What Does The Sword of the Spirit Mean?

In the letter Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus he tells them to put on spiritual armor. Included in his list of gear is only one offensive item: “the sword of the Spirit,” which he says is the word of God.

Many people understand this as a reference to the Bible, the written word of God. Until a few years ago, I did, too (even though the Bible as we know it today didn’t exist back when this was written). We are then to use the words of the Bible to combat evil and the evil one; it is our weapon to fend off the attacks of the devil and his minions. Sadly, too many people do use the Bible as a weapon, but against each other. They fling Bible verses like rocks, attempting to advance their point and subdue all disagreement. They forget the real enemy is not in the physical world but in the spiritual one. They forget to listen to each other and to love one another.

Other people see this instruction as a reference to the spoken word of God: the words of the Holy Spirit who directs each of us. Though a bit jarring to many, this understanding seems more consistent with the text, since it says the word of God is the sword of the Spirit, connecting word with Spirit. While I think this is a correct understanding, it’s also a risky one. What if we hear wrong? What if what I hear contradicts with what you hear? Then we have a problem.

However, we must keep in mind that the spoken word of God should align with the written word of God. If the two are in conflict, then what we think we heard must be in error.

With so much at stake, some people bypass the Holy Spirit and go straight to the Bible. While this might be safe, it falls short of God’s intent. Instead, we should listen to the spoken words of the Holy Spirit, confirming them with the written words of the Bible.

This is what the sword of the Spirit means to me.