Come back with your shield or on it!
When Spartan mothers sent their sons to battle, their parting cry was, “Come back with your shield or on it.” In other words, “Come back victorious or die honorably.” The Spartan king, Demaratos was once asked why it was shameful to return without a shield but acceptable to return without a helmet. “Because the latter they put on for their own protection” he replied, “but the shield is for the common good of all.” In ancient hand-to-hand combat, the shield allowed a soldier to protect not only himself but also the person standing next to him, making him a useful part of a unit that was greater than the sum of its parts. It’s interesting in light of this that Paul likens faith to a shield and salvation to a helmet. Our salvation is a personal matter, but our faith affects those standing next to us in a profound way. It is more honorable to die in battle than to drop ones shield in retreat. In life, we protect one another by our mutual faith, which is not only for personal benefit, but for the benefit of others.
When I was in high school I intensely trained and competed on all the athletic teams a young woman could join. Red was the colour and Spartans our school team name. My father was a world class athlete and World War II veteran so I came about the competitive nature quite naturally. In my small world of honours I succeeded in all the athletic awards one could receive. However, none of these things fulfilled me but taught me that I was designed to fight. Even at such a young age experience with dark powers and a relentless foe, I was tutored in hand to hand combat, in the spiritual realm.
As in tribal or national conflict we are responsible to know our foe and their strategy, study it and master it. In doing so we beat our bodies into submission and arise a strong spirit trained by the blows of life. For me sports training and competition was the tutorage to the ensuing years of spiritual combat that remains. Our families, the generations behind and to come, are all engaged in this war for freedom. Jesus is the Master, Captain and King of kings. He, the One who rides the clouds is the same one who subjected himself to the most intense struggle with Satan as a human being. And so he knows our weaknesses. And yet for love humbled himself even to the point of dying for us. And how shall we not follow his example with grateful hearts arise, stand and be counted amongst those who lose our lives to gain Him?
Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war (goes the old song). Where is the war, who is the foe and how do we fight for others? You and I have been placed on the timeline of history, placed there by God. He has chosen the nation and tribe we live in. There is much for us to appropriate in the finished work of Jesus so that we may go Back to Eden and live from our God given mandate of dominion. As we advance through the darkness, the foes and discoveries of what powers maintain their assaults against us…. we do so for those coming after us. Jesus said: Greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friends/loved ones.”
Today on D-Day I repeat the Spartan Mother’s declaration to all of us:
‘So come back with your shield or on it!’