January 23, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV)
It’s curious that Ephesians 6 does not obviously instruct us to fight with the divine armor we have put on. Nowhere in this passage do we read, “Now go and slay the dragons of unbelief.” Rather, we are to put on the armor in order to stand (Ephesians 6:13-14). Some biblical interpreters believe this means our responsibility in spiritual warfare is simply to resist attack, not to fight offensively. But this interpretation is inconsistent with the Old Testament image of God as a warrior who dons his armor in order to fight. Thus, we wonder: If we are wearing God’s armor, shouldn’t we also join God in God’s battle? Do we ever get to play offense? Or are we consigned only to defense?
The final piece of the divine armor in Ephesians 6 helps us see how we might do more than simply stand in our spiritual battle. We are told to take up “the sword of the Spirit, which is the [rhēma] word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). Now, when we hear the phrase “word of God,” we naturally think that it must symbolize the Bible. No doubt there is a close relationship between the sword/word of Ephesians 6:17 and Scripture, but this is not what Paul means in Ephesians 6:17. For one thing, the Bible as we know it didn’t even exist in his day. Moreover, earlier in Ephesians Paul identifies the “message [logos] of truth” with “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). So, in speaking of the “word of God” in 6:17, Paul is pointing to the proclamation of God’s work in Christ, something closely related to the truth that is buckled around our waist, the faith that protects us from demonic attack, and the gospel of salvation we wear as a helmet.
The good news of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, with all that it entails, is the most effective offensive weapon in our spiritual arsenal. The Greek word translated as “sword” is machaira, which was the smaller of two blades carried by Roman soldiers. The machaira functioned both defensively and offensively, especially in hand-to-hand combat. So the “sword of the Spirit,” the proclamation of the gospel, enables us to engage in spiritual warfare by defending against spiritual attack and by claiming new territory for the Lord.
In plain prose, we do this by telling the truth about what God has done in Christ to those who are unfamiliar with it. It’s important to remember that the sword imagery in Ephesians 6 does not encourage us to attack people with the gospel. We are to share the good news in a way that is respectful and kind. This is one way in which we are to be “speaking the truth in love,” an activity that is central to the growth of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Of course, our goal in wielding the sword of the Spirit is ironically the opposite of the goal of an actual soldier. In literal battle, the soldier seeks to take life. In spiritual battle, we seek to give life. With the sword of the Spirit we bring the good news that those who are already dead can be made alive through Christ. We offer the hope, not just of salvation in the future but of a whole new way of living in the present.
Something to Think About:
How do you feel about sharing the gospel with others?
Do you know people who are able to share the good news in a respectful, winsome, humble way? Are you one of these people? Why or why not?
Something to Do:
In prayer, ask the Lord to give you an opportunity to share a bit of the good news with someone who needs it. Then, be attentive as the Spirit makes this possible.
Gracious God, how I thank you for those who shared the gospel with me. I thank you for their frankness and compassion. They wielded “the sword of the Spirit” with skill and love.
Help me, I pray, to do similarly. May I be both bold and humble, forthright and open, confident and trusting as I share your good news with others.
And, Lord, may my life be a faithful witness to the gospel. May people see in me how I live the good news of your grace in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
The Sword of the Lord
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Thank you. Just wondering…perhaps the sword or the spirit can also mean that we Christians can also go and share the gospel to those whom the Spirit leads us to. That we do not just share hap-hazzardly but rather, as the Spirit leads and guides. That the Spirit does battle in the heavenly realm for the individual’s soul as we in the physical realm share and love.