Previous article in this series: August 2018, p. 449.
“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.” Ephesians 6:17
Down through the ages, no weapon has been more valuable and had a greater use in warfare than the sword. Countless enemies have fallen and countless battles have been won by the edge of the sword.
In the apostle Paul’s day the Roman soldier carried a short stabbing sword in a sheath attached to his belt. Often the soldier in the front line of a legion would carry his shield in one hand and a long spear in the other. Approaching the enemy, the soldier would make his first assault by hurling the spear from a distance, and then close by drawing the sword and engaging the foe in close quarters.
Every Christian bears the sword of the Spirit, and it is his only offensive weapon. Every other piece of armor is designed either to ready the soldier for battle (belt and sandals) or to defend him (breastplate, shield, and helmet). The sword is different. It stabs. It pierces. It injures. It maims. It bloodies. It slays. It defeats. With the sword the soldier advances, cuts through enemy powers, puts to flight and, if necessary, kills. The life of the instituted church and the life of individual Christian is more than defending, guarding, and holding ground; it is going on the offensive.
The sword itself
Our sword as described in Ephesians 6:17 is “of the Spirit” but the sword is not the Spirit. The sword is the Word of God (“which is the word of God”). The Word of God is the Bible. Faith does not regard the Bible to be a dead, lifeless book, but the living revelation of God that proceeded out of His mouth through Jesus Christ and is delivered in written form.
The emphasis of the term “word” is upon the spoken word as it proceeds from the mouth. For the term “word” in verse 17 has as its first meaning “utterance.” Furthermore, the Bible speaks of Christ having a sword coming out of His mouth (Is. 49:2; Rev. 1:16). That a sword comes out of Jesus’ mouth refers to the power of His spoken word that will put to flight and even destroy His enemies. Thus, when Jesus used the sword of the Word of God against the Tempter in the wilderness, He spoke the Scriptures, saying, “It is written,” and Satan fled with dread. When the Word of God goes forth from the pulpit of the instituted church and on the mission field, the sword is being wielded. But also unofficially, whenever we believers take the Bible and from it make a testimony, we are using the sword.
Our sword is double-edged (Heb. 4:12) and, therefore, has a twofold use. The sword utters the gracious promises of the gospel proclaiming God’s sovereign, particular love in Christ for the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. But the sword also expresses God’s warnings against and condemnation of sin and sinners. The sword converts souls as a savor of life unto life, and it hardens souls as a savor of death unto death.
Our sword is “of the Spirit.” First of all, this reminds us that our warfare is spiritual and does not consist in crusades with physical swords. The purpose of the sword is not to draw blood but to penetrate to the spiritual center of a man, which is his heart (Heb. 4:12). Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the power of the sword. He makes the Word living, powerful, and effectual so that, as we read the Bible, our hearts are stirred, or as we speak the truth of the Bible to others, their hearts are stirred. By the Spirit Satan is driven away, heretics are hardened, and elect sinners are saved as the strongholds of opposition to God are cast down in their hearts. It is fitting that the Spirit should be the One who makes the sword an effectual power because He is the One who inspired the Bible.
The Spirit who makes quick the Word is the Spirit of Christ. The Christ who bruised the head of the serpent, and spoiled principalities and powers, and abolished enmity, and redeemed His people unto God; the Christ who arose from the dead and took away the sting of death, and the victory of the grave, and the strength of sin; the Christ who now reigns supreme in heaven with a sword proceeding out of His mouth, and who promises to make us more than conquerors—that Christ by His Spirit is the One who takes the spoken Word of God and makes it effectual in the advance of God’s kingdom. The battle belongs to Christ.
The necessity of it
The sword is necessary for the advance of God’s kingdom, first of all, because the true, instituted church of Christ and her youth are surrounded by false doctrines, vain philosophies, and wicked lifestyles.
Dangerous are the heretics with their heresies, the crafty false teachers with their honeycomb tongues in influential speeches and cunning literature, and the pleasure-seekers attractively promoting their ungodly lifestyles. No one is more dangerous than the seducer who takes the name “Christian” and, like his father Satan, tries to take our sword by quoting the pure Word of God to prove his damnable lies and further his abominations. Danger is everywhere. And due to the Internet, everyone has a platform for their vain babblings, easily gaining entrance into and influencing any home.
The church must not wait for error to infiltrate the camp, but through her watchman must be vigilant in identifying the threat of the hour and go on the offensive by engagement in polemical preaching and teaching that condemns threatening false doctrines and wicked practices. The sword of the Spirit drives heresy and the love for dissolute living out of hearts, homes, and churches, and, more importantly, prevents its entrance.
If support for homosexuality has so worked its way into the churches that a synod must judge whether those who openly identify as homosexuals may be members in good standing or be ordained into the gospel ministry, it is not too late to win the battle. But it might be. The church must go on the offensive and condemn perverse inclinations and behaviors while proclaiming the hope of deliverance from that sin in Jesus Christ, so that the first inclination unto that wickedness is driven from hearts long before it establishes so deep a footing that a synod must address it.
