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The Sword of the Spirit

by Tim O'Hearn

Children like to play fighting games. In my day it was cowboys and Indians. Now that that is a politically incorrect game some play ninja, or knights. Actually, it may be a good thing we played with guns instead of swords, like those games. Once when I ran out of ammunition (caps) I waited behind a corner of the house, and when my older brother came by I jumped out and hit him with the barrel of the gun, just like I had seen in the movies. The resulting cut required stitches, and I couldn’t sit down for a while (having been hit elsewhere than the head). Just think. If I had a sword instead of a pistol, what damage might have been done?

I have heard of preachers who would ask the congregation to “hold up your sword.” People respond by lifting up their Bibles, or their smart phones with a Bible program on them. It would be more accurate just to stand up. That is because the Bible is not the sword. The sword lives within each Christian.

Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:14-17)

Basic English grammar (not to mention Greek grammar) teaches us that the sword is the Spirit. Note the parallel construction of the various parts of the armor: breastplate of righteousness, gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation. Why do people insist then that the sword is the Bible, when in fact it is the Spirit of God? Greek grammar makes this even more clear. Granted, the Bible is the word of God as inspired by the Spirit. But the Spirit, which is the word of God, is more than just printed words on a page or screen. The Spirit dwells in each Christian individually. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor 3:16)

If the Spirit is the word of God, and if the Spirit dwells within us, what are the implications? If the word of God is to dwell in us and not just in our Bibles, what does that mean?

One thing it means is that we may be the only Bible some people see. It is easy to ignore the written word. Most people have never read War and Peace, Moby Dick, or Finnegan’s Wake. (It took me months to read each, and I still don’t understand the last one.) It is easy to choose not to read the printed word. Many people cannot read, or choose not to. It is easier to hear the word read, which is why I am a Bible Ambassador for Faith Comes By Hearing (www.faithcomesbyhearing.com). But many people may choose not to hear the Bible, either. The one thing they cannot ignore is how a Christian lives. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16)

Another, related, implication is that we must continually be refreshing the word of God in us. “Quench not the Spirit.” (1 Thes 5:19) The Spirit does not always speak to us directly about the will of God. While our consciences can be trained to hear the Spirit, the way the Spirit dwells in us is by our study of, and internalizing, the Bible. We quench (put out, starve) the Spirit by denying food or fuel. That fuel is the knowledge of the Bible. But it is much more. Many people know what the Bible says, and may even be able to quote it, but do not have the Spirit dwelling in them. The Bible is not like Moby Dick. Sure, there is a good story in there somewhere. But you can read Melville and forget it. For the Spirit to be effective we must not only read, but understand and practice. One may read Moby Dick and never throw a harpoon into a whale, and still get some benefit from the reading. One must put the Bible into practice, however, for the Spirit to dwell in a person. The Bible is not just good stories. It is a way of life. It is the way to life.