THE Apostle Paul was skilled in the use of picturesque language. On more than one occasion, he spoke of faith in terms of clothing.

When he was writing to Christians undergoing severe persecution, he referred to the clothing of faith in military terms. 'Tut on the whole armor of God," he wrote. "Wear the helmet of faith, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of salvation."

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In stressful situations faith provides us with protection against the fiery darts of Satan. But for less threatening situations Paul described the clothing of faith in less defensive terms. In Colossians, for example, he urged his readers "to clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, meekness, and patience." Here faith is pictured in peaceful rather than military terms.

Paul's analogies of faith as wearing apparel imply something very important about faith. Faith is not a simple, single thing.

Faith is a relationship. Like all relationships, faith calls for different responses in different situations. In the relationship between parents and children there are times for sternness and times for tenderness. In the relationship between married partners there are times for being serious and times for being playful.

In friendships there are times for candor and times for patience. Relationships change as circumstances change. It is the same in the life of faith. There are times when Christians should wage spiritual warfare against the world. But there are other times, probably a majority of times, when Christians offer a kinder, more understanding spirit. Timing is everything in faith, as well as in relationships.