…the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
The ancient Roman soldier was called upon to fight in many and varied circumstances. Because of the privations of a long campaign, he would sometimes have to fight without part of his regular armor. The Roman soldier could fight without a shield, without a helmet, and without a breastplate, but there was one piece of armor without which he could not fight – his sword. Without his sword, his battle role would be mostly defensive. On the other hand, when he handled his sword, he conquered and ruled a vast empire reaching from Britain in the west to Persia in the east.
There were basically two types of swords used by the Roman legionnaire. Both are referred to in the New Testament. One was the rhomphaia – the large broadsword – characteristic of the armies of many ancient nations. The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses this term to describe the great sword of Goliath (1 Sam. 17:51). This type of sword is mentioned in the New Testament in Luke 2:35; Revelation 2:12; 6:8; 19:15, 21. Although it was a destructive weapon, it had one fault – it was unwieldy in battle.
The other type of sword was the machaira – the short sword or “large knife” that revolutionized hand-to-hand combat in ancient times and was the usual weapon of the Roman soldier in Paul’s day. This is the word that is used in Ephesians 6:17 for “the sword of the Spirit”. It is also used in the parallel passage in Hebrews 4:12; “. . . the word of God is . . . sharper than any two-edged sword . . .”
Although, if needed, the other pieces of armor could be used as offensive weapons, their primary purpose was defensive – to protect the head, the breast, etc. Although the sword could be used defensively, its primary purpose was offensive. The sword, therefore, was the only piece of armor on the Roman soldier that was primarily offensive in its purpose – i.e., it was used to attack the enemy rather than defend against him.
How appropriate, therefore, that a sword should be used to describe the one primarily offensive weapon in the Christian’s spiritual warfare – the Word of God.
The Sword of the Spirit
For the Christian, this “sword” originates with the Spirit of God. We are told that our “sword” was given through “. . . holy men of God . . . as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). The psalmist, David, declared, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2).
Not only does this phrase “sword of the Spirit” signify that the “sword” finds its origin in the Spirit, but also that the “sword” is the instrument that the Spirit uses. This means that the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God (i.e., “the sword”) to bring about cleansing, blessing and spiritual growth in the child of God. It is the Spirit of God, living in the believer, who makes the Word of God available to the believer (see 1 Jn. 2:27; Jn. 14:26).
The Holy Spirit is mentioned twelve times in the six chapters of Ephesians – twice in each chapter. In keeping with the outline of the book, the first six references in chapters one through three are doctrinal – each reference tells us what the Spirit does to or for believers. The Spirit seals (1:13, 14), illumines (1:17), unifies (2:18), indwells (2:22), informs (3:5) and strengthens (3:16) believers. The last six references in chapters four through six are devotional – each reference tells us what the believer should do in response to the Holy Spirit. Believers are to keep the unity of the Spirit (4:3), to grieve not the Spirit (4:30), to bear the fruit of the Spirit (5:9), to be filled with the Spirit (5:18), to take the sword of the Spirit (6:17), and to pray in the Spirit (6:18).
All of this should remind us how important a part the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the child of God. The spiritual life finds its source and sustenance in the Holy Spirit. Just because certain groups have wrongly emphasized the work of the Spirit does not mean that the Christian should neglect the Holy Spirit’s place in his life. The Spirit has given us a sword – let’s learn how to use it!
The Sword of the Spirit, Which is the Word of God
We are not left to speculate about the identity of the sword – it is “the word of God”. The term “word” here is not the Greek word, logos, a term referring to a broad or general word. The Greek word used here is hrema, which refers to a specific statement or utterance. The “sword of the Spirit” refers to the specific statements of God. It is not enough to say “I believe the Bible” when we encounter Satan in spiritual combat. We need to know the specific principles of Scripture to deal with the specific temptations of Satan.
An excellent example of how we are to handle the “sword of the Spirit” in specific temptations is found in Matthew 4:1-11. There we are shown how our Lord dealt with Satan’s attack of temptation. In each of the three temptations, Jesus quoted a specific Scripture from the book of Deuteronomy related to the temptation. He didn’t flail His sword around indiscriminately. He used it in a precise way dealing with exactly the temptation that Satan shot at Him.
There are three great enemies of the child of God – the world, the flesh and the devil. There are three watchwords that we should remember as we encounter each of these enemies. In regard to the world, the word is faith: “. . . this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 Jn. 5: 4). In regard to the flesh, the word to remember is flee: “Flee also youthful lusts . . .” (2 Tim. 2:22). In regard to the devil, however, the word to remember is fight: “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
The entire message of Ephesians 6:10-17 is that we are in a spiritual battle with Satanic forces, and battles are not won by retreating! When we fight Satan’s temptations, however, we can’t contend with our own strength, wisdom and human reasoning. We must employ the sword – the Word of God – if we are to put him to flight. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary that believers know the Word. It is indispensable for spiritual victory in our lives. We are to hide the Word in our hearts (Ps. 119:11); heed the Word in our lives (Jas. 1:22); handle the Word in our struggle (Eph. 6:17); and hold forth the Word in our witness (Phil. 2:16)!
Take… the Sword of the Spirit, Which is the Word of God
Paul commands us to “take” this sword so that we may wield it in spiritual combat. In what practical ways can we use the “sword of the Spirit” when temptation strikes?
As a young Christian, I heard a message on this text regarding handling temptations. The speaker told us to make a list of the main temptations that we were faced with as Christian teens. We were to find at least one Scripture verse dealing with that temptation and memorize it. Then, whenever we were tempted, we were to quote the appropriate verse back to Satan. In this way, we could both employ the “shield of faith” to quench Satan’s fiery darts, and also return his attack with the “sword of the Spirit”.
For example, when you are tempted to pride, an appropriate “sword” is Galatians 6:14: “But God forbid that I should glory, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” When you are tempted to lie, an appropriate verse is Ephesians 4:25: “Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor; for we are members one of another.” When you are tempted to lust, an appropriate verse is 1 Thessalonians 4:3: “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication.” When the “sword of the Spirit” is used faithfully in this way, James 4:7 becomes operative in your life, i.e., “Submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Obviously, such spiritual victory does not come “without a fight.” Utilizing such a method necessitates a serious commitment to the personal study of the Bible. In this regard, consider the following observation by H.P. Barker after he observed three things in a garden:
First, I saw a butterfly. It would alight on a flower, sit for a second or two, then flutter to another, sit for a second or two, then flutter on to another, and so on. It would touch as many lovely blossoms as it could, but derived absolutely no benefit from them. There came a botanist with a big notebook under his arm and a magnifying glass. He would lean over a certain flower and look for a long time and then write notes in his notebook. After writing notes for hours, he closed his notebook, stuck it under his arm, tucked his magnifying glass in his pocket, and walked away. The third thing I noticed was a little bee. The bee would light on a flower and sink down deep into it, extracting all the pollen that it could carry. It always went in empty and came out full. So it is with people who approach the Bible. There are the spiritual butterflies who just flutter from lovely sermon to lovely sermon, fluttering here, fluttering there, bringing nothing and gaining nothing but a nice feeling. Then there are the spiritual botanists who take copious notes but don’t have the capacity to draw anything out of the flowers – it’s pure academics. Then there are the spiritual bees who draw out of every precious flower all that is there to make the honey that makes them so blessed to those around them.
Are you a spiritual butterfly, a spiritual botanist, or a spiritual bee? The sword is available; are you using it as a weapon to win the victory that’s already yours in Jesus Christ?