December 22, 2019

Word – The sword of the Spirit

Passage: Ephesians 6:10-20
Service Type:

Well, this morning, we come to the sixth and final piece of the whole armor of God and which Paul doesn't leave us in suspense as to the identification of this final piece. He says, it's this "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." So this is what I want you to fix in your mind this morning, right from the very beginning. The sword of the Spirit is the God-breathed, divinely-inspired infallible, and inerrant Word of God, that is the sword of the Spirit. And like the other pieces of the armor, the sword of the Spirit protects us and enables us to stand against all the schemes of the evil one. The sword of the Spirit, properly used enables us to stand in the face of the cleverly-devised spiritual attacks of the devil. Now keep this in mind: your enemy is far too smart to try to attack you in ways that are obviously sinful, and blatantly sinful. He's not going to do that. Paul makes it clear that he is much too clever for that. He knows that many Christians... he simply will not be able to tempt them, in order to get them to commit a blatant sin. He's not going to be able to tempt them to get them to take part in activities, which are clear violations of God's Word. He's much more subtle than that. He's much more clever than that. You know, most of us probably are familiar with the term "clickbait". Say, what's "clickbait"? Well, if you don't know, "clickbait" is a headline that you see online, which really has only one purpose, and that is to get you to click the link. And many times when you click the link, you'll find that you're taken to a page that you really didn't think that you were going to go to. They may be trying to sell you something, or it's filled with a bunch of other links. And what happens? You click one link, and you click another link, and you click another link. Before you know it, you've been sucked into this vortex of worthless information, right? On the surface, clickbait seems to be relatively harmless. But if you're not careful, it can lead to destructive paths. That's the way that Satan operates. He's clever, and his schemes are subtle. And like clickbait, his schemes are appealing, and on the surface, they seem harmless, but to the unsuspecting believer, danger lies straight ahead.

Satan will try and draw you away from Christ, slowly and subtly. Can I say that again? Satan will try and draw you away from Christ... Slowly and subtly. He'll start small. He'll start with something that on the surface appears to be benign. And he's very patient. And once he has convinced you to feel comfortable with this first step, guess what? He'll introduce step two. And before you know it, you find yourself out of fellowship with God. You find that your heart has grown cold, you've lost... you don't have a passion anymore. You don't even have an appetite anymore for the scriptures, to read the scriptures, or to spend time with God in prayer. And maybe you've made some new friends at work, and you find them to be much more exciting than those 'fuddy-duddies' at church. And so, you would rather spend time with them. And so, if you're not careful, you find yourself not only out of fellowship with the Lord, but you find yourself out of fellowship with your church family. And, it all happened so slowly; it all happened so subtly. But you know what? Satan has worked his scheme to perfection. And we need to understand that that is how he will attack you as a Christian... something small, something that seems relatively harmless, something that seems relatively benign. He just may try and attract your interest. Maybe, you pick up a new hobby, and if you're not careful, that begins to consume your time and your interest and all of your energy. And see, it's because of the schemes of the devil. That's why Paul says, "believer, you must pick up the whole armor of God. You must put on the whole armor of God. You must take up the whole armor of God. And you must never, ever let it down, put it down". Do you realize that Satan never gives up? He is persistent. As I said before, he's patient. He's just waiting for you to, perhaps, drop the shield of faith, to take off the helmet of salvation, to take off the belt of truth, and when you do, he will attack.

