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The Armor of God (VIII): The Sword of the Spirit

This is the eighth and final part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


. . . and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

I mentioned at the beginning of this series that the entire panoply is defensive, with the sole exception of “the sword of the Spirit.” Now we arrive at a discussion of the meaning of this weapon.

The sword is a metaphor throughout Scripture for the Word of God, and not just in Ephesians or Hebrews. There are three elements that the word of God is compared to (whether in simile or metaphor):

  1. Light
    lamp [Ps. 119:105]
    fire [Jer. 23:29, technically a simile]
    mirror [James 1:23, simile]
  2. Food
    milk [1 Pet. 2:2, Heb. 5:12, 1 Cor. 3:2]
    meat [Heb. 5:12, 1 Cor. 3:2]
  3. Weapon
    sword [Eph. 6:17, Heb. 4:12-13, Rev. 1:16; see also Isa. 49:2, Hos. 6:5, Rev. 2:12, 19:15, 19:21]
    hammer [Jer. 23:29, simile]
    fire [Jer. 5:14, see also Jer. 20:9, 23:29]

There may be a few similes not mentioned here. For instance, the Word is like a seed that brings life (1 Pet. 1:23), and the Word is like water that cleanses (Eph. 5:26-27).

Overall, though, the most common metaphor used of God’s Word is a weapon. And out of the weapon metaphors, a sword appears to be the most repeated throughout both Testaments.

The Word Reveals, Nourishes, and Hurts

These metaphors that are repeated throughout Scripture enable us to see the Word as accomplishing at least three functions in our lives: It reveals, it nourishes, and it hurts. Needless to say, the third of these is the most surprising, especially since it is the most repeated!

The Word reveals. As a lamp, the Word reveals the way to live; as a fire, the Word brings safety at night, but in that passage in Jeremiah, it is also, yet again, a weapon. And as a mirror, the Word reveals to us ourselves.

The Word also nourishes. Both Peter and Paul compare God’s Word to “spiritual milk” that brings us to maturity. There is also a word from God that is like “meat”—it strengthens us and energizes us. The Word also takes time to digest! We need to take it pieces, not all at once, lest we miss the maturity that comes with each morsel of revelation.

The Word hurts. Take a look at Jeremiah’s word:

12 They have lied about the Lord,
And said, “It is not He.
Neither will evil come upon us,
Nor shall we see sword or famine. . . .”

14 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts:

“Because you speak this word,
Behold, I will make My words in your mouth fire,
And this people wood,
And it shall devour them.”

(Jer. 5:12, 14, NKJV)

God’s Word is amazingly powerful. The same Word that said in the beginning, “let there be light”—and there was light—still has power to build and destroy, to create and to undo. In a sense, some Creation processes have freedom to run “in the background” with or without divine maintenance—although truly “in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:17) But when he wants to tear down entire nations, he does it, not with lightning and thunder, with his arm and his power, but with his word.

Out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. (Rev. 19:15, NKJV)

The same sword that, in the end, defeats Satan’s armies, is the sword that we as believers wield against him. His Word is that powerful. Amazingly, this “sword” is the only weapon mentioned.

Finally, the Word hurts to heal. When the author of Hebrews calls the Word “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit” (4:12 NKJV), we should take notice that he’s talking about believers. The author of Hebrews speaks of warning believers, to “be diligent to enter that rest” (4:11):

Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. (4:1 NKJV)

The sword of the Spirit may pierce us now as a way of helping us to know if our efforts are from the soul or from the spirit. As we close our discussion of God’s suit of armor, let us make every effort to find ourselves among those that are pierced here and now by the Word of God—for everyone who is not pierced by it now, will assuredly be pierced by it hereafter.

The Armor of God (VII): The Helmet of Salvation

This is the seventh part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph. 6:17)

Like the “breastplate of righteousness,” the “helmet of salvation” is first mentioned by Isaiah:

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.
(Isa. 59:17)

Some have said that connecting “salvation” to our “heads” implies that salvation is related to our theology or thought processes about God. That is true, in a sense. It is not our right ways of thinking that bring us salvation; it is our salvation that directs our thoughts to God. When we repent and turn to him, he enables us to become his children (John 1:1-14), and this amounts to a total reorientation of our life.

