard to human supports, I relied entirely upon Him, and so did not scruple to make daily addition to the number of our children.

The Footsteps of Divine Providence, 2021 edition, p. 42

Passages in Francke’s autobiography (published in 1701) are nearly identical to those from Müller’s biography (published in 1899):

All our provision being spent, I closely adhered in my mind to this saying, “Seek first the kingdom of GOD, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you“; avoiding temporal cares, and turning the whole bent of my soul upon a close union with GOD: and when I was now laying out the last of the money, I said in my thoughts, “LORD, look upon my necessity.” Then going out of my chamber, I unexpectedly found a student in my house, that waited for [me], and presented me the sum of seventy crowns, sent by some friends from a place above two hundred English miles distant.

The Footsteps of Divine Providence, 2021 edition, p. 61

Francke was himself of a well-to-do family, with a strong network. The charter and building materials for his boarding house were provided directly by the Elector of Brandenburg, later King of Prussia. Francke also trained and sent the first Protestant missionaries in 1706, with help from the King of Denmark. He printed more than one million Bibles in around a dozen languages. In spite of his noble connections, it is remarkable what Francke accomplished without fixed donations. Halle became a global hub for the spread of Protestant and Pietist ideas through Francke’s Foundations.

Anthony Groves and the Plymouth Brethren

Anthony Norris Groves was the first to expound the concept of “faith” stewardship, in his 1825 booklet, Christian Devotedness. Groves was one of several figures who were crucial to the beginnings of the Plymouth Brethren, alongside John Nelson Darby. Their primary theological distinctives are primitivism and literalism: Primitivism means that early church practices are considered to be normative today; literalism for the Brethren means that no Scriptural command may be side-stepped by any “cultural” interpretation. All are relevant for practice today, including the prohibition of fixed income, commands to pacifism, and head coverings for women.

Groves believed that the missionaries of the early church did not have regular incomes, which he considered “trusting in man” (Jeremiah 17:5), and he believed that societies providing a generous income for overseas missionaries had led to extravagance and became a scandal to the gospel.

In his 1825 booklet, Groves took as his theme the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:19: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” Groves interpreted this command as a blanket prohibition against saving money. He interprets Matthew 19:24 as stating that wealth directly inhibits spiritual growth, and works against salvation: “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” He refers to Luke 18:22—”sell all that thou hast”— and Acts 2—”they had all things in common”—as evidence that we believers should not have property.

In spite of his strict interpretation against salaries for missionaries, Groves did not oppose missionaries working a trade overseas (“tent-makers”), as he states several times in his journal while in Baghdad.

The Growth of “Faith” Missions

In 1852, Hudson Taylor was baptized in a Brethren assembly. He joined the Chinese Evangelisation Society, arriving in China in 1854 at the age of 21. During his first term, he faced a number of problems and prejudices, surviving a fire and an attack by bandits. In 1857, encouraged by George Müller, he left his mission society.

It was not until 1865 that Taylor founded the China Inland Mission. By the time they left in 1866, with a team of more than twenty adults, Taylor had gained the support of Charles Spurgeon and had published China’s Spiritual Need and Claims, which went through numerous editions.

Taylor became the best known figure in evangelical missions and China Inland Mission became the largest missionary society in the world. Missiologist Ralph Winter wrote:

“More than any other human being, James Hudson Taylor, that young upstart, who did not heed his station in the social order, made the greatest contribution to the cause of world mission in the 19th century.”

Ralph D. Winter, “Why is the China Inland Mission/North America‘s 100th year celebration so significant for us today?” Mission Frontiers, June 1988. [link]

In 1899, A. T. Pierson—a mobilizer of the Student Volunteer Movement and Charles Spurgeon’s successor at the Metropolitan Tabernacle—published George Müller of Bristol and His Witness to a Prayer-Hearing God. Pierson had married Müller’s daughter and held a high respect for the man whose biography he wrote.

