Summary: The sword of the Spirit is God’s weapon to do His work in us, and our weapon against the enemies named in verse 12 (#23 in The Christian Victor series)
“…and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.”
- Julia Ward Howe
There’s not much use, I don’t think, in going into a description of just the kind of sword the Roman soldier would have used, other than saying, perhaps, that it was sharpened on both sides. Both edges of the blade were useful for slashing and cutting and stabbing.
And this information is only useful insofar as it reminds us that the writer to the Hebrews said in chapter 4 verse 12, “…the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
And that is a very worthwhile thing to note, and perhaps to study in depth on another day.
For now though, I want to be careful to stay in context with the passage we’re studying as we near the end of this great epistle, and keep in mind that Paul is telling the believer, in the donning of his armor, that along with the helmet of salvation he is to ‘take up’ or ‘take’ the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, in preparation for spiritual battle.
THE SWORD’S USE
First of all then, let’s be clear as to what a sword is for.
It is for killing. That’s it. It is too big and clumsy for whittling a stick. Even a short sword is too long for use on the kitchen cutting board. If someone saw you using one in the preparation of their meal they might just decide they’re not very hungry after all.
They are not even primarily for protection. They do that in part, but unless you employ them aggressively against an attacker, they will only protect you until your arm grows weary, and then you will at some point lower your guard and be taken.
The sword is a weapon in the purest sense of the word. Unlike a firearm that may at least be used for hunting game if nothing else is available, the sword is not even useful for that. It is designed for warfare, more specifically for close up, face to face, hand to hand combat, and it has no other practical function.
So as we apply this analogy to the life of the believer in Christ, it may be a little alarming at first, to think of Paul’s comparison of the Bible to a killing tool.
And as I’ve already pointed out, this is not the only place in scriptures this analogy is used. The writer to the Hebrews likened God’s word to a cutting sword, and although scholars debate the authorship of that letter, whether it was the Apostle Paul that wrote it, or Penelope, or whomever, the important thing to remember is that all scripture is God-breathed, that men wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the symbolism is good and useful to us.
God’s word is a sword. It is, as Julia Ward Howe aptly put it, a ‘terrible swift sword’.
THE CHRISTIAN’S WEAPON?
Having taken a look at what a sword is for, and the primary purpose for which it is wielded; next we have to pay attention to whose weapon it really is. And it is at this point, I think, that we have to remind ourselves that no analogy of earthly, physical things is ever adequate for a complete explanation or representation of spiritual things.
Yes, we will go on to discuss why Paul uses the sword to symbolize God’s word, but just remember that the Bible is a spiritual thing. It comes from a spiritual source, in its entirety it is formed and completed spiritually, although through men, yet those men were inspired in every pen stroke, every word, letter, punctuation; every thought therein.
It is spiritually applied, in that only the Holy Spirit of God can apply it in a significant and life-giving way, and the end result of that application is always a spiritual result.
Now there may be effects in the physical and emotional realm that come as by-products of that application. For example, a man may be changed within as the Holy Spirit applies the truth of scriptures to his heart and life, and as a result of that inward change he may make certain decisions that he feels will most please his Lord, concerning the governing of his life and so forth. But first in order and in importance, is that this work of the Spirit is applied by the Spirit of God, to the spirit of the man.