I am not sure whether a reader in Paul’s day or Isaiah’s day would have readily connected their “brain” or “head” with their thoughts. Regardless, I think it’s nearer to the heart of the metaphor to seek to understand the Jewish concept of salvation, and to see it as something that protects the most important part of us.

It is a very American problem to be preoccupied with “where someone is spending eternity” to the exclusion of the consideration of righteousness or even life. An interesting corrective to this has been noticed by better Bible scholars than myself:

  • He “saved” us in Titus 3:5;
  • We are “being saved” in 1 Corinthians 1:18, Acts 2:47, and elsewhere; and,
  • We “will be saved” in Mark 16:16 and Acts 16:31.

“Salvation” as used in the Bible definitely includes a future state; but it also involves a state of wholeness on earth and in this present life. We should think of salvation as God’s protecting influence that begins with forgiveness and culminates in eternal communion.

The Armor of God (VI): Fiery Darts

This is the sixth part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore . . . above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Eph. 6:14, 16)

There are two offensive weapons mentioned in Ephesians 6, and the difference between them should be striking: The enemy shoots darts or arrows at us, while our only weapon is a sword. One is for long-distance combat; the other is for close combat.

The traditional phrase, “fiery darts,” has also been translated “flaming arrows”; historians record that arrows were dipped in oil, lit on fire, and used in battle as much as 2700 years ago (and referenced in Psalm 7:13, which may be even older). But they were probably not very common, or effective. The technology was greatly improved by the Byzantines, who invented a form of napalm in the seventh century after Christ. Before that time, a “flaming arrow” would be a frightening spectacle, but not always super-effective.

The metaphor tells us something about the devil’s strategy. He lobs his weapons at us from a great distance, hoping that the damage will spread. The Scriptures describes “the tongue” as a spreading fire: it “setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:6)

One of the greatest ways that we can cancel the lies of the enemies is by controlling the words that come out of our mouths. Our mouths are not magic, but our words do carry “the power of life and death” (Prov. 18:21), and we can damage our own faith by not keeping a tight grip on our words.

The Armor of God (V): The Shield of Faith

This is the fifth part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore . . . above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. (Eph. 6:14, 16)

Warren Wiersbe has a fantastic book entitled The Strategy of Satan in which he goes through the key Scriptures related to spiritual warfare and temptation. Starting with with Adam and Eve, he goes through many of the same themes that I discussed in my series on Jesus in the desert. His impactful book keeps faith front and center during the discussion of spiritual warfare—if we want to live in victory, we need faith. So what is it, and how do we get there?

Faith, Wiersbe says, is the key to the entire conflict. But this statement can be misleading if we misunderstand what faith is. One of the ways we misunderstand faith is by thinking of it as mere confidence, like throwing yourself off a bridge into a dark cavern, hoping that the landing will be soft. We pray for someone to receive healing or for the mortally ill to turn a corner, and invariably someone will muddy the waters of a fast-growing faith by using the words, “we didn’t have enough faith.” Young minds hear these words and, comparing them to a few Scriptures, they imagine that they didn’t huff and puff and “faith themselves up” enough. If those were the conditions and operations of faith, then not only would faith be a fool’s hope, but God would be a silent tyrant. God forbid!

Biblical faith is not as mysterious as that. A. W. Tozer addressed this “leap of faith” problem in many of his short articles, but the most memorable is his chapter “The Gaze of the Soul” in the book The Pursuit of God. Tozer wrote there that “faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” He brings faith firmly back into the realm of possibility—faith involves confidence in what we already know about God. We cannot know everything about any given topic; but, given that we know Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we are willing to risk everything we don’t know on the God that we do know.

Getting back to Wiersbe’s book—he points out that Adam and Eve’s failure against the serpent turned on their knowledge of God. Eve had already walked with God. She had already talked with God and heard from God, and she failed in that knowledge first. Then, she failed in conflict with her enemy.

There are a lot of strange ideas out there about spiritual warfare. Many world religions use ritualistic chanting or cleansing to drive away evil spirits, and some Christians think that quoting Scripture in a certain way can do the same thing. Some modern worship songs apply an almost magical power to the name of Jesus, which, while it has some founding in Scripture, is not something that should be worn like a charm when it is not married to a living faith in a present God.

