The Sword of the Spirit | Ephesians 6:10-20
Brian Hedges | March 10, 2019
Turn in your Bibles this morning to Ephesians 6. We’re continuing in our study together “Dressing for Battle: The Gospel Armor for the Fight of Faith.”
You know, great warriors are known by their weapons. We’ve been studying together the weaponry, the armory, of the Christian. You think about the great warriors in our literature and in pop culture. What are they without their weapons? Can you imagine King Arthur without Excalibur, his sword? Can you imagine Zorro without his rapier, or a Jedi knight without a lightsaber? So might you imagine a Christian without a Bible.
The Bible is the supreme weapon that God has given to the Christian, the word of God. It is the one weapon that is both a defensive weapon and an offensive weapon, and it’s what we’re looking at this morning: the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, the sixth piece of armor in the Christian’s panoply given by God.
As we dig into the text this morning, we’re going to look especially at verse 17, but I just want to read verses 10 through 20 as we have each week. This is the next to the last message in this series, so we have one more next week, on prayer. So let’s read it, Ephesians 6, beginning in verse 10.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 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. 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, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
This is God’s word.
So, three things to look at this morning from the text. I, first of all, just want you to see that the word is a sword and how it is that the word of God is a sword; secondly, why it’s called the sword of the Spirit, and then thirdly (this will take up most of the message), how to take up the sword of the Spirit. How do we wield this sword? So I want to end on a very practical application for how to use our Bibles.
I. The Word Is a Sword
First of all, let’s just see that the word is a sword, and once again Paul is using here very vivid imagery as he’s thinking of the armor of a Roman soldier, and particularly the short sword of the Roman centurion. Centurions would often have both a long sword (a broadsword) and a short sword. The short sword was less than two feet long, something like 18 inches. It was quick, it was easy to wield, they held it at their sides. That’s the specific sword that Paul probably has in mind here, and he’s comparing the word of God to the sword. He calls it the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
So we need to consider, why is the word of God called a sword? I think one reason is because the word of God, like a sword, has a sharp, piercing, penetrating character. That’s its quality. You remember this parallel passage, Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joins and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The word of God is razor-sharp, and as a sharp, penetrating instrument, it is able to discern and to divide and to distinguish between good and evil, light and darkness, truth and error, wisdom and folly, the spirit and the flesh… The word of God does that.
In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, there’s a character named Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, and Mr. Valiant-for-Truth was a character who wielded well the sword of the word of God. He has a conversation with another character, Mr. Greatheart. Mr. Greatheart says, “Show me your sword!”
So Mr. Valiant-for-Truth pulls it out, and Greatheart says, “That’s a great Jerusalem blade.” Then Valiant-for-Truth goes on to describe the sword, and he uses this sentence; he says, “Its edges will never blunt. It will cut flesh, bones, soul, spirit, and all.”
That’s the character of the sword. It’s sharp, it’s penetrating. It’s the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
As I’ve already said, it’s given for both defense and for offense. So the sword is a defensive weapon. So with the sword we parry the sword-thrusts of the enemy, so it’s an important weapon, because it helps us defend ourselves against the enemy.
You remember Jesus in the wilderness of temptation (Matthew 4, Luke 4). You remember that Jesus goes into the wilderness, he’s filled with the Spirit, he’s anointed by the Spirit, and he’s [driven into the wilderness by the Spirit], and there he is tempted for 40 days, 40 nights by the devil. You remember that when Satan, the adversary, comes against him, do you remember how Jesus, who is the Son of God, who is the word of God incarnate, do you remember how Jesus fights the adversary? He fights the adversary with the Bible. He quotes from the Old Testament three times: “It is written,” “It is written,” “It is written.” Satan comes with a temptation, Jesus parries the thrust; he takes out his sword, he defends himself with the word of God.
Do you remember what the psalmist said in Psalm 119:11? He says, “Your word I have treasured up,” or stored up, “in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” It’s a defensive weapon, like a sword, and it helps protect us.
