The Sword of the Spirit – Ephesians 6:17


One of our hymns asks, “Am I a soldier of the cross?” For the child of God, the answer must be “Yes!” for this is our calling as long as we live in this world. Paul told Timothy – & through him he told us – to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” The Word of God knows nothing of soldiers retiring after three tours at the battle front. The Christian has been called to a continuous, unrelenting battle up to the death.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan and entered the land of promise – “a land of milk and honey” – they also entered a new kind of life – but it was not a life of peace and ease. They continued to fight the enemy, for there were as many adversaries in the land as out of it. And in the New Testament the believer’s relationship to Satan is much the same. Paul did not present the idea that Satan will cease to fight against the person who has trusted Christ. Nor did he present the Christian life as a tranquil, placid existence. Rather, Paul’s instructions anticipated a life of continuous conflict. And the more we resolve to be faithful to the Lord Jesus the greater the conflict will become. While our future prospect is that of being transported out of this earth into a new sphere in the heavenlies, as long as we live on his earth we will be in the midst of conflict.

We now come to the offensive part of our panoply.

Thus far we have been considering nothing but protective equipment. Now we come to the only piece of equipment the Captain of our salvation has given us for attack. Paul writes, “Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” As important as the shield of faith might be, it is not designed to defeat the Wicked One. And the shoes of the preparation of the gospel of peace are important, but Satan is not going to be kicked to death. As in most of life, victory begins with defense. But once that is established we can go on the offensive.

The sword of the Spirit – the Word of God is rooted in the words of God. Therein lays its strength and incisiveness – its sharpness. It is not of human origin; it was not forged with earthly steel on human anvils. Rather, this is a weapon of divine origin, a weapon adequate for conflict with the kind of adversary we face. Because our enemy is not flesh and blood, human weapons will not avail.

As we consider “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” remember that it is not our evaluation of God’s Word which gives it value. It is not our interpretation or presentation of Scripture which makes it authoritative. What the Scripture is intrinsically, in and of itself, gives it authority. So, even without depending on anything else, the Word of God is a powerful offensive weapon which can successfully rout the wicked enemy we are fighting.

When Peter was coming to the close of his earthly life, he was concerned about the spiritual maturity and development of the believers he was leaving behind. For this reason he commanded the elders succeeding him to feed the flock of God. This ministry of properly feeding the sheep could be accomplished only through the Word of God. “Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance” – II Peter 1:15. He had presented the gospel and delivered the truths he had received by divine revelation. As long as he was with them, he could repeat what he had received from God. But knowing he would not be with them much longer, he was concerned about the ministry continuing after he was gone.

II Peter 1:16 “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter was reminding them that Jesus Christ will return to this earth to rule as King. He had been blessed, along with two others, to personally witness the transfiguration of Christ. He had seen a revelation of the glory which will be Christ’s at His second coming. He passed on to others what he had seen with his own eyes and heard with his ears, and even that could also be verified by two other witnesses.

But then Peter goes on to make an amazing statement: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy” than this – II Peter 1:19. We have something more certain than what? More certain than the event Peter, James & John had seen with their own eyes & heard with their ears. What could be more certain than three eye-witnesses? Peter tells us in verses 20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

There are many people who incorrectly understand the phraseno prophecy is of any private interpretatiton” to say that no one should study and interpret the Word of God for himself, or that every person must look to the church for a correct interpretation of Scripture. No, what Peter was saying was “No prophecy of Scripture stands alone – either in its revelation or its explanation.” No verse or subject should be considered apart from the rest of the Bible, because it all has one source.

As he explains, we can believe the Word of God because Scripture did not originate with men, but “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. “ The word “moved” means that holy men of God spoke as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit, in the same way the wind bears along a sailing ship. And not just one or two of those holy men, but all of them. Peter is telling us that the Bible is trustworthy and authoritative, and that it should be believed even above that which men say they have personally seen and heard and experienced. Why? Because the Word of God came as the Holy Spirit carried along holy men as the instruments through whom Scripture was given. So when Paul wrote in Ephesians 6: 17 that we are to “take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God,” the words “of God” encompasses all the truth that Peter spelled out so clearly in II Peter. The Word of God is completely sufficient – because of its source.

Another familiar passage is II Timothy 3:16, which anticipates the rise of false teachers. Earlier in the chapter, Paul wrote, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” One of the characteristics of the last days, according to verse 5, is that people will have a form of godliness, but will deny the power thereof – empty, useless religion. In the verses that follow, Paul shows the results of renouncing divine truth, then he speaks of the moral corruption and perversion that will characterize people.