“Not once, or five times, or five hundred times, but thousands of times in these threescore years, have we had in hand not enough for one more meal, either in food or in funds; but not once has God failed us; not once have we or the orphans gone hungry or lacked any good thing.”

George Müller to A. T. Pierson, in George Müller of Bristol, ch. VI, p. 81

The lives of Francke, Taylor, and Müller are wonderful exhibits of God’s faithfulness, and that is a faithfulness that extends, not only to missionaries, but to the merest sparrow. It is interesting, though, to contemplate how well known these men were. All three were heavily involved in writing and publishing, and all three circulated printed accounts of the progress of their ministry. None solicited funds, but continuous publishing clearly maintains the attention of like-minded believers. Though serving the poor, all three also had high connections. The monarchs of Denmark and Prussia supported Francke’s evangelical and charitable endeavors. Taylor and Müller had the ear of Charles Spurgeon, who had the ear of thousands of Londoners on a weekly basis.

“Faith” Missions Under the Microscope

What Is Faith?

From reading his journals, it becomes clear that Groves writes with an ascetic turn of mind. As a habit, he takes Scriptures “in their most unrestricted sense” (Christian Devotedness, p. 4). He speaks of being “compelled to live by faith on the divine promises day by day” (p. 30). He writes that the “primary object” of God’s government is “the development in us of the character of dear children, the essential feature of which is unlimited dependence” (p. 2).

This axiom of “unlimited dependence” has stark implications. For Groves, they mean rejecting welcome help. First, it means ministers cannot ask for money. While travelling to Baghdad, it causes Groves to write that he “foolishly” placed too much trust in his carriage (Journal, v. 1, p. 35). He goes unarmed and unescorted in Kurdistan, in a region riddled with bandits (v. 1, p. 104); not long after, a similar group is murdered (v. 2). When his wife dies, he speaks of her death as caused by his own dependence on her, and God as allowing her to die to teach him dependence (v. 2, p. 162)! He speaks of language learning as if God might at any moment give him the gift of tongues, bypassing all his labor (v. 2, p. 252).

At what point do we stop interpreting everything by “dependence”? Should we not study because the Holy Spirit leads us into truth? Should we never eat because we live not by bread alone? “Dependence” describes the act of salvation, but it is by no means an exhaustive description of the Christian life.

When Müller, Groves, and others write of doing missions “by faith”, their implication is that living with a fixed income—especially as a minister or missionary—is decidedly not living by faith. But where does this leave laymen, who toil to feed their families? Do they not live by faith? Groves allows that missionaries may work for their money (v. 1, p. 204). If working for your money is “by faith”, and tent-making is “by faith”, how is soliciting funds not “by faith”? He reduces faith to “not asking for material help” whereas biblical faith is a spiritual dependence for forgiveness and empowerment.

In the end, Groves’ theology points to a dualism in which all material things (“the flesh”) are evil, and spiritual dependence encompasses everything. This is notable when he views the beautiful God-created landscapes of the Caucasus, and can only morbidly reflect that all be destroyed (v. 1, p. 72).

Testing Brethren Hermeneutics

As mentioned earlier, “faith” missions is built on the biblical hermeneutic principles of primitivism and literalism. Both principles tend to create imbalanced practice, and not just in the area of stewardship.

In his book, Letters to a Devastated Christian, Gene Edwards points out that primitivism as it is usually expounded relies on several shaky premises. First, primitivism assumes that all aspects of the first-century church recounted in the Book of Acts are still normative. Needless to say, Edwards contends that they are not—a key example being the denial of personal property in Acts 2. Second, primitivism assumes that we know enough about early church practice to answer our questions. In defense of “faith” missions, Groves asks, “Why has this spirit for so many centuries been slumbering?” (p. 15) He presumes that, like him, the apostles never solicited funds.

