16. The Sword of the Spirit

Check Your Panoply

Why is the word of God living?
Why is it operative?
Why is it keen above any two-edged sword?
Why is it penetrating (Heb.4:12)?

The answer seems to be because it is a spiritual sword, or, as Greek idiom puts it, the sword of the spirit, which is a declaration of God (Eph.6:17). What the passage in Hebrews says concerning the Word of God, in general, will apply as well to any special declaration of God, pertinent to the special situation which is in view here in Ephesians 6:10-17. The sword, as a part of the panoply, is being provided by God’s spirit. By means of this sword, God’s spirit (or power) is operating in us and through us, so as to ensure the enjoyment of our celestial status.

Since this is strictly a spiritual matter, our bodies and our souls are never affected directly, for this sword is penetrating, even up to severing the soulish from the spiritual. It is good to remember that it is our spirit which is invigorated in the Lord and in the might of His strength, even though the evidence given by our soul and our emotions might seem quite to the contrary. We may be rejoicing in spirit while our body is aching and our soul is weeping. In spirit being roused together with Christ, we may be seeking that which is above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. In spirit, we may be disposed to that which is above, even while body and soul with all their feelings and emotions are affected by things on earth. It is this spiritual experience which makes our earthly life worth living; for we are privileged to contribute to the laud of the glory of God’s grace even while there is no tangible evidence as far as our bodies and our soulish emotions are concerned. As a matter of fact, our present and our future existence has only this one meaning: for the laud of His glory.

Our attention toward this goal might be distracted in view of what is going on in the physical realm, in the soulish sphere, and in view of the antagonism as directed by the world-mights of this darkness, the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials. But in spite of all this opposition, the Lord will help us to put on the panoply of God (as long as we cooperate) and, in addition, give us the sword of the spirit (whenever we may need it), which is a declaration of God, suited to do away with each and everything which does not contribute to the laud of His glory.

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The term spirit occurs fourteen times in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

We will find these fourteen occurrences of the word spirit listed in the Keyword Concordance of the Concordant Version, pages 282 and 283, under the following descriptive terms:

Divine power as manifested in filling for utterance (5:18)
Divine power as manifested in sealing for safety (1:13)
Qualities of spirit as manifested by a believer (1:17)
Apparently God’s spirit (2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 4:4; 4:23; 6:17)
Spirit of the Father or Christ’s spirit (3:16)
Holy spirit of God (4:30)
Human spirit (2:2)
Others--indefinite [invisible, Intangible power of action,
life and intelligence] (3:6; 6-18)

The first draft of the Keyword Concordance (which was published in a German edition of the Concordant Version in 1939) has a somewhat different listing. It brings the occurrence in 4:23 under “Human spirit,” and 3:16 under “Apparently God’s spirit,” while the occurrences in 1:17; 2:18; 2:22; 4:3; 4:4 are listed under Others—Indefinite.”

It seems that either way of describing the various kinds of spirit has its own merits. Someone might want to give more stress to another aspect of the spirit and hence reach somewhat different conclusions.

While we agree to disagree on such points as whether the emphasis is on the spirit of God, or of the Father, or of Christ, or on the holy spirit of God, or in some instances rather on the spiritual sphere as distinct from the soulish and physical, we trust that there is, nevertheless, complete unanimity as to the basic concepts of the term spirit.

Ephesians 6:17 deals with the sword which the spirit of God provides; it is the sword through which His spirit acts. This is a fact which we can perceive only insofar as our human spirit is energized by His Spirit.

To those of our readers who are interested in a more detailed approach to these definitions, we would like to recommend our booklet, SPIRIT, SPIRITS AND SPIRITUALITY, which also deals with related topics.

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Spirit is the invisible, intangible power of action, life, and intelligence. It is an intelligent principle of action (Luke 8:55; 2 Cor.12:18), as the spirit of meekness (1 Cor.4:21), of prophecy Rev.19:10), of faith (2 Cor.4:13), of sonship (Rom.8:15), of power and love and sanity (2 Tim.1:7), of slavery (Rom. 8:15), of stupor (Rom.11:8), and of the world (1 Cor.2:12). It is used of the life principle common to animals (Ecc.3:21), and mankind (Gen.6:17). It is also applied to metaphysical beings (2 Chron.18:20) without flesh or bones (Luke 24:39), which are usually unclean or evil (1 Tim.4:1), as well as demons (Luke 4:33) and messengers (Rev.4:5).

