Lesson 3: The Breastplate of Righteousness
The second piece of armor Paul mentions in Ephesians 6:14 is "the breastplate of righteousness." Why is the breastplate important—for both ancient soldiers and us?
A lesson from ancient Israel provides an ironic example of just how
important armor can be. Perhaps you recall the cowardly and capricious
life of King Ahab, but how did this evil king's life come to an end?
This selfish leader who allowed a man to be killed just so he could
have his vineyard (1 Kings 21)? This king of Israel "who did evil in the sight of the Lord more than
all who were before him" (1 Kings 16:30, New Revised Standard Version)?
God had prophesied that Ahab would die in the battle described in 1 Kings
22. So Ahab decided to disguise himself, while his ally King Jehoshaphat
of Judah wore his own kingly robes.
Their enemy had ordered his captains, "'Fight with no one small
or great, but only with the king of Israel.' When the captains of the
chariots saw Jehoshaphat, they said, 'It is surely the king of Israel.'
So they turned to fight against him; and Jehoshaphat cried out. When
the captains of the chariots saw that it was not the king of Israel,
they turned back from pursuing him.
"But a certain man drew his bow and unknowingly struck the king of Israel
between the scale armor and the breastplate…at evening he died; the blood
from the wound had flowed into the bottom of the chariot" (1 Kings
Is it perhaps poetic justice that this unrighteous king lost his life
due to an opening in his armor?
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Putting on Righteousness
Facing the hordes of Satan, you brace yourself and pray. The hosts of your
enemy share a collective, malicious grin, waiting for the command to do their
The battle cry sounds. They begin their charge; you tighten your grip on
your sword and raise your shield. Weapons begin swinging with unrivaled fury;
you do your best to parry the onslaught, but there are too many weapons to
block. Eventually, you watch as one of your opponent's swords begins making
a clean arc that continues right past your shield and toward your chest.
You brace yourself, preparing for the worst and expecting your quick demise,
watching the weapon move ever closer to you as time slows to a maddening crawl—waiting,
waiting, when CLANG! The reverberating noise of the sword striking
your breastplate pierces the air.
Shaking your head in disbelief, you look down to find that the breastplate
of righteousness stopped the deadly blow in its tracks. Delivered by righteousness
and with renewed vigor, you plunge back into the fight.
What purpose does a breastplate serve?
The breastplate was a central part of the Roman soldier's armor—it provided
protection for the torso, which contains vital organs like the heart, lungs
and so on. Without a breastplate, a soldier would be asking for death, as
any attack could instantly become fatal. With a sturdy breastplate, the very
same attacks become ineffective and useless, as blows glance off the armor.
Why is righteousness associated with protective armor like a breastplate?
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from
Without righteousness, we leave ourselves open to almost certain death. With
righteousness—just as with a breastplate—the otherwise fatal attacks of our
enemy are thwarted.
What is righteousness?
My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness.
1 John 3:4
Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.
1 Corinthians 15:34
Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge
of God. I speak this to your shame.
To be righteous is to do what is right in God's eyes. God's commandments
are righteousness. In contrast, lawlessness is sin, and sin is the opposite
of righteousness. So to be righteous is to obey God's laws of love.
What separates us from God, causing Him to withhold His protection?
Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear
heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from
your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not
Iniquities and sins are actions and thoughts that go against God's laws.
Since they are in conflict with God's way of living and are harmful to ourselves
and others, our perfect and just God will not associate with us if we go down
the path of sin and evil. We cut ourselves off from God and His protection!
It is interesting to note that in this same chapter Isaiah mentions that
God Himself puts on righteousness as a breastplate (Isaiah 59:17), which may
be part of what inspired Paul to use this analogy.
Whose righteousness should we be wearing?
But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like
filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have
taken us away.
Righteousness may deliver from death, but whose righteousness are we talking
about? The above scripture makes it clear that our individual level of righteousness
is on par with "filthy rags"—and when you're looking to protect yourself from
death, filthy rags make for a lousy breastplate.
In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is
His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Also consider scriptures such as Job 36:3; Psalm 5:8; 23:3; 24:5; and 71:16,
which show that true righteousness comes from God. It is God's righteousness,
and not our own, which must serve as our breastplate and defense against Satan.
What other characteristics does Paul compare with a breastplate?
1 Thessalonians 5:8
But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith
and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation.
Faith and love also protect our hearts. It's interesting to study how faith
and love relate to righteousness. Faith works "through love" (Galatians 5:6)
and Abraham's faith (which was shown by his doing what God said to do) was
"accounted to him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3; Genesis 26:5). As the Jamieson,
Fausset and Brown commentary puts it: "'Faith,' as the motive within, and
'love,' exhibited in outward acts, constitute the perfection of righteousness"
(note on 1 Thessalonians 5:8).
How do I wear the breastplate of righteousness?
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.
So now we know what the breastplate of righteousness is. Paul gives
us the command to "take up the whole armor of God"—the obvious question is,
An in-depth concordance study of all the scriptures concerning righteousness
(there are 301 in the New King James Version!) reveals that servants of God
in the Bible who had righteousness all had it because they followed God's
way. Though it may seem a sweeping statement, it is through a continuing and
dedicated adherence to both the letter and spirit of God's law that we can
defend ourselves with His righteousness.
Once we have put on the breastplate of righteousness, we must be sure not
to remove it. Ezekiel 33:13 shows that wearing righteousness is not a one-time
event; rather, it requires a lifetime of action.
One day, the war we're fighting will be over. And when it is, we are promised,
"The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness,
quietness and assurance forever" (Isaiah 32:17). By faithfully living God's
way and staying clear of Satan's, we will find this peace, quietness and assurance—forever.
Take some time for introspection. What laws of God do you find yourself
most likely to compromise? We can't expect the breastplate to stay securely
fastened unless we remain true to His commands. Once you identify your weaker
areas, resolve to keep from compromising in them. Pick one area at a time
to pay special attention to: When you do compromise, what prompts it? Is
it because of certain conditions, environments, company, etc.? Use this
information to decrease your chances of being tempted to compromise, starting
Next Lesson: The
Shoes of Preparation of the Gospel of Peace
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