Literalism is likewise appealing on the surface, but reductionist upon further inspection. Brethren doctrine “resurrected” a literal reading 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 in favor of head coverings for women. This is a passage that almost no one in recent church history has taken literally, and if Lucy Peppiatt is to be believed, no one should. One passage taken literally may involve a direct contradiction to another passage taken literally. In the case of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul writes that “long hair” is a “disgrace” on a man, but in Acts 18:18, he does not cut his hair while at Corinth! Either Paul is contradicting himself, or he has changed his mind, or there is some rhetoric involved in 1 Corinthians 11.

Testing “Christian Devotedness

In Groves’ booklet, Christian Devotedness, he advocates the “most unrestricted” interpretation of Jesus’ saying, “lay not up treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19). He teaches that it is an outright prohibition on saving or planning for “future or possible” needs. But Paul uses the same verb for “lay up” in 1 Corinthians 16:2, exhorting the Corinthians to prepare to be generous to the church.

“Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.”

1 Corinthians 16:2

When Paul says this, he is speaking of them accumulating a fund, so that when he comes he can transfer the money to those who need it in Jerusalem. He is also making a direct financial appeal for a specific, known need. If we can labor and save for the church’s needs, why not for our own?

Paul uses the same verb for “storing up” money again in 2 Corinthians, in an analogy:

“. . . The children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.”

2 Corinthians 12:14

Here is only appealing by analogy to the way of the world; but Paul considers only natural that parents would save up for their children. Groves employs some sleight of hand here, saying that Paul is not asking for money. In any case, Paul is appealing to a universal principle, that parents store up provision for the needs of their children.

Pride and Faith Missions

Finally, I want to point out that “faith” missions appeals to human pride. “Faith” missions exploits monergist language to put on an air of spirituality while simultaneously setting up a new law that is not founded on sound Scripture. It sounds very noble-minded to never ask for needed funds and only direct your appeals to God in prayer, but we are never restricted to doing so in the Scriptures. In fact, asking for help from other believers may be the more Christian practice, and only seeking help in prayer may be an indicator of spiritual pride.

“The church is a company of people who have learned how to be ill and to ask for help . . .”

John Goldingay, Walk On, p. 60, paraphrasing Stanley Hauerwas, Suffering Presence, p. 80

We cannot reduce all practice into godly “dependence” and sinful “independence”; rather, we depend on Christ for spiritual help, and we also take initiative in providing for our own material needs and co-laboring with Christ in obedience to his commands.

Throughout Jesus’ life, people of all stripes pleaded with him pointedly and repeatedly for material help, and he gave it to them. The apostles did the same. There are certainly specific dangers attending financial appeals, which tempt some to give up this practice. But we address these dangers by applying sound hermeneutics, not by rejecting the whole enterprise. As Paul did, we show love by prioritizing people over finances (2 Cor. 12:14; Phil. 4:17). And we also humble ourselves in making our needs known to God and each other.

The Armor of God (VIII): The Sword of the Spirit

This is the eighth and final part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


. . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

I mentioned at the beginning of this series that the entire panoply is defensive, with the sole exception of “the sword of the Spirit.” Now we arrive at a discussion of the meaning of this weapon.

The sword is a metaphor throughout Scripture for the Word of God, and not just in Ephesians or Hebrews. There are three elements that the word of God is compared to (whether in simile or metaphor):

  1. Light
    lamp [Ps. 119:105]
    fire [Jer. 23:29, technically a simile]
    mirror [James 1:23, simile]
  2. Food
    milk [1 Pet. 2:2, Heb. 5:12, 1 Cor. 3:2]
    meat [Heb. 5:12, 1 Cor. 3:2]
  3. Weapon
    sword [Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12-13, Rev. 1:16; see also Isa. 49:2, Hos. 6:5, Rev. 2:12, 19:15, 19:21]
    hammer [Jer. 23:29, simile]
    fire [Jer. 5:14, see also Jer. 20:9, 23:29]

There may be a few similes not mentioned here. For instance, the Word is like a seed that brings life (1 Pet. 1:23), and the Word is like water that cleanses (Eph. 5:26-27).

