God’s word, an instrument of death

  • Angus Martin
  • 19 December 2018

“The pen is mightier than the sword”. Rubbish, absolute rubbish.

Now before all the mighty keyboard warriors start launching an assault at me to prove their point, let me explain.

Have you ever realized a word means something quite different to what you thought? For example, I thought grizzly was just another way of saying grumpy, but in fact it first meant grey-haired. Culture and word usage changed, altering the word’s original intent. It happens all the time in English, given the evolving and adaptable language it is.

I think this has happened with ‘sword’.

The sword comes up plenty in our Bibles. I stumbled across it when reading Romans 8 recently. Paul exclaims:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Rom 8:35)

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ! But what do our Bible authors want us to understand when they use the sword word? I think we need to define what sword means, starting with a word search across our Bibles.

From our search we discover many, many references to the sword. The majority of passages help us see that the sword is used as the ancient killing instrument (e.g. Gen 34:26; Num 14:3; Judg 3:21-22; Acts 12:2, 16:27; Heb 11:37). (You could argue it’s also defensive, but that defence is just the threat of death.)When I think of a sword, I think of a kid’s toy, but it is actually the past’s version of our gun: the feared weapon for much of history.

But how does this fit with the pen-sword battle?

Well, it is during our word search of sword that we stumble across Ephesians 6 and Hebrews 4, and it is here that I want to strike a blow in our pen-sword battle. With the contextual backdrop of the sword being the killing instrument, we see these passages with a new light:

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. (Eph 6:16-18)
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:11-13)

After spending a few moments in these passages we are driven to re-word our critiqued motto. We find ourselves saying the pen is our sword! But it is not just any pen, it is the very word of God that is… the killing instrument?

We adorn ourselves with the whole armour of God and are defensively protected from evil by standing firm in the Lord (Eph 6:10-13). But our sword is not a defensive piece of armour, it is offensive. That is, the word of God is directly opposed to the evil schemes of the devil. It is not just a crucial piece of armour to withstand attack, but a weapon used to wrestle against and attack the evil spiritual forces that have enslaved the world we live in.

God’s word is not passive; it does not merely put up with the nonsense humans throw against it. God’s word is living and active. However, Hebrews helps us see the shortcomings of the sword metaphor. We see that God’s word is better than a sword at doing a sword’s job: it is sharper than any two-edged sword.

I used to read Hebrews 4 like we have read Ephesians 6: “It is so nice that we have such a powerful word on our side.” But as I kept reading and re-reading and seeing it in its context, my knees started trembling. This word exposes me for who I truly am, no creature is hidden from his sight, the word of God discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Uh oh…

It is when I am exposed naked before God by his word that I realize that I need a mediator.

This is where the author of Hebrews takes us:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:14-16)

So yes, the pen is the sword. The word of God is the killing instrument, in the sense that it condemns us (Heb 4) but also fights against the schemes of the devil (Eph 6). It is in accepting God’s word that we die with Christ, and it is in rejecting God’s word that humanity faces eternal death. Death is always involved, however we respond to God’s word.

And so how are we to bear this sword of God?

If we earnestly want people to die with Christ and so live with him (Col 3:3-4), we have to see that it is God’s word that we use to break down their evil ways, it is God’s word that exposes them for who they truly are, and it is God’s word that makes us wise for salvation (2 Tim 3:15).

Do you want people in your life to come to know and trust Christ? Are you picking up and bearing the sword of God to show them they have rejected God and need to repent and believe? Or are you bearing some other ineffective weapon?

Do you believe that it’s the sword of God that will work? Or do you think we need to add other things to make it work? Do we need to add modern church music? Do we need high-profile public speakers to be our Bible teachers? Do we need cutting-edge contextualization strategies to do effective ministry?

God’s sword is sharper than any other weapon; God’s sword is the weapon that truly exposes us and yet offers salvation. Have you lost confidence in the sword of God to do all this?