Doug Van Meter - 19 November 2017
Shod With Shalom (Ephesians 6:15)
Horatio and Anna Spafford knew what it was to suffer tragedy. In 1871, they lost a young son to pneumonia, and that same year, much of their business was destroyed in the great Chicago fire. In 1873, Anna and their four daughters were travelling from America to Europe in an ocean liner. The vessel met a tragic end, and all four girls were killed. Anna survived and, arriving in Wales, sent her husband news of the tragedy. He immediately boarded a ship to travel to Wales, and during the journey he wrote one of the most beloved hymns in the Christian tradition: “It is Well With My Soul.”
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll,
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
it is well, it is well with my soul.
In the words of the apostle Paul, Horatio and Anna Spafford put on their gospel armour with the result that they were shod with shalom. They had peace amidst immeasurable pain. Having done all, they were able to stand. Christian, so can you.
What are you facing today? Physical affliction that, humanly speaking, will have no end? Relational breakdown that appears hopeless? A painful situation that will not be reversed?
The bigger question is, how are you facing it? And a greater question still: How will you continue to face it? I trust that this study will help you to be shod with shalom, that you will be prepared with peace that the gospel of Christ alone can provide.
The psalmist lamented, “I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.” So it is for the Christian. Simon Austen writes,
The effect of the gospel on our lives is that we become a new humanity where peace has replaced conflict, where barriers have been removed and in which all are united together in their relationship with God because of the blood of Jesus Christ. Peace is a mark of the new community (4:3).
And so it is. But how is it that we, who are at peace with God, and who therefore desire peace for and with all, are characterised as being in conflict with the world?
In the text before us, we read about peace, and we do so in the context of warfare. Whatever this verse means, it portrays the Christian putting on something rooted in peace, to help us as we go to war. As Harnack comments, it is “a ‘lofty paradox’, that the gospel of peace can be spoken of in a context which emphasizes the grim reality of the Christian’s warfare.”
The principle is this: When you are at peace with God, you will be at war with evil. So, be prepared. Like Israel of old, put shoes on your feet and be ready for some assaults (Exodus 12:11). The journey to glory will not come without a fight.
So, what does this mean? What does Paul have in mind? I hope to show you that the peace that the gospel provides (in its manifold ways) prepares us to joyfully and willingly fight the good fight of faith. It provides us with the stability that we need to stand. It provides us with the agility that we need to stand. It provides us with the mobility that we need to stand. It provides us with the credibility that we need to stand. Ultimately, it provides us with the security that we need to stand.
Let us begin by considering what Paul is not, primarily, saying. Some argue that his point here is that the believer is to go forward to preach the gospel of peace. They reference Isaiah 52:7, which is quoted elsewhere in the New Testament (Romans 10:15).
On the surface, this seems like a sound conclusion. No one would argue that Christians are to do so. In fact, the HCSB translates speaks of “your feet sandled with readiness for the gospel of peace.” The idea is that the soldier is to march as a messenger of the gospel.
But everything hinges on the choice between “for” and “of” (or “by”). Different translations adopt different wording. The NKJV reads, “And having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” The ESV adopts a different approach: “As shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” The NIV takes yet another route, speaking of “feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.”
Without getting technical, it seems that the weight of interpretive evidence falls on the gospel being the source of the preparation/readiness rather than it being the object of the preparation/readiness. In other words, whatever Paul means by “preparation,” he is clearly saying that the gospel provides it. Provision, not proclamation, is the emphasis.
A strong argument for this conclusion is found in the context. Paul is speaking of Christians facing conflict, and the main idea is that we are to stand against the assaults of the enemy. Of course, we are to continue to proclaim the gospel in the midst of this warfare. (After all, silencing us is a primary goal of the devil and his demons.) However, the entire point of the armour is about protection. So, whatever Paul is saying, protection against the devil is his main thought.
So what can we conclude? Generally, this piece of armour highlights that the Christian is to be prepared to stand against the wiles of the devil by the clinging to the truth of the gospel. Reflecting on the reality that we have been reconciled to God, a sense of well-being empowers us to persevere. With such equipment the Christian can stand firm and faithful to the end.
Now, let’s look at the terms themselves.
Paul speaks of having feet “shod.” In other words, the reader is exhorted to be properly “shoed.” Appropriate shoes are vital for certain activities. One would not wear work boots for ballet. Proper shoes are vital in warfare.
Shoes make a difference to the soldier—sometimes between victory and defeat. Paul’s point is that, like a well-shod soldier, the Christian must have proper footwear. This will make all the difference to whether he will stand firm, faithful and fruitful.
The shoes of which Paul speaks are shoes of “preparation.” The word is sometimes used of equipment. As we have seen, the shoes are important equipment for a soldier. But, specifically, it means promptness, willingness, readiness of mind, or cheerful readiness. In other words, it means to be ready and willing because well-equipped. The Christian is to ready himself for battle. He is to engage willingly, even cheerfully and enthusiastically, in the good fight of faith.