It’s also similar to the shield of faith, which we’ve already looked at. One of the things I noted about the shield of faith is that the shield protects the rest of the armor, right? Faith guards all of the other graces. That’s also true of the sword. The sword of the Spirit, the word of God, also protects everything else. As we wield this sword in our hands, it protects our sincerity and our holiness and our peace. It protects our righteousness, it protects our hope, the helmet of the hope of salvation we looked at last week. All of it is protected and defended by the word of God, by the Scriptures, and that’s why we need this sword so much in our lives.
And then, the thing other thing about the sword is it’s also an offensive weapon. It’s an offensive weapon. It’s used not only for defense, but it’s also used for attack. So the idea here is not only that we defend ourselves against the enemy, but that we advance against him, right? We resist him, we withstand him, we advance against him, so that, as James says, if you “resist the devil, he will flee from you.” We are meant to send the devil into retreat. We’re meant to deal with sin and evil and wickedness in our lives in such a way that it goes into retreat.
Here’s the image I have in mind. (I have to get a Lord of the Rings reference in here somewhere!) Do you remember the second film, or the second book, of The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers? You remember Helm’s Deep? That’s when you have all of these knights, you know, the riders of Rohan, and they’re holed up in this fortress, and they’re surrounded by 10,000 orcs, right? These 10,000 monsters that are coming against them. They’re besieging the city, and they’re fighting off these orcs, and there are scenes there where some of the main characters, you know, they’re dropping down to the bridge and they’re just hacking away at these orcs, and so on.
Now, you may not like fantasy and you may not like that movie, and that’s fine if you don’t, but get this image (here’s maybe one redeeming quality from the film, one of many, I think): you are surrounded by a horde of sin. You’re surrounded by monsters. You have orcs after you, you have giants of unbelief and doubt and despair, you have hobgoblins of lust and of anger and of greed…you have these monsters coming at you! You have Philistines and Amalekites and Goliaths surrounding you, and what you are called to is take the sword of the Spirit and hack and slice and thrust and pierce and run them through with the word of God. It’s an offensive weapon. We are meant to push the enemy into retreat, and we do it as we use this sword. The word is a sword.
II. The Word Is the Spirit’s Sword
But notice also, secondly, it’s also the Spirit’s sword. It’s the sword of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit’s sword. Now, why is it called the Spirit’s sword?
There’s an intimate connection between the word of God and the Spirit of God. Throughout church history people have been trying to divide the two. So you have cold, intellectual kinds of people that only care about doctrine and don’t rely on the Spirit, and you have warm and vibrant and sometimes heated-into-a-frenzy people that are all about the Spirit and they neglect the word. Neither one of those will do; we need the two together, the Spirit and the word together, minds fully engaged, hearts all in, relying on the truth as it is revealed in Scripture and relying, depending on the Holy Spirit himself.
Why? The sword is the Spirit’s sword, and it’s the Spirit’s sword because the Spirit forged this sword. The Spirit forged this sword. 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The Spirit breathing out the Scriptures, and the Scriptures are then “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”
2 Peter 1:21, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit authored this book! He forged this sword! We could say that the Spirit forged this sword from the pure, unalloyed metal of God’s own thoughts. He hammered this sword into shape, the arm of almighty power, wielding the hammer of providence on the anvil of human history.
With his might and with his power, the Spirit also wields this sword. He not only forged the sword, he wields the sword. He uses the sword. He employs the word of God to prick and to cut and to convict. Do you remember how Jesus said, “The Spirit, when he comes, will convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment”? Do you remember when Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 22? People were “cut to the heart” by the exposition and the application of God’s word. The Spirit uses this word. He uses this sword. He wields the sword.
He’s the one who gives the sword its keen edge. The Spirit is the one who makes it effective and who makes it powerful. The word pierces because it’s wielded by the Holy Spirit.
Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1 that “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” The Spirit and the word, coming together.
