The Breastplate of Righteousness Ephesians 5:1-20

Ephesians 6 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.
There’s a war on! Two weeks ago we started to think about the spiritual battles we face and the challenge to stand firm for God in today’s world. We thought about the battles we have to fight to proclaim the truth of God in this post-truth world. This morning we are continuing to think about the armour of God as we look at the second part of Ephesians 6:14.
14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.
The belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Truth and righteousness actually belong together and we will think about that in a few minutes. But let’s start by focusing on “the breastplate of righteousness.” The Old Testament tells us that God Himself puts on a breastplate of righteousness.
Isaiah 59 15 Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.
The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him.
17 He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

God wears righteousness as His breastplate. In the Old Testament, righteousness refers to the righteous actions of the God who is always holy and just. Isaiah 11 contains a prophecy about the Messiah which we often read at Christmas.
Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD –
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.

Here righteousness is God’s belt. God judges the world with righteousness and justice. The Hebrew word for righteousness comes from the word for straightness, in other words actions which conform to the standards which God has revealed in His commandments. English uses the word “upright” in a similar sense. Absolutely everything that God does is always righteous and pure and upright and just and fair. God always does the right thing.
God is righteous. That is the background to the breastplate of righteousness in the armour of God. There are other places in the Bible where the same word for righteousness has a different meaning. We have thought before about the letter to the Romans where Paul talks a lot about righteousness. In Romans Paul is concerned with how sinful human beings can move to the status of being righteous before the Holy God. How can we be “right with God”? So in Romans Paul talks about the gift of righteousness which God gives to everybody who puts their trust in Jesus. There the idea of righteousness means being in a right relationship with God – a right standing before God who is Creator and Judge of all. But that isn’t the meaning of the word here in Ephesians. Instead here putting on the breastplate of righteousness is concerned with right living – doing the right thing.
Isaiah 59 tells us that God puts on righteousness as His breastplate. It makes perfect sense that in our battles with the devil and all the powers of evil, Christians should also put on righteousness as our breastplate. We show we are in a right relationship with God by our righteous actions, by living upright and blameless lives.
What does that actually mean in practice? Paul is calling Christians always to do the right thing and never to do the wrong thing. Ephesians says very similar things elsewhere.
Ephesians 4 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
So Christians should take of the old shabby clothes associated with their old sinful lives and put on the new suit which God gives us – the new self, characterized by righteousness and holiness. We should be righteous in all our actions. Paul says the same in Ephesians 5.
Ephesians 5 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.
As children of light goodness and righteousness should characterize all our actions. We thought about what that might mean this time last year in our series of sermons on the Ten Commandments.
No putting false gods before the one true God. No compromise with other religions. No worshipping today’s false gods of Money, or Shopping, or Entertainment, or Celebrity. Put on the breastplate of righteousness.
No misusing the name of God by claiming to speak for God when you aren’t, or claiming to be acting for God when you aren’t, or hijacking God’s name to promote some particular cause of your own. Put on the breastplate of righteousness.
No murder – because killing people is wrong. And no thin end of the wedge when it comes to abortion or euthanasia either. Put on the breastplate of righteousness.
No adultery. No sexual immorality. Christians should never compromise when it comes to God’s standards of morality. Marriage is between one man and one woman. And sex belongs within marriage. That has been the Bible’s teaching and the church’s understanding for 2000 years. Put on the breastplate of righteousness.
No stealing. Christians should be known to be scrupulously honest and trustworthy. Put on the breastplate of righteousness.
No coveting – no sinful thoughts. No greed. The battle to live a holy life begins with holy thoughts. Put on the breastplate of righteousness.
The devil likes nothing more than deceiving Christians into committing sin. And there are many more ways of disobeying God beyond breaking the Ten Commandments. Ephesians contains several warning lists of sins to avoid.
Ephesians 4 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. ….
31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. ….

5 3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. …. 5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

So many sins to avoid if we are to live holy lives. But, of course, righteousness is not just about avoiding doing bad things. It is also about intentionally doing good things. Living a righteous life is not a life full of negatives but rather a life full of positives. Righteous living means loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. Righteous living means showing God’s compassion for the widows and the orphans and the refugees. Righteous living means fighting for justice and fairness on behalf of the marginalized and the oppressed and the forgotten. Righteous living means loving our enemies and forgiving other people as God in Christ has forgiven us. Every time we try to do the right thing in this world which has rejected God, it is part of the great unseen spiritual battle. Every time we let our light shine forces back the darkness. Putting on the breastplate of righteousness means devoting our lives to doing the right thing.
Ephesians 6 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.
It is not a coincidence that truth and righteousness sit side by side in this one verse. Righteousness is usually expressed in our actions. Truth is usually revealed in our words. God calls Christians to be holy both in our actions and in our words. We should always do the right things, and at the same time we should also be careful always to say the right things.
This same combination of righteous actions and speaking the truth is very clear back in Ephesians 4
24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body.
Righteousness and holiness in our actions must be accompanied by speaking truthfully and rejecting any falsehood or lying. And we saw the same in Ephesians 5.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord.
Goodness, righteousness and truth all go together. Our words must match our actions.
No lying. Back to the Ten Commandments and to the Ninth Commandment – no false witness. Always tell the truth. No lying! In the words of Ephesians 4:15, we should always be speaking the truth in love. Christians should be known as people who can be relied upon always to speak the truth, whatever the circumstances, whatever the pressures or temptations to lie. No bending the truth or stretching the truth. We must be truth-tellers. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount,
Matthew 5 37 All you need to say is simply “Yes,” or “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one
More than that, beyond truth and falsehood, all our speech must show God’s righteousness.
Ephesians 4 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths …
Ephesians 5 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
Righteous and pure and upright in all our actions and righteous and pure and upright in all our speech. These are the qualities of character which every Christian needs. Absolutely everything we say and do should be worthy of our God and of our Saviour Jesus Christ! If we want to stand firm for God in the spiritual battle of everyday life, this is the armour God gives us. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place.
In his commentary on Ephesians, my old professor Max Turner sums up these first two pieces of the armour of God like this. “The church’s basic equipment in the spiritual battle is integrity and righteous living, and they are effective because these qualities bear the stamp of Jesus and the new creation he brings.”
Integrity and righteous living – because that is what Jesus is like. That’s a very high standard to live up to! The belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. Put on the armour of God !!!

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