Spiritual Warfare: The Sword of the Spirit

The last piece of the armor of God that Paul mentions in Ephesians 6 is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Eph 6:17). The Greek word used here for sword indicates that it was a small sword. Paul was familiar with the short, sharp, Roman sword which was one of Rome’s great military innovations adapted from the Greeks of a previous generation. It was used in close combat with the enemy and was double-edged, like the Word of God. “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” (Heb 4:12 ESV).

A Specific Passage

Two different Greek words are used to refer to the Word of God. One is the well-known word “logos,” which indicates the whole revelation of Scripture. The Lord Jesus Himself is also called the “logos” in John 1. The other word used for the Word of God, and the one which is used here in Ephesians 6:17, is “rhema,” and it refers to a specific saying, or a specific word for the present need. As God gives you a specific truth, He expects you to apply it to your life, and in doing so, you render the enemy ineffective. This is why it is so necessary to be reading and enjoying God’s Word on a daily and consistent basis. It gives opportunity for the Spirit of God to take the specific teachings of Scripture and make direct applications to our present need.

When you are discouraged, you need a word from God – maybe a psalm reminding you that God is at your side. When you are tempted to lust, you need a word from God – possibly a text that reminds you that Christ is enough, like Colossians 2, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him” (Col 2:9-10 ESV). When you are faced with obnoxious people, you need a word from God reminding you of the love and patience He had for you when you were in your sins. When you find your priorities shifting toward worldly things, you need a word from God to steer you back to proper values. These words of Jesus are helpful: “But seek first the kingdom of God” (Mat 6:33). If you are a timid person and are in a situation where there is opportunity to share the gospel, you need a word from God, such as the encouragement Paul gave to Timothy: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2Tim 1:7 ESV). Each of these situations, along with thousands of others, is an opportunity for believers to move forward into enemy territory with the power of the sword doing its effective work.

A Secret Power

The secret power behind the Word of God is the Holy Spirit. Your sword is “the sword of the Spirit.” It is a sword used by those who have received Christ and therefore have the Spirit of God dwelling within them (Eph 1:13). The sword is used well by believers who are allowing the Spirit to fill and control their lives – “Be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). These believers are able to wield the sword effectively, and not in a carnal or self-serving way. The sword becomes an extension of the soldier, so it is essential for God’s Word to be deeply instilled in our minds and hearts.

The sword must be used in a proper way. It is not a toy to swing at random, or a club to hammer down, or a javelin to throw into the air. The effective soldier knows how to use the sword – when to use the sharp edges, when to use the flat of the blade, or when to thrust deep into the enemy’s heart. This takes extensive training. The believer must be skilled in handling the Word. Whether male or female, one must know the Word and know the God of the Word. This takes time. A lot of time. Time alone in His presence. Paul was emphasizing this when exhorting Timothy, saying, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15 ESV). A lot of damage can be done when truth is misapplied or taken from its context to promote a self-serving agenda.

A Special Purpose

The sword has a purpose. It, like the Word, penetrates and renders the enemy ineffective and defeated. This is exactly what Jesus did when tempted by Satan in the wilderness. He silenced Satan with the Word of God. Whatever demon, whatever evil, whatever temptation you may face today, use the Word to bring you victory. This is the teaching of 2 Corinthians 10: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (v4 ESV). Although Satan could never find a foothold in our Lord Jesus, we have natures that often respond to his deception, and we need God’s power to destroy them.

A Sacred Person

As we have noted in past articles, the armor is a picture of Christ Himself. He is the Truth, He is our righteousness and He is our peace. He is the source of our faith and our salvation. Christ is the living Word of God. Not only did He gain victory with the Word of God in His earthly temptation, but in a coming day, He will defeat all His foes with the Word of His mouth: “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron ” (Rev 19:15 ESV). This shows us what His Word can do, and so today, and each day forward, we need to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” as Paul instructs in Romans 13:14. As we do this, the battles of God will be won, the glory of God will be honored and the kingdom of God will be advanced.