Then, here’s the other thing: the Spirit wields the word upon us and then through us, right? He uses it in us and through us. The Spirit uses the word to give us life. You remember how Scriptures tell us that we are born of the Spirit. To be born again, to be born from above, is to be born of the Spirit (John 3), but then when you read the letter of 1 Peter, Peter says that are born again by the word of God, the living and the enduring word of God. Why? Because the Spirit uses the word as the instrument to bring us to life.
We sang that song this morning - I just love this song, “Glorious Day.” Running out of the grave into the glorious light of God’s day. How did you come out of the grave? You came out of the grave because you heard the gospel, because you heard the word and you believed it. You believed it when the Spirit made it real to your heart.
So, new birth, the Spirit working in us through the word, and then our ongoing growth as Christians. He illumines our minds, our understandings. He’s the one that opens the eyes of our hearts so that we can see the glorious riches of God’s inheritance in the saints and the hope to which we have been called and the immeasurable power of God working in us who believe (read that great prayer in Ephesians 1), and the Spirit then uses the word for our sanctification.
Jesus says, “Father, sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth.” That was John 17. Paul says, 2 Thessalonians 2, that we are sanctified through the Spirit and the belief of the truth. So again you see word and Spirit coming together for our new birth, for our illumination, our regeneration, our sanctification. We grow in likeness to Christ through the application of the word of God in our lives.
So it’s the sword of the Spirit. We are entirely dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit for the word to be effective in our lives.
III. How Do We Take This Sword?
So then, number three, how do we take this sword? How do we take it up? You see it in the text in verse 17. Here’s the verb, “...and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.” So the verb is “take,” we’re taking the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and I just want to ask, how do you do that?
Maybe I should just also mention this: the word here, when it says “word of God,” it’s not the usual Greek word. It’s not logos of God, it’s the word rhema. The scholars debate this; sometimes these words are interchangeable. But there may be a slight nuance here that I think is important for us. A rhema is a spoken word; it’s a word that’s spoken, in the moment. So the idea here may be that the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, it’s the word actually in use by us in the moment.
If that’s the case, then the Bible is an armory of swords, and the idea is to use the whole treasury of God’s word, the whole armory of God’s word, so that we have swords ready for the moment. It’s still Scripture, but it’s Scripture in action, it’s Scripture applied, it’s Scripture on our mouths, on our lips. It’s Scripture as it is spoken in the moment of temptation that is the sword.
That’s what I want for you. I want you to be able to do that. I want you to not just have a Bible on your shelf and say, “Yes, I have the sword of the Spirit.” I want you to have a Bible in your head, in your brain, in you heart, on your mouth, on your lips, in the moment when you need it. That takes some spiritual disciplines.
So that’s what this message is about, okay? I’m going to give you ten things - we have, what, 20 minutes? - so, two minutes a point here. I want to give you ten things that you need to do, and you might think of it like this: if you want to have a double-handed grip on the sword, you want all ten fingers grasping, right? So I’m going to give you a ten-fingered grasp for the sword of the Spirit. This is how you take it up. Ten things, and I think every Christian needs every one of them, okay? This isn’t ten things, pick one; it’s ten things, do all of them.
(1) Number one: read the word. That’s pretty basic, isn’t it? Read the word! Yet I wonder how many of you read your Bibles this week. How many of you read your Bible every day this week? How many Christians have never read the Bible all the way through? Some of you have probably been Christians for ten years, 20 years, 30 years, and you’ve never read your Bible through.
You say, “Well, I don’t have time to read the Bible.” Did you know that, according to a Nielsen report, adults in the United States watch an average of five hours and four minutes of television per day, which amounts to slightly more than 77 days a year? Can you imagine? Some of you are probably doing that.
This is even worse: social media. American adults spend over 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading, or generally interacting with media. So I know, you know, you’re at work, but you’re still checking Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, or you’re engaged somehow. So it’s not constant, but engaged somehow, on average, American adults, it says, 11 hours a day.
