“And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). What is the significance of a weapon being listed in the armor of God?
The first five elements of the Christian armor are defensive pieces—armament the Christian can use to defend against spiritual attack. Why would an offensive weapon be listed with the other pieces of armor? What use should a Christian make of it?
The Roman sword
The sword used by Roman soldiers was known as a gladius; and in the hands of a skilled man, it was a fearsome weapon. In fact, it became known as “the sword that conquered the world.” It was sharpened on both sides, making it lethal against an unarmored foe. The point was also sharpened, enabling it to pierce armor.
An infantryman in the Roman legions would also go into battle with a dagger, a few spears and possibly a few darts. But the gladius was the only offensive weapon listed by Paul, and it was the main weapon in the soldier’s arsenal.
The sword is the Word
Paul defines the sword of the Spirit as the “word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). This isn’t the only place where God’s Word (the Bible) is described as a sword. The author of Hebrews also makes reference to it: “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. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
The Word of God is even sharper than the gladius! It is capable of piercing to the deepest levels of one’s heart and attitude, and it is also a tool of discernment in the hands of the skilled user.
This gives rise to two questions:
1. Is the sword of the Spirit only for use as an offensive weapon?
2. Who or what is the foe against which the sword is to be used?
The sword is also for defense
While the gladius was the primary offensive weapon available to a legionnaire, it was also invaluable for defense, being used to parry and deflect attacks by an opponent. So also is the Word of God valuable in defending against spiritual attack.
Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated how valuable it is to be grounded in the words of the Bible when He was attacked by Satan during a time of extreme physical weakness due to His fasting.
Notice the example in Matthew 4:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread’” (verses 1-3).
Satan knew full well that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but he prefaces each of his attacks by saying, “If You are the Son of God” (emphasis added throughout). He wanted to pull Christ away from His dependence upon the Father and the realization that He was there to do the Father’s will. Each time Jesus used the Scriptures to defend against and refute Satan’s ploys.
“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”’” (verse 4). This is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, and it shows where Jesus Christ’s priorities truly were.
Satan continued the attack: “Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give the angels charge over you,” and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone”’” (verses 5-6).
This is an incomplete quote from Psalm 91:11-12. Satan leaves out a very important thought. Here’s verse 11 with the missing part in italics: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). The idea being conveyed is that God will send angels for protection when it’s needed, not that you should throw yourself from great heights just to see if God will save you.
Jesus saw through this tactic and answered Satan: “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God’” (Matthew 4:7; quoted from Deuteronomy 6:16).
Satan made one final attempt: “Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me’” (Matthew 4:8-9). Satan places all the cards on the table. The point of all these attacks was to have Jesus worship Satan instead of God. Again, the final answer in the next verse comes from Scripture:
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve”’” (verse 10; quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13).
This was the end (on this occasion) of Satan’s efforts to unseat Christ as the ruler of the world to come. In each case, Jesus skillfully used a thorough knowledge of the Scripture to parry and deflect the attacks.
What a masterful example of how to use the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God!
Who is the enemy?
We have seen, from the example of Jesus Christ, that the enemy of the Christian is Satan the devil, as he tries to separate us from our God (see also 1 Peter 5:8-9).
A more refined question might be: What do we attack with the sword? How is it used as an offensive weapon?
The apostle Paul used a military analogy when he talked about the Christian fight. He described thoughts and attitudes that we must defeat, just as a soldier would use his weapons to defeat the enemy.
We are to use the Word of God to discern those thoughts and attitudes that are contrary to God’s way and use that sword to bring those attitudes and thoughts into captivity. That is the Christian battle, and that is how we use the offensive weapon in our armor.“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
We are to use the Word of God to discern those thoughts and attitudes that are contrary to God’s way and use that sword to bring those attitudes and thoughts into captivity. That is the Christian battle, and that is how we use the offensive weapon in our armor.
Training is needed!
Roman soldiers could not be sent into battle without having extensive training in the use of the gladius. They were first trained using shields made of wicker and swords made of wood. These items were typically about twice the weight of the normal swords and shields. The thought was that if the trainee could use these heavier items skillfully, he would be at an advantage when using the real weapons, which were much lighter by comparison.
After training extensively with the wooden weapons, the soldiers were then paired against each other for further training in combat techniques and moves. The importance of the training was reflected in the food rations given by the Romans. Instructors often received double rations. Trainees who didn’t achieve desired levels of skill were given inferior rations until their training evaluations improved.
As Christians, we also must train and be skillful in the use of the sword. The author of Hebrews tells us that we must become gradually more knowledgeable and skilled in the Word of God, until we are able to use it to discern good from evil.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:12-14).
This level of skill—this proficiency with the Word of God—comes by “reason of use.” We have to be familiar with the Bible, and we must have our spiritual senses sharpened by it in order to make full use of this piece of armament God has given us!
The sword and you!
The desire to become knowledgeable in God’s Word—skilled in the use of the sword—has to come from within. Do you see how valuable it is, and do you desire to have a high level of skill?
Notice the attitude shown by the psalmist when it came to God’s Word:
“I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Your word. I have not departed from Your judgments, for You Yourself have taught me. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:101-104).
This is the attitude and approach to God’s Word that can make a skilled spiritual warrior. The training and skill levels are up to you!
For further helpful information on this topic, read the article “Don’t Be Ignorant of Satan’s Devices” and the articles in our section on “The Practical and Priceless Benefits of Bible Study.”