August 19, 2018
Just as no soldier would enter battle without shoes, so Paul reminds those in the army of God to put on the Gospel of peace as shoes for our feet. Jesus Christ is our peace, and only on Him will we stand securely. Alistair Begg demonstrates how these “Gospel shoes” give us stability to remain firm in the faith, mobility to go and proclaim Christ, and adaptability to the needs of others for the sake of Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn to Ephesians 6 and to follow along as I read from verse 10. Ephesians 6 and from the tenth verse:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts ofthe evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Father, we turn to the Bible now. We pray that the Spirit of God will be our teacher, that Jesus will become precious to us. For we ask it in his name. Amen.
Well, we’ve been studying, now, the armor of God. We’ve looked at the protection that is given to us in order that we might “be able to stand,” as Paul puts it, “against the schemes of the devil.” We’ve said routinely that the same grace that in Christ reconciles us to God antagonizes us to the Evil One; and therefore, the Christian, according to the Westminster Confession, is engaged in “a continual and irreconcilable war.” Therefore, it is only right that the provision would be made for us to be able to take our stand. We’ve already considered the belt of truth, foundational to the armor; the breastplate of righteousness; and now, in verse 15 this morning, we come to our footwear: “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.”
Shoes are very, very important to us all. I think probably every one of us is wearing shoes. I checked during the week to discover that the sale of men’s shoes in America is just going through the roof. It’s only a couple of billion behind the sale of ladies’ shoes, and it is an interesting phenomenon on many fronts. And if you’ve been getting your children ready for school, then probably you’ve been having the shoe discussion as well. Or maybe you don’t have to have it. I reached into my ancient history to remind myself of the discussions that used to take place as I was getting readied for school once again, and how, in a particular era where winklepickers were in fashion—and many of you will have to Google that, but please don’t do it now—but when winklepickers were in fashion, I thought it would be a great idea for me to have a nice pointed pair of those to go to school. And then that dreadful adjective that my mother always used: “No, Alistair, I think it is important that you have sensible shoes.” Sensible shoes. Oh, the dreadful experience of having to go back to school wearing, of all things, sensible shoes.
But it’s entirely sensible to wear sensible shoes; and therefore, it was sensible that the Roman soldier would wear shoes that were not provided so that he might become a tap dancer or draw attention to himself but in order that he might be able to equip himself in battle. Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells how part of the success of Caesar as a military general lay in the provision that he made for the footwear of his soldiers. He provided them sandals that had hobnails in the sole in order that they would be able to do two things, particularly: first of all, to stand securely, and then to be able to move quickly.
Now, surely that picture is in the back of Paul’s mind as he writes here. We’ve said on each occasion that it’s probably not the primary picture he has in mind, but that would be the armor of God as anticipated in the fullness that is in Jesus as we read in the Prophets. But to the extent that the Roman soldier would be in the picture, we understand that it is sensible, then, for him to say, “Now, the Christian soldier has been given the right kind of shoes in order to do what the Christian soldier is called to do—in order to be ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”
Now, if you were paying attention, you would notice that Paul, as he concludes the section that we read, is asking for prayer that he might be able to “boldly … proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” He began his letter in chapter 1 by reminding his readers that many of them had come to faith in Jesus as a result of an understanding of the gospel. He says, “This is the gospel that was preached to you. You heard it, you believed, and you became members of his family.”
Now, it is this that lies at the very heart of all that he then goes on to say. And that is why we’ve tried to say on each occasion that what we are dealing with in terms of the armor is the provision that is made in Jesus for those who are the soldiers of Jesus. And, of course, not everybody is a soldier of Jesus. Now, you may be here this morning, and even the idea of being a soldier of Jesus seems remote to you, and perhaps even unattractive to you. And why would we ever want to think in those terms? Well, it’s the way the Bible opens it up to us. The Bible says that we are in need of this gospel of peace. And the reason that we’re in need of the gospel of peace is because there is an enmity between ourselves and God. If you take time to read through Ephesians, this becomes very clear. Paul says, “You know, you were formerly alienated from God, and you were hostile in your minds.” That hostility may have been in an active resistance, or it may have been expressed in a passive indifference. But nevertheless, by nature, men and women are in this position. And therefore, it is an amazing thing when that alienation is dealt with in the reconciliation that is provided in Jesus. And as you read through Ephesians, you see that Paul is making it perfectly clear: Jesus is our peace. It is not that there is peace in religion or there is peace in our endeavors but that this peace is found in Jesus, that he was making peace by his blood shed on the cross.