Let’s say we beat the averages by 50 per cent. That’s still two-and-a-half hours a day on TV, it’s six hours, or five-and-a-half hours, engaged in social media. If you beat it by 25 per cent, you still have three hours a day! You have time to read your Bible!
Did you know that if you read your Bible eight to 12 minutes a day, you can read through the entire Bible in a year? You can read through the entire New Testament in just about 18 hours. If you’ve never read the Bible through, start there. Read your New Testament. You can read through the entire Bible in about 54 hours. You have time. Don’t say you don’t have time. Don’t lie to yourself, don’t lie to the Lord. You have time to read your Bible. If you’re not reading your Bible, you just don’t want to read your Bible, and if you don’t want to read your Bible something’s wrong with your heart.
Let me give you the best piece of advice I ever heard. I’m adapting this slightly from Stephen Olford. Dr. Stephen Olford was a great British preacher who lived in the United States the last several decades of his life, and I got to hear him in person. He’s one of the greatest preachers I ever heard.
I remember Olford talking about prayer and how his mentor, Graham Scroggie, said to him about prayer - he said, “Stephen, pray when you feel like it, pray when you don’t feel like it; pray until you do feel like it.” That’s good advice about prayer; it’s also good advice about the Bible. Read when you feel like it, read when you don’t feel like; Christian, read it until you do feel like it. Get a plan, and read your Bible. Every single one of us should be doing this with regularity.
(2) Number two: hear the word. Romans 10:17, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Luke 8:18, “Take heed how you hear.” Luke 11:28, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” We need to hear the word, not only read the word.
You remember how James says in James 1, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only,” but that implies, of course, that we’re also hearers of the word. We do need to hear the word. You need to listen to the word and hear the word, and you’re doing that right now. If you’re coming to church regularly, if you’re in some kind of interaction with other believers and you’re hearing the word read and studied and taught and preached and applied, you’re hearing the word.
I just think we need more of it. I think all of us need more of it. There was a time when Christians came to worship three times a week. You know, Spurgeon used to preach Sunday morning, Sunday night, Thursday night. Then there was a prayer meeting every week on Monday night. We’re so busy we don’t do that anymore today; we can’t even get people to come out for multiple services like that. I think there’s something wrong with our appetites. I think there’s something wrong with my appetite; I think I should want it more.
So I think all of us need work. We all need the Spirit to birth new hunger in us for the word of God. We need to hear the word, and we need to want it more than we’re getting it. We should be eager for Sunday to roll around, not because the preacher’s so great, but because we need the word. Whoever’s speaking, whatever church you’re part of, you should be hungry for the word and hearing the word. So read the word, number two, hear the word.
(3) Number three: believe the word. I put this third because you can’t really believe something until you know it. You have to read it in order to believe it, you have to hear it in order to believe it; but you do have to believe it, because if you hear it and you read it but you don’t believe it, it’s not going to do you any good!
Hebrews 4:2, speaking about the wilderness generation of the Israelites, says that the same gospel was preached to them, but it says “the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith by those who heard it.”
There is this amalgam that’s supposed to happen in your heart, where the word gets united with faith, and then it becomes effective for you. Now the word’s powerful, and it’s effective whether you believe it or not, but it’s not going to be effective in your life unless you believe it! So believe the word. Receive it with faith. Mix it with faith in your heart.
(4) Number four: memorize the word. I’ve already quoted Psalm 119:11, “Your word have I hidden,” or stored up, or treasured up - the idea is someone piling up spoils, treasures. “Your word have I hidden” where? “...in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Again, with memorizing Scripture, the problem is not ability, the problem is motivation. Anybody can memorize Scripture, alright? Even if you have short-term memory loss, you could still work at it. You could still work at it. Anybody can memorize Scripture. Children, of course, do amazing with this, and I’m thankful for a program like AWANA that’s helping kids to memorize Scripture and get the word into their hearts. There are other ways to go about it. The problem for us not ability, it’s motivation.