Overall, though, the most common metaphor used of God’s Word is a weapon. And out of the weapon metaphors, a sword appears to be the most repeated throughout both Testaments.

The Word Reveals, Nourishes, and Hurts

These metaphors that are repeated throughout Scripture enable us to see the Word as accomplishing at least three functions in our lives: It reveals, it nourishes, and it hurts. Needless to say, the third of these is the most surprising, especially since it is the most repeated!

The Word reveals. As a lamp, the Word reveals the way to live; as a fire, the Word brings safety at night, but in that passage in Jeremiah, it is also, yet again, a weapon. And as a mirror, the Word reveals to us ourselves.

The Word also nourishes. Both Peter and Paul compare God’s Word to “spiritual milk” that brings us to maturity. There is also a word from God that is like “meat”—it strengthens us and energizes us. The Word also takes time to digest! We need to take it pieces, not all at once, lest we miss the maturity that comes with each morsel of revelation.

The Word hurts. Take a look at Jeremiah’s word:

12 They have lied about the Lord,
And said, “It is not He.
Neither will evil come upon us,
Nor shall we see sword or famine. . . .”

14 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts:

“Because you speak this word,
Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire,
And this people wood,
And it shall devour them.”

(Jer. 5:12, 14, NKJV)

God’s Word is amazingly powerful. The same Word that said in the beginning, “let there be light”—and there was light—still has power to build and destroy, to create and to undo. In a sense, some Creation processes have freedom to run “in the background” with or without divine maintenance—although truly “in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) But when he wants to tear down entire nations, he does it, not with lightning and thunder, with his arm and his power, but with his word.

Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. (Rev. 19:15, NKJV)

The same sword that, in the end, defeats Satan’s armies, is the sword that we as believers wield against him. His Word is that powerful. Amazingly, this “sword” is the only weapon mentioned.

Finally, the Word hurts to heal. When the author of Hebrews calls the Word “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit” (4:12 NKJV), we should take notice that he’s talking about believers. The author of Hebrews speaks of warning believers, to “be diligent to enter that rest” (4:11):

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. (4:1 NKJV)

The sword of the Spirit may pierce us now as a way of helping us to know if our efforts are from the soul or from the spirit. As we close our discussion of God’s suit of armor, let us make every effort to find ourselves among those that are pierced here and now by the Word of God—for everyone who is not pierced by it now, will assuredly be pierced by it hereafter.

The Armor of God (VII): The Helmet of Salvation

This is the seventh part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

Like the “breastplate of righteousness,” the “helmet of salvation” is first mentioned by Isaiah:

For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
And was clad with zeal as a cloak.
(Isa. 59:17)

Some have said that connecting “salvation” to our “heads” implies that salvation is related to our theology or thought processes about God. That is true, in a sense. It is not our right ways of thinking that bring us salvation; it is our salvation that directs our thoughts to God. When we repent and turn to him, he enables us to become his children (John 1:1-14), and this amounts to a total reorientation of our life.

I am not sure whether a reader in Paul’s day or Isaiah’s day would have readily connected their “brain” or “head” with their thoughts. Regardless, I think it’s nearer to the heart of the metaphor to seek to understand the Jewish concept of salvation, and to see it as something that protects the most important part of us.

It is a very American problem to be preoccupied with “where someone is spending eternity” to the exclusion of the consideration of righteousness or even life. An interesting corrective to this has been noticed by better Bible scholars than myself:

  • He “saved” us in Titus 3:5;
  • We are “being saved” in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Acts 2:47, and elsewhere; and,
  • We “will be saved” in Mark 16:16 and Acts 16:31.

“Salvation” as used in the Bible definitely includes a future state; but it also involves a state of wholeness on earth and in this present life. We should think of salvation as God’s protecting influence that begins with forgiveness and culminates in eternal communion.