Timothy was being sent out as a minister of the gospel to a world characterized by doubts, denials, deceptions, perversions of divine truth, and rejection of God’s Word. Does that sound familiar? What would be sufficient for Timothy’s ministry? Paul points him straight to the Word of God – the sword of the Spirit. “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” The Word of God is the only effective instrument in days like those Paul outlined in verses 3-9.

Why is Scripture sufficient in such dark days? Verse 16 tells us: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” This statement could be translated literally as, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” The Bible we have in our hands is the result of the out-breathing of God. God used human instruments to bring the Scriptures to us, but the Scriptures are authoritative only because they are God-breathed.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Because the Scriptures are God-breathed, they are profitable for doctrine – for teaching divine truth. Moreover, the Bible is profitable for reproving the godless, and for correcting those whose ways have been perverted by false teachers. And the Word of God is useful for instructing in righteousness those who want to walk in a way that pleases God. What other aspects of this spiritual warfare are there? God has put a sword in our hands, which is sufficient to defeat the enemy because it has been perfectly designed by God for this particular war. When we face the adversary, we can move confidently against him with only one weapon, because that weapon is powerful enough to defeat him.

Christ used the same sword.

Our Lord’s defeat of Satan’s temptations in Matthew 4 furnishes us with an example of how to use the sword of the Spirit against our spiritual foe. Our adversary today is the same enemy who tempted Christ. After John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the nation of Israel as their God-given Messiah who had come to redeem and reign, Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness. There He entered into conflict with Satan and proved His moral right to be both Redeemer and King.

After Christ had fasted for forty days, Satan came tempting Him by saying “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread” Matthew 4:3. The Lord didn’t reply with oratory or logic – even His native divine logic. He replied with the Word. “It is written…” He met the attack of the prince of the power of the air by drawing out the sword of Spirit and quoting Deuteronomy 8:3 “he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” What the Holy Spirit had already written was strong and sharp unalterable and undefeatable.

Interestingly, in each of His three temptations Christ quoted Deuteronomy. While the Book of Leviticus governed Israel’s worship, the Book of Deuteronomy guided the people’s daily walk. When Satan came to divert the Lord from the path of perfect obedience to the Father’s will, Christ quoted the book that governed the believer’s walk, using it as a sword to parry the enemy’s attack. After Christ quoted Scripture in response to the temptation, that test was immediately dropped. There was no argument, no rebuttal. Satan knew he must attack along another avenue.

In verse 5 we find that “the devil took Him up into the holy city, setting Him on the pinnacle of the temple. He said to Him, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” Satan thought, “If you use the Word of God against me, I’ll use the Word of God against you.” So Satan said,It is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” But again Jesus turned to Deuteronomy and quoted a verse which was particularly applicable: “It is written again, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Once again Satan dropped the temptation without an argument. The Word of God is irrefutable.

But Satan then changed tactics and made a third attack. We read in verses 8-9, “Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” And again Jesus referred to Deuteronomy: “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.” And the devil left Him. He didn’t argue the case; he didn’t beg; he didn’t plead. He left. Why? Because of the effectiveness of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. “

It was not diplomacy, argument, debate, tact, flattery, or the offering of a truce which drove Satan away. It was Christ’s use of the sword of the Spirit. It did not have to be explained, defended, or demonstrated. Satan knew its power, and when he saw the sword drawn, he immediately dropped the issue and turned to something else. And when Jesus persisted in meeting every attack with a carefully aimed thrust from the Word of God, Satan abandoned the attack altogether and left.

In this we have our example.

Did Paul have Christ’s experience in mind when he pictured the believer clothed in the whole armor of God and using the sword of the Spirit? The enemy has no defense against the sword of God’s Word. Satan has no armor to protect him against the sword-thrust of the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of God. And when we do battle against Satan with the sword of the Spirit in our hand, he is defenseless. We stand fully clothed, fully equipped, and strengthened by God and Satan stands helpless and defenseless. Resist the Devil with the Word of God pointed toward him – he will flee.

We do not possess the sword of the Spirit simply because we own a leather-bound, gilt-edged copy of the King James. We possess the sword of the Spirit only when what is in the Bible has been transferred to our minds and hearts, so that when Satan comes we can apply what we have learned and defeat him in that particular battle. Sunday’s sermons aren’t swords for us to wield. Our sword is not what we can find in a concordance or what is written in the margins of our Bibles. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God which we must learn and learn to use.

I confess that I do not encourage you enough to learn the Bible for yourself. None of us memorize the Scriptures or learn how to use specific verses for specific circumstances. Are we too old, or too young or too busy to learn the Word of God for ourselves? We can learn, but it takes time and effort. We must study God’s Word, know God’s Word, understand God’s Word, and memorize God’s Word, so that we may be able to stand in the evil day.

As Christian soldiers, we can have victory when we know the Word of God, possessing it for ourselves, and knowing how to use it when the enemy comes to tempt us.