The sword of the Spirit
Of all the armour of God mentioned in Ephesians 6, the most ‘offensive’ is the sword. ‘Take … the sword of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 6:17b). There is this one offensive weapon in the Christian soldier’s armoury, and Paul states clearly that this sword is ‘the Word of God’.
This emphasises the central importance of the Holy Scriptures in the life of Christians and of the church. There is little prospect of success in spiritual warfare if a Christian does not have a firm grasp of Scripture.
Do we really understand that Scripture is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, and the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God? Does the Word of God really direct our life-decisions and responses to trials and difficulties?
If Christians and churches are weak here, they will be ineffective against the assaults of the evil one. The sad thing about British church life over the past century is the diminished authority of the Bible in people’s lives. Christianity will not long survive in communities with a low view of Scripture.
Sword to wield
The Christian soldier needs the Word of God in his armoury, not just the possession of a Bible in the home or on the person, but the Bible’s teaching, inwardly absorbed and applied.
The Old and New Testaments areGod’s Word and tell us what we need to know concerning the Lord, ourselves and our sin. They tell us about the broad way to destruction, the narrow way to life and the way of salvation. They reveal the law of God and teaching of Jesus and show us how we should frame our lives.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, how did he respond? He used the sword: ‘It is written … it is written … it is written again’ (Matthew 4; Luke 4). Jesus taught: ‘the Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). In another place he prayed: ‘thy Word is truth’ (John 17:17). This is how the Christian counters error and keeps himself in the right path.
In his last letter, Paul wrote of the Bible (by implication, both testaments), ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God’ (2 Timothy 3:16). He described its purpose: ‘[It] is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness’. He specified its effect – ‘that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work’ (v.17).
When the evil one tempts us to have doubts and fears, how do believers use the ‘sword’ of the Word? Think of what John writes: ‘These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God’ (1 John 5:13).
I heard of a young divinity student who doubted his call to the ministry. Sitting on the banks of the Ness, he pulled out his New Testament and read, ‘You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bring forth fruit’. He was encouraged to go on. He had used the Word as a sword against the evil one.
Spirit to enable
There is also the Spirit to enable us in the sword’s use; it is ‘the sword of the Spirit’.
The Spirit, of course, is the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Holy Trinity, by whose power the world came into being. He was sent at Pentecost and ‘proceeds’ from the Father and the Son (John 14:16). He is the source of Scripture’s inspiration, for by him ‘holy men of God wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21).
We can take the phrase ‘sword of the Spirit’ in two ways. First, as the Word we have been given by the Spirit – that is, as God-breathed, or Spirit-inspired. Secondly, as a word used by the Spirit to change, inform and instruct men and women; to produce spiritual life and fruit for God.
The Spirit has all power, but believers must use the Word. We can say that wherever the Word is faithfully upheld by reading and preaching it, the Spirit will be striving with the hearers.
Still, there is a human response to the Word to be made; believers need the Spirit to make the Word alive in the hearts of men and women. Without this a church will be nominal or dead like Sardis. James Philip wrote, ‘You cannot wield the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God unless in fact you are filled with the Spirit’.
The believer with the Spirit-inspired Scriptures and filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) will be an overcomer and engage with good success in the spiritual warfare against Satan and his cohorts. For this, believers are provided with a sword to wield and the Spirit to enable.