So, Satan knows that God the Father saved you for some very specific reasons. One of which is to make you just like his Son, Jesus Christ. Now, Satan knows that he's lost the battle for your soul, so you know he does next towards the believer? He shifts his strategy, he changes his tactics, and having lost this battle for your soul, he now seeks to frustrate God's purpose for you, which is to make you like Christ. He will do everything within his power to try and derail you from God's goal. Satan will do everything that he can to keep you from becoming like Jesus. Now, what is... what do we call the process of becoming like Jesus? Sanctification. Good, class. Well, I've always wanted to say that: good, class. Therefore, the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God... Listen carefully... The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God is your God-given weapon in your fight for sanctification. The Word of God is the weapon that God gives you to put to death the deeds of the flesh. Say, well, what are the days of the flesh? Let me expand your definition and, perhaps, your understanding of the deeds of the flesh. The deeds of the flesh are anything that keeps you from becoming like Jesus. See, the problem we have too many times as Christians... you take somebody like me, I'm as literal as literal comes, black and white. So if I'm not careful, I will see a list, and I think, 'Well if I just stay away from everything on the list, then I'm okay.' That is not true. So if I look at some of Paul's list of descriptions of the deeds of the flesh, and I stay away from them, I think I'm doing okay. But the reality is, those were just examples that Paul was giving. So, anything that keeps us, that impedes our progress, from becoming like Christ is a deed of the flesh, which is what? Sinful, sinful. For instance, let me give you an example. The use of our time may on the surface appear to be relatively harmless, but think about it this way. If your poor stewardship of your time is impeding your progress in Christ's likeness, that is a deed of the flesh. That is sinful. That is one of the deeds of the flesh that needs to be put to death. Let me give you perhaps a more concrete illustration. Binge-watching is all the rage nowadays, right? Okay. Now I'm not saying binge-watching is always wrong, but I will say this: if we're not careful, binge-watching can be a sinful deed of the flesh that sucks us in and takes up all of our time when we could be doing much more productive things, such as making progress in sanctification.

Additionally, and I think... I think Satan has done a wonderful job in this area. I believe he has convinced scores of Christians that they do not need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and that they can handle life in their own strength, in their own power. And I think part of the fault for this lies at the pulpit. There is not enough preaching on who the Holy Spirit is, why he has come to reside within the believer, as well as, the absolute necessity of you as a believer... You must live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Or, listen, this may be bold, and you may disagree with me, but I challenge you to disprove what I'm about to say: If you are not a Spirit-filled Christian, if you don't live by the power of the Spirit, I don't see how you're making any progress in sanctification. You may be a very good, moral person, you may be a nice person, but that's not... the goal is not for you to be moral. The goal for you is not to be nice. The goal for you is to be like Jesus Christ. And, Satan has done a miraculous job of selling believers this bill of goods, you don't really need the Holy Spirit. That's for those other people over there that you kind of want to stay away from, you know, they kind of do some wacky things. You don't want to be one of them, you know, just be the "normal" Christian. God has not called you, God has not saved you to be a "normal" Christian. He's called you to be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Know this, the weapon of sanctification is the sword of the Spirit. So, the sword that the Apostle Paul has in mind here is not the big sword that, you know... When I say "big sword", you think of a knight... the Knights of the Round Table, you know... It's kind of like that Liberty Mutual commercial where the guy gets the key to the city and hooks it on his belt, and this big, long thing drags down the steps. You need to watch more TV if you don't know what it is. But anyway. That's kind of what I think about what the sword, the big old sword that takes two hands, you know, to swing, and if you hit somebody, you're going to do damage. That's not the sword that Paul has in mind here. The sword that Paul has in mind here resembled a dagger, and it would be anywhere from 6 to 18 inches in length, and the sword was used, under normal circumstances, for hand-to-hand combat. It was carried in the scabbard that was attached to the belt.

Now, part of the Christians armor is what? It is the belt of truth. In fact, that's the very first thing that the Apostle Paul told us, as believers, that we need to put on. That was a belt of truth. So, attached to the belt of truth was the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And the soldier kept this sword close at hand so that he had it ready to use at a moment's notice. Now, what do we know that the Bible describes itself as? Truth. Truth, the Word of God is described as truth. John 17:17, "sanctify..." Mark that. "Sanctify them in the truth, your Word is truth". So Jesus prays to his father, that he would... that the father would sanctify his disciples, and what was the means of their sanctification? It was the word of God. It's the Scriptures. What is the... what is the word of God? It is the truth. Know this, God uses his word, both in our salvation, as well as, our sanctification. It's not like you get saved, and then, you check the Bible. The Bible is for them, "unsaved folk". No, God uses the Scriptures, both in our salvation and our sanctification. So, let's not miss the connection made here between our sanctification, between the sword of the Spirit, and God's word which is truth. So when you think about the sword of the Spirit, you think about the Word of God... You think about it as the weapon of choice that God has provided for you, for your sanctification. Now, let me emphasize something here, that perhaps... Again, I think catches many believers off guard.. To become like Christ, you must fight for it. To become like Christ requires effort. It takes energy. It takes patience and practice. You must become skilled in the proper use of the sword of the Spirit.

