T-shirts—if you belong to any student group, not just a Greek house, you will be asked to contribute money to buy a group shirt. You are used to that from high school. As you came to Iowa State you had the chance to receive free shirts from groups like the alumni association and will be encouraged to buy ISU apparel. On one hand there is all kinds of clothing out there to fit our own individual preferences for style, fit, and comfort, but we also like to wear clothes that help to identify us and make us fit in with a group. We want both to be individuals and to belong.
St. Paul speaks about what we are to wear as Christians. He uses the example of a Roman soldier which was familiar to people in Paul’s world. The Roman army was dominant throughout the Mediterranean world. Much of their effectiveness was due to their equipment. The Roman soldier was equipped not only to fight, but to march and campaign. Paul describes what you would obviously think about for an ancient army like swords, shields, and helmets. But he also talked about feet. The Roman soldier wore good quality sandals that helped them march long distances. Their helmets protected them, but were also light, gave good visibility, and shielded from the sun. Their belts not only held up protection for the midsection of their bodies, but the belts also held the sword, extra spears, and water and food containers. The Roman sword was manufactured in Spain. It was the sharpest, strongest steel available. The breastplate was their form of a bullet-proof vest, it was light compared to other armor. The shield was used not only for the individuals, but the shields would form a solid line to protect everyone. They could also be formed into what they called a “Tortuga”—the Latin words for turtle—which was like a tank when they attacked walled cities. And shields could also be used as weapons, knocking over enemies when the sword hand was busy holding off a blow.
Paul compares all of this Roman armor to what God gives to us, the equipment we need to take on all the obstacles and struggles in this life. If the Roman armor made them the best soldiers, then why wouldn’t we want to put on the armor God offers to us?
Armor protects, but it is heavy. It is hot and uncomfortable. It is part of the life of a soldier a tough life. They go into danger, dangers that are a powerful motivation to wear that armor.
But what if I’m not in danger? If we live in the Chicago metro or even Des Moines, we will lock our cars. But do we do that in Vail, Iowa or Waco, Nebraska? Christians in the Middle East, where ISIS is on the loose, have to be aware of the dangers to them. A missionary overseas in a foreign country can feel exposed. If I am going through chemotherapy, I sense a lot of need for prayer. But what if life is okay? Why should I carry a burden I don’t seem to need? Why should I keep coming to church when I can sleep in like most other students? Why upset my children by having them sit still in church or Sunday School when we want them to fit in and know that means missing church for sports and other activities? Why spend time in prayer or devotions when it is so much easier and fun to download movies, text friends, watch you tube, or play games online?
The Roman soldier had good armor. But none of that would work well without the most important component of the Roman army—teamwork. Several years ago the US Army used the theme “An Army of One” for recruiting, focusing on the American value of individual freedom. But it did not last long. A successful military is all about teamwork. Soldiers don’t sacrifice their lives in battle for American democracy or our “righteous cause.” They do it to protect and save their fellow soldiers.
The Roman armor was designed to protect the front. Your sides were protected by the people next to you. Good sandals helped you to keep up with the rest in marching. Their main food was what we call today pasta, a lightweight way to carry food. The armor protected you so you could protect others. The shields were designed to protect your left side and the right of the person to the left of you. Your right side was exposed as you reached out with your right arm with a spear or sword. But the person to your right protected your sword side. And your sword struck the enemies who would otherwise be a threat to your fellow soldiers.
God gives us His armor, not just as individual Christians, but especially as a team. When we spend time in prayer, that may be something we do alone, but it makes us pray for others. When we pray for other people, we learn to love them more. When we go to church, it is something we can do with other people. You decide when you eat at the dining hall or restaurant. You decide your major. You decide what clothes to wear. Maybe you can afford your own place to live in. Even if you share an apartment, you can have your room. You buy your house separate from other people. Our electronic devises allow you to connect with other people and places, but still be in your private space. Our society is built on giving you those choices. But Church emphasizes other people. When you go to church, you may have to go alone. But normally that is something you do with family and friends. Our Christian faith emphasizes our relationship with other people over making money or advancing up the ladder of success.
Football has started at Iowa State. Though we don’t expect much of it, it is great to see what they have done to the stadium and we do get to see good teams who come to visit Ames. Football players have their own version of Roman armor—the equipment. It does protect each individual player, but it is also a part of being a team. The color of the uniform distinguishes between members of the other teams. Cleats help you to make better cuts and dig in better when holding off pass rushers who are trying to clobber the quarterback. The center wears a cloth that the quarterback uses to dry off his hands. Defensive linemen load up on tape on their arms so that they can be like powerful sticks to move aside offensive linemen, put pressure on the quarterback, and make it easier for their backfield to cover potential receivers. The equipment is not about “me,” but about “we,” the team.
That is what God gives us in His armor—the belt of truth, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes with the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the sword—the Word of God. And as we put that on God leads us to pray. Maybe we don’t feel we need any of that for ourselves. Maybe we can think our lives are just fine and in order. We got other things on our minds besides God and church. But then we are not only dissing God, we are abandoning the team. God wants us to equip us not just for “me,” but for “us.” Any other “team” we may want to put trust in—even family and close friends- will fail us in death if they are not connected to God’s team, the Church. So let’s strap on that armor—each and every day.