Ephesians 6 v 17b
Please read Hebrews 4
We begin this morning with 2 Corinthians 10 v 3
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 6 And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.
Our thoughts have been centred for several weeks on the Armour that the Lord God has provided for us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is Spiritual Armour for our souls that is graphically illustrated by the Physical armour worn by Roman soldiers in the days when the Apostle Paul was writing his letters to the churches. Paul reminds his fellow believers, including us 2000 years later, that we are constantly engaged in spiritual warfare. Our enemies are –
1. The corrupt desires of our old sinful natures that yet have not been subdued.
2. The powers of darkness – Satan and his hosts who come against us seeking to destroy us because of our allegiance to the King of Kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.
3. Sin of all kinds – idolatry, sensuality, worldliness and so much more.
As Christians we are opposed to all of these – and if we are not opposed to them, then quite simply we are not Christians! Our warfare is not against flesh and blood – and our weapons are not carnal, not actually made of material things like the leather belt of truth; like the metal, cloth and bone of the breastplate; like the leather, wood and hobnails of the sandals; like the wood and leather of the shield; nor like the metal or leather helmet.
These items all teach us, not about physical warfare, but about spiritual. The Christian engages in a battle for victory only by the force and the power of truth through the agency of the Lord Jesus Christ by His Holy Spirit alone.
In the first five pieces of armour in Ephesians 6 we have identified items for the soul’s protection. They have been DEFENSIVE armoury protecting the head, the chest, the body and the feet.
The sixth piece of armour is both DEFENSIVE and OFFENSIVE. It can truly be called a WEAPON, something to be used to take to the enemy.
Its description in the second part of Ephesians 6 v 17 is
the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT.
Last week when we thought about the Helmet we noticed that Paul uses the word DECHOMAI to describe how we are to take the helmet gladly, heartily and readily. We are to receive this item with a willingness to trust it for protection – a willingness, as we applied it spiritually, to believe God’s promises in the Bible as they relate to our ongoing salvation experience – dealing with our doubts, fears and discouragements.
TAKE THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT – TAKE IT.
The same verb applies to the weapon that we are exhorted to TAKE today – take heartily the sword of the spirit. Take it willingly, take it bravely, take it skilfully and take it always – this is the meaning of the word Take the sword here.
What kind of sword did Paul have in mind when he uses it as an illustration?
The Roman infantryman’s most trusted weapon was the short two-edged sword called the MACHAIRA. It was between 6 – 18 inches long. It is true that it was not his only weapon – available to him was a bow, a spear and even a battle-axe. But no Roman soldier would count himself properly armed unless he had his MACHAIRA.
The function of this small sword in the soldier’s hand was to defend himself – to ward off the sword thrust of another soldier; AND to advance forward himself to inflict fatal wounds on the opposing soldiers, putting them to death with its thrust.
The New Testament has 26 mentions of this word for sword, most of them being references to actual physical swords. Four times in Matthew 26 the gospel writer speaks of a sword – verses 47, 51, 52 and 55.
47 And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.
51 And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest's, and smote off his ear.
52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.
55 In that same hour said Jesus to the multitudes, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me.
Luke in Acts 12 v 2 speaks of James’s execution with a sword –
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Paul mentions a sword in Romans 8 v 35 when he speaks of some of the things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
And later in Romans we are told that the function of magistrates and authorities is to bear the sword as an executioner if need be of those who commit capital offences – in Chapter 13 v 3
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
All these refer to physical swords.
The New Testament also uses the same Greek word MACHAIRA in a metaphorical sense – a sense of power to effect a change. For instance the Lord Jesus Christ uses it in Matthew 10 v 34
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
The saviour meant the Gospel when he used the word SWORD. The Gospel has the power to divide and separate people, and quite rightly so – but not in the sense of dividing brothers and sisters in Christ – but in the sense that the Gospel divides the population of men and women into 2 groups – believers and unbelievers; the elect and the reprobate; the loved sheep of Christ and the goats who are doomed for destruction. The Gospel sword comes to strike at the pagan strongholds and rescue, call out, the Lord’s people, cutting them loose from the world.
The there is the metaphor used in the Letter to the Hebrews that we read earlier –
Hebrews 4 v 12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
This verse is indeed a commentary on Ephesians 6 v 17 and is very pertinent to our study this morning. The Sword of the spirit is the word of God. The word of God is living (quick) powerful and sharper than any physical two-edged machaira. So sharp is this Sword that it has the capacity to reach deeply into the soul of man and examines it. It searches his mind, his heart and questions his will with all of its desires. There is nothing so hard inside a human being that cannot be searched and scrutinised by the powerful word of God acting like a sword. This is the meaning of the joints and the marrow in Hebrews 4 v 12 – the inner recesses of the most complex of structures of the soul – like the joints and the inside of the bones, are susceptible to the penetration of the word of God.