Let me ask you this (Don Whitney asked this in his great book on spiritual disciplines): how many verses do you think you could memorize if you were paid $1000 for each verse? I bet you could knock out ten or so, right? It’s motivation! But the word, hidden in your heart, is more valuable than money! It’s more valuable than money.
Read Psalm 119. Alright? Let me just assign this on the spot: everybody, this week, if you’re a member at Redeemer Church, the pastor says read Psalm 119 this week. Read it, all 176 verses. Read it in one sitting. Would you do that? That would be good for you, and that will help you and maybe just - if you have a cold heart towards the word, maybe that will just help you begin to thaw out towards the word and start to see the value of the word.
I love the example of Dawson Trotman of the Navigators, who was converted 1926. He’s the guy that started the Navigators ministry. As soon as he was saved, he started memorizing a verse every day. He was a truck driver for a lumber company, a lumber yard in Los Angeles, and every day he would pick a verse, and he would just work on that verse while he was driving! This is just an ordinary guy, okay? This isn’t highly educated, you know, Ph.D.; this is just an ordinary guy, he’s driving a truck, memorizing a verse a day; and in the first three years of his Christian life he memorized a thousand verses. What the Lord did with Dawson Trotman is just amazing.
John Piper says, “I don’t know of any strong Christians who don’t memorize Scriptures; I don’t know any weak ones who do.”
Now, you can memorize by either deliberately picking a verse and putting it away in memory, or you can memorize by so familiarizing yourself with repeated readings of Scripture that it just starts to stick. Either way is good. One way or the other, memorize Scriptures.
(5) And then number five: meditate on the word. We are to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night (Psalm 1), and the Hebrew word for meditate means to mutter. The idea is speaking to yourself, so it presupposes memorization, it presupposes you have it in your head and in your heart so that you can say it over and over again to yourself.
Meditation is a little bit more. It’s a little more than memorization. It’s going over the word. It’s thinking about the word. It’s thinking about the word with a view to application. It’s pushing the word deeper into our consciousness. It’s inscribing the word upon our souls, etching it into the clay tablet of our hearts. It’s burning it, emblazoning it into our memories, so that it begins to take effect.
The Puritan Thomas Watson said, “The reason we come away so cold from reading the word is because we do not warm ourselves at the fire of meditation.” We need to meditate on the word.
Here’s maybe the best word picture for meditation I’ve heard — this is also Don Whitney in his great book on spiritual disciplines — he says to think of a tea bag. Do you ever make your own tea? You have a cup of hot water, and you take a tea bag and you dip it in, right? One dip, that’s kind of like reading the word. The water turns a little bit brown, just one dip. Or hearing the word, you hear a sermon, it’s a little - you get just a little taste of tea, but it’s not much. It’s not much. But if you put the tea bag in or you put three or four tea bags in, you know, in a cup of hot water, and you just let it sit there for 30 minutes, then it begins to absorb the tea, right? Then you get the full flavor of the tea.
Whitney says that’s what meditation is. It’s getting that into our systems, so that our hearts and our minds begin to take on the flavor of God’s word. So, meditate on the word.
(6) Number six: study the word. 2 Timothy 2:15, “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.” We all need to learn how to rightly handle the word; to study the word, to interpret the word accurately. There is a place for systematic and in-depth Bible study. There’s also a place for devotional reading of Scripture, and I think we need both in our lives.
You know, there are two different kinds of people in the room right now. I am well aware of the diversity in our congregation. There are some of us who have an intellectual bent, and you love nothing more than to sit in front of an open Bible, and you want to dig into the text, and you want to debate the text, and you want to understand the Greek and the Hebrew and all of the nuances, and you want to chase out the cross-references, and you want to get the storyline… That’s awesome; keep doing that!
The rest of us need to do more of that. Okay? If you don’t have that bent, you need to invest in a concordance, you need to invest in a commentary, you need to study the Bible. Study it. Find something on your level, where you are, and study it, but go deeper. You need to understand more. You need to know it better than you do.
