Sword of the Spirit | Ephesians 6:17

 and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

Ephesians 6:17 ESV

As we rapidly approach the conclusion of Ephesians as a whole and of Kingdom War particularly, we conclude our study of the individual pieces of the armor of God with the only weapon of offense in the set. Gurnall comments on the overall defensive nature of the armor by saying that “the believer overcomes his enemy when he himself is not overcome.”[1] This ought to be a tremendous encouragement since God does not require us to perform stunning acts of assault against our foes; instead, He only demands that we stand against Satan’s continuous attacks. Our Lord will see that the great war is won. We must only stand in the strength that He provides to us.

Nevertheless, although our posture is defensive, every soldier must be equipped with a proper weapon for battle. For all Christians, our weapon is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

THE WORD OF GOD

We begin, as has been our pattern, with the object of Paul’s metaphor, which is the word of God. This Word of God is also called by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 Scripture, meaning the Writing. We mostly call it today the Bible, which simply means book, yet we use almost as if to say that this is the Book of books. The Old Testament also frequently refers to it as God’s law, and within Psalm 119 it is also called God’s precepts, statutes, commandments, testimonies, and rules. Each of these titles, rather like the names of God, displays a different element, characteristic, or purpose of God’s Word. Yet perhaps Paul’s description here is the most lofty: the word of God.

This simple phrase is the reason for our unwavering devotion to the Scriptures. They are God’s words, the verbal communication of the almighty Creator who made the heavens and the earth. The Bible is God’s breathed out revelation to humanity, and every part of it is profitable to us “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). We, therefore, receive the Bible joyfully as our highest and final authority. What God speaks within these pages, we humble our hearts and offer ourselves in ready obedience.

As God’s people under God’s Word, we cannot submit ourselves to the “philosophy and empty deceit” (Colossians 2:8) that the world offers to us. We allow our vision of reality to be shaped by reality’s Author. What the world calls wisdom is nothing more than damnable folly, if it is not measured according to the wisdom of God’s Word, and the wisdom of God found in His Word, although it is counted as folly by the world, will be revealed as eternal wisdom whenever the heavens and the earth have melted away like snow yet the Scriptures still endure.

The key doctrinal confession of the Old Testament is found in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Yet this foundational truth is then followed by what should be the discipleship heartbeat of those who follow the one, true God:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Deuteronomy 6:5-9

A few Jews have long taken those final commands literally by placing tiny scrolls upon the doorposts of their home, and rabbis have even worn one dangling between their eyes. Yet these commands run far deeper than such physical acts. This passage is commanding God’s people to be known and marked by God’s Word. By such devotion to the Scriptures, the next generation would be taught to fear and serve the LORD who delivered His people from slavery. By this love of God through His written revelation, Israel would become “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), radiating God’s holy light into the darkness of the nations around them. Yet they did not devote themselves to God’s Word and, consequently, failed also to love God with all themselves. Rather than piercing the nations with their godly conduct and drawing them into true worship, Israel repeatedly followed the godless ways of the nations around them.

These two paths continue today as well. One leading to eternal life, the other to destruction. One is of wisdom; the other is folly. Indeed, I believe that John’s vision of the mark of the beast is an intentional antithesis to Deuteronomy 6, showing that we will either be marked as children of God by our devotion to His Word or we will be marked as children of wrath by our devotion to the our passions, the world, and the prince of this world. Every person on this planet will either be a person of the Book or doomed to destruction.

THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

Now that we have observed what the Word of God is and its importance in the life of God’s people, let us address the first piece of our text, namely by answering the following question: How is God’s Word used as the sword of the Spirit within the armor of God?

