Spiritual Warfare: The Armor of God: The Sword of the Spirit - John 1:1, 14; 3:16-17
Excalibur…when I think of famous swords, Excalibur is one of three that immediately come to mind. How many of you know of the legend of Excalibur? It was the sword, sunk deep in a stone, that waited for the rightful king to draw it forth. One of the others I think of is Sting. Anyone know where to find Sting? It is an Elven blade found in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings wielded first by Bilbo and then by Frodo.
We are to put on the Belt of Truth, reminding us to wrap Christ about ourselves before we do anything else, so that when we fail to know what we should be doing, we let the words and actions of Jesus lead us.
We are to put on the Breastplate of Righteousness, reminding us that our righteousness is not our own, we are seen as righteous through the blood of Christ and we are made righteous through the work of the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit, at work within us. We are also reminded that we are to be about the work of God’s righteous justice in the world, restoring creation.
We are to put on Footwear for spreading the Gospel of Peace, reminding us that we are to, in whatever form God has gifted us with, to proclaim that Christ has brought us peace with God, peace with one another, peace in the midst of the storms of life, and that we are to be peacemakers in this violent world.
We are to take up the Shield of Faith, reminding us that as the enemy lauches flaming arrows to trying cause us to run from our faith, we hold tightly to that faith, and to one another, remembering that God loves us enough to accept us as we are, God has forgiven us of our sins, that nothing in all of creation can separates us from God, that God’s promises are always true, and that among those promises is the promise that God will never leave us alone.
We are to receive and wear the Helmet of Salvation, reminding us that our salvation comes from God as a free gift and that there is nothing that we can do to earn that salvation…we are also to remember that alongside the free gift of Salvation is the reminder that having been loved and accepted by God as we are, we are called to allow our lives to be transformed…transformed into the very image of the One who has brought us Salvation.
Today we come to the final piece of the armor of God. The third of the famous swords that I usually think of, the Sword of the Spirit. Some of us may be thinking, “FINALLY, all we have talked about were protective pieces of armor, now we are finally getting to the weapons…I would have preferred a Glock, but I can deal with a sword…I can bash a few heads and slice and dice with a sword.” Ah…NO! Just in case some folks were as excited about that sword as some of us may have been after dealing with belts, breastplates, shoes, shields, and helmets, Paul quickly notes what this sword is—the Sword of the Spirit is not some shiny blade, but it is, Paul tells us, the Word of God.
The sword is the Word of God…it is not meant to be wielded in the same way that King Arthur, Aragorn, or Captain Jack Sparrow wield theirs in an attempt to wound, maim, or kill the enemy. Sadly, too many Christians don’t get this. They pick up this sword and bash folks over the head with it—they pull it out and rather than it becoming hope and life, the use it as a word of condemnation and death. They will take it and say:
“You deserve to die for your sin, right now, the Good Book says so right here in Exodus, ‘You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you; everyone who profanes it shall be put to death….’”
“The Bible says you are an abomination in the sight of God and he hates you for looking down on others as less than you…Proverbs 6 says it clearly, ‘There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood….”
“And you, you’re going to burn because in Revelation the Bible clearly states that ‘all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur….’”
My brothers and sisters, that is not why we have been given the gift of the Word of God. John tells us, of his Gospel, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believe you may have life in his name.”
John offers us an even better way to know how the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, is to be used. All we have to do is go to the beginning of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us…For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
That’s the thing about this Sword, my brothers and sisters, the Sword of the Spirit, it is not a Sword used to take life, but a sword used to give life. It is the antithesis of what the world thinks of when we typically think of swords. How are we to understand this sword? We have only to look at Jesus.
How did Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, use the Sword of the Spirit?
Consider the story of Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. The enemy attacked three times, each attack coming as a temptation to Jesus. Jesus used the sword of the Spirit to parry each attack:
“It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the moth of God.”
“Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
“Away with you, Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
How do we wield this sword like that, able to block and deflect the attacks of the enemy? We do it the way every good sword master becomes good at handling the sword, by training with it. In Pirates of the Caribbean, Will Turner, blacksmith and maker of swords, points out that he not only makes the swords, but he trains with them three hours a day. To become proficient in wielding this sword, we need to spend regular time training with it. That means that we don’t let this sword sit on a coffee table in our living room gathering dust, but that we must pick it up and spend time training with it—in daily reading by ourselves and in gatherings with other believers, whether it be Sunday School, Bible Study, or some other small group where we consider its setting and wrestle with its meaning together. We read commentaries and other works reflecting on it, and we hear it proclaimed. We spend so much time with it, like a sword master, it becomes part of us, our use of it becomes part of who we are.
Armed with this sword we will enter the world not to bash folks over the head with it, but to offer healing, help, love, life, and proclaiming the Gospel of Peace. And, yes, those who have already been training with this sword will no doubt point to the fact that Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…” . Does this mean that Jesus came to start a war, that he went on the offensive, ready to lite into folks for a fight?
To be honest, there are two times that Jesus went on the offensive. Two times Jesus attacked. Neither time did he raise the sword against those that society would call the sinners. Both times Jesus went on the offensive were against those who used the Word of God to hurt the people of God, who used God’s law not to give life, but to steal life or condemn life. He first confronted the Pharisees, Saducees, and scribes, accusing them of setting so many additions to the law in place that the people had no hope, and that they placed all these burdens on the people, but offered them no help, no grace, to overcome the burdens. He called them whitewashed tombs and children of satan, Jesus accused them of switching sides and being in league with the enemy. The other time was when Jesus entered the courtyard of the Temple and took on the moneychangers and sacrifice inspectors—they were using the law found in the word of God to take advantage of the people, and line their own pockets, making it difficult for God’s people, especially the poor, to offer their tithes, make their sacrifices, and worship God—so Jesus turned over their tables, and drove them from the temple. The important thing to note is that the only two times the Sword of the Spirit, the Living Word of God, was used offensively, was when Jesus encountered folks using the word of God to take and rob life rather than offer life.
But what about the whole, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword...” thing—setting folks against one another. Does the Word of God divide people? Not for the sake of causing division, because, as Paul tells the Ephesians earlier, Jesus came to break down the barriers between us. The division, even among families, comes when we chose to take a stand…to hold firm to the sword, to the Word of God, and not be moved by the world. It is when we choose to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us,” and the world says, “you can’t live like that.” It is when the world says, “protect yourself at all cost,” and the Sword says, “If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” It is when the Word calls us to forgive those who have wronged us, seventy times seven times, and the world says, get even. It is when the world says “hoard” and the Word says, “give.” The Word of God, the Sword of the Spirit, divides, when we who wield it refuse to be “conformed to this world, but rather be transformed by the renewing of our minds…to have the same mind in us that was found in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The Sword of the Spirit divides when we put on the whole armor of God and refuse to take up the battle with the tools of the enemy…when we choose to fight in this Spiritual War like Jesus…wielding the Sword of the Spirit with love, with grace, with forgiveness, with hope…for we don’t fight out of desperation, we fight knowing the victory has already been won. My brothers and sisters, put on the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, whatever shoes you need to proclaim the Gospel of Peace...take up the Shield of Faith, receive the Helmet of Salvation, and lift high the Sword of the Spirit…and let us Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus…in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.