The Armor of God (VI): Fiery Darts

This is the sixth part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore . . . above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Eph. 6:14, 16)

There are two offensive weapons mentioned in Ephesians 6, and the difference between them should be striking: The enemy shoots darts or arrows at us, while our only weapon is a sword. One is for long-distance combat; the other is for close combat.

The traditional phrase, “fiery darts,” has also been translated “flaming arrows”; historians record that arrows were dipped in oil, lit on fire, and used in battle as much as 2700 years ago (and referenced in Psalm 7:13, which may be even older). But they were probably not very common, or effective. The technology was greatly improved by the Byzantines, who invented a form of napalm in the seventh century after Christ. Before that time, a “flaming arrow” would be a frightening spectacle, but not always super-effective.

The metaphor tells us something about the devil’s strategy. He lobs his weapons at us from a great distance, hoping that the damage will spread. The Scriptures describes “the tongue” as a spreading fire: it “setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:6)

One of the greatest ways that we can cancel the lies of the enemies is by controlling the words that come out of our mouths. Our mouths are not magic, but our words do carry “the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21), and we can damage our own faith by not keeping a tight grip on our words.

The Armor of God (V): The Shield of Faith

This is the fifth part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore . . . above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Eph. 6:14, 16)

Warren Wiersbe has a fantastic book entitled The Strategy of Satan in which he goes through the key Scriptures related to spiritual warfare and temptation. Starting with with Adam and Eve, he goes through many of the same themes that I discussed in my series on Jesus in the desert. His impactful book keeps faith front and center during the discussion of spiritual warfare—if we want to live in victory, we need faith. So what is it, and how do we get there?

Faith, Wiersbe says, is the key to the entire conflict. But this statement can be misleading if we misunderstand what faith is. One of the ways we misunderstand faith is by thinking of it as mere confidence, like throwing yourself off a bridge into a dark cavern, hoping that the landing will be soft. We pray for someone to receive healing or for the mortally ill to turn a corner, and invariably someone will muddy the waters of a fast-growing faith by using the words, “we didn’t have enough faith.” Young minds hear these words and, comparing them to a few Scriptures, they imagine that they didn’t huff and puff and “faith themselves up” enough. If those were the conditions and operations of faith, then not only would faith be a fool’s hope, but God would be a silent tyrant. God forbid!

Biblical faith is not as mysterious as that. A. W. Tozer addressed this “leap of faith” problem in many of his short articles, but the most memorable is his chapter “The Gaze of the Soul” in the book The Pursuit of God. Tozer wrote there that “faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” He brings faith firmly back into the realm of possibility—faith involves confidence in what we already know about God. We cannot know everything about any given topic; but, given that we know Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we are willing to risk everything we don’t know on the God that we do know.

Getting back to Wiersbe’s book—he points out that Adam and Eve’s failure against the serpent turned on their knowledge of God. Eve had already walked with God. She had already talked with God and heard from God, and she failed in that knowledge first. Then, she failed in conflict with her enemy.

There are a lot of strange ideas out there about spiritual warfare. Many world religions use ritualistic chanting or cleansing to drive away evil spirits, and some Christians think that quoting Scripture in a certain way can do the same thing. Some modern worship songs apply an almost magical power to the name of Jesus, which, while it has some founding in Scripture, is not something that should be worn like a charm when it is not married to a living faith in a present God.

We have all had moments when we simply felt attacked, as even atheists can attest. We locked the door but troubles came swarming through our window. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” We all know those “flaming arrows” of the enemy. And we all have thoughts about who to turn to—a person we can trust, a drink or drug to drown our sorrow, or anything to distract us from the state of our soul. Or we think that extra Scripture reading or church attendance will somehow protect us. None of these things mark a true newborn faith of the child of God. The only response from the child of God is to look heavenward for help with the gaze of a born-again faith and offer the sacrifice of praise, knowing that all who even desire to live godly will suffer persecution in Christ Jesus.