Its highest use denotes the divine power as manifested in His invisible, intangible operations (John 4:24) the spirit of God, that holy spirit (Matt.1:18; John 3:8; Acts 13:2) which comes on men for power (Acts 1:8), baptizes for cleansing (Acts 1:5), and unifying (1 Cor.12:13), filling for utterance (Acts 2:4; Eph.5:18), sealing for safety (Eph.1:13), and homing for permanent fellowship (1 Cor.3:16).

Spirit is contrasted with the letter (not of the Scriptures, but) of the law (2 Cor.3:6; Rom.7:6), and is also contrasted with the flesh (Gal.5:17). Every man has his own spirit (1 Cor.2:11) and may have the spirit of God (1 Cor.2:12). A man may be absent in body while present in spirit, in either space (1 Cor.5:3) or time (Rev.1:10), and he may be obsessed by an evil spirit (Luke 6:18), while a believer may manifest certain qualities of spirit (Eph.1:17).

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When we were children in the old country Sunday School, we used to sing “God is love, He loves us too!” Later, we came to realize the great yearning in His heart for the fellowship and affection of His creatures. In our trials we learned to bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, coming to know Him as the Father of pities and God of all consolation, Who is consoling us in our every affliction to enable us to be consoling those in every affliction, through the consolation with which we ourselves are being consoled by God, seeing that, according as the sufferings of Christ are superabounding in us, thus, through Christ, our consolation also is superabounding, for God is love.

The full force of this most blessed acclamation dawns on us gradually, the longer we consider its implications. We are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also: now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also. Thus He is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will, that we should be for the laud of His glory . . . because of His vast love with which He loves us.

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“We know and believe the love which God has in us. God is love, and he who is remaining in love is remaining in God, and God is remaining in him.” When we quote from this divine declaration in 1 John 4:16, we are aware of the fact that we are speaking figuratively. God is not literal love, for He is more than an abstract quality, even though it is the most precious of all His attributes. Human love is only a dim reflection of divine love. Even so, it is the happiest of human experiences. We enjoy it and are delighted by it. Yet when we come to worship God, we arrive at the very source of true love. His every action is aimed at revealing His loving heart, even to the most unworthy of His creatures. Perfect love is like God, and God is like perfect love. But how much more forceful is the concise divine declaration: God is love!

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If there were no trials, no afflictions, and no hatred, could we ever appreciate God’s vast love? Since Adam’s day, we learn by means of contrasts. We have to have some knowledge of darkness, in order to appreciate the light which renders visible the objects from which it proceeds or is reflected. Thus our daily experience with natural and artificial light is intended to help us toward a better understanding of divine light which enables spiritual sight.

It is instructive to take note of such facts as those reported in 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 which indicate that the Lord has curtailed the activity and power of sinning messengers by means of imperceptible bonds under gloom. Hence their movements are confined because of the absence of light, which seems to be their source of energy and vitality.

The influence on mankind exercised by other wicked spirits (who are still at large) is a well-established fact; only the members of the body of Christ are not under their jurisdiction. All others are ruled by forces of which they are not aware. Hence the descriptive term “jurisdiction of darkness” in Colossians 1:13 is well chosen. Because of the absence of divine light and vitality, mankind is exposed to the influence of sinister powers, causing men to act against their own instincts. They want peace but prepare for war. They strive to wipe out famine and disease while at the same time poisoning the lower atmosphere as well as the soil and the water.

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Lamenting over this state of affairs is of no use. We too, were once darkness, yet now we are light in the Lord. Since the fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, we should endeavor to test what is well pleasing to the Lord so as to walk as children of light. The transcendent greatness of God’s resurrection power is the rich source of all our spiritual energy and vitality, for He always shines in our hearts, with a view to the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The god of this eon can no longer blind our apprehensions or keep us in darkness, for the illumination of the evangel of the glory of Christ, Who is the Image of the invisible God, has enlightened our hearts.

Figuratively speaking, that light which enables spiritual sight, is like God; in the spiritual sphere, God is in some ways like light in the physical realm. But how much more forceful, how much more beautiful, to condense all this into one short, striking sentence: God is light!

