The Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)
Big Idea: The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan, so let’s use it.
If you’ve watched The Princess Bride — and I hope you have — you would remember the scene called “the greatest swordfight in modern times.” It’s an epic scene that takes only a few minutes to watch, but months of work to produce.
The author, William Goldman, spent months researching sword fighting, and referred to specific defenses and styles based on 16th
century books. Cary Elwes, the actor who played Westley, had taken some minor fencing lessons at acting school, but they had told him that he was hopeless, and that it was something that he couldn’t learn. “I wasn’t just a novice,” he writes. “I was clueless.”
When he began training for the movie, he thought, “How hard could it really be?…It didn’t seem all that difficult. A few quick thrusts, some fancy footwork. More like dancing than combat.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. He began training with people renowned for sword-training. He trained eight hours a day, five days a week. The actor who played Westley writes:
Even though I had the finest teachers in the world, and a costar whose unwavering commitment pushed me to a level I thought unattainable, I began to realize that the art of fencing is exponentially more difficult to master than it appears to be. And if you are completely new to this, even if you’re training several hours a day to achieve at least the appearance of proficiency, it’s almost impossible. I don’t care if you are the fittest guy on the planet with the dexterity of Yoda.
I may be many things, but I am certainly not a quitter. So I kept going to the studio, day after day, and thankfully, after a while things began to get a little easier. Slowly but surely, my muscles adjusted to the tasks expected of them. Inadequacy began to give way to competency…We’d train and train, learning one sequence at a time. They’d teach us the first five moves, then add another five moves, and then another set…and so on and so forth, until we finally had the basic outline of the whole fight.
Finally, after months of practice, they began filming. They originally hoped to film the swordfight in a day, but filming stretched out to almost a week. The result, though, was great.
Here’s what I learned from the swordfight in The Princess Bride: It takes months to even know how to describe a good swordfight. Sword fighting looks easy, but is anything but. It takes rigorous discipline and hard work. And that’s not even for a real swordfight. That’s just for a movie. The same is true as we look at today’s topic, the sword of the Spirit. It looks easy, but it’s not. It will take rigorous discipline and hard work. But it’s absolutely essential.
We’re coming near the end of a series called Stand. The premise of the series is that we’re in a fight. Ephesians 6:12 says:
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. (Ephesians 6:12)
But here’s the good news: God has given us armor that we can use in this battle, and if we use this armor, we will be able to take our stand in the battle. Paul writes:
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. (Ephesians 6:13)
Today we’re beginning a short series called #TheGreatestBook, along with dozens of other churches in our Fellowship across the country. Today I want to look at a piece of armor God has given us. It’s essential for us to use it if we want to stand. It’s the sword. Paul tells us to take “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
There were two types of swords that soldiers would have used in Paul’s day. One was the long broadsword. That’s not what Paul refers to in this passage. He refers to the other type of sword that every infantryman would have carried: a short, double-edged dagger or short sword, no more than a foot or two long. It would have been used in close combat.
Paul doesn’t leave us guessing what the sword refers to. He calls it the sword of (supplied by) the Spirit. It is the word of God. The word that Paul uses for “word” isn’t the normal one that you’d expect. It’s not logos, for the written word of God. It’s rhema, for the spoken word of God. It probably refers to taking and speaking a particular passage of Scripture — not so much Scripture as a category, but a particular, specific portion of God’s Word. It’s not the Bible in abstract; it’s the Bible as it’s used and proclaimed. Paul wants us to know and use Scripture in our fight against Satan.
So I want to look at this today. I want to look at the sword: the word of God. Then I want to ask how we can use it, both defensively and offensively.
First: let’s look at the weapon, the word of God.
This is important. Before we use the weapon, we need to look at the weapon and understand it. It reminds me of Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, who once held up a football on the first day of training camp. “Gentlemen,” he said, holding a pigskin in his right hand, “this is a football.”
So let’s talk about the Bible, the word of God.
It’s completely unique. Amazon sells over three million books, with a new one added every five minutes. According to Google, nearly 130 million books have been published. But the Bible is completely unique. There’s no other book like it. It’s actually not a single book but 66 books, written over a period of 1,500 years, with 40 different authors. And yet it forms a unified whole.
There are some things that really set the Bible apart, such as its:
Authorship — I mentioned that the Bible was written by 40 different authors. It reflects their personalities and styles. And yet Scripture is also the word of God himself, so that “the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own” (Wayne Grudem). This is so much so that Jesus spoke highly of Scripture as being God’s word. He said:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-19)
In John 10:35, Jesus said, “Scripture cannot be broken.”