The Armor of God (IV): Feet Shod with Preparation

This is the fourth part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore . . . and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace . . .
(Eph. 6:14-15)

“Having your feet shod” is closely connected to the metaphor of “the belt of truth,” and the two should be taken together, although they are not mentioned together. Both are with the purpose of running (1 Kings 18:46, 2 Kings 4:29)

Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead . (1 Kings 18:46; cf. 2 Kings 4:29, etc.)

If having the correct shoes has any Old Testament analogue, it would be in the shoes worn at the Passover supper.

And thus you shall eat it [i.e. the Passover meal]: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. (Ex. 12:11)

The Passover meal is rich in picturesque imagery; although the Exodus is a work of God, the children of Israel were required to eat the Passover supper in readiness, prepared to flee the land of Egypt. It speaks, like the belt, of readiness and eternity-consciousness.

The work of the gospel is also the work of God, but that does not excuse laziness or foolhardiness as we prepare for the work. We should do everything we can to be ready for gospel work.

When it comes to gospel work overseas, there are a variety of ways that we can prepare. There is language study; physical training; cultural study; and, if that weren’t difficult enough, the arduous task of applying the message to hardened hearts will keep us busy for a lifetime. But making disciples is the best preparation. If we have not made disciples at home, we will have triple the difficulty making them abroad. If you want to be prepared to spread the gospel, don’t just buy a plane ticket—make disciples.

The Armor of God (III): The Breastplate of Righteousness

This is the third part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . . (Eph. 6:14)

The “breastplate” is the first piece of defensive armor that Paul names. This one and the “helmet of salvation” were both mentioned by Isaiah in a Messianic prophecy:

He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
And was clad with zeal as a cloak.
(Isa. 59:16-17)

Paul also has a similar “breastplate” metaphor in one of his other letters:

But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Th. 5:8)

Paul is not afraid to come up with his own metaphors (like “the belt of truth”), but he also couches everything in the wisdom of tradition. When he puts together metaphors, they tend to be metaphors that were already used in Scripture.

The Breastplate of Judgment?

The connection between “righteousness” and the “breastplate” is no mistake. Although the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge doesn’t mention the cross-reference, both Isaiah and Paul would have been well aware of the high priest’s “breastplate of judgment,” first introduced as such in Exodus 28:15. The word “breastplate” is only used in two contexts in the Bible: the priest’s breastplate of judgment, and the metaphorical breastplate of righteousness (or, in 1 Thessalonians, “faith and love”). Although there are different shades of meaning, the two terms (“judgment” and “righteousness”) are too close in meaning to think that either Paul or Isaiah had anything else in mind.

With that in mind, I believe that the breastplate of righteousness refers to righteous decision-making. The meaning of “judgment” in Exodus 28 is not divine punishment; it means something more like “discernment” or “what is right.”

The Urim and Thummim

The priest’s breastplate is a rather mysterious symbol if we take it as connected to divine judgment, in the sense of punishment and reward. But it becomes much clearer when we take judgment to mean “decision-making,” in connection with the Urim and Thummim. These were actually consulted in the Old Testament very seldom: Saul consulted them at least twice while making war against the Philistines (1 Sam. 14:41 & 28:6),  and Ezra desired to consult them on return from exile, but they had apparently been permanently lost (Ezra 2:63, Neh. 7:65).

The Urim and Thummim are rather mysterious in the Old Testament, but we do know that:

  • They were a decision-making tool used by the high priest, likely quite similar to flipping a coin.
  • Their name is Hebrew for “lights and perfections,” which seems to point to wise decision-making, but doesn’t say anything about their actual use.
  • They are not frequently mentioned, and in fact word from a prophet and even dreams are much more frequent in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Sam. 28:6).
  • It also appears they fell out of use after David’s time, and were lost by the time of Ezra.
  • They are not mentioned in the New Testament.

The Urim and Thummim in the breastplate symbolize for us the simple fact of consulting God when making decisions. But one danger is, this can be over-emphasized, to the point that we paralyze young believers until they have some spiritual experience, proving God approves of their next decision.