But what produces this readiness? The answer is simple: “the gospel of peace.” The gospel is the good news of what God has done, through his Son, for believing sinners. The gospel is the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, his burial and his subsequent vindication by the resurrection, culminating in his coronating ascension and never-ending intercession for those who repent of their sins and who believe on him.
By the word “peace,” Paul references a particular result or consequence of the gospel. The Greek word is eirane, but the Hebrew concept is shalom. It speaks of “completeness, soundness, welfare” (Hughes). We might say, the gospel produces the ruling conviction that it is well with my soul, and so it is well in all of my situations. But why is this?
The “peace” associated with the gospel is primarily the objective peace that the Christian has with God. It is the peace of reconciliation. It is the peace that is connected to the breastplate of righteousness. It is the peace of no longer being an enemy of God but now his child (Romans 5:1; 1 John 3:1). It is the reality that we are no longer under condemnation, that we no longer are under the wrath of God (Romans 1:16–18). It is the reality that God has covenanted to remove our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. It is the reality that God has translated us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son. It is the everlasting-existential reality that our greatest fear has been forever silenced (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Whatever else Paul is saying, surely he is telling us that we are only ready to stand against the enemy if we carry the conviction that God is, at the least, not against us. We are now on the right side of the fight.
When we are of the conviction that we are at peace with God, we go forth with a clear understanding of who our enemy really is.
We ever face the temptation to think that God is against us—when suffering is experienced, when situations sour, when sin defeats us, when the sound of silence seems to be all that we ever hear from heaven, etc. This can result in despondence and despair.
One of my favourite folk singers is Joni Mitchell. She is a skilled songstress and singer. I was recently listening to her Sire of Sorrow, which is a lament of sorts taken directly from the book of Job. As I listened, it struck me that she only writes about his sorrows. The story of her song ends in chapter 31 of Job. She doesn’t record the hope that Job received when God spoke to him and he believed God’s word. It occurred to me that she approaches that story like to many people: all despair with no hope, because they do not hear God’s truth and respond to it appropriately. This can lead to joylessness, indolence, and even insolence. The solution is to embrace the objective peace that we have with God.
But this objective peace with God (Romans 5:1) also contains the subjective peace of God (Philippians 4:7). The gospel provides and supplies both. In fact, the one produces the other.
To know objectively that we are at peace with God results in the subjective ruling conviction that, regardless of our situations, God is for us. And this results in the sense of the peace of God. That is why Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Or why Paul wrote, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
In situations where a sense of well-being makes no sense, the gospel provides us with all that we need. This protects us from foolish responses and helps us to guard our emotions—as well as our mouths. It was this sense of well-being that enabled Job to not sin with his mouth when his wife exhorted him to curse God and die. This peace enabled Jesus to resist Satan’s temptation to prove his divinity by turning stones to bread and the apostles to continue preaching when they were warned not to.
It is this same firm confidence that will give us courage to preach against same sex marriage when we are told not to. This peace will give us boldness for rightoeusness when we are tempted to cheat on a business deal or cook the books. The gospel of peace will help you to stand firm against the temptation to leave your spouse, or to lie in order to avoid discomfort, or to defy your parents, or to compromise the truth, or to deny Christ.
It is this peace that is central to this piece of equipment. The believer who is equipped with gospel realities will be well-prepared to stand against the evil realities of the schemes of the devil. God’s shalom, which is at the heart of the gospel, is the equipment with which we need to be fitted against the schemes of the devil.
How does this gospel shalom equip and prepare us for the fight? Let’ schnauzer several principles.
The Shalom of the Gospel Provides Us With Security
As we’ve seen, the feet of a soldier need protection. To be properly shod is to be properly prepared for battle. A soldier wounded in the foot will be vulnerable to the enemy. Having good shoes will provided a sense of confidence and security as he goes forth to battle. So it is with the Christian.
As we reflect on the reality that we are right with God—that there is “nothing between my soul and the Saviour,”—security and confidence soar. Fear is forced to flee. Despair cannot get a foothold. Darkness gives way to the light. We are enabled to walk through this world of snares and know that we will survive.
Have you ever felt that you have sinned too much to ever be of use to God again? Have you ever experienced such a mess that you’ve seen no way out? Remember: There was never anything “messier” than the crucifixion of Christ. There was never anything more hopeless than being dead in trespasses and sins.
Christian, we are secure before God and in this world because of the gospel of peace. Having been reconciled to God, we can face the enemy and be both immoveable and abounding at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:58).
The Shalom of the Gospel Provides Us With Stability
The entire context speaks to the matter of the Christian standing firm. And obviously, one’s shoes make a difference.
We are surrounded by temptations to be tossed to and fro by false ideas (4:13), but the gospel of peace empowers us to stand firm.
Many places in Scripture speak to this. Consider a few samples.