While in this body of our humiliation, we have no organs of perception for spiritual truths. This is why God speaks of them in terms of the physical and the material which we can understand because of our daily experience in the terrestrial realm. God is love, God is light: These are not actual facts, but figures of speech which explain the most precious and important spiritual truths.

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This is not a figure of speech, but an actual fact. For the English reader, the statement God [is] spirit seems to belong in the same category as “God is love” and “God is light.” There is, however, a difference in the original Greek, which omits the is in order to indicate that no figure of speech is intended, but rather a factual statement: God [is] spirit. Here we have the only actual assertion concerning His essence.

Man, like Adam, is now a living soul. The Second Man, the last Adam, however, is preeminently spiritual, as befits the only begotten Son of God. It was generation by the holy spirit that made Him the Son of the Most High. Luke 1:35 makes it clear that the holy spirit of God is the same as the power of the Most High. This explains the close relationship between the Father and His Son. We recall that our Lord Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “God [is] spirit, and those who are worshiping Him must be worshiping in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

God, being spirit, pervades the universe; this truth is beyond human understanding, as is the fact that we shall never see Him. For God is absolutely invisible, not merely so in relation to our present powers of perception. There are, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, a number of passages describing God in human language as if He were visible and behaved like a man as if He had a human body and human traits. Even in Matthew 18:10, our Lord Jesus speaks of the face of His Father, and Paul, in a similar figure of speech, refers to the right [hand] of God in order to describe the highest place of authority, which God has given to the risen Christ.

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But there is no longer any need to humanize the Deity in order to understand Him better, for Christ has become the Image of the invisible God and the Effulgence of His Glory (Col.1:15; Heb. 1:3). As we look at the risen Christ, we see God, Whom no man has seen nor can ever see. God’s glory is beyond human conception, yet we can get a glimpse of Christ Who is the only perfect Image of God, adapted to our means of perception. This is why our Lord Jesus once said to Philip, “who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). For He had emphasized before, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

God delegates the spirit of His Son into our hearts (Gal.4:6) since we, too, are to be conformed to His Image. Christ is the great Firstborn, and we are His lesser brethren. We still wear the image of the first man, the soilish, but we shall wear the image of the second Man, the Lord out of heaven, the Celestial (1 Cor. 15:47-49). This transformation is already in progress, even though the body of our humiliation does not show it. We are already stripping off the old humanity together with its practices, and we are putting on the young humanity, which is being renewed into recognition, to accord with the Image of the One Who creates it (Col.3:9,10).

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We, the lesser brethren, are always viewing the glory of God’s Firstborn, Who came to do the will of Him Who sent Him. Our Lord Jesus once said to His disciples, “My food is that I should be doing the will of Him Who sends Me, and should be perfecting His work” (John 4:34). He told them, “I cannot do anything of Myself. According as I am hearing am I judging; and My judging is just, for I am not seeking My will, but the will of Him Who sends Me” (John 5:30). Paul, as the spokesman for the risen Christ, has amplified these divine declarations as follows, ” For He subjects all under His feet . . . whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all” (1 Cor.15:27, 28).

God is already All in the risen Christ; He is going to be All in the members of Christ’s body. This truth becomes apparent to us because the only begotten Son is preeminently spiritual and God delegates the spirit of His Son into our hearts so as to create the young humanity which is intended to accord with the Image of the invisible God. This transformation is strictly spiritual, it is as from the Lord, the spirit. “Now we all, with uncovered face, viewing the Lord’s glory as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as from the Lord, the spirit” (2 Cor.3:18).

For the members of Christ’s body, this transformation process will be finished after the session at the dais when God will start to fill the universe with images of Himself in the final stages of universal reconciliation. Then we, the lesser brethren, under the headship of the Firstborn, will constitute God’s showcase for a celestial audience in order to display the transcendent riches of His grace in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Eph.2:7).

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As the skeleton structure of the Ephesian epistle shows, verses 10-20 in the sixth chapter are balanced by verses 3-19 in the first. Thus the beginning of this letter deals with our celestial blessings and a prayer for a spirit of wisdom and revelation, while the end of the epistle is taken up by a description of the panoply and a reference to spiritual vigilance in every prayer and petition.