2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” 2 Peter 1:20-21 says:
…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
What does this mean? It means that the Bible is God’s very word to us. That makes it like any other book.
Authority — It also means that the word of God has authority. It means that when we open the Bible, we’re not just reading a human book. His word is powerful and authoritative. It means, as our statement of faith says, that “the Scriptures serve as our final authority of faith and practice.” It means that we yield to Scripture, rather than expecting Scripture to yield to us. You may have heard of the two battleships assigned to trainmen exercises. The captain noticed a light, and that his ship was on a collision course with that other ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, “Signal that ship: ‘We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’“
Back came the signal, “Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”
The captain said, “Send: “I’m a captain, change course twenty degrees.’“
“I’m a seaman second-class,” came the reply. “You had better change course twenty degrees.”
By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, “Send: ‘I’m a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’”
Back came the flashing light, “I’m a lighthouse.”
The captain changed course.
The Word of God is like that. We don’t ask it to change course; we change the course of our lives according to its authority, or else we get into trouble.
Sufficiency — Not only is the Bible authored by God, and authoritative, but it’s also sufficient. By that I mean that it has all the words of God that we need. We don’t have to look for more revelation; we have everything here that we need for salvation, trust, and obedience 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
All of this leads to a major practical implication:
Priority — When we see the authorship, authority, and sufficiency of God’s word, it leads to one major implication. It means that God’s word has priority in our lives and in this church. It means that we see God’s word as the source of life and health, individually and as a church. According to a Canadian study, only one in five Christians reflect on the meaning of the Bible for their lives a few times a week. If this is really God’s authoritative and sufficient word to us, then that’s crazy. We need to be in this book all the time. Many churches and preachers use this book, but sometimes use it as a platform to get to their own thoughts and agendas. Again, that’s crazy. We need to commit to listening to God’s word, letting it set the agenda, and allowing it to shape our lives.
The health and growth of the church depends on the hearing, reading, and expounding of God’s Word. It’s central to what we do as a church. The New City Catechism says:
How is the Word of God to be read and heard?
With diligence, preparation, and prayer; so that we may accept it with faith, store it in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
Friends, that’s why the Word of God is so important, and different from every other book that’s been written.
I was reading a book by Rosaria Butterfield recently. Butterfield was a professor in a New York university who wanted nothing to do with Scripture. She began reading it, and as she did she found herself challenged.
I started…reading the Bible in earnest, with pen in hand and notebook in lap. I read the way a glutton devours…I started to read the Bible the way that I was trained to read a book, examining its textual authority, authorship, canonicity, and internal hermeneutics…I read the Bible like that the first year, arguing with its gender politics and its statements about slavery. But I kept reading it. Slowly and over time, the Bible started to take on a life and meaning that startled me. Some of my well-worn paradigms no longer stuck. As I studied the Bible, I found answers to my initial accusations. I delved into its canonicity, its hermeneutics, and its opposing theological approaches. My PhD training ably prepared me to know what a book says, to assess the integrity of its textual history and canonicity, and to make a call about its authority. God used this singular nerdy skill in the most important book study of my life.
The Bible simultaneously encouraged and enraged me….
After years and years of this, something happened. The Bible got to be bigger inside me than I. It overflowed into my world. I fought against it with all my might…
I had read the Bible many times through, and I saw for myself that it had a holy Author; I saw for myself that it was a canonized collection of sixty-six books with a unified biblical revelation.
And one day:
My hands let go of the wheel of self-invention. I came to Jesus alone, open-handed, and naked. I had no dignity upon which to stand. As an advocate for peace and social justice, I thought that I was on the side of kindness, integrity, and care. It was thus a crushing revelation to discover that it was Jesus I had been persecuting the whole time—not just some historical figure named Jesus, but my Jesus, my Prophet, my Priest, my King, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Friend. That Jesus. (Openness Unhindered)
What I love about her story is that she came to the Bible with all of her doubts, arguments, and assumptions. She wrestled with Scripture. But as she did so, she gradually discovered that the Bible is like no other book. The Bible began to take on a coherence and life that was greater than her life. She fought, but Scripture overpowered her. With all of her education, brilliance, and strength, she was no match for the power of Scripture.
What I love most about her story is that her wrestling with Scripture brought her to Jesus. The Bible is not just a book; it’s a book that leads us to a person. It’s a book that leads us to Jesus. Not just a historical person, either, but Jesus. Our Jesus. Prophet, Priest, King, Savior, Redeemer, Friend.
