Yesterday I finally got round to preparing Sunday's Ephesians 6 sermon, as part of which I am using some parallels with the clothing and equipment the builders next door use. It doesn't quite match up but it does a good-enough job.
As I re-read a commentary the passage, the commentator suggested the list was in the order a soldier would put on/pick up the items - notably observing that once he was holding the shield, he'd have to put on the helmet before he picked up the sword or he wouldn't have a hand free so to do. Hmm, I thought, I'd put on the helmet before I picked up the shield, so I'm not sure it quite works. And then I pondered the attributes in the listed order - truth, righteousness, readiness of the gospel of peace (not the gospel as sometimes is said), faith, salvation, word of God. Is this the order in which the average church would list them? I'm not convinced it is. So is there a danger of reading far too much into the minutiae of the metaphor and missing the point - I'm sure there is!
All of this made me wonder, though, how the metaphor was created. Did the writer have a set of attributes and then match them up to items of armour (and if so how did he get the number of items to match up) or was it done the other way round? How significant are the parallels with priestly attire, of which commentators make much, and do they inform the order?
It has made we wonder how I would go about generating a metaphor for aspects of faith or discipleship: which I would include, what parallels I might employ and why. This very familiar passage did not drop out of the sky fully formed but began as the (albeit God-inspired) ponderings of a real person writing for real readers.
So, what might it mean to speak of the 'toolbelt' of truth (the truth shall set you (hands) free) or the 'hi-viz jacket' of righteousness (unmissable, reflective stripes of Gods glory perhaps), the 'hard-hat' of salvation etc.? What is gained and lost by changing the metaphor? Is a building site a more helpful metaphor than a battle field? Or just a different one? The 'cosmic battle' theme that runs through Ephesians doesn't neatly parallel one of building a Kingdom of peace, so I don't think it is that simple... but I will still try to focus my folk to a constructive 'building' approach rather than a defensive 'battle' approach.