I wonder, do you know this? I wonder, do you believe this? You see, many men today, and women today, are searching desperately for peace within, but with no real consideration of the need for peace with God. And when you read the Bible, you discover that it is first peace with God that opens the door to the peace of God, and that peace of God is a peace which we enjoy in company with others who have experienced that same peace.
Now, it seems entirely appropriate that we would arrive at verse 15, without design, on the Sunday when we plan to reach out to our community and invite people to come into the building and onto the property. That is a very nice plan, but it is fraught with danger. And let me tell you what the danger is: the danger is simply that we decide that we have done what needs to be done when we have opened our doors, when we have become peculiarly friendly, and when we’ve offered people free food and a chance to bounce around in these little houses. And that’s all wonderful. That’s wonderful. But quite frankly, anybody can do that. Anybody can do that. The only reason to convene a community day is the same reason to convene any gathering in and through our church. And what is that reason? That reason is so that men and women might have a direct encounter with the living God, in Jesus, so that unbelieving people might become the committed followers of Jesus—so that we’re able to say to people kindly, purposefully, “Have you ever really understood what we mean when we talk about the gospel, or ‘gospel shoes’?”
Perhaps someone says, you know, “What was the talk about this morning?” And you tell them, you say, “Well, it was about gospel shoes.” And they say, “Well, goodness, what about gospel shoes? How do you get these shoes?” “Well,” you tell them, “it’s ABC: A, there is something to admit: that we have sinned; we have fallen short of the glory of God; that the wages of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life. There is something to admit. B, there is something to believe: that Jesus is the one who’s died in the place of sinners; that the good news of the gospel is not what we’re able to do in order to make ourselves acceptable to God, but it is the wonder of what God has done in Jesus, opening up the way for us to know him. And then, C, to come to him.” I wonder if there aren’t some here this morning who are trapped in between B and C, have never actually come to him. The invitation of Jesus was always to come, then to go. Why would we ever go with a message that we ourselves have never understood?
Jesus, on the great day of the feast, John tells us, he cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, and out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Now, the weather of these past days has been hot in many places. That picture of being parched and thirsty and in need of resource is an apt metaphor for many people’s lives. And it’s true in every generation.
I brought with me just one of my small books this morning. And this is one of four volumes by Richard Baxter, written over three hundred years ago. Baxter was an Anglican minister in Kidderminster, and this is volume 4. And in volume 4, as he comes to an end, he sends a challenge out to those who, like him, are clergymen—those who, like him, are “ministers of the gospel.” And I found this, reading it this week, tremendously compelling and very challenging. I can only read the briefest part.
He’s talking about the responsibilities of being gospel men, of wearing gospel shoes. It clearly extends beyond the pulpit, but it definitely involves the pulpit. “Multitudes,” he writes,
will [actually] not be brought to understand what we say; … when we talk of redemption, sanctification, and salvation, they hear us as if we sp[oke] Greek or Hebrew to them, and under [our] teaching, [they] grow old in … ignorance. …
We are bid [to] cry aloud, and tell them of their sin and danger, … and yet we cannot get them to regard [it] and feel [it]. … Alas, how many thousands are there whom we could never persuade to consider with deep and serious thoughts, what will become of their souls when they are dead, nor seek to be resolved of it from the infallible word of God! [those] that never set apart one hour in their lives to consider seriously, whether they have any title to salvation, which they can make good by the word of God by which they must be judged!
You see, the people say, “Well, we’d like to have a nice community day. And we’d like you to be very communal. And we’d like you to be very cheery and very bright.” And we want to be all of those things. But anybody can do that. The routine gatherings of the people of God, the routine teaching of the Bible, the primary purpose, is not that we might have an increased understanding of the Bible with a few ideas for application, but it is that we might have a direct encounter with the living God through his Word, by the Holy Spirit, in the person and work of Jesus. And it is that, then, which is the foundation of the shoes which the army wears going back out into the community. Do you have your gospel shoes?
Three words: stability, mobility, and adaptability.