Iain Duguid begins his study over this sword of the Spirit with this consideration on the use of a sword:

Most of us would prefer our spiritual warfare to be of the modern kind. We would like God to equip us with the “Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile of the Spirit” or, at the very least, the javelin of the Spirit. We want quick and comfortable fixes for our spiritual problems. We wish that we could sit back in our armchairs and zap our sins as easily as we change the channels on our televisions. Unfortunately, the Christian life doesn’t work that way. The final part of the armor of God is not a high-tech, long-range weapon but an old-fashioned, down-and-dirty short sword. This means that if we are going to defeat our temptations and seek to live fruitful, holy lives, then we will need to get up close and personal and set to work with the sword of the Spirit. Like ancient warfare, the struggle for sanctification is a fierce, messy, and intensely personal affair.[2]

Indeed, Paul was right to call our fight against Satan and his spiritual forces of evil an act of wrestling. Our enemy is all around us, and their greatest weapon is our own hearts within us. Yet our Father has equipped us with a blade forged by His own Spirit for wielding in the midst of our life-war. As we continue on, therefore, let us address three areas: 1) the encouragement that this is the sword of the Spirit, 2) how this sword equips us to resist the devil, and 3) how it robs Satan of his best weapon against us.

The Sword of the Comforter

First, let us consider that God’s Word is the sword of the Spirit. God the Spirit, of course, is not our sword, as if Third Person of the Holy Trinity could be wielded as a weapon. Instead, God’s Word is the Spirit’s sword, which by the Spirit’s strength we are enabled to use. This is very much comparable to the armor belonging to God, but that God has also enabled us in Christ to put on and take up.

God’s Word is rightly called the sword of the Spirit because, as Peter informs us, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Thus, the Holy Spirit is the Author of Scripture by the various human writers. Jesus Himself alluded to this work of the Spirit during His upper room discourse with the disciples, saying, “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Later, He also declared, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

Just as the writers of Scripture were reliant upon the Spirit for inspiration, we are also dependent upon the Spirit for illumination. The psalmist rightly prayed, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things in your law” (Psalm 119:18), for without the Spirit’s empowerment we will remain blinded to the beauties therein. Yet this doctrine of illumination also applies to God’s Word as our sword for battle. Without the Spirit’s empowerment and guidance, it may just as easily wound as protect. History makes this case for us, as some of the most dangerous heresies arose from an attitude of “complete” biblicism, by which I mean those who cast aside creeds and confessions in favor of the Bible alone. One of the chief ways that the Spirit guides our understanding of the Scriptures is through reading in community, both in our local congregation and with our brothers and sisters throughout church history. God’s Word is a vast treasure of His special revelation to His people, and we would be foolish not to strive to understand its riches and depths together now and with the writings of those who have gone on before us.

Resisting the Devil

Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes that, while this is the only offensive component of the armor, it also does serve to defend us by beating back the whole of our enemy. Shoes, breastplates, shields, and helmets serve to protect the soldier’s vital areas from the weapons of the enemy during combat; however, they can do very little to pressure the enemy away from us. A sword, on the other hand, can do just that. Because a sword may actually do harm to the opponent, its swings and thrusts force the foe to move away from its deadly reach.

Thus, while the whole armor of God is necessary to withstand the myriad assaults of Satan, we must be particularly armed with the Word of God as a sword to face the devil’s temptations and accusations. While studying Satan’s schemes we briefly observed the three texts in which the devil himself speaks, a brief return to Genesis 3 and Matthew 4 can demonstrate for us how to resist the devil through the sword of the Spirit.

Although Genesis 3 may appear to have nothing to do with the Scriptures, a closer inspection reveals that Satan’s first temptation upon humanity was immediately against God’s Word. His opening statement says it all: “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:2). This small fragment of doubt created a rift between Eve and God’s Word. It set the scene for her actually disobedience by disarming her reliance upon God’s explicit command. This continues to be one of our adversary’s chief strategies, since a Christian who has neglected God’s Word is a disarmed Christian, ripe for leading into the open jaws of sin.

Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is quite explicitly a battle of the Word of God. During each of Satan’s attacks, Jesus countered with the Scriptures. This is particularly noteworthy because Jesus is Himself the embodied Word of God, yet as a model for us, He relied upon God’s written Word. We must also do the same. God’s Word is our weapon against the temptations and accusations of the devil.