Guarding Your Heart

The basic function of a breastplate is to protect the vital organs such as the heart. For that reason, it is common to link the “breastplate of righteousness” in Ephesians to Proverbs 4:23:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

As I have written elsewhere, the “heart” in Scripture represents thoughts and intentions, not just emotions. This makes sense when we reflect that the priest’s breastplate held the Urim and Thummim, the two stones that the priest used to make decisions:

And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually. (Ex. 28:30)

When the proverb tells us “guard your heart,” I believe it’s talking about protecting your thought-life and your decisions. I have seen people who were walking with God fall into strange cult-like behavior, and I believe one of the main drivers was their desire for spiritual help in decision-making—when we become lost on this point, some will begin to consult forbidden means like fortune-tellers, astrology, or seances. These lead them into spiritual entanglement and doctrinal confusion, and they end up forgetting the righteousness that is found in Christ.

When we believe that righteousness is found in Christ, it enables us to make decisions with confidence, knowing that he is with us and for us, and that he is empowering us and giving us wisdom through his Word and Spirit. The Bible also gives us a firm footing, so that we don’t always have to wait for a special word—we have the Word. There are times when the Holy Spirit will prompt us to wait until it is the right moment or until we understand a situation better before making a decision; in other times, having consulted the firm foundation of God’s Word, walking in the wisdom of Christian history, and staying in close contact with trustworthy Christian brothers and sisters, we can take bold steps, especially when God’s honor is at stake.

The Armor of God (II): The Belt of Truth

This is the second part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth . . . (Eph. 6:14)

“Girding your waist,” or putting on “the belt of truth” in most translations, does not refer to cinching up your pants, but a loose full-body garment we would know as a robe or a long tunic. They are usually of one piece, with openings only for the head and arms. It is misleading, in looking at Paul’s meaning, to think of a toga; a “tunic” that is longer than your waist and requires a belt is the best way to think of the intended figure. This was the basic everyday wear of men and women in the Roman Empire two millennia ago, and is still widespread in the Middle East today. English-speakers in the Middle East call them by their local Arabic names (thawb, dishdasha, or jellabiya), because they are difficult to describe in English.

In the Persian Gulf where I live, people walk notoriously slow, partially because of the limitations of the outfit; belts are also never worn with them, and sandals are also the norm for men; many Arab women wear ankle-length cloaks with high heels. Needless to say, running in most contexts is considered very improper. The point of Paul’s metaphor, “the belt of truth,” is that it allows us to run.

Elijah and John’s Claim to Fame

In both the Old and New Testaments, we have reason to believe that a belt is a distinctive piece of clothing. In 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah could identify Elijah by description with only two items: hairy plus belt.

And he said unto them, “What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words?”
And they answered him, “He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.”
And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

Given that this belt was the single conclusive item in Elijah’s wardrobe, it’s notable that his New Testament antitype, John the Baptist, wore one as well (Matt. 3:4). The belt was evidently not in vogue or everyday use in Elijah’s day, or John the Baptist’s day, or today in most of the Middle East.

The Belt Means Eternity-Consciousness

When I see someone late for an appointment here, they may run if they are dressed in Western clothes; but you cannot really run in a long tunic and sandals! The garment restricts your knees, like a dress. The best you can do is a shuffle, if you hold on to the lower part of your tunic. For this reason, both Paul and Peter talk about being “girded”:

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:13)

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, . . . (Eph. 6:14)

The key practical element of the belt is that it allows you to run. Strictly speaking, it’s not a piece of “armor.” It doesn’t directly involve defense or attack. It does allow you to be more agile. Paul describes this characteristics as derived from “truth.” In many places, it can mean “reality.”

Understanding reality keeps us from wasting our time. The “truth” prepares us by making us see that we all have an appointment with eternity and with a judgement day. This consciousness was the most notable thing about Elijah and John the Baptist and the belt that they wore symbolized this vigor and diligence.

Lord, make us eternity-conscious so that we can run with vigor the race set before us.

