“And take…the sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God;” Ephesians 6:17b
Fellow soldiers, we have come to a military metaphor in the New Testament which is not difficult to interpret because we are told exactly what the sword of the Spirit is—it is the Word of God! The pieces of equipment in the complete armor of God spoken about up to now in Ephesians chapter 6 have been defensive. They protect or support the warfighter. The sword here is the Roman gladius issued to every soldier. It is an offensive weapon that, unlike a javelin, dart, or arrow which are used at a distance, is used when the soldier comes close to the enemy.
The Word of God is an offensive weapon against temptation
The sword of the Spirit is a spiritual offensive weapon given to every believer by the Holy Spirit of God to be used when (among other times) engaged in spiritual warfare with our adversary, Satan. The Scripture is our primary weapon when confronting temptation to sin. Jesus used the Word of God when He was tempted in the desert. (Matthew 4:4,7,10) May God’s Word reside in our hearts so firmly that we can pull it out at a moment’s notice and fight off any spiritual attack. (Deuteronomy 30:14; Psalm 119:11)
The Word of God convicts of sin
God’s Word is invaluable when the enemy gets past our defenses. Overt temptations are sometimes the easiest to repel by recalling a timely verse from the Bible. More difficult to fight off are the subtle, inner temptations that we don’t see or might not even be aware of. In this case, God’s Word serves as a finely honed blade to expose our sin and bring us to repentance. The power and precision of the Sword of the Spirit protects us within, but only if we use it!
“For the word of God is living and powerful,
and sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing even to the division of soul and spirit,
and of joints and marrow,
and is a discerner of the thoughts
and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
The Word of God is an instrument of judgment
A spiritual sword wielded in judgment by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a terrifying image that is expressed five times in the book of Revelation. Each time, the glorified Christ is pictured with a two-edged sword in His mouth to emphasize that the Incarnate Word (John 1:1,4; I John 1:1) is coming to judge the world with the words of His mouth. (John 5:22; 9:39; 12:47-48)
“He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” 1:16
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword…’” 2:12
“Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.” 2:16
“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” 19:15
“And the rest were killed with the sword which proceeded from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse…” 19:21
God will accomplish His purpose
Like a soldier’s sword that is solid metal and will never fail him, the Word of God is reliable and guaranteed to always accomplish the purpose that God intends, whether to combat temptation, reveal the innermost thoughts of the heart, or to judge all mankind in the final judgment.
“So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Be alert! Grab your sword! March on!
“The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)
Fellow soldiers, this hymn came to my attention a few days ago and I want to post it now even though it is out of sequence from my earlier post on “The Shield of Faith.” The lyrics by Edith Cherry will inspire our devotion and faith! More than that, the following story touched my heart when I read what it meant to five godly missionaries who were martyred in the jungle of Ecuador more than 60 years ago. It expresses their trust in Almighty God before they ventured into the unknown to tell a tribal people about Jesus and His saving grace.
Miss Cherry’s beautiful hymn, “We Rest on Thee, Our Shield and Our Defender” was sung in 1956, by five missionaries preparing to make contact with the Auca Indians of Ecuador. Their goal was to take the Gospel to this remote tribe who had never had contact with white men. Even knowing that the Auca Indians might attack them for entering their jungle habitat, these men considered the price and knew it was worthwhile. A few days later, Auca tribe members speared to death Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian on a riverbank two days after the men made an initial friendly contact. Elisabeth Elliot, wife of Jim Elliot, drew the title for her book, Through Gates of Splendor, from a line of Edith Cherry’s hymn. Elliot writes this in her book about when their families met for the last time before the five men flew into the jungle:
“At the close of their prayers the five men sang one of their favorite hymns, “We Rest on Thee,” to the stirring tune of Sibelius’ ‘Finlandia.’ Jim and Ed had sung this hymn since college days and knew the verses by heart. On the last verse their voices rang out with deep conviction.
“‘We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender:
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise
When reigning in the Kingdom of Thy splendor;
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.’”
Jim Elliot’s credo lives on today: “He is no fool to give what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” (Elisabeth Elliot went to be with the Lord in 2015 at the age of 88.)
We Rest on Thee, Our Shield and Our Defender
by Edith Cherry (1872-1897) *
(to the tune of “Be Still My Soul”)
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender;
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender.
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.
Yea, in Thy Name, O Captain of salvation!
In Thy dear Name, all other names above;
Jesus our Righteousness, our sure Foundation,
Our Prince of glory and our King of love.
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing;
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.
We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender:
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise
When reigning in the Kingdom of Thy splendor;
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.
* Edith Cherry—Born at Plymouth, Devon, UK, she was disabled from the age of 16 months by poliomyelitis and walked with crutches. The death of her only sister, who died at age 4, when Edith was age 6, devastated her. She had a gift for poetry and wrote much before the age of 15. She had two strokes in early life, and a third, at age 25, took her life. She wrote beautiful poems and many hymn lyrics, filling two volumes.
“And take the helmet of salvation…” Ephesians 6:16a
Fellow soldiers, the helmet of salvation mentioned by the Apostle Paul last in his list of defensive armor is a metaphor filled with significance. The helmet is the most important piece of your equipment for personal defense and the breastplate protecting your heart is a close second. As you were taught in basic training, the purpose of the helmet is to protect you against direct strikes to the head and the cheek pieces protect your eyes from sideways blows while giving room for vision straight ahead. Spiritually speaking, the helmet of salvation protects your mind and vision against things in the world that can disorient or destroy you, such as discouragement, distraction, or deceit. Ultimately, it is the breastplate of righteousness and helmet of salvation that will give you hope when the battle seems all but lost.