Stability. The issue of this call to be ready with the gospel is in the context, you will notice, of standing. If your Bible is open, you will see that that’s where he has begun in verse 11: “Put on this armor that you may be able to stand.” Again, in verse 13: “Stand your ground.” And in verse 14, again: “Stand therefore.”
Now, what is it, then, that gives us the ability to stand? When people around say, “Well, we have no interest in this at all,” when people around say, “I can’t believe that you would say these kind of things,” what is it that gives us the ability to stand? What is it provides our footing? The answer is, it is the gospel—the gospel itself. When Paul writes his great chapter on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, you remember, he begins it: “I want to remind you, brethren, of the gospel I preached to you and which you received and in which you stand.” “Stand.” You see, one of the great evidences of somebody who’s wearing the gospel shoes is that they can stand. This doesn’t seem very good, does it? Yes, but he can stand “when all around [our] soul gives way.” We can stand. Gospel shoes. We can stand when our family members are opposed to us or are concerned because of our commitment to the very gospel. We stand.
You see, the reason that the shoes were so important to the soldier was to prevent them from slipping and falling or being encountered by the spikes that were often put in the roadway, in the way that landmines are done in modern warfare, so that the person, the soldier, would be so equipped in his footwear that he would actually be able to stand on some of those things. He couldn’t do it if he was running around in his slippers. Gospel shoes.
Now, one of the great highlights of my last few days has been to finally get to Wittenberg and to see the doors—albeit it not the original doors; no wooden doors could last that long, I don’t think—but to see the doors there where Luther nailed his thesis to the door, and where he said, “Here I stand; I can do no other.” What was it that gave him the ability to stand against all of the nonsense that was going on? It was the gospel. What was it that, before him, allowed Athanasius, when somebody came to Athanasius and they said, “Athanasius, the whole world is against you,” and Athanasius said, “Then I am against the whole world”? Is that arrogance? No, it’s gospel shoes. What is it that allowed Latimer and Ridley to be torched and die for the faith, except gospel shoes? What is it that gave Spurgeon in Victorian England the ability to stand against an ever-drifting church in his day? Gospel shoes. What is it that will enable you, going back into your lab, into your workshop, into your school—what will enable you to stand? Gospel shoes. And they are provided for you in Christ. To prepare the road for ourselves, Jesus walks in front and gives to us the opportunity to be prepared to say, “I know this may be unpopular, I know you may think I’m crazy, but I actually love to tell the story.”
In Corinthians, again, after the chapter on the resurrection, Paul says to them, almost as a sign-off, he says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.” “‘Act like men’? You can’t say ‘Act like men.’ That is politically incorrect.” I don’t mean that as a joke. There is no question that but one of the places in which the gospel is vociferously taken on in our day is in the matter of human sexuality and gender. What, then, would make you stand? Gospel shoes.
Secondly, it provides for us not only stability but mobility. In fact, it demands mobility—hence this notion of readiness: “Put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.” One of the great technical questions in these few words here is whether we’re putting on readiness, or whether we’re putting on the gospel shoes, or whether the gospel shoes are the equipment, or whatever. You could stay up all night with stuff like this. Trust me, and then think: it involves both—both the stability that allows us to stand and the mobility that allows us to get about the business.
Surely there is a hint here in this of what we had earlier in 2:17, of Jesus: “And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” So he came. This is actually from Isaiah: “Peace to those who are near, and peace to those who are far off.” And the prophet writes this, and generations come and say, “I wonder who will be the great messenger of this peace.” And here comes the Lord Jesus: “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” Who brings good news in a bad news world? Jesus! Jesus! There’s no other Savior, because there’s nobody else qualified to save. Jesus!
And he then blazes the trail, and we follow along. In fact, when you read the movement of Jesus in the early days of his ministry—and you can read this for yourselves in the Gospel of Mark. Some of you will remember we tried to study Mark together. And at the very beginning of the Gospel, Jesus makes very clear what it is he’s come to do. This is what he says, Mark 1:15: “The time is fulfilled”—that means all the things that have been pointing forward to this have now reached their fulfillment—“and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Why is that? “Because I’m the King. Therefore, repent and believe the good news!”