There are a lot of things in the Bible that are hard to understand, alright? In my Bible reading right now I’m reading Exodus and Job (those are the Old Testament readings). There’s tough stuff! I mean, the reading this morning on Exodus had all kinds of stuff about slavery. Really hard stuff to understand and apply, you know, in our modern context. What do you do with those things? Well, a commentary will help you a lot. It’ll help you understand the nuances of that culture and how this text applied to its original audience and how it’s transferable to us and what ways we are to apply it today. We need Bible study, because the Bible can be hard to understand. So study the Bible.
Let me give you a little word from Martin Luther. This is so good. Luther says, “I study my Bible the way I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree, that the ripest may fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I’ve shaken each limb I shake each branch and every twig, and then I look under every leaf.” That’s pretty good.
Just start with shaking the tree. Get the ripe fruit, alright? You may not understand everything in every text in every verse, but you can ask some big questions. “What does this say about the character of God? What does this say about human sin? How does this point me to Christ?”
And then you can dig a little deeper; you know, you can shake the branch. If you want to, you can go all the way down to looking under every leaf, you know, and you’re doing the word studies and those kinds of things. One way or the other, though, you need to get into the word, studying it.
(7) Then number seven: pray the word. Pray the word. Now, this is the opposite person. I said one kind of person is the intellectual, who loves to study. Sometimes intellectual folks (and I speak as one who’s kind of wired this way) - studies always come easy, prayer...not so much. It’s harder to pray.
But some of you are exactly the opposite. It’s easy for you to pray, but it’s hard for you to open your Bible. We need both, and I think the way we get both is to bring them together. Pray the Bible.
All I mean by that is that you read it and then you choose a verse or maybe a paragraph or a section of your reading and you pray it. You turn it into a prayer to the Lord. If it’s a command that God’s giving you, you pray for the grace to obey it. If it’s a promise, you claim that promise. If it’s something about God, you pray that God will make this part of his character begin to become real to you and to weigh upon your mind and your heart and your affections. Pray the word into your heart and life.
Just one more book recommendation: Don Whitney also wrote a great book called Praying the Bible. We maybe have copies on the book table; we certainly have in the past. That’s a wonderful book that’s short, and it will immeasurably enrich your life. Learn how to pray the Scriptures.
And notice what Paul says here. I don’t want to miss this. When he says, “Take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” that’s not the end of the sentence. It continues in verse 18. “Take...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times…” Okay, so that’s a participle that goes along with “take.” Take the word, praying as you take it. That’s the idea. So it’s right there in the text: pray the Bible.
(8) Number eight: worship according to the word. Jesus says (John 4:24), “Worship in spirit and truth.” Paul told Timothy (1 Timothy 4:13), “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”
Listen, brothers and sisters. There are negotiable things about worship, alright? We can negotiate music style, we can have variance in the way things look, the way things appear, and how people dress, and so on. There are some things that are not negotiable about worship, and the Bible’s one of them. No negotiation with the Bible.
Paul says, “Devote yourself to” this, to the public reading of Scripture. So there’s a reason for beginning worship with the word and ending worship with the word and including the word as we worship. We need to worship by the book, by this book! It needs to frame our worship, center our worship, so that everything in our worship has a firm anchor in the word of God, the centerpiece of our worship being the reading and the exposition and application of Scripture.
Everything else is up for grabs, it’s negotiable. We’ve figured that out according to audience and culture and demographics and all those kinds of things and the gifts of people; but the word of God, that’s not negotiable. Worship by the book.
(9) Number nine: apply the word. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” James 1:22. Apply the word.
Now, that could be a whole sermon, couldn’t it? In fact, it was. Go back a few months to the summer, our study through James, and you can hear a whole message on that. But just a word here: it’s not enough to know it, it has to be applied. It’s not enough to memorize and meditate and all these things; it also has to be obeyed.