- Proverbs 4:13—Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; keep her, for she is your life.
- Hebrews 3:6—But Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.
- 1 Corinthians 16:13—Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.
- Galatians 5:1—Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:8—For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:15—Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.
We need stability against cultural pressures that seek to move us away from what God’s Word both prescribes and prohibits. I recently read of a Christian couple in Canada seeking to adopt a child. As part of the application process, they had to express their views on homosexuality and transgender questions. They answered the questions with biblical truth, and ultimately their application was rejected. How heartbreaking it must have been for this couple, who dearly wanted to adopt. The only way that they will persevere is by shoeing themselves with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
We need doctrinal stability in the face of much of Christendom urging us away from historic Christian truth. We need ecclesiological stability against pressures to allow the world to take priority over the Word. I recently spoke to a man in our church who was undergoing an intense time of testing. I asked him how his wife was handling things, and he replied that God had given them such tremendous peace. This peace—the peace that passes understanding—enabled them to stand firm in the face of great opposition. The psalmist summed it up well: “Great peace have those who love your law, and nothing will offend them” (Psalm 119:167).
The Shalom of the Gospel Provides Us With Mobility
A soldier who merely remains stationary in one position is most likely going to become a shooting target. A soldier must be prepared to move as necessary. Wood comments, “The military successes both of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar were due in large measure to their armies being well shod and thus able to undertake long marches at incredible speed over rough terrain.” A well-shod soldier is able to move when it matters.
Transitioning from Tradition
The gospel of peace provides us with versatility in an ever-changing world. It empowers us to be mobile and stable at the same time. And we need this.
Clearly, the Christian is never to move away from the gospel. As we have seen, the Christian needs stability when it comes to the gospel (Ephesians 4:13). Yet there are times when a Christian must move when it comes to adapting to the assaults of the evil one. There is a place for contextualisation, and there are many times when there is a need for wise adaptations to one’s culture.
The devil’s schemes are not limited to outright evil, but rather often include taking the good and making it a god. The church needs to beware of this. The church needs to be so grounded in the gospel message that reconciliation with God trumps recycling of a bygone culture. We need the message of the Puritans without necessarily adopting their manner and methods. The gospel of peace enables us to stand firm as a community while at the same respecting individual personalities and the exercise of liberties. The shoes are the same kind, and of the same material, but are unique in size. Being at peace with God, having the peace of God, enables us to stand together even though we are different (cf. Romans 14:1–5).
Flee from Sin
But there is another area where we Christians need mobility: We need to flee from sin (1 Corinthians 6:18; 10:14; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22). How do these gospel shoes help us to flee? By helping us contemplate what we will lose if we don’t: the peace of God. By helping us contemplate what we have been graced with: the peace with God.
As we glory in the gospel, sin loses so much of its pull. We exchange the pleasure of sin for a far greater pleasure: the smile of God. Addictions are replaced with adoration. Ungodly appetites are replaced with godly appreciation of God and his grace.
The Shalom of the Gospel Provides Us With Agility
Agility is a part of this mobility. The peace that the gospel provides empowers us to face all kinds of opposition and yet to remain on our feet. If we are well grounded in the gospel, we will be able to stand against the evil one anytime and anywhere: at home, at school, in the workplace, as you travel, etc.
The Shalom of the Gospel Provides Us With Ability
The word “preparation” or “readiness” is referenced in three other places in the New Testament. Matthew 24:44 warned first century Christians to be ready for the Lord’s coming upon Jerusalem in destruction. Titus 3:1 uses the word to speak of readiness for good works, and 1 Peter 3:15 of readiness for witness. The gospel gives us the readiness we need in different contexts.
Pheidippides was the central figure in the story that inspired the marathon race. He is said to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of a military victory against the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. The story is told that, when he ran on roads, he ran barefoot, but when he ran over mountains in rougher terrain, he wore shoes. He knew what was needed when, and he was always ready for what lay before him.
Those shod with the shalom of the gospel cannot keep it to themselves. They will carry this gospel of peace to others. Even to the point, like Pheidippides, of great personal cost. The gospel of peace empowers them to do so. As Ferguson says, “The more securely we grip and understand the gospel of peace, the more enthusiastic we will be in communicating it.” Are you enthusiastic to do so? To the degree that you put on the gospel of peace, you will desire others to put it on—to the glory of God.
This may, in fact, be why God allows suffering: so that his people will stand firm with the gospel of peace and declare and show his glory to others. May God help us to be continually shod with his shalom that his name will be glorified.
The enemy is real. The battle is fierce. But the we have been provided with all that we need. We have power to stand—strength (v. 10)—and peace to stand—shalom, the gospel of God (vv. 14–17). Learn to value and to rejoice in the reality that, through the Lord Jesus Christ, you have peace with God. As you do so, you will grow in the assurance that God is for you. The peace of God will empower you with the resource to withstand, and having done all, to stand. Brothers and sisters, let us be shod with this gospel shalom.