That’s why we have the Bible. That’s why it’s unlike any other book that has ever been written. It’s why Paul says it’s essential in our spiritual warfare. We can’t go into war without it. Get rid of every other book, but never get rid of the Bible. I love how Charles Spurgeon put it:
All other books might be heaped together in one pile and burned with less loss to the world than would be occasioned by the obliteration of a single page of the sacred volume [Scripture]. At their best, all other books are but as gold leaf, requiring acres to find one ounce of the precious metal. But the Bible is solid gold. It contains blocks of gold, mines, and whole caverns of priceless treasure. In the mental wealth of the wisest men there are no jewels like the truths of revelation. The thoughts of men are vanity, low, and groveling at their best. but he who has given us this book has said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let it be to you and to me a settled matter that the word of the Lord shall be honored in our minds and enshrined in our hearts. Let others speak as they may. We could sooner part with all that is sublime and beautiful, or cheering and profitable, in human literature than lose a single syllable from the mouth of God.
Before we move on and look at how to use Scripture, I want to pause and make two applications.
First: I want to encourage you to do what Rosaria Butterfield did. If you are here today and skeptical about Scripture, then begin to read it. Wrestle with it. Understand it. Don’t be someone who opposes Scripture without having ever wrestled with Scripture. Come to it, and begin to allow it to speak on its own terms. Begin to read it and understand it. It is unlike any other book that you will ever read.
Second: As a church, we want to make a big deal about Scripture. God’s word is the source of life and health for our church. We need to be in the Word, here on Sundays, in our Grace Groups, and also in our individual lives. I want to ask you to do one thing. Bring your Bibles with you to church, either on your phones or tablets, or even on paper. The reason why is that we want to recognize that the preacher has no authority apart from the word of God. One of the ways we can show that is by opening our Bibles — apps or paper — and make sure that everything is rooted in explaining and applying God’s word. It’s a visible statement that we take the Bible very seriously.
The word of God is unique. It’s unlike anything else. Wrestle with it. Take it seriously.
But it’s not enough to just understand what the Bible is. Paul tells us to take it up as a sword. We need to take it up as a weapon. So for the rest of this morning, I want to look at how we can use Scripture. I want to talk about how we can use this sword, both defensively and offensively.
Second: Let’s look at how to use it.
I want to get very practical here and give you some ways that you can use the word of God in your life both defensively and offensively. You can use it both to ward off Satan’s attacks against you, and to also go on the attack against him.
We have to use it defensively, because Satan will come against us with lies. Jesus called Satan a liar and a murderer:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44)
One of Satan’s greatest tactics against us is the use of lies, which is why the truth of Scripture is such an effective defensive weapon. He is a master strategist who uses lies and half-truths. He wants to attack and destroy our faith. He constantly calls into question everything that God says is true. We need the Scriptures if we are to win this fight. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “We are not to fight the devil in our own strength or power, or with our own ideas; we are to fight him with this Word that the very Spirit of God Himself has produced…When you consider the strength and the power of the enemy that is against us you will see the importance of realizing the strength and the power of this particular weapon.”
How do we use it defensively? One of the greatest examples of this is what Jesus did when he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. As Satan tempted him over and over, Jesus responded with God’s word. “It is written,” Jesus said. He was able to quote exact selections of Scripture that applied to the lies that Satan used. Here is Jesus, the Son of God, the almighty God, wielding the sword of the Spirit to resist Satan. He didn’t use Scripture as a concept or category. He used particular Scriptures. He had them ready. He knew how to use them. If Jesus used the word of God like this, how much more do we need to rely on Scripture and use it against Satan’s attacks?
But we can also use it offensively. Every time we open the word of God as a church, and every time we take the gospel to an unbeliever, we are going on the offense against Satan and his reign of terror. When we sing the word of God in our worship, we’re going on the offense against Satan. I love what John Piper writes: “Spiritual worship and spiritual warfare should be carried out with singing…Satan cannot bear the singing of the saints. You can drive him away with song.” He quotes Amy Carmichael, who said, “I believe truly that Satan cannot endure it and so slips out of the room—more or less—when there is a true song.”
The word of God has power. Use it in your life. Donald Whitney, who has written a lot on the spiritual disciplines we need to grow, says this:
No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There simply is no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learn how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how God wants us to live, and what brings the most joy and satisfaction in life. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be godly, we must know the Word of God — intimately.
