This essay was the basis for a talk at Hill Country Bible Church in July of 2018.
There are three images we’ll use to remember today’s lesson. Our icebreaker is for you to draw these three images on the piece of paper in front of you.
Draw the breastplate of righteousness (lorica segmentata)
Draw Phil Hellmuth
Draw Chirrut Imwe from Rogue One
Show your groups once you finish.
Lorica segmentata (segmented cuirass) was personal armor used by soldiers in the Roman Empire. Since it’s a breastplate, it covers up all your vital organs.
It’s notable that a lot of the weight from the breastplate ties to the belt, which is mentioned first by Paul in Ephesians 6. Lorica segmentata would have been horrible armor if it wasn’t for the belt, as it would be too heavy and unfastened.
The belt is the belt of truth, which is our foundation and ties the rest of our armor together. It’s important to start there, as you would with real armor; otherwise, the rest of the armor becomes ineffective. This metaphor makes a lot more sense when you take into consideration how the armor was applied.
I want you all to discuss the significance of Paul calling for righteousness as your breastplate rather than another virtue.
One of the best poker players in the world is named Phil Hellmuth. He’s won more bracelets in the World Series of Poker than anyone else in history. He was the youngest to win the WSOP Main Event, which he did against Johnny Chan, the reigning champ in 1989. Phil did it at age 24, a record that nobody beat for two decades.
As good as Hellmuth is, he’s one of the most outspoken and angry players in the game. He’s known to blow up on other players when they get lucky and beat him. He’ll insult and laugh at them for playing an inferior game.
Poker is an excellent metaphor for life in this way. Phil Hellmuth can get dealt pocket Aces and play a perfect hand, but that doesn't mean he'll win.
A bad beat is when you have a better hand, but your opponent wins because of a lucky draw. Bad-beats are brutal—just because his chances of winning are over 90%, it doesn’t mean that he still won’t lose. If you ran the hand 100 times, the opponent would win about ten times. It happens.
Here’s how Phil Hellmuth teaches us about the armor of God. (Ephesians 6)
Phil put on his armor and still got attacked.
Although Phil Hellmuth played a perfect hand, he still got beat. You might say that poker is all a game of luck, but let’s dive deeper into this hand:
When you have aces, it’s best to bet big before the flop. That makes it expensive for anyone who calls, so you get more money in while you have the best chance of winning. In a perfect world, you would be all-in before the flop every time you have Aces.
Since Phil knows he has the best hand (or equal to the best hand, as Tom could have AA too), he immediately calls. Either it's a bluff, and he's ahead, or Tom has AA too, and they'll split the pot.
As we know, Tom only had tens. That means he's way behind when Phil calls before the flop. He's even further behind when the flop comes 2, K, 7. Phil has a 92% chance of winning.
The turn comes a T and Phil loses. Everything went right until that moment. He didn't do anything wrong in the hand, he played his best possible poker but still lost.
Phil playing well is the equivalent to us waking up, spending time in the Word, and still facing temptation later. We know that the day will have trials and tribulations, happiness and frustration. But we show up and do our part to make it the best day possible.
By learning to play well, Phil acknowledges the nature of the game, and that’s what we do when we put on our armor. We recognize the fact that the lives we live will challenge us, tempt us, and attack us in many ways.
Putting on your armor or playing great poker does not mean you won't get attacked. There is no easy way out of life, and there's no way to avoid the spiritual warfare that surrounds us. We have to confront it and show up to battle.
When you get attacked, your armor alone will not suffice. Luckily, we as Christians have more than the protection we put on ourselves. God tells us to put on his armor, which is of a much higher quality. We have two forms of armor—our own, and the protection of our creator.
(Phil Hellmuth has two forms of armor that he can put on, which we’ll take a look at later.)
Hellmuth should be delighted knowing that he did the right thing either way.
Phil Hellmuth’s first piece of armor is his decision making. He can control his decisions in the game and give himself the best odds possible. He can lay down his cards at the right time, play premium hands, understand ranges, etc. That improves his chances of winning more hands, his end goal.
When he loses hands, though he made the right decisions, he has to rely on the second piece of armor. He fails to do that, and that's why he's known as "Poker Brat."
The second armor is reason. Phil can keep from getting tilted and delight himself in what is right.
Tilt in poker is when you play while you're frustrated or angry about a previous hand. If you lose a big hand, the best thing is to lay low for a while and let yourself calm down. If your emotions govern you, you’ll make bad calls because you want to win all your money back. You'll gamble instead of playing poker—the exact opposite of where you want to be.
That’s what Phil does for a short time. Since he gets so mad when he loses, he can't play the rest of his hands with a level head. He still experiences plenty of success because he's able to stop his frustration. But if he wouldn't get tilted in the first place, he'd be much better off.
Whether things go right every time is out of our control. You gambled by waking up this morning and coming to church. Who guaranteed you would make it here on time or that your car would start this morning? You might take your car in for every oil change, and you could still hop in, turn the key, and get nowhere.
We don’t control a whole lot of what happens to us. That isn't supposed to be depressing. In fact, it means that the little effect you can make on your life involves a whole lot more. Why make your chances any worse when so much is out of your hands?
