The Shield of Faith
the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one. (6:16)
Roman soldiers used several kinds of shields, but two were the most common. The first was a rather small round shield, perhaps two feet in diameter, that was secured to the arm by two leather straps. It was relatively lightweight and was used to parry the sword blows of one’s opponent in hand-to-hand fighting.
The second kind was the thureos, to which Paul refers here. This shield was about two and half feet wide and four and a half feet high, designed to protect the entire body of the soldier—who was considerably smaller than the average man today. The shield was made of a solid piece of wood and was covered with metal or heavy oiled leather.
The soldiers who carried these shields were in the front lines of battle, and normally stood side by side with their shields together, forming a huge phalanx extending as long as a mile or more. The archers stood behind this protective wall of shields and shot their arrows as they advanced against the enemy. Anyone who stood or crouched behind such shields was protected from the barrage of enemy arrows and spears.
The faith to which Paul refers here is not the body of Christian beliefs (for which the term is used in 4:13), but basic trust in God—the faith in Christ that appropriates salvation and continues to bring blessing and strength as it trusts Him for daily provision and help. The substance of Christianity is believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6); putting total trust in His Son as the crucified, buried, risen, and ascended Savior; obeying Scripture as His infallible and authoritative Word; and looking forward to the Lord’s coming again. Habakkuk’s great declaration that “the righteous will live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4) is quoted and reaffirmed twice by Paul (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11) and once by the writer of Hebrews (10:38).
Every person lives by some form of faith. We cross a bridge with the faith that it will support us. We eat food trusting that it is not poisoned. We put our lives in the security of airplanes, trains, ships, buses, and automobiles, confident that they are safe. The fact that faith in such things is usually well founded makes life and society as we know it possible. Reflecting on this fact in a more philosophical manner, Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “It is faith in something that makes life worth living.”
But faith in God is immeasurably more reliable and more important than the practical, everyday faith by which we live. And it is far from being simply “faith in something.” Faith is only as reliable and helpful as the trustworthiness of its object; and Christian faith is powerful and effective because the object of faith, Jesus Christ, is infinitely powerful and absolutely dependable. Christian faith never fails, because the One in whom that faith is placed never fails.
When John Paton was translating the Bible for a South Seas island tribe, he discovered that they had no word for trust or faith. One day a native who had been running hard came into the missionary’s house, flopped himself in a large chair and said, “It’s good to rest my whole weight on this chair.” “That’s it,” said Paton. “I’ll translate faith as ‘resting one’s whole weight on God.’ ”
In New Testament times the tips of arrows would often be wrapped in pieces of cloth that had been soaked in pitch. Just before the arrow was shot, the tip would be lighted and the flaming missile would be shot at the enemy troops. The pitch burned fiercely, and on impact it would spatter burning bits for several feet, igniting anything flammable it touched. In addition to piercing their bodies, it could inflict serious burns on enemy soldiers and destroy their clothing and gear. The most reliable protection against such flaming missiles was the thureos shield, whose covering of metal or leather soaked in water would either deflect or extinguish them.
The spiritual flaming missiles against which believers need protection would seem primarily to be temptations. Satan continually bombards God’s children with temptations to immorality, hatred, envy, anger, covetousness, pride, doubt, fear, despair, distrust, and every other sin.
Satan’s initial temptation to Adam and Eve was to entice them to doubt God and instead to put their trust in his lies. That was the first of his flaming missiles, from which all the others have lighted their flames. Every temptation, directly or indirectly, is the temptation to doubt and distrust God. The purpose of all of Satan’s missiles, therefore, is to cause believers to forsake their trust in God, to drive a wedge between the Savior and the saved. He even tempted God’s own Son to distrust Him in the wilderness—first to distrust His Father’s provision, then to distrust His protection and His plan (Matt. 4:3–9).
Efforts to justify fornication or adultery in the name of God’s grace—arguing, as some do, that sex was created by God and that everything He created is good—pervert logic, contradict God’s Word, and impugn His integrity. Trying to justify marriage to an unbeliever—arguing that the relationship is so beautiful that it must be of God—follows Satan’s will instead of God’s. Doubting God is to disbelieve God, which, as the apostle John tells us, makes a liar of Him who cannot lie (1 John 5:10; cf. Titus 1:2). Whenever and however we try to justify any sin, we degrade God’s character and elevate Satan’s. To sin is to believe Satan, and to follow righteousness is to believe God. Therefore, all sin results from failure to act in faith in who God is and in what He is. Faith, then, is the shield.
Sin forsakes and contradicts God’s promises that the person who listens to Him is blessed (Prov. 8:34), that He will never give His children a stone when they ask for a fish (Matt. 7:9), that He will open the windows of heaven and pour out immeasurable blessings on His faithful children (Mal. 3:10), that He has given “every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift” (James 1:17), that He will “supply all [our] needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil. 4:19), that He has already “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), and a hundred other such promises.
