In this final instalment of our occasional series on the armour of God, we learn how to take up the sword of the Spirit and see how unique is this weapon.
The Salvation Army has been described throughout history as ‘the army without guns’, which begs the question: If guns aren’t our weapons, then what are? Some have said that love is our weapon, and of course that is true—and what a great weapon! But as Paul explains in Ephesians 6, and as we’ve seen throughout this study, every believer has access to strategic weapons that enable them to stand firm against the schemes of the enemy. These weapons are truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith and salvation. Each is cleverly described by Paul using the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armour, and he saves the best and most critical weapon until last—the sword of the Spirit.
When it comes to this weapon, what many of us miss is that the sword doesn’t belong to us. It is the sword of the Spirit. And that’s not all we sometimes miss. The sword of the Spirit is the only piece of armour that Paul explains right there in the text of Ephesians 6, every other attribute matched to a piece of armour Paul has discussed earlier in his letter. But this time he tells us to take up the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God! Paul’s saying if you only take one thing away from this letter and the metaphor about armour, make sure it’s this. Don’t miss that the sword of the Spirit is the word of God!
The sword of the Spirit is completely unique and utterly critical for believers, because it is the only offensive weapon Paul lists. Priscilla Shirer explains in her book, Armour of God, why taking the offensive is critical.
‘You and I are being told once and for all that withstanding the attacks of the enemy doesn’t always mean we take a defensive posture. Sometimes it means taking the offensive position by moving forward, being proactive and maintaining your posture of victory. That’s what standing firm is. It doesn’t mean just staying where you are. It means that you maintain the position you’ve been given in Christ. The hard-won ground of victory in Christ that he bought for us with his own blood—that’s the posture we’ve got to maintain. And whatever it takes to maintain it—that’s what you’ve got to do. Sometimes that means being on the offensive so that you can take down or tear down strongholds the enemy has built up in your mind or your life.’
Roman soldiers carried two swords. One was the large broadsword we referred to when we considered how the helmet of salvation protected a soldier from such a powerful blow to the head. The sword of the Spirit is not this larger sword. The sword Paul is describing here was more like a dagger. It was double-edged and sharp as a needle—perfect for hand-to-hand combat. This small sword was the kind of quick-draw weapon you pulled out when an enemy was all up in your face. It could be deadly, quickly.
Shirer perceptively points out that, ‘...if Paul is telling us that we need that kind of sword to stand firm, then that tells us that sometimes life is going to feel like the enemy is right in your face. It’s going to feel like close hand-to-hand combat. There are going to be those times when you’re up all night long riddled with fear or paralysed by insecurity or intimidation. These are the times when you can feel the enemy moving in your family, destroying and tempting and dismantling what you love and hold dear in your children’s life, your spouse’s life or in your own heart and mind. When it feels like one blow after another and the enemy is right in your face!’
This is when we need the sword of the Spirit—days, which Paul calls ‘the evil day’ in Ephesians 6:13; days, Priscilla describes as being, ‘when all hell seems to break loose’. It’s fitting that the only offensive weapon available to us is not actually our weapon—it’s the Spirit’s sword which is the word of God.
‘It’s the weapon that the Spirit uses in the spiritual realm—in the heavenlies—to fight on our behalf. It’s what he uses to push the enemy back and to cause his attacks not to be felt so severely. It’s the sword the Spirit uses on our behalf. And it’s the word of God,’ says Shirer.
It’s important for us to grasp the significance of the Spirit using the word of God to fight for us and how that works. Understanding that there are three different words in the original New Testament Greek text for the ‘word’ of God, helps. Shirer explains that the first Greek word used in the New Testament for ‘word of God’ is graphe, which means the book itself—literally the words on the page, the ink and the paper, or the words on the app on your phone. Obviously having access to a physical Bible is important, but this is not the word Paul uses for ‘word of God’.
Another New Testament Greek word is logos, which means the message of the graphe. So, when we understand the message of the Bible—when it’s explained to us—that’s the logos. This is the term used in Hebrew 4:12 (NKJ): ‘For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword’. As Shirer suggests, ‘...the logos is what helps you see your fleshly desires in contrast to God’s will’.
When Paul writes ‘the word of God’, he uses the word rhema. The rhema of God is the utterance of God to you directly. It’s that moment when you’re listening to a sermon and you feel like you’re the only person in the room. As Shirer says, ‘It’s personal. You’re thinking, did the church bug my house? How did the pastor know this passage was exactly what I needed to hear? Or it’s those quiet times at home when God seems to take his divine highlighter to your Bible, and you’re gripped in your soul by that verse and you know it’s God convicting you or challenging you. That’s the Holy Spirit giving you his sword to use in your life, and it becomes a dagger to the heart of the enemy.’
In Matthew 4, when Jesus is tempted by the Devil in the wilderness, he uttered the rhema of God to combat Satan’s lies. The sword of the Spirit is the rhema of God. Shirer puts it like this: ‘When God illumines the logos to you because you have the graphe, that’s the rhema of God!’ That’s why it’s critical for us to be constantly growing in our understanding of the Scriptures. The Spirit needs something to illuminate to us! If the Spirit is going to push back the enemy in the heavenlies on our behalf, we must do our part and give him something to work with! This is what it means to take up the sword of the Spirit.
It seems completely appropriate then, that we conclude this series with the challenge to take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, by going back and reading through Ephesians in its entirety. God’s truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are all waiting to be illuminated afresh to you and taken up as sound weapons. Weapons that enable us not only to stand firm but that position us for certain victory here and in the heavenlies. Amen!