The Sword of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who He has sent, is mighty and powerful to pierce the soul even though that soul has resisted the Gospel through years of wearing the devil’s chain mail of resistance. We must never underestimate the power of the Sword of the Spirit both in its Gospel work and in our warfare as believers against our enemies.
I remember once leaving my Bible behind after a meeting with some other service men for Bible study. My Bible was returned to me the next day when the Scripture Reader visited me. He said, “David – a Christian without his Bible is like a soldier without his sword.” I have never forgotten this. My friends – let me ask you – are you lost without your Bible? If you were to be imprisoned tomorrow and you were not permitted to have a copy of the word of God how would you feel?
Some older Christian may say, “I have the word in my heart – that will sustain me.” And this is quite correct – we hide the word in our hearts – but surely we need more than that in the battle? We need the constant activity of God’s Holy word the scriptures to examine our hearts and our thoughts; to temper our motives and desires; to restrain our headstrong ideas and to bring to bear on us God’s will. We need our Bibles to do this and we need them to defend ourselves. They are our swords. They are two-edged swords, not like some ancient swords that were sharp on one edge and blunt on the other. The keenness and thrusting ability of the sword of the Spirit is vital for defence as well as offence. This sword, says Gurnall is a KEEPING sword as well as a KILLING sword. Our souls will be kept from sin by the sword, and the sword will kill our sins as well. This is the instrument with which we mortify the deeds of the flesh –
Romans 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
This then is the sword. Now the scripture goes on to tell us more particularly what the sword of the Spirit is – it is
THE WORD OF GOD.
Most of us will be familiar with a common Greek noun that is translated into English – WORD. It is the word LOGOS. Logos appears in John 1 v 1 and 14 –
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Revelation 19 v 13 And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
These scriptures refer to Christ Jesus the only begotten Son of God – the person of the saviour – the eternal Word of God. He is the LOGOS.
However in Ephesians 6 v 17b Christ is not the Word of God referred to.
The Holy Spirit is Christ’s Sword, rather than Christ Himself being the Sword of the Spirit. We can see this from another text in Revelation 19 v 15
And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations:
We need then to be sure what this text in Ephesians means by the WORD OF GOD.
It seems clear that Paul does not mean logos, the Personal Word here, or else he would have used the word logos. Instead he uses the word RHEMA meaning ‘that which is spoken, uttered in speech or recorded in writing’.
Logos on the other hand refers to the whole word, all scripture including the personal Word made flesh - the Lord Jesus Christ.
Perhaps it is easier to understand when we note that RHEMA is not a reference to the whole Bible at once, but to individual scriptures that the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance for use in time of need. ALL scripture is available and useful and profitable for that purpose. But because of the limitations of our minds then appropriate and powerful portions of God’s word are readily available to us as believers at any time to used in our warfare. This is the meaning of RHEMA. Of course immediately we can see an implication in this – and that is the prerequisite of every child of God to regularly store in the mind God’s Word.
This means then that we do not have to blindly wield our Bibles in the face of the enemy and say to that enemy, “Here is the Word of God – it is a sword – and I wield it in your face to fight you!” How much better to have a sharp thrust of God’s word ready to fight individual battles with sin, the flesh and Satan.
For instance – a suggestive little chap, a temptation, comes to you and shows you how to obtain something that belongs to someone else without anyone else finding out. What do you do? You draw your sword, your Bible – and you bash him over the head with it! Do you? NO!
Is it not better to take the short sword of Exodus 20 v 15
Thou shalt not steal
– and thrust him through quickly and effectively never to rise again?
We need to be specific with our swords. The Lord Jesus Christ showed us how in His temptations. Each approach from Satan resulted in a specific quotation of the written word of God to thrust the Sword of the Spirit at the enemy.
‘Turn stones to bread – you can do it – you are Christ the creator.’
Sword thrust 1 –
It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
‘Cast yourself down from the temple – you’ll be alright – the angels shall rescue you.’
Sword thrust 2 –
It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
‘Have all the kingdoms of the world for your kingdom – be the high ruler over all people – all you have to do is worship me.’
Sword thrust 3 –
Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
A RHEMA – a word of God in the Sword of the Spirit is a special utterance from God’s word that is exactly fitted to repel the tempter’s attack on any particular occasion.
Now let us not think that this is an arrangement confined only to the last 2000 years. Indeed the word of God was declared to mankind from the earliest days. We read in Genesis that people lived a long time. In those days God revealed Himself and declared His mind by dreams, visions and immediate revelations to faithful witnesses, who themselves in turn instructed others. They lived so long that 3 holy men were able to preserve the purity of God’s word by tradition from the death of Adam until the time just prior to the Israelites going down into Egypt. They were Methuselah, Shem the son of Noah, and Isaac. Shem was alive until Isaac was 50 and Isaac died just a few years before Jacob and the family went to Egypt. So the Lord God delayed committing His will to writing because it was safely kept by a few trustworthy men.
