At 4 feet tall and 2½ feet wide, the Roman scutum was less of a shield and more of a portable wall. A hardy leather-and-wood construction enabled it to take a beating, and a bulbous metal dome, called a “boss,” was affixed to its center, allowing it to deflect attacks and throw enemies off-balance.
This was the shield Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:16). There’s so much to unpack in that single verse—so we’ll step through it one phrase at a time.
He starts by saying, “above all.” In English, this is often a synonym for “most important” or “as the highest priority”—but Paul was using a Greek phrase that means “on top of,” “building upon,” or “in addition to.” He wasn’t highlighting the shield of faith as the single most important part of the armor of God; he was reminding us that, after putting on the belt, the breastplate and the shoes, we must add the shield to these things. That shield is not the singular focus of the armor of God, but it does play an invaluable role we can’t afford to ignore.
Our shield is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Faith can appear complicated, but it sits at the core of what it means to be a Christian. Hebrews gives us a clue: it is substance. Evidence. A way to see the unseeable, to touch the intangible.
A few verses later we find another clue: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (verse 6).
But believing is just part of the picture. James warned us, “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). Belief in God isn’t the same as faith in God. Faith is what happens when our belief guides our actions: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (verse 20).
Not “less useful.” Not “weakened.”
To take up the shield of faith, we must first believe that God exists and that He is true to His word (a “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”)—and in turn, that belief should have an obvious impact on how we live and who we are.
Paul wrote that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Trusting God means obeying His commandments and following His lead, even (or maybe especially) when our own human reasoning would suggest a different course of action. Faith reminds us that God is on His throne, seeing all, knowing all, ready to move mountains on behalf of His people (Matthew 17:20-21).
Before His own gruesome death, Jesus told His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The apostle John was the one who recorded those words, and they stayed with him. Decades later, John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:3-5).
Combined, these two passages offer an important reminder:
God has not equipped us with the Shield of Faith That Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen to Me, or the Shield of Faith That Things Will Always Work Out How I Think They Should Work Out. As much as each of us might prefer a hardship-free life where God answers our every prayer in the manner and within the time frame we want, that’s not how faith works.
We’re promised tribulation. We’re on a battlefield. Wielding the shield of faith means believing that the God who promised us victory will lead us to that victory, no matter what we encounter along the way. That faith becomes our shield, our spiritual protection as we endure the onslaught of the enemy.
The shield is not the only piece of armor designed to deflect enemy attacks—but it is designed to be the first piece of armor to do that. The helmet and the breastplate will protect you, yes, but in an ideal situation, the shield is meant to halt an attack before it reaches your head or your heart.
Faith, likewise, is meant to take the lion’s share of the enemy’s onslaught—which is fitting, because “your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Our job is to “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (verse 9).
Paul identifies Satan’s primary weapon as “fiery darts”—burning projectiles that could singe their targets—or worse, set them ablaze. “For wickedness burns as the fire;” wrote Isaiah, “it shall devour the briers and thorns, and kindle in the thickets of the forest; they shall mount up like rising smoke” (Isaiah 9:18).
Satan’s darts are temptations to pursue wickedness—to do the things God says not to do, to seek the things God says not to seek. And most of the time, that wickedness starts small—enough to burn briers and thorns. But it doesn’t take much time at all before that fire is strong enough to consume an entire forest. James, looking at the damage we can do with our words, wrote that “the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!” (James 3:5).
When we start to lose our faith in God and in His ability to bring His plan to fruition—or when, like Adam and Eve in the garden, we doubt whether His way is best—we give Satan an opening to hit us with temptations and doubt. But when we hold that shield high, those same temptations lose their bite. Why would we chase after Satan’s self-destructive lies when we have the promises of God in sight?
That’s why, when we read about the heroes of faith, we come across stories like this:
“By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).
Moses had the shield of faith. When Satan offered him the opportunity to continue to live like a prince in Egypt—to enjoy “the passing pleasures of sin” as a member of the royal family—he chose instead to suffer alongside God’s people.
He looked to the reward. He had faith in God and in God’s promises. And Moses isn’t the only one; there are so many others who came before us: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth . . . But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13, 16).
A city. A kingdom. Yesterday we learned how the gospel of peace gives us readiness on the battlefield. Today we’re reminded that our faith in that gospel—and more importantly, in the God who gave it to us—will protect us from Satan’s fiery darts.
But that’s not all it does.
Usually we talk about shields as tools for defense—and they are. They absolutely are. But if we use the shield of faith exclusively in a defensive capacity, we’re not using it to its full potential.
The 4-foot-tall Roman scutum was excellent at absorbing blows, but with enough strength, a soldier could also use it as a way to shove an unsuspecting opponent off-balance. The scutum was practically a wall, and when a wall is lunging toward you at high speed, you aren’t left with many tactical options. You can move or be moved.
James told us to “resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). The word he used for “resist”2 implies active opposition. Holding our ground against the enemy isn’t just a matter of planting our feet, but of planting our feet and pushing back.
Our shield isn’t there for us to hide behind until the enemy gets tired and goes away. Our shield is there to interrupt his attacks and force him to go on the defensive—or else retreat entirely.
“We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). That’s the nature of this fight. But when the enemy has us cornered, faith opens up a way forward: “For assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
Remember whom you serve.
Remember what you’re fighting for.
Above all, take up the shield of faith.
2 HELPS Word-Studies explains that “(anthístēmi) was a military term in classical Greek (used by Thucydides, etc.) meaning ‘to strongly resist an opponent’ (‘take a firm stand against’).” Resistance, by its very nature, requires a pushing back. When an object fails to push back adequately against an opposing force, it doesn’t stay standing—it falls over.