Now, even one of the boys or girls that’s sitting listening to me now, and they’re saying, “How long, pastor?”—not too long, don’t worry—and they’re saying to themselves, “Well, what is Jesus saying?” Jesus is saying that he came, he was promised, and he came as promised, and he came as King, and he announced the news that entry into his kingdom, becoming a soldier in his army, involved repentance and believing—turning from my rebellion, turning from my sin, turning to him in all the offer of his salvation.
Now, that was his message. He also healed people. He also cast out demons. And before you’re out of the first chapter, the wonder of all that has taken place in these early hours has so filled the minds of the disciples that they are amazed that Jesus is not present when they get up in the morning. And Mark tells us that the reason for that is that he has gone away to a private place in order that he might pray. In order that he might pray. They come and they find him, and they say to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” In other words, “This kingdom thing has got off to a terrific start. Last night was fantastic!” The inference being, “We should just keep it going right now.” And then you have this amazing statement by Jesus. How unlikely is this? “Everyone is looking for you,” and he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns.” Why? “That I may preach there also.” Why? “For that is why I came out.” To do what? To put on the gospel shoes, to move through the communities, to proclaim the salvation of peace with God.
Now, that secure grounding is then the perfect foundation for mobility. And when we read our Bibles, we find places—for example, in 1 Peter. We quote it often, don’t we? That we’re to be ready always to give an answer—kindly, reverently—for those who ask a reason for the hope we have. So, in other words, the thought in the mind of Peter is that when people inquire, they’re going to inquire about the hope we have. Why? Well, because they see that we are filled with hope in a gloomy world; or that we have faced real sadness in our lives; or that we have lost a loved one; or that they know us, because they know that we no longer have the job, because we were fired; they know us, because they have been in our home and they have agonized with us over our children. And so they don’t want to know about how religious we are; they want to know, “How do you have this hope within you? Surely your circumstances are hopeless.”
Now, you see, that is what we’re to be ready to proclaim. We don’t have to solve people’s riddles. We don’t have to try and explain what is inexplicable. Few of us are able to take on the geniuses, and even if we did, it would not be by means of our ability to articulate and argue an apologetic that they would eventually come to trust in Jesus. No, all we need to do, as I say, is give them the ABCs—to say, like the man who was born blind and Jesus healed, and remember the big fiasco that ensued with the religious leaders, and eventually they pressed the man; they say, “Can you explain this and can you explain that?” Eventually he says, “No. One thing I do know: once I was blind, but now I can see.”
Now, I wonder if we are serious in our thinking as a church not simply about being stable but about being mobile. I don’t know very much about the business world. I do know a little bit, because I read the paper. And it seems to me that one of the great challenges in business in every age is the ability to respond to changes in the market, especially if we have a product to move—whether we’re able to be agile, or whether we’ve become a great behemoth that can no longer respond quickly, and so others who can respond quickly have a greater opportunity to get a piece of the market share.
I remember playing golf down in… after I was speaking at Cedarville some years ago, and I played golf with a gentleman who told me that he had gone up to meet with merchant bankers because he had a product that he was going to take public. And he said that he made a presentation, which was very basic; it was kinda like, “This is the thing that I have; it cost me this, and I’m going to sell it for this,” and in contrast to many of the presentations that were made, which were highly technical. And he said, “You know, and I was in my bedroom, and I got a telephone call, and somebody said, ‘Hello.’ He said, ‘I was in there today. I have to make a presentation tomorrow. I found your presentation very, very clear and concise, and I wonder if we could get a coffee together and you could just coach me for tomorrow.’”
So, my friend with whom I’m playing golf met the fellow downstairs, and they had coffee. And he asked him, he said, “Now, what is it that you’re going to be offering tomorrow?” “Oh,” he says, “well, I have come up with this computer technology,” and he went through it. And the man said to himself, he says, “Well, this is not going to work, because this is not how it works.” And he listened next day as Bill Gates made his presentation.
Now, it’s a cynic who changed the words of “Like a mighty army moves the church of God” and changed it to “Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God. Brothers, we are treading where we’ve always trod.” It’s a real danger, isn’t it?
Gospel shoes not only provide stability, not only do they suggest mobility, but in a realistic way, they call for adaptability. And I’ll just say a word about this, and then we’re through.