There is a teaching out there that is still popular, and it goes... the slogan goes something like this: let go and let God. In other words, God has saved you, now you become totally passive in your sanctification. Nothing could be further from the biblical truth. And Paul makes it clear here. To become like Christ, you're going to have to fight for it. It doesn't just happen. So, the sword that Paul used here was used in hand-to-hand combat. It was the weapon that the soldier would use when they were face-to-face with the enemy. It was the weapon that they had to use when they could see the whites of the eyes of their enemy. It was a weapon that they had to use when they could smell the breath of the enemy. It was hand-to-hand combat; it was messy and had to be terrifying.

Sanctification is fighting for holiness. Sanctification is fighting for holiness. It doesn't just happen. It's hand-to-hand combat, where you come face-to-face with the enemy. It's hand-to-hand combat where you come face-to-face with the deeds of the flesh. To win the battle over the deeds of the flesh, to win the battle against everything that would keep you from becoming like Christ, you have to go to war against them. You have to get up close and personal with the enemy. We don't like this, do we? We want an easy sanctification. Where's the easy button for sanctification? Certainly, there's a prayer I can pray and I'm sanctified. Certainly, there's a formula I can follow and I'm sanctified. That's what we want. We want an easy sanctification. Listen, salvation wasn't accomplished through ease. Salvation was accomplished through death. Likewise, sanctification is accomplished through battle, through us putting to death the deeds of the flesh. Sanctification is hands-on. Sanctification requires courage. You cannot be a cowardly Christian and make any progress in sanctification. It will not happen. If you are not willing to go toe-to-toe with your deeds of the flesh, you're not going to make much progress in sanctification.

But what do we like to do? We like to look at somebody else and say, "Well, if they would just do this, I know what they need to do. They just need to confront that thing head-on." That's what you need to do. Right? You can't be afraid of the fight. If I can say it this way: sanctification is a dirty business. It's a dirty business. By the way, you can't make peace with your enemy. Nor can you make friends with your enemy. Neither can you go out with terms of peace with the enemy. They won't accept. They won't give up. They won't call off the fight. John Owen said,  "Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live. Cease not a day from this work. Be killing sin or sin... or it will be killing you." Oh, and also said this, "Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes. He who hath once smitten a serpent, if he follow not on his blow until it be slain, may repent that he... that ever he began the quarrel. And so, he who undertakes to deal with sin and pursues it not constantly to the death." In other words, he's saying, 'Listen, once you strike the first blow, you got to keep striking a blow.' See?

See, we wish our sanctification was like modern-day warfare. Much of modern-day warfare takes place from a distance, doesn't it? We have drones, and we have soldiers who sit behind a video monitor, and they direct the drone to the target, to the enemy. Well, we can't do that. We have to be face-to-face with our enemy. But know this, you can enter the fight with complete confidence. Why? Because first of all, what we talked about last week, which is the helmet of salvation, which is the hope that is provided by the helmet of salvation. Second, because of the nature of the sword. Paul says, it's the sword of the Spirit, meaning what? It is divine in nature. And the writer of Hebrews describes the sword of the Spirit. He says, "For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12). Let me point out one thing here that the writer of Hebrews says there. He says, "the word of God is sharper than any..." Make yourself a physical note, if not a mental note. Circle, underline, underscore that word "any" as an important word. There is no other sword, there is no other weapon that can compare to the Word of God. It is sharper, it is far more deadly than any other sword or any other weapon. There's nothing that can withstand the power of the Word of God. Absolutely nothing. I haven't asked this in a few weeks. So I ask it today. Do you believe that? Do you believe that?

So, knowing that this sword is divine in nature, you can have complete confidence in the sword. Let me give you three reasons why. First of all, we know that the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is divinely inspired. Paul wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture..." There's that word again. "All scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training and righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). Second, because it is God-breathed, it is perfect, it is without error, it cannot fail. So, we can say it like this: It is the perfect weapon, the perfect weapon. The psalmist understood this in Psalm 19. You could go read the whole psalm, but let me just point out two verses: Verses 7 and 8. He writes, "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps. 19:7-8). Thirdly, because it is God-breathed, it is effective. Here's a verse for meditation and memorization: Isaiah 55, verse 11. And, this is a great comfort, should be a great comfort to every preacher. It certainly is to me. Isaiah said, "So shall"... This is God speaking through Isaiah... "So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it" (Is. 55:11). The Word of God is not sometimes effective, not 7 out of 10 times effective, not partially effective. It is always effective. Know this folks, truth, the truth of Scripture does one of two things: it either attracts or it repels.