False teachers hate the point of the sword. We must take the sword for the confounding of false teachers in their error. For example, Federal Vision heretics who preach a universal, resistible, ineffectual divine grace in the covenant in the interest of conditionality hate the point of the sword that is Romans 9. After futilely trying to force Romans 9 to bear witness against itself, the enemies of sovereign grace finally duck and dodge, and then flee confounded. Let the sharp point of Romans 9 be continually thrust into the theology of common grace in the covenant, as well as into our own hearts to slay the old man of pride and self-salvation, so that that God-dishonoring heresy finds no home in us and in our fellowship.
If we listen to the plea of many to put down our sharp sword and stop being so condemnatory, and just stick with the positive message that does not make anyone feel bad, the church might grow numerically but soon enough we will also have women in the pulpit, sodomites in the consistory, rank Arminians or antinomians at the table of the Lord, and evolutionists on the school boards.
The instituted church needs the sword of the Spirit for the advance of God’s kingdom. I hope you young people will pray for the cause of the sword.
Secondly, the instituted church and the individual believer need to use the sword because often our fellow soldiers are taken hostage in sin and hurried across enemies’ lines. We need the sword for rescue operations.
You might know a fellow Christian soldier overtaken in a fault (Gal. 6:1). The enemy called “love of pornography or pre-marital sex” or “love for alcohol or drugs” or “hatred for the church or for a brother” or “delight in Sabbath desecration,” or “believing the Bible is a big lie, and the Reformed faith vanity,” or “enticement to date an unbeliever,” or “no-one-will-tell-me-how-to-live pride” has overtaken a fellow soldier. The sinner goes willingly. He feels right at home in his corruption as a hostage in the enemy’s concentration camp.
Now what? What do you do, soldier? What if you are outfitted with a helmet, a breastplate, a shield, a belt, and sandals, but you have no sword? How will you ever go across enemy lines to smite the enemy and rescue your dear friend or family member? What if you have a sword but keep it sheathed saying, “Well, he is my friend. We like each other. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, disrupt our relationship, and make him think ill of me or turn against me, so I will pretend all is well.”
We need the sword of the Spirit, otherwise that hostage will die across enemy lines. With a spirit of meekness and considering ourselves lest we also be tempted, we are to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:1-2) by taking our sword to assault Satan and that sinner’s proud heart, stubborn will, and vain imaginations by bringing the Scriptures to him again and again. Pray that the Holy Spirit will take whatever passages you bring in the rescue operation and use them for repentance unto the releasing of that prisoner from his chains. To the pain of our hearts, sometimes the sword hardens the sinner in his sin and further exposes the perversity of his heart.
Thirdly, the individual Christian needs this sword for his own life of safety in the kingdom. We are all surrounded by temptations. The devil preys on our weaknesses. Youthful lusts are strong and boil hot. In our youth we can be heady and high-minded. While we have so much armor to defend and protect us throughout the day, we must also go on the offensive with the sword of the Spirit. In morning devotions unclean lusts, jealousy, and pride are slain by the sword of God’s Word, which the Spirit uses to prick the conscience, create godly sorrow, and make Christ and His holiness desirable to us.
The taking of it
Every elect, regenerated, believing child of God and every true church will take the sword (v. 17, “…and take…”), for the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the same Spirit who teaches our hands to war with the sword.
The apostles took the sword from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth for the advance of the kingdom. With the sword of Pentecost, Peter lovingly stabbed those murderers of Jerusalem who had Christ’s blood on their hands, so that they confessed their sins and sought baptism. With the sword of the resurrection of Jesus, Paul slighted the devil’s works all throughout the Mediterranean world, so that peoples who had been bound in the slavery of idolatry for thousands of years were released.
Let our churches take the sword through preaching, catechizing, consistorial work, and especially by maintaining a theological school for the training of soldiers. And young man, will you please strongly consider enrolling in this military institution so that one day you may war a good warfare in the ministry as Peter and Paul did.
Let the young people take the sword by meditating upon God’s Word day and night and adding to the knowledge that they gained in their earliest years in memorizing verse after verse, reciting catechism answer after catechism answer, singing Psalter number after Psalter number, and taking page after page of notes in Bible class. Keep learning.
Can you imagine a solder in the heat of battle having no sword, and having none because he failed to take one to battle? More ridiculous and more serious is the believer with no sword. Take the sword! What could be more shameful than a Reformed Christian with no knowledge of and skill to use the Bible? The Reformers jeopardized their lives to get a sword in the hands of the disarmed masses of the Romish churches. Sword-taking is our Reformed heritage. But we will not take it? Take the sword of the Spirit! The battle belongs to God, He will see to it that all His soldiers take the sword.