Chapter 1, verses 3-19, gives us the highlights of our celestial blessings. But their implications are grasped only when we pray as Paul did in verses 15-19. These blessings are already ours, whether we understand them or not, even if our apprehensions are partially stunned or temporarily blinded by the world-mights of this darkness. In other words, it is not our future destiny which is at stake, but rather our awareness of it. The spiritual forces of wickedness will never be able to thwart God’s plan for us nor for them, but they are doing their utmost to obstruct the publication of God’s truth for today and to hinder the saints from the present enjoyment of their celestial status.

In view of this opposition, we are enjoined to cooperate with the Lord, putting on the panoply of God and praying with perseverance for the publication of the secret of the evangel, the Conciliation (Eph.6:10-20). Our full cooperation is required with regard to the girdle of truth, the cuirass of righteousness, the sandals of peace, and the large shield of faith. As long as we do not fail in fully cooperating along these lines, our Lord will give us the helmet which is a present salvation from the spiritual forces of wickedness, who would otherwise impress our minds with false ideas as to the importance of earthly things and events in the terrestrial sphere.

If our minds are passive, we become easy prey for the world-mights of this darkness. But as long as we keep our renewed minds active in appropriating truth, righteousness, peace, and faith, our Lord has promised, not only the saving helmet but the sword of the spirit as well, with which we can ward off deceptive ideas. Hence we will be able to stand on our celestial allotment and withstand all the attacks of the spiritual hosts. In spirit, we can enjoy our celestial status. There is no danger at this high spiritual level since we are invigorated in the Lord and in the might of His strength because of the protection given by the panoply of God. On the soulish level, however, we are vulnerable, for our feelings fluctuate and our emotions are ever exposed to all kinds of impressions from the world around us. But the sword is penetrating, even up to severing the soulish from the spiritual, reminding us of the fact that it is our spirit which is invigorated.

The following details on the sword of the spirit are quoted from volume 26, beginning with page 123, and volume 23, page 399.

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“Our celestial strife is a conflict between our spirits and wicked spirits. We do not war with our flesh. We are not provided with any material weapons. But the spirit of the saint is amply armed. It is given only one weapon, a divine declaration. Would that we never tried to use any other!

“Without in the least denying the divine inspiration of all Scripture, we should distinguish sharply between that which is God’s direct revelation and that which is an inspired record of what is faulty and false. Job’s friends uttered a vast amount of human philosophy which is recorded for our benefit, but it is utterly useless as a sword in this conflict. God’s actual utterances or those of His prophets, as His mouthpieces, constitute our arsenal. No spirit can withstand a divine declaration.

“Our Lord used the sword of the spirit in His trial in the wilderness. The Adversary first attempted to fashion a sword by deducing from the Word. Our Lord did not reason with him, but answered, ‘It is written!’ The argument went no further. God’s Son can turn stones into bread, but it is not God’s will (Luke 4:4). Then the Adversary boldly claims the power which Scripture allows him, and demands the homage which accords with it. The Lord does not dispute this power over others, but puts the Adversary behind Him by quoting God’s own Word on worship (Luke 4:8). Then the Adversary himself quotes from the Scriptures. Surely now He will do as Satan suggests! No harm will come to Christ if He should dash His foot against a stone. Why not do it? It has been declared, ‘You shall not be putting on trial the Lord your God!’ The Adversary withdrew, defeated (Luke 4:9-13).

“Such is the sword of the spirit. The Ephesian Epistle is full of divine declarations, essential to this warfare. Outside of Paul’s epistles are multitudes of declarations, equally divine, but, like that quoted by the Adversary to our Lord in the third trial, inapplicable to God’s present processes. The skillful swordsman is he who knows how to parry a wrested passage with a truth. He does not mistake a possible deduction from the Word for a direct declaration. Our power to withstand or resist depends entirely on our acquaintance with and ability to use the bare Word of God.

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“The warfare we have been considering is strictly spiritual. It does not directly affect our flesh. We are not warring according to the flesh (2 Cor.10:3). For that we have no armor, helmet, or sword. The story of Job shows that the spirit world can afflict the flesh of God’s saints. Are they allowed to touch our physical frames in the present era? Humility and meekness are the first and highest virtues in this administration (Eph.4:2). Paul is our pattern. When he received the transcendent revelations which are made known in Ephesians he was given a splinter [in] the flesh (or: to the flesh) lest he should be lifted up (2 Cor.12:7). This is explained as a messenger of Satan. It seems clear that a superhuman spirit power was allowed to afflict his flesh so that he became infirm.

