The final article on the apostle Paul's list in Ephesians is the sword - an indispensable item.
A soldier without weapons isn't much of a fighter!
To 'take our stand' against the enemy we face, Paul emphasises that we need the full armour too - we can't operate one, without the other. Faith, truth, the righteousness of Christ, salvation, the gospel - all are meant to go together with the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Just as we use words every day to explain what we mean, God's word, the Bible, is the way he explains himself to us. It tells us who he is and what he is like, through creation, through history and through his promises. Most of all it shows us the Lord Jesus himself - who is The Word of God. [John 1:1,14]. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of who God is.
The Bible, the word of God, reveals Jesus himself to be the Word of God.
The book of Revelation [19:11-21] shows us a glimpse of Jesus, the powerful Word of God. He appears as a mighty, heavenly warrior, with an army behind him, and he has a sharp double-edged sword coming out of his mouth. He is the one who will defeat Satan and all his forces - a gruesome and final victory.
Satan is in no doubt about the power of the Word of God.
The New Testament shows us how powerful Jesus' words are during his earthly ministry. With Jesus' words, he creates, sustains, heals, forgives, rebukes, encourages - in every way showing us the character of God. It's interesting to see how Jesus treats the Old Testament too - that its words are true, and relevant and powerful. He frequently used them as a weapon to silence his enemies.
The power is not in the words in and of themselves though, but in the one who is speaking. The same is true when we use our weapon of the sword of the Spirit - it is the Spirit of God who works powerfully in our own hearts, and in the hearts of those who hear it.
But, what kind of weapon is a sword?
This is a weapon for when the fighting gets up close and personal - for hand to hand combat. When a soldier is using his sword in battle he is face to face with his enemy. The sword is personal equipment and there are times for every believer when they need to have an understanding of God's word that is their own, to fight our own battle.
Neither good Bible knowledge nor great theology is enough of a weapon on their own.
Lots of people know the Bible well, but are unable to wield it as a weapon to defend themselves because they do not have the Spirit of God living in their hearts. The sword is God's weapon, given by him to his own.
It is the Spirit's power that lends authority to the words and it is his work to bring the truth of God's word to bear on our hearts. He breathes life into the pages of scripture and reminds us of what is true.
That's why God's word is sharp and powerful - and exposing.
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12,13*
So how do we use it against Satan?
Remember what we learned about the tactics of the enemy? His desire is to draw us away from God, to discourage us and cause us to doubt God and be afraid. The Bible, God's word does the opposite - it convicts us, it rebukes us it encourages us and trains us in righteousness. [2 Timothy 3:16].
In one of Paul's letters, he instructs Timothy, and us, to be thorough in his knowledge of scripture because of the challenges he would face.
The purpose of the Bible is to give us a greater knowledge of God so that we will not be deceived by the attacks of Satan.
Jesus demonstrated this himself when he was tempted in Matthew 4. He responds to Satan with the truth and roots his evidence firmly in scripture.
God's word is all that we need to see the truths of the gospel and the character of God.
The weapon we grasp is powerful and strong... but as with any weapon,
we must take care how we use it.
Satan's second tactic against Jesus in Matthew 4, was to use scripture himself - but what sounded like the truth was actually twisted and misapplied. Jesus saw straight through this deceit, of course, but if we don't know the truths of the Bible well we leave ourselves much more vulnerable to Satan's lies. We must be careful in our use of God's word if we are to wield it well.
To follow Jesus' example of expert swordsmanship we need to really know God through his word - we need to read it, understand it, meditate on it, love it, and obey it.
If we know our God for who he truly is, and think as he wants us to think,
we will live to please and honour him, and we will not be easily deceived.
We have gone full -circle.
Just as Paul began this section by encouraging us to "be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power" so he ends it encouraging us to depend on God for strength through prayer. We need God's help. Paul knew that and modelled a prayerful life himself.
Our armour is God's gift to us, and he has given us all we need to fight our enemy - but our strength can only be found in him. We need the Holy Spirit to be at work in us to help us open God's word, and keep us armed and ready. To be strong in the Lord is to have a vital and real relationship with him day by day, and we cannot do that without prayer. Prayer is as vital to our spiritual life as breathing is to our bodies. There is no point in being dressed for battle, with our sword in our hand, if we do not have the strength to use it.
"Prayer must buckle on all the other parts of our Christian armour, we must join prayer with all these graces, for our defence against these spiritual enemies, imploring help and assistance of God, as the case requires: and we must pray always".
As soldiers of Jesus, we are part of a vast and powerful army: helping one another, equipped by God and depending on him for his strength day by day and hour by hour until we see the final victory-
When Jesus returns he will show all the world that the battle is over, his enemy is finally defeated, and that he, is the victorious Word of God - the King of Kings and Lord of Lords**.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
*All Bible quotations are taken from NIV (c) 2011 **Revelation 19:16