The sword of the Spirit
And take . . . the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
The Bible, the written word of God, is the most precious commodity a Christian has. The Bible is like food to the hungry soul: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jer. 15:16; cf. Ps. 119:103). They are like streams of water to a huge oak tree, for the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Ps. 1:3). God’s words are more valuable than gold and silver: “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10; cf. 119:72). It is a light in a dark place: “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:130).
It is therefore a terrible judgment when God’s words are withheld. In the book of Amos, such a predicament is likened to a famine: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, than I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). Just as physical life cannot long endure without food and water, neither can our spiritual life be healthy and flourishing apart from the word of God. Therefore in Eph. 4:15, we are told that it is as we speak the truth in love – truth which finds its origin in Scripture – that we grow.
In light of these metaphors, it almost seems incongruous for the apostle to liken the Scripture – the word of God – to a sword. A sword is not something that makes one rich, that nourishes the soul, or gives light in darkness. A sword is something that destroys and wounds and kills. However, as Ecclesiastes puts it, there is “a time to kill, and a time to heal . . . a time of war, and a time of peace” (Eccl. 3:3, 8). It is the versatility of the word of God that it can kill and make alive, depending on the need of the moment.
So, when we ask the question, “Why would the apostle Paul use the metaphor of a sword for the word of God?” we find the reason in the context of our verse. The context is that of battle, a spiritual battle, with Satan and his demonic armies. The Christian is under constant attack by them and he must be able to stand and not give ground when he or she is attacked. In such a context, a sword is what is needed, especially in close-quarters combat, which is what the apostle envisions here (cf. ver. 12). The role of God’s word pictured here, then, is not so much its function in providing spiritual nourishment for the soul as it is its function in fending off the enemies of our souls. So the question we must ask of this text is, how does the Bible function to enable us to fight off the enemies of our souls?
I am sure that there are many ways in which we can wield the Bible as a sword and turn back the attacks of the wicked one, but I want to mention one – which I think really summarizes all the ways the Bible may be used as a weapon in spiritual warfare. And it is this: we primarily wield the Bible like a sword when we use it to uncover error and untruths about God and his will for us.
I love the way Charles Hodge describes the power of Scripture. It really summarizes what we’ve been trying to say here, so I’m going to end with it. In his exposition on this text, he describes the Bible as a sword that “is sharper than any two-edged sword. It is the wisdom of God and the power of God. It has a self-evidencing light. It commends itself to the reason and conscience. It has the power not only of truth, but of divine truth. … In opposition to 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 power 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 anything 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.”