The helmet of salvation protects our minds
Salvation—the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that produces new life in the believer—produces a new mind in the new man. This new mind with the capacity to know God in a personal way, must be nourished, built up, encouraged day by day. “…that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
Part of the renewing process of the mind that preserves and develops a soldier’s thinking is only possible after the new birth that is salvation. “If [since] then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
The helmet of salvation protects our vision
Spiritual vision allows the Christian to fix his or her eyes on the goal without distraction or detours. The Apostle Paul set an example of pressing forward with his eyes on the goal at all times, and he urged the brethren of the church at Philippi to do the same:
“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
The soldier of Christ will keep his eyes on his Commander-in-Chief for instructions in combat and for encouragement to press on with the fight of faith:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
The helmet of salvation gives us hope
“But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” (I Thessalonians 5:8-10)
With that helmet firmly seated on our heads, we can focus on living the life God called us to live—fighting the good fight of faith. When the apostle Paul wrote of the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, he could have been echoing a passage in Isaiah where God, the Redeemer of Zion, puts on these same pieces of armor:
“For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
And was clad with zeal as a cloak.” (Isaiah 59:17)
Be alert! Take your helmet! March on!
“As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
For who is God, except the Lord?
And who is a rock, except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength,
And makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of deer,
And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to make war,
So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have also given me the shield of Your salvation;
Your right hand has held me up,
Your gentleness has made me great.”
Psalm 18:30-35 (NKJV)
The Shield of Faith
by Barney E Warren * and Daniel S. Warner **
Take the shield of faith, my brother,
Hold it boldly in the light;
And its awful burnished glory
Will put every foe to flight.
In the mighty name of Jesus,
Ever lift up the shield of faith;
Wield the sword of truth, my brother,
Heaven will crown thy fight of faith.
Faith is mighty and will conquer,
Bind it firmly on thy heart;
On the hottest field of battle,
Thou wilt quench the vilest dart. [Refrain]
And when trouble specters round thee,
Come, thy spirit to depress,
Lift the shield of faith abounding,
And thy soul shall calmly rest. [Refrain]
Then put on the holy armor,
And defy the tempting throng,
Over all the foes that gather,
Shout and sing the victor’s song. [Refrain]
* Barney E. Warren was converted in 1884 at a revival near Bangor, Michigan. Two years later he joined with Daniel S. Warner and his evangelistic singing company as a bass singer. Warren is credited with writing over 7,000 songs. Warren was a minister as well as a song writer, and pastored several congregations. He also helped produce song books and hymnals for the Gospel Trumpet Publishing Company.
** Daniel S. Warner was born in 1842 in Bristol, Ohio and died in Grand Junction, Michigan, of pneumonia. During his years of evangelistic singing, he wrote lyrics and Barney E. Warren wrote the musical score for thousands of hymns.
“…above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.” Ephesians 6:16 (NKJV)
Among the different types of shields used by Roman soldiers, the one mentioned in Ephesians 6:16 is likely the large, rectangular or oval, scutum shield used to protect front line soldiers and those behind them from the hail of arrows that rained down from a distance before the legion engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. The smaller parma shield was round and held in the left hand while fighting with a sword in the right. Shields came in many sizes depending on the function of the soldier and contrary to some stories or movies, Roman military shields were made of leather and wood and not metal.
The literal purpose of the soldier’s scutum shield was for defense from potentially fatal projectiles like arrows, javelins, or flaming darts fired by crossbows. The Apostle Paul uses the shield as a metaphor to describe faith which will protect us from the evil one—Satan. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8)
Brother soldiers, faith is your constant defense against an adversary who will fire his arrows at you when you least expect. You must believe and trust God’s Word, or Satan’s spiritual arrows will wound you when you need your strength the most. Without faith, you could be struck seemingly out of nowhere and not know what to do. You’ll be terrified when the arrows rain down on you. Don’t be a casualty! Faith in the Lord Himself and His Word must be your constant shield at every moment so that you’re ready when a trial, temptation, or calamity comes at you from “out of the blue.”
“The LORD is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.”Psalm 28:7
Be alert! Grab your shield! March on!
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 5:1 (NKJV)
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Colossians 3:15
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” Isaiah 26:3 (KJV)
Sometimes our battle hymns are meant to stir us up to continue in our spiritual struggles or to encourage us forward to accomplish great things for God. This hymn speaks of a settled peace from God and with God that “...surpasses all understanding, [that] will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7) Like a soldier’s well-fitted shoes that allow him to march for many miles, or the shoes that give him a firm grip on the ground during a fierce battle, the peace of God gives us confident serenity in the trials of life.
by W.D. Cornell *
Far away in the depths of my spirit tonight
Rolls a melody sweeter than psalm;
In celestial-like strains it unceasingly falls
O’er my soul like an infinite calm.
Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!
What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace,
Buried deep in the heart of my soul,
So secure that no power can mine it away,
While the years of eternity roll! [Refrain]
I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace,
Resting sweetly in Jesus’ control;
For I’m kept from all danger by night and by day,
And His glory is flooding my soul! [Refrain]
And I think when I rise to that city of peace,
Where the Author of peace I shall see,
That one strain of the song which the ransomed will sing
In that heavenly kingdom will be: [Refrain]
Ah soul, are you here without comfort and rest,
Marching down the rough pathway of time?
Make Jesus your friend ere the shadows grow dark;
Oh, accept this sweet peace so sublime! [Refrain]
* W.D. Cornell was born in Whiteford, Michigan and in 1877—at the ripe old age of 19 years—he went to Texas, where he spent a year teaching in the “colored” department of the newly formed Dallas Public Schools. Licensed by the Southern Methodist conference in 1879, he was appointed to preach in Denton and Gainesville, both in the North Texas area, for a year each. It would be interesting to know what caused this young man to go so far from home; but in 1881 he removed to the vicinity of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where he spent the majority of his preaching career.