The only way to extinguish Satan’s flaming missiles of temptation to doubt God is to believe God, taking up the shield of faith. “Every word of God is tested,” the writer of Proverbs tells us. “He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words lest He reprove you, and you be proved a liar” (Prov. 30:5–6). David reminds us that “the word of the Lord is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him” (Ps. 18:30). “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).
The evil one (or “vile, wretched one,” ponēros) refers to the devil, whose supernaturally evil schemes we are to stand firm against and “to resist in the evil day” with the armor God supplies (vv. 11–13). Paul here again emphasizes that our struggle is against personal forces of evil—not simply against bad philosophies or wrong ideas, as liberal theologians and preachers have long maintained. Our battle is not against abstract evil influences but the personal evil one and his hordes of personal demons.
16. Taking the shield of faith. Though faith and the word of God are one, yet Paul assigns to them two distinct offices. I call them one, because the word is the object of faith, and cannot be applied to our use but by faith; as faith again is nothing, and can do nothing, without the word. But Paul, neglecting so subtle a distinction, allowed himself to expatiate at large on the military armour. In the first Epistle to the Thessalonians he gives both to faith and to love the name of a breastplate,—“putting on the breastplate of faith and love.” (1 Thess. 5:8.) All that was intended, therefore, was obviously this,—“He who possesses the excellencies of character which are here described is protected on every hand.”
And yet it is not without reason that the most necessary instruments of warfare—a sword and a shield—are compared to faith, and to the word of God. In the spiritual combat, these two hold the highest rank. By faith we repel all the attacks of the devil, and by the word of God the enemy himself is slain. If the word of God shall have its efficacy upon us through faith, we shall be more than sufficiently armed both for opposing the enemy and for putting him to flight. And what shall we say of those who take from a Christian people the word of God? Do they not rob them of the necessary armour, and leave them to perish without a struggle? There is no man of any rank who is not bound to be a soldier of Christ. But if we enter the field unarmed, if we want our sword, how shall we sustain that character?
Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the darts. But quench appears not to be the proper word. Why did he not use, instead of it, ward off or shake off, or some such word? Quench is far more expressive; for it is adapted to the epithet applied to darts. The darts of Satan are not only sharp and penetrating, but—what makes them more destructive—they are fiery. Faith will be found capable, not only of blunting their edge, but of quenching their heat. “This,” says John, “is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4.)
16 Paul’s fourth instruction (again a participle attached to the main verb “stand”) consists of “taking up” (analabontes, GK 377) the shield of faith in all circumstances. The sole occurrence of this word for “shield” (thyreos, GK 2599) in the NT, it refers to a stone that covered the opening to a door or, obviously here, a large oblong shield—the Roman scutum that was shaped like a door, with the approximate dimensions of 4 feet by 2½ feet. Paul urges believers to take up the shield, which is faith (“of faith” is a genitive of apposition), since this shield has the capacity to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” The “evil one” is the devil (v. 11); his flaming arrows signify an evil or destructive intent, such as to burn down the church. O’Brien, 480, includes among the flaming arrows “not only every kind of temptation to ungodly behaviours (cf. 4:26–27), doubt, and despair, but also external assaults, such as persecution or false teaching.”
How does faith extinguish these intentions? Certainly Paul does not urge his readers here to obtain the salvation that comes by faith (2:8); they already have that (1:15). Rather, believers need to exercise their faith or trust in God (cf. 3:12, 17) as they wage the spiritual battles. Besides being a shield himself, God often supplies a shield for his people (e.g., Pss 18:35; 91:4). When Jesus encountered the devil’s attacks, he resisted by using the words of God (Mt 4:11 par.); in other words, he trusted God to protect him. When Satan sends one of his flaming arrows against the church, believers either trust God and act on what God wills for them, or they attempt to ward off the attacks in their own ways, using their own resources. Those who follow the latter course cannot survive the devil’s darts. Paul insists that trust in God is essential for survival as a church and as a Christian.
16 In addition to the defensive equipment actually worn on the body comes the shield, carried on the left arm and maneuvered so as to repel attacks of various kinds, including “fire-tipped darts” or other flaming missiles designed to cause personal or material damage. Even when such a missile was caught by the shield and did not penetrate to the body, says Livy, it caused panic, because it was thrown when well alight and its motion through the air made it blaze more fiercely, so that the soldier was tempted to get rid of his burning shield and expose himself to the enemy’s spear-thrusts.71 But the “shield of faith” not only catches the incendiary devices but extinguishes them. The “fire-tipped darts of the evil one” are the “wiles of the devil” already mentioned; the best defense against them is faith in God. Here too a question arises: is it faith in God or faithfulness to God that is meant? In 1 Pet. 5:8–9, where the assaults of the devil are described by means of a different figure of speech (he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”), faith again is recommended as the best means of defense against him: “resist him, firm in your faith.” There, as E. G. Selwyn says, “a flint-like resolution” is what is called for; such a resolution is the product of an unshakable faith in God.