When I was a young preacher, I used to get all upset when people wouldn't come back and hear me preach. But I came to realize, you know what, if I'm preaching the truth, the Word of God is accomplishing exactly what God wants it to accomplish. And... And you know as a believer that truth either attracts or it repels. Okay? There's no middle ground with Scripture, but what we try and do we want to find the middle ground, don't we? You can be confident in the sword of the Spirit because it's divine in nature, it's is a spiritual weapon which can equip you to confront and handle any and all challenges that come your way, and when it is properly applied, it is effective. It will accomplish the purpose for which God has created it. And in this case, know this, it is effective for your sanctification. The Word of God is effective for your sanctification. Do you see why Paul says we are more than conquerors? So, as believers, we must learn to handle the sword of the spirit with great skill and care. Now, in order to do that, to achieve maximum effectiveness with a sword, you know what you have to do? You must practice with it. You have to spend time with it. Do you know how a marksman becomes a marksman? He practices. He has fired thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands of rounds in order to achieve his goal; he has become highly skilled. He doesn't achieve that level of skill by luck, but by practice. Likewise, you and I as Christians... you must immerse yourself in the Scriptures. It must be your constant companion. And thankfully, we live in a time in which it has never been easier to have constant exposure to the Scriptures.

I recommended a few weeks ago that Dwell app for your Bible... Dwell Bible app for your phone. I continue to highly recommend it. Some people don't like listening to the Bible. That's okay. But for me, it's just another way that I can constantly have input of Scripture going into me. You choose whatever tool works for you. But we just can't say anymore, "Well, you know, my eyesight is not what it used to be or this or that..." There are too many options available to us, in order to take in Scripture. You say, "Is listening to Scripture a legitimate means of taking in the scriptures?" Yes, for thousands of years, people didn't have written copies of the Scriptures. And they would have to hear it preached. They would have to hear it recited, and it was effective. So there's really no excuse for us to not have constant intake of the Scriptures. So to be... to become a skilled, spiritual swordsman, you need to read the scriptures. You can listen to the scriptures. You need to study the Scriptures. You need to memorize the scriptures. By the way, by the way... Let me give you an example of why you need to... why you need to know what you believe. I was going to the store yesterday for Sherry, she was going to make something and needed some, I don't know, candy or something it was. And just as I was getting out of the car, this, this... I'm not gonna say, preacher, really he's a heretic and you'll see why would I... why I say that here in a minute. This guy was saying, they were doing like this fake interview with this guy, and he's talking about Jesus. This time of year we... We celebrate Jesus. And this is what this...  This is what this so-called preacher said, "Jesus was of the earth. Jesus was just a human." And so, the guy that's doing the fake interview says, "Oh, really?" "Yes", says the heretic, " "Jesus didn't become the Son of God until the Holy Spirit came upon him." Heresy. Heresy. Heresy. Would you have picked that up? And how many unsuspecting people are out there thinking, "Well, Jesus is just like me?" Maybe, I can go to this "yay-who's" church, and I get filled with the Spirit and maybe I become like Jesus. No, no, no, no, no. See, know what you believe. Know why you believe. See? Meditate on Scripture. Memorize Scripture. Do all those things so that you can appropriately apply the Scriptures. You need to become highly-skilled and proficient in the application of Scripture. Listen, listen, listen. So, I constantly say, reading is not enough. You must apply the Scriptures. Do not read the Bible like you read your favorite novel. It is not that kind of a book. It is a book to be internalized and applied. It is the means whereby God makes you like Jesus Christ. Do we understand that? Know... This has been a long time ago now, that someone wrote a book, like the one minute Bible or something like that. What a joke. What a joke. "Hey, God, you've given me 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and I'll try and squeeze out one minute a day for you."