Here are some practical things you can do:
Read it. One of the most important things you can do is simply to regularly read the Bible for yourself. We have so many printed Bibles and electronic options with amazing reading plans of every kind. We live in a golden age of Bible resources. The greatest advice I can give you is to read it regularly and systematically. In other words, don’t just pick it up and randomly open to whatever passage of Scripture you happen to find it. Read it, even a small amount at a time, and absorb it into your life. Make it your aim to read it from cover to cover, even the more difficult parts. It’s a great way of getting God’s word into your heart and mind. It’s something I try to do every day, over and over again.
Meditate on it. Don’t just speed read. That is good and important, but we also need to slow down and chew on Scriptures. Spurgeon says:
A man who wants to see a country, must not hurry through it by express train, but he must stop in the towns and villages, and see what is to be seen. He will know more about the land and its people if he walks the highways, climbs the mountains, stays in the homes, and visits the workshops; than if he does so many miles in the day, and hurries through picture galleries as if death were pursuing him. Don’t hurry through Scripture, but pause for the Lord to speak to you. Oh, for more meditation!
He compares it to a dog chewing on a bone. A dog will take a bone and work that until every morsel of meat has been worked off the bone, and then work on it some more. Do this with Scripture. Take it. Chew on it. Work every scrap of meat off the bone.
Memorize it. This is another way of meditating on Scripture and internalizing it. It helps to shape our minds. It prepares us for the day that we need God’s truth, when we need to recall what God has said in the middle of counseling someone else or fighting sin. Somebody has compared it to making a deposit to an account for tomorrow, while using it as an asset for today at the same time. If you learn a verse a week, it adds up quickly.
Pray it. Use the Bible in your prayers. Use words that originated in the mind of God; circulate them through your heart and mind back to God. Allow his words to shape your heart and mind in prayer.
Consult it. A few years I wrote a post called “Do not put the Bibles away.” I thought of it again as I prepared this sermon. My point was that we open our Bibles for sermons and small groups, but put them away the rest of the time. What if we had our Bibles open during business meetings, during counseling sessions, and throughout the week? What if we were always dipping into Scripture and how it applies to every situation that we face?
The bottom line is this: Open your Bibles Get to know your Bibles. Master your Bible, and let it master you.
The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan, so let’s use it.
I began the sermon by talking about “the greatest sword fight in modern times” from the movie The Princess Bride. But the greatest sword fight in modern times is not one from any movie. It’s the fight that occurs when we take up the word of God and use it defensively and offensively in our lives. It’s a fight in which we not only learn the content of Scripture, but come face to face with Jesus and what he has done for us. Reading Scripture brings us before the throne of the one who lived and died for us, and sits at the right hand of God. It brings us face to face with our Savior.
A couple of years ago, Monty Williams was fired as the head coach of the New Orleans Pelicans two weeks after his team was eliminated from the NBA playoffs. Reporters asked him about the firing, and he replied:
God has always been in control of my life. . . . Romans 8:28 is in my heart. All things work out for people who are called by Jesus Christ. . . . God’s brought me through too much to complain and be bitter.
A bit later, his wife and three of his children were in a head-on collision with a car that crossed the center line and hit their SUV. Tragically, his 44-year-old wife was killed.
At the funeral, he asked for prayer not only for his family, but of the family of the driver who hit his wife’s car. He said:
What we’ve gone through is pretty tough, and it’s hard, and we want an answer, and we don’t always get that answer when we want it, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that God loves us, and that’s what my wife [lived to], and that’s what I try to, however badly, exhibit on a daily basis. . . . He loved me so much that he sent his Son to die for my sins…
The Bible says Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. America teaches us to numb that, and [says] that it’s not true. But it is true. This will work out. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard or painful. What we need is the Lord.
Reflecting on this, someone said:
This man appears to have walked with God such that when his wife was suddenly ripped away, he had the resources not only to suffer well, but to summon the world to his Savior. His grief doesn’t resound with self-pity or bitterness, but with strong and resilient hope and selfless compassion.
As he clings to his God and to the gospel, his loss declares and displays the power and the beauty of the cross.
When going through the toughest experience of his life, Monty Williams used the sword of the Spirit, the word of God. It gave him the resources to suffer well, to repel the attacks of the evil one, and to draw near to his Savior.
Let’s do the same. That’s the greatest sword fight in modern times. The Word of God is a sufficient and effective weapon against Satan. Let’s use it.