There is a figurative reference to fiery missiles in the Qumran Hymns of Thanksgiving, where the speaker says of the mighty men who surround him with their weapons of war:
“They have let fly arrows
against which there is no cure,
and the flame of (their) javelins
is like a consuming fire among trees.”
But his loyalty to God’s covenant protects him; his “foot remains upon level ground.”
“The shield of faith” (v. 16)
Take up “the shield of faith,” Paul says, “with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” We must ask two questions of this verse.
First, what sorts of arrows does Satan launch at God’s people? What is it that we are to guard against, exactly? He aims the arrows of theological doubts at our minds: “Are you really, in today’s world, prepared to believe the entire Bible?” He aims to strike fear into our hearts—that perhaps we have sinned our way past the point of grace; or that maybe the promises of God will not prove faithful after all. He fires accusations at us: “How can you call yourself a Christian, having stumbled so many times?” He looses the arrows of false doctrine at God’s people, too. In addition, he constantly seeks to inflame us with sinful desires and passions. How do we fend off all these attacks? With “the shield of faith.”
The second question is this: How is faith like a shield? Roman shields were sometimes coated in leather and doused in water so that arrows tipped with fire would be quickly extinguished before the fire could spread or do damage. Paul says that this is precisely the function of “faith” in the life of a Christian. Faith in God will snuff out the fires of doubt, fear, accusation, false doctrine, and temptation that Satan wants to create in your soul.
For instance, when difficult circumstances arise in our lives, Satan often whispers the lie that God has surely forgotten us, or that everything in our lives is an irreparable wreck. How do we extinguish these “flaming arrows” of doubt and fear? By exercising “faith” in a specific promise of God—perhaps one like Romans 8:28, which tells us that “God causes all things [even difficult circumstances] to work together for good” for his beloved people. To give another example, how do we respond when we have sinned and the accuser tempts us to think that our failings are irremediable and unforgiveable? We extinguish the “flaming arrows” of accusation by calling to mind and believing a biblical truth like 1 John 1:7: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The above are just two of many potential examples, with the main point being that it is “the shield of faith”—faith in specific promises of and truths about our God—that extinguishes the arrows of doubt, temptation, fear, false teaching, and accusation that Satan constantly slings our way! Biblical faith knows and trusts God, and is able, therefore, to recognize the devil’s lies and schemes for what they are. Biblical faith functions, therefore, like a shield—extinguishing the devil’s lies and accusations before they catch fire in the soul. Let us be diligent to take up this “shield”! Let us have “faith” in the promises and character of our God!
6:16 / Fourth, take up the shield of faith. According to ancient historians, the large door-shaped protective shield was composed of two layers of wood covered with a flame-resistant hide. The flaming arrows that the enemy shot would strike the shield and burn out without penetrating it. Faith, claims the author, acts like an impregnable shield and will extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Faith is complete confidence in and reliance upon God to give the victory.
16. Above all—rather, “Over all”; so as to cover all that has been put on before. Three integuments are specified, the breastplate, girdle, and shoes; two defenses, the helmet and shield; and two offensive weapons, the sword and the spear (prayer). Alford translates, “Besides all,” as the Greek is translated, Lu 3:20. But if it meant this, it would have come last in the list (compare Col 3:14).
shield—the large oblong oval door-like shield of the Romans, four feet long by two and a half feet broad; not the small round buckler.
ye shall be able—not merely, “ye may.” The shield of faith will certainly intercept, and so “quench, all the fiery darts” (an image from the ancient fire-darts, formed of cane, with tow and combustibles ignited on the head of the shaft, so as to set fire to woodwork, tents, &c.).
of the wicked—rather “of the evil one.” Faith conquers him (1 Pe 5:9), and his darts of temptation to wrath, lust, revenge, despair, &c. It overcomes the world (1 Jn 5:4), and so the prince of the world (1 Jn 5:18).
Ver. 16.—Withal taking up the shield of faith. The θυζεός was a large oblong shield covering a great part of the body, not the ἀσπίς, smaller and more round. Faith, in its widest sense, constitutes this shield—faith in God as our Father, in Christ as our Redeemer, in the Spirit as our Sanctifier and Strengthener—faith in all the promises, and especially such promises as we find in Rev. 2 and 3 “to him that overcometh” (comp. promise to Ephesus, Rev. 2:7) Wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. “Fiery darts” were weapons tipped with inflammable materials, firebrands, curiously constructed, adapted to set on fire. Metaphorically, considerations darted into the mind inflaming lust, pride, revenge, or other evil feelings, emanations from the great tempter, the evil one. That such considerations sometimes start up suddenly in the mind, against the deliberate desire, sometimes even in the middle of holy exercises, is the painful experience of every Christian, and must make him thankful for the shield on which they are quenched. An act of faith on Christ, placing the soul consciously in his presence, recalling his atoning love and grace, and the promises of the Spirit, will extinguish these fiery temptations.
 Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (pp. 339–340). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 166–167). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 408–409). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 2, pp. 357–358). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.