In the three years I worked on a SWAT team, I came to learn the important distinction between “cover” and “concealment”. On a number of occasions, our team was required to enter a location to engage or extract an armed suspect. In times like these, SWAT officers try to use their tools and environment to protect themselves from the suspect they are about to encounter. Sometimes officers will hide behind cars parked in the driveway, behind large pieces of furniture in the residence or behind walls along a hallway. These objects and architectural features provide officers with a way to hide and protect themselves from the suspect.
That’s the difference between “concealment” and “cover”; concealment gives you a place to hide, but cover will prevent a bullet from killing you. A closed, hollow-core door will conceal you but it won’t stop a bullet. A car will conceal you and will probably stop a bullet as well. The door is concealment; the car is cover. SWAT officers try to get as close to the suspect as reasonable while utilizing as much cover as possible. Eventually, however, officers are going to have to step away from cover to engage the suspect in a potentially life threatening situation. In the end, the officers are going to have to take a risk.
But even without the concealment or cover of a wall, piece of furniture (or even a ballistic shield), the officer is not completely without cover. The officer still has his or her weapon. There are times when the only cover an officer has is the gun in his or her hand. The more confidence the officer has in his or her ability with the weapon, the more he or she will trust the weapon as a source of cover. As the officer steps into the open and comes face to face with the armed suspect, the officer is not able to conceal him or herself behind the weapon, but the officer can certainly use the weapon as cover. It will protect the officer and, if used properly, will keep the suspect from harming the officer.
As Christians, we sometimes have a view of the Bible that treats it more like concealment than cover. Every day, we have opportunities and challenges that face us as we decide to engage the world with the good news of the gospel. We have friends we see at work, and family members we see at gatherings. Many of these folks are not Christians. It’s easy to shrink from the opportunities to share the truth, isn’t it? We all enjoy hanging out with our Christian friends and family; these people are easy to love. They think like us, they understand our values and they worship the same God. It’s easy to retreat into our Christian conclaves and use the Bible (and our common worldview) as a way to conceal ourselves from the world. It’s easy to hide in the safe place we know as the Church.
It’s time for us to stop using the Bible as “concealment” and start to recognize it as the powerful “cover” that it is. SWAT officers step away from concealment to face their challenges because they are confident their handheld weapon can cover them. It’s time for us to have the same confidence in God’s Word that officers have in their firearms; not as an overbearingly aggressive weapon designed to coerce and threaten those around us, but as a steady, dependable, protective shield that can be trusted to protect us. The New Testament describes God’s Word as powerful, “active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Scripture has the power to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and the New Testament reminds us that God’s Word “is constantly bearing fruit and increasing” (Colossians 1:5). God’s Word has the power to protect those who trust in it as their “cover” and protection. “The word of the LORD is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him” (2 Samuel 2:31 and Proverbs 18:30).
The apostles certainly stepped into dangerous and challenging situations in the first century and they did so with God’s Word as their cover. Philip initiated his contact with the Eunuch by “beginning from the Scripture” (Acts 8:35), Paul routinely initiated his contact with people as he “reasoned from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2), and even Apollos was a powerful witness for the Gospel because he was “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). God’s Word protected them in the most difficult of situations; it can protect and cover us today. When we stop seeing the Bible as something to hide behind and begin to recognize it as the very protection of God, we just might find ourselves stepping out into situations and conversations that would otherwise seem daunting.
If God’s Word is true, we need not be ashamed of what it says about God’s existence and nature, what is says about our status as humans, or what it says about marriage or human sexuality. Instead of shrinking and concealing ourselves behind the words of the Bible, we need to trust the power of God’s Word as we carry it into even the most precarious of situations.