Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. Ephesians 6:16
Paul instructs the Philippians to be “of the same mind”, and that they should “with one mind” be “striving together for the faith of the gospel” . A church can hardly be “of the same mind” when its members cannot agree on the content of the gospel, and when false doctrines have taken over the minds of professing believers. Division and heresy pervade the church today because it has neglected the study of biblical theology and apologetics.
False doctrines are as “flaming arrows,” rapidly spreading destruction. But the shield of faith can “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” If the shield of faith refers to the content of the Christian faith, then picking it up would mean to learn and affirm the content of Scripture. Those who thoroughly understand and strongly affirm biblical doctrines are able to resist and overcome the false ideas that are sent their way.
Although it requires strength and discipline to take up this shield and to hold it before us, its use is sometimes remarkably simple, especially when it comes to private attacks against our minds:
Although Paul does not give individual examples of these flaming arrows, Hodge mentions horrible, blasphemous, skeptical thoughts and more subtle suggestions of cupidity, discontent, and vanity. These, or whatever else the figure of speech may represent, are to be extinguished by faith. Evil thoughts must be dislodged and expelled by good thoughts. If in trouble we doubt either the power or the wisdom of God, we should say to ourselves, “I believe in God the Father Almighty,” or repeat some verse that speaks of his loving kindness. Thus the doctrines of faith will expel our false ideas.
That the shield of faith and the flaming arrows are intellectual and doctrinal in nature produces certain implications, namely, “We must have already studied and memorized some Scripture in order to have something to remember. This study is like picking up the shield in the first place.” One who is weak in biblical and theological understanding has not picked up the shield of faith, and indeed cannot do so until he has learned the basics of theology and apologetics. Until then, he has little protection against the false ideas that come against him. Once a member of the church has been injured or infected by false doctrine, the damage may quickly spread if left unchecked, because “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Galatians 5:9). It is important for church leaders to teach their people, so that they become skilled at using the shield of faith (Hebrews 5:13- 14; Ephesians 4:11-16).
Thus picking up the shield of faith is not only a matter of will, but also one of understanding. It is not only a matter of volition, but also of comprehension. In fact, intellectual understanding of biblical doctrines necessarily precedes volitional assent to them, since the will cannot commit to something that is not even there. If the shield of faith represents the objective content of Scripture, then the intellectual comprehension of and volitional commitment to Scripture represent the act of picking it up. The large size of the shield is significant. Knowledge of the truth in one area may not offer sufficient and precise protection from falsehood and confusion in another area. Therefore, picking up the shield of faith implies obtaining a comprehensive knowledge of Scripture.