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SWORD OF THE SPIRIT (from chapter six)
The seventeenth verse segues to the final piece of the believer’s panoply by using the word “and” again – “and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. “And” in that context would relate back to the word “take” – “And take the helmet…and take the sword…” We are reminded then of the imperative of that command.
Nothing would be more out of place than a soldier in a war zone without his M-16. I have seen in swash-buckler movies where one swordsman knocks the sword out of the other’s hand. There the star of the show stands swordless in the fight of his life. And it is always over some damsel in distress. Of course, at the last minute the good guy pulls off the ultimate upset and saves the day but that is the movies, we’re talking real life. A sword is of no value until you “take” it.
The Greek word is machairan, somewhat related to our word machete. It was a shorter dagger for close up combat. That requires the believer to actually be in the arena of combat. It is one thing to talk about warfare while sitting in a comfortable Bible study or watching God-TV from a couch five-thousand miles away from the mission field. A short sword necessitates close encounters with the enemy. You are nearer the front-lines than you may suspect.
A second word, rhomphaia, is used for the Thracian long sword. Vine’s Dictionary questions whether it was a sword or a spear. This sword is used to symbolize anguish (Luke 2:35), war (Rev 6:8), judgment (Rev 1:16, 2:12, 16) and sovereign rule (Rev 19:15,21).
Paul has the shorter sword in mind. It is like a pistol compared to a long-range rifle. The sword has to be gripped in the hand. David’s second lieutenant, Eleazar the son of Dodo (“Dodo’s” boy, guess you can live down a name) “attacked the Philistines till his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword…” (2 Sam 23:10) At battle’s end his comrades had to pry his fingers loose from the sword. They say, get a grip! That this sword is called “the word of God” instructs our need to rightly and tightly handle the Word. Grace grips the heart and faith grips grace. The greater the understanding of the Word, the stronger is the grip.
The machaira was the soldier’s only offensive weapon. All others were protective, but this instrument was assertive, inflictive and combative.
“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, and with it He should strike the nations…” (Rev 19:15) We are the Body of Christ; He speaks through us to the nations. Some battles are better fought with flower bouquets, but here we are wrestling against demon hosts. We are not on a peace mission with the realm of darkness. Jesus said, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Mat 10:34). Jeremiah adds, “and cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood” (Jer 48:10). Does your sword bear blood or polish?
In the mouth of the prophets this sword brings judgment – “Let those who have charge over the city draw near, each with a deadly weapon in his hand” (Ezek 9:1). Swords are deadly weapons, not plastic toys. Samuel slew king Agag, a type of the flesh, with his sword. “Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth…” (Hos 6:5)
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
Being double-edged the word cuts going and coming. A convicting, cutting message from an evangelist’s lips pierces the hearts of his listeners but also lacerates himself as it comes back around.
It is the machaira of the pneumatos, the “sword of the Spirit”. The Holy Spirit uses man’s mouth as an extension of Himself and that mouth is to be filled with “the word of God”. Williams called it “the sword the Spirit wields”. Of Stephen we are told that the Sanhedrin could not “resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6:10).
It “pierces” as much as slashes. The word of God is a scalpel, an instrument of incision that can save life as easily as it can take life.
The sword’s effectiveness depends on its weight, its sharpness and the accuracy of the one who wields it. Sometimes we hear what could be called a “heavy” word or a weighty message which has a strong impact on our lives. As to the razor-edge, we are sharpened by studying the Word which enables us to “rightly divide” truth (2 Tim 2:15). And as to the person wielding the sword, remember that in the Garden Peter grabbed a sword (it was more likely one of the butcher knives used to prepare that evening’s Passover meal), and swung it in the direction of the high priest, lopping off his servant Malchus’ ear instead. Three years was evidently not enough boot camp training for Peter. Soldiers need to refine their aim.
The moral of the story – Peter operated “in the flesh” rather than being led of the Spirit. As a result, the sword, or “the word”, became a destructive device in his hand. That it cut off an innocent bystander’s ear implies that he destroyed another man’s ability to hear from God. Jesus restored the servant’s hearing, his last miracle en route to Calvary, so all turned out well, but it served as an important lesson to Peter – don’t ever use the Bible blade in a vindictive way or innocent people will get hurt. Paul wrote, “…not handling the word of God deceitfully” (2 Cor 4:2).
A perusal through the encyclopedia reveals much about Roman warfare, crossbows, catapults, various javelins and so on, but in His wisdom, the Lord has only given the believer one weapon, His word. That is sufficient. Jesus stood toe to toe with the devil and countered every temptation like an Errol Flynn swordfight scene. He drew the sword of the Spirit from the scabbard of His memory and cried, “It is written!” The sharpness of His intellect and the weightiness of His anointing drove back the enemy and it still never fails.