But after the 400 years in Egypt and the multiplication of the children of Israel (Jacob, Isaac’s son) God wrote the 10 commandments with His own finger on Tablets of stone in order to keep His people from idolatry and from corrupt worship. After this He commanded Moses to write the other words of the Pentateuch that he had heard from God on the mountain. And all the while the Lord God continued to demonstrate His will by supernatural revelations – read Exodus and Numbers to be amazed by them.
Eventually the lord caused His sacred Word to be finished by the Lord Jesus Christ the great teacher of the church – and His apostles and appointed writers faithfully recorded His inspired word as we have it preserved equally supernaturally today.
If anyone should now add to or take away from this Word of God then there is a penalty –
Revelation 22 v 18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: 19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
So we can see what Hebrews 1 v 1 means –
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, 2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
The RHEMA – the Word of God as we have it in the Sword of the Spirit – is the Old and New Testaments, which are God-breathed. These are they which pierce the soul like a sword.
So now we come to some very practical issues to do with the Christian soldiers use of the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
1. Like a sword the Word of God is useless until it is UNSHEATHED.
When Paul tells us to TAKE the word of the Spirit he means that we should not leave it on a table next to our bed unopened; it should not be carefully stored on a fine shelf in our living rooms for everyone to see the fine binding and spine amongst the other books. The sword must be ready, sharp and handy for instant and constant use. Some people have sabres and scimitars and crossed swords mounted on the walls of their houses. They are decoration. They are not intended for use.
But we must never hang up our swords, our Bibles for exhibition. Soldiers are not meant to hang up their swords in the barrack room or tent – they have been issued with swords to be used.
To keep a sword in its sheath is like some who take the Bible and then add their own critical comments of it, or their additions to it, or even their own opinions of it so that its edge is never felt. Ordinarily a sheath keeps a sword from accidentally cutting someone or from becoming blunt. But those who have a low opinion of inspiration of scripture deliberately keep the sword in its scabbard. They push it down into its cover telling it not to be active – do not cut – do not influence – keep quiet, Sword of the Lord! We must never be guilty of this my friends.
Then some people have their swords bright and shining on the Lord’s Day, ready to wield it in the Lord’s Name. But for the remaining 6 days of the week, there it lies gathering dust, going rusty and blunt through lack of use.
And others manufacture their own scabbards – scabbards of the world’s philosophy that lets you read the word but does not let the word read you. Scabbards of modern belief – that fears the edge of the sword in case it cuts through the worldliness and sham of sinful behaviour. “I’ll keep my Bible closed - I’ll keep it buried like the servant who buried his talent.” And those who do are merely shutting the Living Word of God up as in a coffin!
Let us all have the sword UNSHEATHED at all times.
2. Like a sword the Word of God when it is UNSHEATHED cuts deeply.
The Sword of the Spirit is sharp and cutting because it is He who is in it. The Holy Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ inspired and breathed this Word – but He also lives in His word. This is why we take the Bible so seriously. This is why we are not frivolous with its texts. This is why we do not tamper with it or use corrupted versions of it in Public Reading but rather seek to use the best Version even with its linguistic difficulties in a culture where language changes and meanings of words alter. The Spirit wrote the Word and the Spirit wields the word as we take it by faith and use it. A physical sword wounds to hurt and to kill, while the sword of the Spirit wounds to heal and give life. Do you remember how it was for you my friend, when you were seeking the Lord? Did the sword of the Spirit not pierce your soul? Were you not “cut to the heart” as those of the Sanhedrin who heard Peter in Jerusalem were? (Acts 5 v 33) They were so convicted by the cutting edge of the sword of the Spirit that they took counsel to kill the apostles. When you were under the conviction of sin, when God’s word condemned you and when it brought you to your knees to repent of sin, do you realise that it was the sword of the Spirit doing His gracious work?
When we use the cutting sword against Satan, we are out to deal him a blow that will cripple him and prevent him from hindering God’s work.
We can do this privately in our personal battles – in our problems, our circumstances and our temptations - quote the word of God at your enemies – your doubts, fears, whatever they are.
We can do this in public as we bring the Word of God to bear in our conversations and our behaviour amongst unbelievers. Preachers should wield the Sword of the Spirit because their power does not lie in words of man’s wisdom but in the words supplied by the Holy Spirit. And when we pray we should wield the sword of the Spirit with the scriptures on our lips – because in this way we will cut through Satan’s hosts – they hate to hear the Word in our prayers. What do we mean?
Are we downhearted? Jeremiah said
15 v 16 Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.
Are we perplexed confused and not sure where to turn? The Psalmist said
119 v 105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
Are we tempted to sin? The sword of the Spirit says in the same Psalm
119 v 9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.
And do we find it hard to pray? Our text this morning tells us what to do –
And take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
Pray in the words of scripture. We should wield the sword on our knees – it is the way that the Lord Jesus fought and defeated Satan.
How powerful is this marvellous sword! May it ever be ready at our sides – as a defence against spiritual attacks and as our living weapon to defeat the wicked one.