The one thing we can always control is how we react. If our car doesn’t start, we decide to get up and kick the car door and give it another dent. We choose to get up from the poker table to insult others because we lost when we “deserved” to win.
We know that Phil insulting other players is not a righteous thing to do. We should also know that when we react angrily to a situation, that’s not a moral thing to do, either.
If you don’t have the breastplate of righteousness in Phil’s situation, you’ll fall to anger (as he does). You’ll get tilted and fall to more sin in your frustration. That will lead to more failure. One, anger didn’t solve your problem and, two, you know you were wrong to fall to anger in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.
The remedy to this anger is to delight ourselves in the Lord more than anything else:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. - Psalm 37:4
A great non-example is when people feel bad because they see an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend posting up on Instagram living their best life. Why is it that we're so angry when they do that? It's because we're not delighting ourselves in the Lord but in appearances. It appears that we're not living our best life, and they are. "Life is unfair," we say.
A quick, actionable item: Don't pay so much attention to the endeavors of others and look inwards. Are you seeking God’s righteousness above all and acting accordingly?
That isn’t to say that your primary goal should be good deeds because that’s what will bring you righteousness—that’s not the case. However, there is a clear call not to abuse God’s grace in Romans 6:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? - Romans 6:1-2
As I scroll down Instagram during the summer, all I see is a massive competition of “whose life is cooler.” Unfortunately, the game is actually “whose life looks cooler.” Instead of waking up to delight in the day itself and the people God gave us, we delight in attention from others.
That’s a problem, and it’s no wonder many of us are so miserable.
Hellmuth is too focused on results rather than what’s right.
Hellmuth should still be happy after losing this hand. He knows he played the hand better. If they played the same hand again 100 times, Phil would win ~92 out of 100 times. Those are great odds—why is he frustrated?
The entire reason Hellmuth plays well is to win the hand and win money. He's not playing great poker for no reason. It's to win.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. - Psalm 91:1
Psalm 91:1 describes a shelter in the Most High, not of the world. When we shelter in things of the world, we satisfy ourselves by buying, eating, and obtaining. Those are worldly solutions to spiritual problems.
When we believe in God, are we doing it because it will give us some positive result? Or are we doing it because we know that it's right?
That's a tough question to ponder honestly.
We see people around us indulging in bad things all the time, but they appear to be happy. It seems like they're having all the fun in the world and experiencing no consequences.
We also see people around us doing immoral things yet receiving rewards for them. For example, someone who steals and gets away with it obtains something new. If you see someone steal over and over without getting caught, it's hard not to say, "I'll do it, too." It seems like there's nothing wrong with that.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. - Matthew 6:33
There's a distinction between cause-and-effect that's difficult to make. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Since you gave to charity, I’ll make you rich on Earth.” His reward goes much further than what we experience on earth.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. - 2 Cor. 9:8
When God promises us abundance, he means eternal life. That's incomparable to the riches we want to experience here.
It's also dangerous when we think the right thing is the wrong thing. If we're focused on outcomes, mistakes like this will happen:
Let's say you don't know that Aces are the best hand in poker. You might get unlucky and lose three times in a row with AA. You’d then proceed to think, “Wow, aces are a horrible hand. I’m never playing these.”
That's not true, and you'd lead yourself down a dangerous path of playing based on superstition.
That's the same temptation we experience when we act righteously, and life doesn’t seem to go our way. If we’re charitable, it doesn’t mean we’ll be rewarded financially for that generosity. If that's why you give to charity, you'll stop doing it when you realize it doesn't lead to that.
When you put on the breastplate of righteousness, you are seeking God above all else. You don't seek mere results.
If you seek results only, you should do what gets you results. If your desired future state is to be rich and powerful, then you'll do what's necessary to get there. You’ll also get the consequences and cost that come with that, too.
If you seek God and his righteousness above everything, it won't be hard to deal with negative results.
Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way aright, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the unfaithful will be caught by their lust” - Proverbs 11:4-6
(If you've never seen Rogue One, this is a spoiler. I don't feel bad for you though, because if you truly cared, you'd have seen it in theaters.)
There's a scene where Chirrut Imwe walks through the heat of the battlefield to save the day. He walks out of his cover repeating, "I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me." He seems divinely protected as he walks to a lever that activates a shield to save the day.
Chirrut seeks the Force above all else in that scene. He’s not seeking survival or even life. He desires nothing more than to be one with the Force. At that moment, it calls him to walk through the battlefield to push this one lever to save the day. Since he was one with the Force and the Force was with him, it led him in the right direction.
Right after he does this, the control station he walked out to gets shot, blows up, and he dies. That's as much as we hear from Chirrut Îmwe.
It was an exceptional scene, and I can't help but think about "the Force" that we’ve been gifted through Jesus. His sacrifice allows us to walk through the battlefield of life and come out unscathed.
Putting on the breastplate righteous requires focus. (Matthew 6:33) Instead of looking around to all the bad that tempts you, stay focused on the good that Jesus has given to us and exists in you.
When the Force calls Chirrut to risk his life to say, that's a big calling. If God called you to move to a new city amidst immense uncertainty, would you do it? If he didn’t tell you why you were supposed to do it, only that he calls you to do it, would you? Most of the time, we don’t. It’s a matter of lacking faith.