Summary: The Sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon for the forward progress of the Kingdom of God. We use it to convey the Good News and poke holes in the darkness.
“Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” Ephesians 6:17
Let’s talk a bit about swords…Today’s military bayonet is a multi-purpose knife affixed to the muzzle of one’s rifle, a last-resort weapon in close quarter combat. The only swords in today’s military are ceremonial; they function as a symbol of command. It is common to see a saber on the wall of a commander’s office.
The Roman Legion’s offensive weapon of choice for foot soldiers was a short, double-edged, straight sword for close combat, no more than 2 feet long. Soldiers would lead with their shields and thrust with their swords. It was also the preferred weapon of gladiators.
Swords take on a mythical quality today. Many historic and legendary swords have been given names. There’s a scene in The Hobbit movie where the elf lord Elrond is explaining the names of noted swords to Thorin, the leader of the dwarves: “This is Orcrist, the Goblin-cleaver. A famous blade, forged by the High Elves of the west. May it serve you well.” Bilbo the hobbit takes out the tiny sword given him by Gandalf and looks at it curiously. Balin, a dwarf sitting next to him and noting this, tells him, “I wouldn’t bother, laddie. Swords are named for great deeds they do in war.” Bilbo asks, “What are you saying, my sword hasn’t seen battles?” Balin replies, “I’m not actually sure it is a sword; it looks more like a letter-opener.”
I visited the Higgens Armory in Worcester a few years ago; they had numerous kinds of swords from antiquity in a castle-like setting (the collection is now part of the Worcester Art Museum). I read that “Oliver Cromwell’s British soldiers fought with a sword in one hand and a Bible in the other; a pious gesture, but hardly what Scripture suggests!” (Hughes).
In the Book of Judges, Gideon’s army proved that victory is in the Hand of God. Israel faced the Mideonites, vastly outnumbered with little chance of success…yet in a surprise attack they defeated the enemy, attacking with a blood-curling battle-cry: “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” King Solomon later wrote, “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).
We sense a need to be armed. The Bible is our sword. It is a book unlike any other. The author of Hebrews writes: “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, 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” (4:12). Like a sword that cuts and thrusts, the Bible is able to penetrate to the depths of our souls. “The very nature of the Bible is to affront and astonish the human mind” (Thomas Merton).
From the beginning of time the devil has tried to get people to question God’s word. The devil doesn’t have power; he has deception, which looks like power. Our enemy wants us to regard Scripture as mere human opinion about God. Skeptics play into this by claiming the Bible contains errors and contradictions. Their goal is to destroy faith and set themselves up as their own authority. Once we stop reading our Bibles, we’ve dropped our weapon and surrendered to the enemy. If the Bible is truly God’s word, it can withstand the hardest questions and challenges people can throw at it. People may not think our sword is sharp, but when they’re struck by its truth, they will “get the point.”