When faced with his rightly condemning accusations, we respond by clinging to the great promises that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) or that He who began the work of our salvation will also be faithful to “bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6).

When face with temptations, we are able to hold before us the commandments of God, which are far more powerful than any reasoning against temptation that we could offer. Duguid says of clinging to God’s commandments during temptation:

[They] are words of steel that stab temptation in the heart. The devil has no answer for them. Indeed, there is no answer to them. If our desire is simply to know and do what God has revealed in his Word, then there is nothing to debate. Whether we are going to get caught doesn’t matter. Whether anyone sees us doesn’t matter. Whether everyone is doing it doesn’t matter. The issue is, what has God said?[3]

Furthermore, because sin almost derives from a perceived lack in God’s provision (as in Genesis 3), promises of God’s goodness and sufficiency are essential. For example, if I am tempted to question whether God’s command against a particular sin is an act of Him withholding something good from me, I can cling to Psalm 84:11, which read: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

These are but a sample of how we may use God’s Word as a sword to resist the devil.

Discerning the Thoughts & Intentions of the Heart

There is, however, an even more fundamental use of the God’s Word in our spiritual conflict. Hebrews 4:12 describes this function as:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

God’s Word is not only a sword against the schemes of the devil; it also strikes at Satan’s greatest weapon: our own heart. For this function, a scalpel may be a more fitting metaphor. Nevertheless, the Scriptures cut into the deceptions within us and lay them bare before the all-seeing eyes of our God. Recall the profit of Scripture that Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:16: “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Therefore, the point that we made of the belt of truth can be repeated here in our study of truth’s source: if you are never taught, reproved, or corrected while reading the Bible, you are reading it wrong. As frightening as the result may be, we should always open up the Scriptures with the cry of David as our own, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24)!

Those verses are, in a nutshell, what made David into a man after God’s own heart. He was ready to come under scalpel of the LORD, regardless of whatever temporary pain it may bring. The discipline of the LORD is always for our final good. Whenever He breaks our bones it is always so that He may properly set them. Yet we should note that the Spirit’s working through the Word is always to convict us of sin. I emphasize this because within the temptation of Jesus we witness Satan using Scripture against Him. We should take warning that the devil more than willing to twist and contort Scripture as arsenals against us. A particularly powerful method is to lord God’s law in accusation, yet the guilt that Satan’s charges bring is condemnation rather than conviction. Demoralization, depression, and despair are his goals. The Spirit, on the other hand, rebukes us of sin for the purpose of leading us to repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. Submit, therefore, to the inspection of the Spirit through the Word, and when the deepest thoughts and intentions of your heart are revealed, fall upon the immeasurable riches of Christ’s grace toward helpless sinners such as us.

I will conclude with the words of Charles Hodge as he describes the necessity of God’s Word to as the sword of the Spirit for God’s people:

Our Lord promised to give to his disciples a word and wisdom which all their adversaries should not be able to gainsay or resist. In opposition to all error, to all false philosophy, to all false principles of morals, to all the sophistries of vice, to all the suggestions of the devil, the sole, simple, and sufficient answer is the Word of God. This puts to flight all the powers of darkness. The Christian finds this to be true in his. individual experience. It dissipates his doubts; it drives away his fears; it delivers him from the powers of Satan. It is also the experience of the church collective. All her triumphs over sin and error have been effected by the Word of God. So long as she uses this and relies on it alone, she goes on conquering; but when any thing else, be it reason, science, tradition, or the commandments of men, is allowed to take its place or to share its office, then the church, or the Christian, is at the mercy of the adversary.[4]

Brothers and sisters, let us not be found in this evil day unarmed when our Father has equipped us through His Son and by His Spirit with His own Word. And may we cross into our heavenly home clinging to God’s Word like Eleazar’s hand clung to his sword.


[1] William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armor Vol. 3, 153.

[2] Iain Duguid, The Whole Armor of God, 89-90.

[3] Ibid. 93.

[4] Charles Hodge, Ephesians, 287.

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