Staying Together

The Spaniard kneels to remove a handful of dirt from the floor of the hypogeum beneath the arena of the Coliseum.  He rubs the dirt between his hands as he contemplates the battle that is about to ensue.  With shield in hand, he carefully selects his helmet, receives his spear, and enters the arena. The crowd responds to the entrance of the gladiators with applause and celebratory ovation. The Spaniard, along with the other gladiators, spins and gazes in awe and wonder at the Coliseum’s grandeur.  The trumpets announce the entrance of the Emperor, and the gladiators—with the exception of the Spaniard—salute him. The announcer introduces the battle as a reenactment of the infamous “Fall of Mighty Carthage.” While the announcer is pumping up the crowd, the gladiators nervously stare at the gates through which the attack will eventually occur. The Spaniard petitions the rest of the gladiators saying, “Whatever comes out of these gates, we have a better chance of survival if we work together. You understand? If we stay together, we survive.” With pompous enthusiasm, the announcer introduces the Legionnaires of Scipio Africanus as several chariots charge into the arena. The Legionnaires begin to attack those gladiators who refuse to stay together. The Spaniard shouts, “Come together…lock your shields, stay as one…hold as one.” The gladiators who stay together with the Spaniard form a protective shell composed of shields in the center of the arena. Every time the chariots attack, the shields protect them. As the chariot returns for another attack, the Spaniard encourages the men shouting, “Hold.” At a precise moment, the Spaniard yells, “Diamond” and leads the gladiators in forming a diamond with their shields…and like a powerful machine, the combined shields overturn the chariot and hurtle the Legionnaires to their death.

“In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”

—Ephesians 6:16

Constructed by combining two wooden boards together, wrapped in canvas, and then covered in leather, the shield protected the soldier against swords, spears, arrows and debris. However, when the arrows were lit, the shields would catch fire leaving the soldier vulnerable and unprotected. Therefore, soldiers would soak their shields in water before battle. The leather would absorb the water and extinguish any flaming arrow that came their way. When we trust in God and believe in His Son…with all that we are, we can protect ourselves against temptation. We can extinguish the weapons of the enemy before they take their toll on our lives This is true, but it can only partially protect us from temptation when we use it on our own—when our faith is exclusive—when we segregate ourselves from other Christ-followers.

The shield was a practical defensive weapon when used alone. However, it proved to be almost impenetrable defensively—and a powerful offensive weapon—when used in collaboration with the shields of other soldiers. The front-line would create a wall with their shields. The soldiers on the flanks would protect the formation on the sides, and the soldiers further back would place their shields overhead. Called the testudo formation after the tortoise, this formation protected the army on all sides and from above. In addition, the soldiers would wedge their formation in the shape of a diamond and advance—like a powerful machine—toward their enemy dividing their ranks and rendering them useless.

In the same way the shield was meant to function with other shields, our faith is intended to operate with other believers. Whatever comes out of the gates—whatever weapons the devil throws our way, we have a better chance of survival if we work together. Support groups, sponsors, a supportive and Christ-centered spouse, accountability partners, small groups, brothers or sisters in Christ…all these protect us against the devil far better than we can protect ourselves…even with a solid shield of faith before us. Together, as a community of faith, we can lock our shields together and hold fast. By staying together, we can deflect the spears and arrows of the enemy, overturn his chariots, and hurtle his Legionnaires to their death.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

–Ecclesiastes 4:12

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