Clearly, we do not mean by that adapting our message or modifying our message to suit the tastes of our culture. No, we remain convinced as a church that the regular teaching of the Bible with the primary objective that men and women may have a direct encounter with the living God, whether that is in our children’s ministry or with our young people about to go off for some Mohican Madness—whatever that means—wherever it is, that our core conviction is that the entry of God’s Word does its work; that God’s Word does God’s work by God’s Spirit in the lives of those who encounter it. And so it is for us the drumbeat that keeps us in time. It is the rudder, if you like, that guides the ship through the water. But there needs to be, with those convictions, adaptability.
So, for example—and this is a silly illustration, but just to make the point—how about this idea? Let’s not have three morning services. Let’s have one morning service and three evening services. I can see from your eyes, you’re going, “He better not be…” Why not? “Well, quite honestly, because two-thirds of us have decided we don’t even want one evening service, so why would we want three?” Well, let’s say, for example, that our ability and our desire and design to reach out to, for example, the Ukrainian community, whereby we would have the opportunity for simultaneous translation—that the best time for that was a time that completely intruded on our timing. Well, if our real concern is for the gospel, then we ought to be prepared to deal with our timing in order that we might be agile with the shoes of the gospel of peace.
Now, we can apply it in multiple ways. I’m not suggesting any kind of shake-up at all. But the danger for a church—even our church—is that although everybody thinks they’re very adaptable, the fact is that most of us are slavishly attached to old forms. And most of us are better at suggesting new ideas than we are in closing down old ideas. You see, just as in a business, so in a church: a business has to decide what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. And when someone comes and says, “There’s fifteen other things you could be doing,” that’s a very important day, isn’t it? Because it is the central thing that demands the attention and the commitment of the core. In a church of our size, people are constantly coming to us suggesting this, suggesting that, suggesting the next thing. We listen to those things. But we can’t become like the man who jumped on his horse and galloped off in all directions. Adaptability still has to be within the framework of our core.
I have a picture that I want to show you, and then I’ll stop, because I said to the boys and girls that I would stop. So, here’s the picture. I was thinking during the week—I was thinking, “Do firemen wear their shoes when they sleep?” I have deep thoughts! You’re not the only one. You’re not the only one that has great thoughts. No, in all seriousness. Because I know that you slide down the pole, the bell rings, and you’ve got to go. This is the best I could come up with. That is a picture there of the fireman’s boots already set in the fireman’s trousers, so that when he comes down, he can jump straight into his boots, pull up his trousers, and be gone. The Brentwood Fire and Rescue Department—that’s the picture there—has as its standard sixty seconds from the moment that the alarm is raised to the vehicle moves with the people in it. You can’t do that if you’re fiddling around trying to decide what color of socks you want to wear.
And if a church, to mix metaphors, decides that what it wants to be is a kind of marina where we sail our little boats around, playing Christian music through the stereo, then that will determine a lot of things. But when we determine that we have been left here as a lifeboat station, then that changes everything dramatically as well. And that’s why we’re given these gospel shoes.
“Walk in wisdom,” says Paul, “toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Father, thank you for your Word. Thank you for the awareness that the task is never finished. Thank you that in every generation you raise up those who will take a stand, those who will move swiftly, those who won’t tie themselves up in knots but will have an adaptability so as to seize the opportunities that are presented.
God, give us those eyes, give us that care, and grant that as we think about not only this afternoon but as we think about the future of our church, that we might take seriously the exhortation of Scripture here. And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith 13.2.
 Ephesians 1:13–14 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 1:21 (paraphrased).
 See Ephesians 2:14.
 See Romans 3:23.
 See Romans 6:23.
 John 7:37–38 (paraphrased).
 “Reasons for Ministers Using the Greatest Plainness and Seriousness Possible in All Their Applications to Their People,” in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter (London: George Virtue, 1838), 4:1046–47.
 1 Corinthians 15:1 (paraphrased).
 Edward Mote, “My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less” (1834).
 1 Corinthians 16:13 (ESV).
 Ephesians 2:17 (ESV).
 Isaiah 57:19 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 52:7 (NASB).
 Mark 1:15 (ESV).
 Mark 1:15 (paraphrased).
 Mark 1:37 (ESV).
 Mark 1:38 (ESV).
 See 1 Peter 3:15.
 John 9:25 (paraphrased).
 Sabine Baring-Gould, “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”
 Colossians 4:5–6 (ESV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.