“Paul did not make the mistake of using the shield of faith, for the very revelations he had received took from him any title to present physical welfare. He did not grasp the sword of the spirit to slay the messenger of Satan, for no declaration of God was available. Paul could not find a single divine promise of blessing for his flesh. For this purpose, he had no girdle, for the truth he was now receiving gave the flesh no strength. In fact, at this point, there is a striking contrast. The same truth that invigorated his spirit proclaimed the infirmity of his flesh.

“Let us not confuse our spiritual warfare with wicked spirits, with God’s use of them in disciplining our flesh. He would have us strong in spirit, but He may also find it best to make us infirm in the flesh. This is especially true of those who receive the same revelation Paul received, which doubtless coincides with the mystery now made known in Ephesians. We do not know just what Paul’s thorn or splinter in the flesh actually was. Indeed, it is far better that we should not have definite information on this point, for the same effect is produced in others by other means. All we are sure of is that it was a physical infirmity, brought on by Satan, in order to produce a spiritual benefit.

“Paul’s only recourse was prayer. Thrice he sought the removal of the strange, supernatural weakness which afflicted his flesh (2 Cor.12:8). He doubtless reasoned that his work would suffer if he was disabled. It seems that his first and second petition brought no response. At his third entreaty, however, the Lord protests: ‘Sufficient for you is My grace, for My power in infirmity is being perfected!’ Thenceforth Paul gloried in infirmities and distresses for Christ’s sake, for his weakness was his strength. We may be sure that this experience did not look back to Paul’s earlier ministries. It came to him immediately after he got his first glimpse of this administration. It is the pattern for us today. It is the great key truth of the present, stated negatively. We are graced with spiritual, not physical blessings. But let us not conclude that every physical hindrance is a thorn in the flesh. Paul was flogged and stoned and was ill, but he does not claim that these experiences were due to spiritual agencies. He suffered physically at the hands of unbelieving men, and from the destructive conditions under which the human body exists since the entrance of sin.

“The sword, like the helmet, is to be received, not taken. Only those should handle it who are measurably qualified. With God’s declarations, we can rout all our foes who trespass on our allotment. Israel, even under Solomon, never conquered all the land God gave to Abraham. Believers today hold hardly any of the ground which is theirs according to God’s Word. There is no other means of regaining our lost heritage. The first chapter of Ephesians is the unbroken sword which will clear our allotment of all intruders.

“The sword is not for saints or sinners, but for spirits. Let us not use it to cut and slash our fellow believers. Let us not wage war against our fellow men. Our enemies gain a great victory when they introduce sedition into the citadel of the saints. They acquire a vast advantage when we turn its edge against our fellow men. It is utterly devastating to take the phrase ‘the sword of the spirit’ away from its context and use God’s Word as a blade to destroy all and sundry. Its cutting and killing power is only for those whom God accounts as His enemies.

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“To sum up, our warfare is not with blood and flesh, but with the sovereignties, with the authorities, with the world-mights of this darkness, with the spiritual forces of wickedness among the celestials (Eph.6:12). The celestial allotment (Eph.1:3,11) which characterizes the present secret administration is still in the hands of opposing spiritual forces, who will not be finally dislodged until the day of deliverance. These enemies of ours are active in opposing every effort of faith to grasp its patrimony and maintain its celestial stand. Conduct conforming to this truth, any attaining to the out-resurrection, as the apostle puts it in Philippians, will meet sore opposition from sinister spirit forces. To withstand them we are provided with the panoply, the helmet, and the sword. So may we stand.

“Our conduct toward these dark spirit powers should be the opposite to that of our behavior toward our fellow men. There is a sword for the former and an olive branch for the latter. Men may be used by these spirit forces to antagonize us, but let us always look beyond the human agents. The sword is not for them. If we wish to be saved from these foes let us furnish our armory with the girdle of truth, the cuirass of righteousness, the sandals of peace, and the large shield of faith, and God will furnish the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit. Let us then stand, like Shammah, one of David’s mighties, with all our armor on, with shield and sword in hand, and defend our celestial fields from the dark spirit powers which seek to rob us of the enjoyment of our heavenly lot.”

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