We have all had moments when we simply felt attacked, as even atheists can attest. We locked the door but troubles came swarming through our window. “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” We all know those “flaming arrows” of the enemy. And we all have thoughts about who to turn to—a person we can trust, a drink or drug to drown our sorrow, or anything to distract us from the state of our soul. Or we think that extra Scripture reading or church attendance will somehow protect us. None of these things mark a true newborn faith of the child of God. The only response from the child of God is to look heavenward for help with the gaze of a born-again faith and offer the sacrifice of praise, knowing that all who even desire to live godly will suffer persecution in Christ Jesus.

The Armor of God (IV): Feet Shod with Preparation

This is the fourth part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore . . . and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace . . .
(Eph. 6:14-15)

“Having your feet shod” is closely connected to the metaphor of “the belt of truth,” and the two should be taken together, although they are not mentioned together. Both are with the purpose of running (1 Kings 18:46, 2 Kings 4:29)

Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead . (1 Kings 18:46; cf. 2 Kings 4:29, etc.)

If having the correct shoes has any Old Testament analogue, it would be in the shoes worn at the Passover supper.

And thus you shall eat it [i.e. the Passover meal]: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the Lord’s Passover. (Ex. 12:11)

The Passover meal is rich in picturesque imagery; although the Exodus is a work of God, the children of Israel were required to eat the Passover supper in readiness, prepared to flee the land of Egypt. It speaks, like the belt, of readiness and eternity-consciousness.

The work of the gospel is also the work of God, but that does not excuse laziness or foolhardiness as we prepare for the work. We should do everything we can to be ready for gospel work.

When it comes to gospel work overseas, there are a variety of ways that we can prepare. There is language study; physical training; cultural study; and, if that weren’t difficult enough, the arduous task of applying the message to hardened hearts will keep us busy for a lifetime. But making disciples is the best preparation. If we have not made disciples at home, we will have triple the difficulty making them abroad. If you want to be prepared to spread the gospel, don’t just buy a plane ticket—make disciples.

The Armor of God (III): The Breastplate of Righteousness

This is the third part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness . . . (Eph. 6:14)

The “breastplate” is the first piece of defensive armor that Paul names. This one and the “helmet of salvation” were both mentioned by Isaiah in a Messianic prophecy:

He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.
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.
(Isa. 59:16-17)

Paul also has a similar “breastplate” metaphor in one of his other letters:

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. (1 Th. 5:8)

Paul is not afraid to come up with his own metaphors (like “the belt of truth”), but he also couches everything in the wisdom of tradition. When he puts together metaphors, they tend to be metaphors that were already used in Scripture.

The Breastplate of Judgment?

The connection between “righteousness” and the “breastplate” is no mistake. Although the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge doesn’t mention the cross-reference, both Isaiah and Paul would have been well aware of the high priest’s “breastplate of judgment,” first introduced as such in Exodus 28:15. The word “breastplate” is only used in two contexts in the Bible: the priest’s breastplate of judgment, and the metaphorical breastplate of righteousness (or, in 1 Thessalonians, “faith and love”). Although there are different shades of meaning, the two terms (“judgment” and “righteousness”) are too close in meaning to think that either Paul or Isaiah had anything else in mind.

With that in mind, I believe that the breastplate of righteousness refers to righteous decision-making. The meaning of “judgment” in Exodus 28 is not divine punishment; it means something more like “discernment” or “what is right.”

The Urim and Thummim

The priest’s breastplate is a rather mysterious symbol if we take it as connected to divine judgment, in the sense of punishment and reward. But it becomes much clearer when we take judgment to mean “decision-making,” in connection with the Urim and Thummim. These were actually consulted in the Old Testament very seldom: Saul consulted them at least twice while making war against the Philistines (1 Sam. 14:41 & 28:6),  and Ezra desired to consult them on return from exile, but they had apparently been permanently lost (Ezra 2:63, Neh. 7:65).

The Urim and Thummim are rather mysterious in the Old Testament, but we do know that:

  • They were a decision-making tool used by the high priest, likely quite similar to flipping a coin.
  • Their name is Hebrew for “lights and perfections,” which seems to point to wise decision-making, but doesn’t say anything about their actual use.
  • They are not frequently mentioned, and in fact word from a prophet and even dreams are much more frequent in the Old Testament (cf. 1 Sam. 28:6).
  • It also appears they fell out of use after David’s time, and were lost by the time of Ezra.
  • They are not mentioned in the New Testament.