Well, enough of that. Someone will call me "screwy" here in a minute, that'll be alright. How do we learn to apply the Scriptures? Well, one surefire way is to study those who are skilled in applying the Scriptures. And of course, our ultimate example of this would be whom? The Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus. So, let's look at what Jesus did in applying the Scriptures to help him battle temptation. Now, if you remember, I believe it is back in Matthew chapter 4, that Jesus has been driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He has fasted for 40 days. And at the end of those 40 days, Satan comes to tempt him. Now, Satan doesn't come to encourage Jesus. He didn't come to befriend Jesus. He didn't come to help Jesus out. He came, for one reason, and one reason alone: He came to tempt Jesus. And do you think it was an accident that he showed up at the end of the 40 days of our Lord's fasting? No. There's a highly calculated move on the part of Satan. He waited until Jesus was in a weakened, physical state, and then, he launches an attack. So, here's a lesson for us right off the bat. We must be careful to be on the alert whenever we find ourselves weakened physically or spiritually because Satan will attack you at that point. He doesn't play fair. He doesn't play by any rules. He will attack you, strong or weak. And so, what was his first temptation that he confronted Jesus with? Well, he confronted him at his weakest point. He confronted Jesus where he thought he was most vulnerable. And that was his hunger, his appetite. Listen, when we're hungry, we'll do just about anything to get food, won't we? So, he comes to Jesus and said, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread" (Matt. 4:3). Well, how did Jesus respond? Rather, what did Jesus respond with? He responded with Scripture, but here's what I want you to see. He didn't just respond with any scripture. He didn't just quote his favorite psalm. He didn't quote his life verse. What did he quote? A highly targeted answer to the temptation. Jesus said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'" (Matt. 4:4). Satan, he's persistent. He said, "Well, I didn't succeed the first time. So let me make a second attempt". So this time he tries to tempt Jesus, to do what? To put his father to the test. Right? He said, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down for it is written, 'he will command his angels, concerning you and on their hands, they will bear you up lest you strike your foot against the stone'" (Matt. 4:6). Now again, what did Jesus respond with? Highly targeted answer. "Again, it is written, 'You shall not put the Lord your God to the test'" (Matt. 4:7). Satan tries a third time. This time he tries to get Jesus to engage in false worship. He said, "All these I will give you if you will fall down and worship me" (Matt. 4:9). Well, by this point, Jesus had had enough, and he said to Satan, "be gone Satan, for it is written, 'you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve'" (Matt. 4:10). The very next verse says this, "Then the devil left him..." (Matt. 4:11a). But, use your imagination here for just a second, and imagine the condition Satan left him, the condition he was in. I believe he was bloodied and bruised. Why? Because Jesus had taken the sword of the Spirit and stuck it in him three times. And he did it in a highly targeted fashion.

See, these are three examples of Jesus skillfully using the sword of the Spirit to combat and overcome the temptations of Satan. Now, here's a little exercise. I want you to think back to the last time that temptation confronted you. It very well could have been this morning. It could have been sometime last night. But here's what I want you to ask yourself: how did you respond to the temptation? Did you follow the example of Jesus and use the sword of the Spirit in a very skillful way? Or did you pull out the sword of the Spirit and use it very clumsy way? You try to launch an attack, but it missed. Why? It wasn't highly targeted enough. Or did you fall back on human reasoning? Some tactic or strategy that you have to deal with a temptation. One commentator said, "Human reasoning is like hitting Satan with a pillow." Listen. You can be as strong as Hercules in swinging a pillow, but you're not going to do much damage. You will never defeat temptation, you will never overcome temptation, you will never resist Satan with human reasoning or some human tactic. Only the sword of the Spirit is powerful enough to send the devil on his way and enable you to overcome whatever the temptation is that you are facing.

What is your first response to temptation? Do you pray and seek the Lord's help? Say, "Why are you such a big fan of memorization, meditation?" Because... because when you're in the midst of the battle, you don't have time to mentally sort through things. So here's your assignment. I know it's Christmas week, but here's your assignment. If you haven't already, you need to start today to prepare yourself for battle. How many times were you wounded this week, simply because you weren't prepared for a battle? If you haven't, start to prepare yourself today, to recognize the cleverly-devised schemes of the devil. Say, "How can I do that?" It's all in here, it's all in here. If you have a start to prepare yourself today for the attacks of your own flesh. Okay, I'll say this again. If you wait until you are in the midst of the battle, odds are, you'll lose. You'll lose. Don't wait. Start today to become highly proficient with the sword of the Spirit. Be filled with the Spirit. Be filled with the words of Christ.