To use the sword imagery, I think a lot of believers are like people who have a nice, shiny sword up on the shelf, right, or it’s on the wall. It’s mounted there, it’s on the wall, it’s beautiful to behold, they’re proud of this nice, expensive sword; but the sword never gets a bloodstain on it, because you never kill an enemy with it. You may have a nice, fat, you know, calfskin, full-grain leather Bible, but you’re not using it, you’re not applying it. You have to put the sword to use.
Other believers are like people who just go to a museum and just look at swords, right? “Look at that wonderful sword, back behind the glass case,” but you’ve never handled a sword for yourself! The only time you’re engaged with the word of God is when you come and somebody else tells you about it. You’re not doing anything with it yourself, you’re not reading the Bible for yourself.
And then there are a lot of people that are playing with swords, with play swords, fake swords. A wooden sword, a plastic sword. You’re trying to fight your battles with weapons that have not been given by God, they’re not divinely appointed. You’re using self-help literature and pop psychology. Psychology has its place; I understand that. I’m not trying to denigrate it. But listen; it’s no substitute for the Bible! It’s not going to help you deal with sin and change your heart. It’s not going to save you, it’s not going to give you eternal life. Don’t go to battle with a wooden sword, with a plastic sword. Use the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
(10) Number ten, finally: share the word with others. It should not only be in our minds and in our hands and in our hearts; it should be on our lips, in our mouths, so that we are sharing the word with others.
In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul tells Timothy that - he reminds him how from childhood he’d been “acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Do you remember who it was that had shared those Scriptures with Timothy? It was his mom and his grandma. Share the word. We start it in our own homes and our families, but then share the word with others.
This is the most important thing in evangelism, that we’re sharing the gospel, we’re sharing the word. Apologetics has its place, people skills, that’s important; there are lots of things about evangelism we have to learn, but the most important thing is the word, the power of the word.
One of my favorite stories is the story of Arthur Pink. Arthur Pink, when he was a young man (he was a famous Christian writer in 20th century) - when he was a young man, he was actually a theosophist. He wasn’t a Christian. His parents were Christians and were terribly grieved at Arthur, the direction he was going. He was very involved in these theosophy meetings with Madam Boussant, who was the founder of this movement, I believe. He was actually working, he was beginning to speak and take leadership in these meetings.
One night he comes home (he’s maybe in his early 20s), he’s preparing to give a lecture to the next theosophy meeting, and he’s going in his bedroom, and his dad just says this: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” Shuts the door.
He didn’t come out of his room for three days, because God took that word and began to pierce his heart, began to convict him, and he started to pray, and then he started to wrestle. For three days he wrestles with God, and he came out a new man. His dad said, “Praise God, my son is delivered!”
A.W. Pink was an interesting guy. He was kind of weird, actually, but I like him. He wrote some great stuff. He was a recluse by the end of his life, but he wrote some great stuff, and thousands of people have benefitted from the writings of A.W. Pink, and it all began with a word. Have you ever heard of anybody converted by that text before?
Listen: God can use his word! He can use Scripture! We just need to speak it and share it with others.
Alright, so those are the ten points. You might have to go through it again. If you want these on paper, if you want notes, you want the verses, all that, ask me; I’ll send you what I have. Ten ways for us to get a grip on the sword of the word.
I want to end in this way. I want to end with one more illustration from Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s one of my favorite passages in Bunyan’s great allegory. You remember the theme of the whole story is Christian, he’s on his journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. It’s a pilgrimage, it’s a dangerous journey. He’s meeting all kinds of obstacles along the way.
You remember several weeks ago, I told you when he came to House Beautiful, the Palace Beautiful, and the porter of that house was named Watchful, and he met with the porter’s daughters, and they showed him all these different trophies of war [with which] the Old Testament saints had won battles. Then they equipped him with the armor. They gave him the armor of God. They equipped him. Palace Beautiful’s the church, right, and they’re giving him the armor of God.
