Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Ephesians 6:13-18a ESV).
In this series on Spiritual Warfare and the Armor of God, we began by looking at the foundational pieces of our armor, which give us the ability to “stand firm.” These included the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, and the Shoes of the Gospel of Peace. Next, we turned our attention to the active battle armor, which Paul commanded us “in all circumstances” to “take up.” Of these, we have already looked at the Shield of Faith and the Helmet of Salvation, and with this post, we will look at our last piece of armor with the Sword of the Spirit.
The Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God
With this piece of armor, Paul leaves us no doubt as to what he is talking about. He says very specifically that the sword of the Spirit “is the word of God.” I believe this includes both scripture and prophetic utterance. (*For a discussion of the Greek, see my note on “rhema” vs. “logos” below.)
The idea of God’s word being a sword is repeated throughout the New Testament. Most famously, we have the description given by the author of Hebrews:
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” (Hebrews 4:12 ESV).
The idea presented is that the word of God is both His sword of salvation and of judgment. It discerns a person’s thoughts and intentions, to see if they are by faith or sinfully motivated. This idea goes directly back to our discussion on the Mark of the Beast in the last post, where the mark on your head implies your thoughts-while the mark on your hands indicates your intentions and works.
What this means is that God’s standard for a person’s life is not a vague sense of right and wrong or culturally defined morality. Rather, everyone will be judged by the word of God alone. James writes that we must,
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:22-24 ESV).
If we judge ourselves by the word of God and live accordingly by faith in Christ, we will escape His final judgment by the sword.
The Sword of His Mouth
The Bible is very clear that every word spoken from the mouth of the Lord will be the final arbiter of justice to the world. Just listen to these descriptions of Jesus in Revelation:
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength” (Revelation 1:12-16 ESV).
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword…So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:12,15-16 ESV).
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty” (Revelation 19:11-15 ESV).
The Power of God’s Word
Reading these verses from Revelation, it is helpful to remember that not only is God’s Word the tool of His judgment, but it was also the tool of creation. In Genesis, God simply spoke the word, “let there be…” and everything was created (Genesis 1:3, et al.).
John, revealing Jesus’ role in the creation story, says of Him,
In the beginning was the Word (**see note below), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3 ESV).
Paul adds that Jesus “is before all things, and in him, all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17, ESV), and Hebrews says, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3, ESV).
We would do well to remember, then, that it is by the Word of God that creation was formed, is held together, and will be judged for eternity. It makes me think of the old cliche, spoken by parents to disobedient children for generations: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” God’s word gives us life at creation. God’s WORD (Jesus) provides us with the opportunity to receive new and eternal life in Him. And God’s word will be the final decree over the eternal destiny (or destruction) of every human.
The Sword in Our Hands
With all of this backdrop built in, we now come to understand the weight and the privilege it is to carry the Sword of the Spirit in our own hands.
The Bible makes clear that everyone who is called by God is supposed to live their whole lives in accordance to His word. They hear His word (John 8:47); they conform their lives to His word (Matthew 4:4), and they feel the unquenchable urge to speak His word to others (John 3:34, Acts 6:2). We are the ones to carry the sword in this world!
One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament is concerning the inability of God’s servant to withhold the word of God from others. Jeremiah, who was known as the “weeping prophet,” and whose ministry was marked by little to no fruit, declared his intention to stop preaching, and yet he simply could not. Jeremiah proclaimed,
O LORD, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out, I shout, ‘Violence and destruction!’ For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:7-9 ESV).
The Sword Advances the Gospel
We said in our last post that to wear the helmet of salvation is to set our minds on joining Jesus in battle for the redemption of the whole world. Now, with the Sword of the Spirit, we are putting our hands to the task of bringing salvation to the lost. As we go to battle with the kingdom of darkness, the Sword of the Spirit is our only weapon of attack. As we share the word of God, in the present day before the final judgment comes, we do so with one main goal: to make Jesus known, so people will turn to Him and be saved. This is how God’s Kingdom is established. This was the only aim of the early church!
They sought God to give them boldness to preach:
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31 ESV).
And the result of this preaching? People turned to Jesus!
The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7 ESV).
Even Paul’s prayer request at the end of our passage on the armor of God is with this goal in mind:
To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19 ESV).
The Sword Defends God’s People
The Word of God also offers us the ability to bring a counter-attack to every scheme of the enemy. As the devil tries to penetrate our belt of truth, with his lies, we defend ourselves with the word of God. When temptations and lusts of the flesh weaken our breastplate of righteousness, we defeat them with the word of God. When our peaceful foundation is shaken, we defend it with the promises of God’s word. When the devil tries to get at us in any way, it is the Word of God that gives us the ability to resist him and see him flee ( James 4:7)!
This was the exact tactic Jesus used when the devil came to Him in the wilderness in Luke 4. For every attempt the devil made at Him, Jesus responded with the words, “It is written” (Luke 4:4,8,12).
Take Up Your Sword
Once again, as we “take up” the Sword of the Spirit, we must understand that this is the ONLY active weapon we have in battle. The belt, breastplate, and shoes are for our stability. The shield and helmet are for our defense in battle, but the word of God is our only weapon to use to attack and to fight back.
As Christians, filled with the Spirit and wearing God’s armor, we do not fight the devil by any other means or strategy. We are not called to be politicians, seeking to legislate morality among sinful men. That cannot change hearts. In the same manner, we are not social justice warriors sent to protest and bring awareness to the plight of the oppressed and poor. Jesus is their only hope for vindication and justice. His word is their only salvation.
The Kingdom of God is not a democracy, where the majority gets to rule. It is a dictatorship, led by a loving King who has already made His eternal decrees to govern everything, and it is by every word from His mouth that we will stand or fall.
To take up the sword of the spirit, you must hear His word, and let it guide you every day. You must know His Word – both through the scriptures and in every promise He has spoken over your life personally – and wield it boldly as you go. It will defend you when you are under attack, leading you through the darkest moments of life and every demonic stronghold with victory. More than that, it will be used to charge forward in battle, bringing God’s promise of salvation to all those you rise to fight for, as you take your place in the fight beside your King.
*It is often said that the Greek usage of two words used for “word”, “logos” and “rhema,” tell us different things about the subject. Many argue that “logos” means the written word and “rhema” means spoken word, through the Holy Spirit and prophets. Although there is some legitimacy to this claim, there is also a LOT of overlap in scripture and other ancient Greek writings. It seems most scholars view these two terms as generally synonymous, and our case in this post is better suited not to attempt to draw heavy dividing lines. I will not distinguish between “logos” and “rhema” in discussing the word of God in this post, because it leads to unnecessary speculation and division. When the Bible talks about the “word of God,” unless otherwise specified to be talking about the Torah, the Old Testament Scriptures, or another set of writings, it should generally be understood to mean every decree of the Lord, both in scripture and in extra-biblical prophetic utterance. [Before you get mad at me for affirming “extra-biblical revelation, remember, Jesus did and spoke many things not recorded in scripture (see John 20:30), and the expectation of the coming Holy Spirit is that He would bring more revelation of Jesus to the believers, which Jesus couldn’t speak in person (see John 16:12-14).]
**One exception to the synonymous nature of “logos” and “rhema” is that the Apostle John refers to Jesus with the formal title of “Logos,” which is intended to address Greek philosophers’ speculations on the supernatural and eternity.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Anthony Scott Ingram.