The Armor of God (I): Introduction

Today we are starting an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. After the introduction (v. 10-13), we will be looking at the seven metaphors used by Paul: the belt of truth (v. 14), the breastplate of righteousness (v. 14), feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace (v. 15), the shield of faith (v. 16), the enemy’s fiery darts (v. 16), the helmet of salvation (v. 17), and the sword of the Spirit (v. 17).


Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (v. 10-13)

Cosmic Battle

The letter to the Ephesians is written in the frame of a cosmic battle. In the context of this epic battle, God knew that he was going to make a people for his name “before the foundation of the world” (1:4); God’s power towards us is the same power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him “far above principality and power and might and dominion” (1:21); through our testimony, God is revealing his “manifold wisdom” to the “principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (3:10); and Paul concludes the letter with a sweeping reminder of how to prepare for this battle.

Spiritual warfare is a Christian distinctive. Muslims believe in a personal devil, but their only recourse in trouble is to amulets, charms, folk remedies, and Quranic chanting. The spiritualists and polytheists of the world live in constant fear of demons, and the modern era has seen whole nations of Africa, South America and Asia choose the gospel over a life of fear. Other religions have no concept of invoking help from a personal God who is daily empowering us to win.

God’s Suit of Armor

The phrase “whole armor,” used twice in this passage, is a single word in the original, which we have in English as panoply, which means a splendid display, since we think of suits of armor as historical artifacts used for decoration. For Paul’s readers, they probably would have thought of a suit of armor stored in readiness, waiting to be “taken up” (v. 13).

Of the six pieces of armor he describes, two are for preparation (the belt and shoes), one is for attack (the sword of the Spirit), and three are for defense (breastplate, shield and helmet). So he’s mainly talking here not from a position of expanding or winning new territory; he’s talking about how we defend what’s already won.

This defensive stance is also expressed in his use of the verb “stand” (v. 11, 13). In his book, Sit, Walk, Stand, Watchman Nee sees the Christian life expressed in three verbs used in Ephesians: 1. We sit with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6); 2. We walk with Christ on earth (4:1); and 3. We stand against the devil’s tricks (6:11).

Principalities and Powers

In several places, Paul lists types of cosmic powers, which are somewhat prone to over-interpretation. In Middle Eastern cultures, one of the ways of emphasizing a point is to list synonyms or near synonyms: principalities, powers, rulers, and hosts. In 1:21 and 6:12, as well as Colossians 1:16, these lists are not meant to be a guide to the academic study of angels; rather, they should be taken in concord.

Be Empowered in the Lord

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.[1] Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

The first three verbs that he uses sound very similar in Greek: “Be strong” (ἐνδυναμοῦσθε) . . . “Put on” (ἐνδύσασθε) [the armor] . . . [that you may] “be able” (δύνασθαι). Paul uses complex structures and careful word choice in his Greek epistles, and it’s possible that this alliteration was meant to add beauty to his letter or make the words more memorable, in the same way we would use alliteration in a sermon.

The opening verb “be strong” (ἐνδυναμόω) is also used by Paul in a number of other letters. It is the same verb for “strengthens” in the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Acts 9:22 says the Paul “increased in strength.”

Paul also uses this verb to describe the Lord’s faithfulness at the end of his life:

Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me. (2 Tim. 4:17)

It is clear from Hebrews that this word has a supernatural sense, because of the way it is listed with other miracles:

Time would fail me to tell of [the faithful who . . .]  quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (Heb. 11:32-34)

Being “strong in the Lord,” then, as Paul commands, is a supernatural receiving of power through God’s grace, which is why all of the elements of God’s armor described here are paired with spiritual characteristics: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.


[1] “Power of his might” sounds awkward in English, but the figure probably means “his mighty power.” This is a pretty common construction in the epistles, whereby a noun is used like an adjective. It’s especially common with the word “glory”; Colossians 1:11 says, literally, “the power of his glory,” but the traditional rendering is “his glorious power.”