Then he goes, almost immediately, into the Valley of Humiliation, and in the Valley of Humiliation he meets this monster, Apollyon. Apollyon has —it’s Satan as the adversary—and he has this dragon-like form, he has wings, and so on. And they begin to fight. Apollyon sends a flaming arrow right at him, and then arrows, darts, thick as hail.
Bunyan says that Christian was wounded. He was wounded in his head, in his hand, and in his foot. The footnote tells us that that means he was wounded in his understanding, in his faith, and in his conversation, or his walk. So here’s Christian. He’s wounded in the battle, he’s wounded in temptation. It says that this “sore combat lasted for above half a day, even till Christian was almost quite spent.”
Then Apollyon sees his opportunity, and he comes with full force against Christian, and he begins wrestling with him, so that Christian falls to the ground and the sword flies out of his hand. You can almost visualize this battle. The adversary is about to strike, you know, the fatal blow, and at that moment Christian reaches out and he grabs the sword. This is what he says. I’m just going to read this part to you.
“While Apollyon was fetching of his last blow, thereby to make a full end of this good man, Christian nimbly stretched out his hand for his sword and caught it, saying, ‘Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy! When I fall, I shall arise!’ (Micah 7:8), and with that gave him a deadly thrust, which made him give back as one that had received his mortal wound. Christian, perceiving that, made at him again, saying, ‘Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us’ (Romans 8:37).”
Do you see what he’s doing? He’s using the Bible, he’s using the sword!
“And with that, Apollyon spread forth his dragon’s wings and sped him away, that Christian, for a season, saw him no more.”
Do you know how to do that? Do you know how to use the sword of the Spirit when you’re in battle? Do you know how to use the sword of the Spirit when you’ve been defeated in battle? I find that scene encouraging, because here’s Christian, he’s wounded! Sometimes I come out wounded in battle. Sometimes I lose battles. I lose battles, and then I’m dealing with a new problem, you know? It was a pretty simple battle, and I lose that one, and then I’m dealing with another one. I’m dealing now with discouragement, dealing with these guilty feelings and feeling alienated from God. This helps. It helps me because it shows me that here’s a Christian, when he’s down on the ground, when the sword’s been out of his hand, when he’s wounded in his understanding, his mind, and in his faith, in his walk; he hasn’t won the battle so far. He’s at the moment of defeat, yet even in that moment he can take the sword of the Spirit, he can take the word of God, and he can claim this promise, “Rejoice not over me, mine enemy! When I fall, I will arise again.”
Now listen, I know that you’re not winning all the battles, at least I think you’re not. If you’re like me, you’re not winning every battle. You’re winning some and you’re losing some. Listen: if you’ve lost some recent battles, don’t stay down! Get your Bible, get your sword, claim a promise. Pray it back to the Lord. Repent, return to him. Use the sword of the Spirit against discouragement.
Brothers and sisters, we need two things, don’t we? We need the word, and we need the Spirit. We get it when we put them together and we wield the sword that is forged and given its keen edge by the Holy Spirit of God when we wield the word of God, the sword of the Spirit. I pray that you’ll do that. Let’s pray together.
Lord, we need you. We need your word, we need the gospel, we need hope, we need grace, and we need forgiveness. We need assurance, we need strength for the battle. We need Scripture in our minds and in our hearts, helping us in the heat of the moment, the heat of temptation. We need encouragement when we fail and when we fall. We need the assurance of your grace that continues to pardon and forgive and to invite us back into your presence and into your fellowship.
Most of all, we need Jesus himself. We need the word made flesh. Lord, when we come to the table, this is what is displayed for us. We see in the elements Jesus, crucified for our sins. So I pray, Lord, that both in response to what we’ve just learned together and in preparation for the meal that we will now take together, I pray that you would help us feel vividly and powerfully the reality of our need for you, help us honestly confess that to you, and then give us eyes of faith to look to Jesus and see the all-sufficiency of his work on our behalf.
Lord, I pray for those who do not know Christ, that in these moments you would give the divine gifts, faith and repentance, and that you would draw them to the Savior. So be with us, Lord, we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.