The Urim and Thummim in the breastplate symbolize for us the simple fact of consulting God when making decisions. But one danger is, this can be over-emphasized, to the point that we paralyze young believers until they have some spiritual experience, proving God approves of their next decision.

Guarding Your Heart

The basic function of a breastplate is to protect the vital organs such as the heart. For that reason, it is common to link the “breastplate of righteousness” in Ephesians to Proverbs 4:23:

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.

As I have written elsewhere, the “heart” in Scripture represents thoughts and intentions, not just emotions. This makes sense when we reflect that the priest’s breastplate held the Urim and Thummim, the two stones that the priest used to make decisions:

And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the LORD continually. (Ex. 28:30)

When the proverb tells us “guard your heart,” I believe it’s talking about protecting your thought-life and your decisions. I have seen people who were walking with God fall into strange cult-like behavior, and I believe one of the main drivers was their desire for spiritual help in decision-making—when we become lost on this point, some will begin to consult forbidden means like fortune-tellers, astrology, or seances. These lead them into spiritual entanglement and doctrinal confusion, and they end up forgetting the righteousness that is found in Christ.

When we believe that righteousness is found in Christ, it enables us to make decisions with confidence, knowing that he is with us and for us, and that he is empowering us and giving us wisdom through his Word and Spirit. The Bible also gives us a firm footing, so that we don’t always have to wait for a special word—we have the Word. There are times when the Holy Spirit will prompt us to wait until it is the right moment or until we understand a situation better before making a decision; in other times, having consulted the firm foundation of God’s Word, walking in the wisdom of Christian history, and staying in close contact with trustworthy Christian brothers and sisters, we can take bold steps, especially when God’s honor is at stake.

The Armor of God (II): The Belt of Truth

This is the second part in an eight-part series on “the armor of God” in Ephesians 6. It starts here.


Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth . . . (Eph. 6:14)

“Girding your waist,” or putting on “the belt of truth” in most translations, does not refer to cinching up your pants, but a loose full-body garment we would know as a robe or a long tunic. They are usually of one piece, with openings only for the head and arms. It is misleading, in looking at Paul’s meaning, to think of a toga; a “tunic” that is longer than your waist and requires a belt is the best way to think of the intended figure. This was the basic everyday wear of men and women in the Roman Empire two millennia ago, and is still widespread in the Middle East today. English-speakers in the Middle East call them by their local Arabic names (thawb, dishdasha, or jellabiya), because they are difficult to describe in English.

In the Persian Gulf where I live, people walk notoriously slow, partially because of the limitations of the outfit; belts are also never worn with them, and sandals are also the norm for men; many Arab women wear ankle-length cloaks with high heels. Needless to say, running in most contexts is considered very improper. The point of Paul’s metaphor, “the belt of truth,” is that it allows us to run.

Elijah and John’s Claim to Fame

In both the Old and New Testaments, we have reason to believe that a belt is a distinctive piece of clothing. In 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah could identify Elijah by description with only two items: hairy plus belt.

And he said unto them, “What manner of man was he which came up to meet you, and told you these words?”
And they answered him, “He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.”
And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

Given that this belt was the single conclusive item in Elijah’s wardrobe, it’s notable that his New Testament antitype, John the Baptist, wore one as well (Matt. 3:4). The belt was evidently not in vogue or everyday use in Elijah’s day, or John the Baptist’s day, or today in most of the Middle East.

The Belt Means Eternity-Consciousness

When I see someone late for an appointment here, they may run if they are dressed in Western clothes; but you cannot really run in a long tunic and sandals! The garment restricts your knees, like a dress. The best you can do is a shuffle, if you hold on to the lower part of your tunic. For this reason, both Paul and Peter talk about being “girded”:

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 1:13)

Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, . . . (Eph. 6:14)

The key practical element of the belt is that it allows you to run. Strictly speaking, it’s not a piece of “armor.” It doesn’t directly involve defense or attack. It does allow you to be more agile. Paul describes this characteristics as derived from “truth.” In many places, it can mean “reality.”

Understanding reality keeps us from wasting our time. The “truth” prepares us by making us see that we all have an appointment with eternity and with a judgement day. This consciousness was the most notable thing about Elijah and John the Baptist and the belt that they wore symbolized this vigor and diligence.

Lord, make us eternity-conscious so that we can run with vigor the race set before us.