Yesterday I had the privilege to preach Ephesians 6:17 as we continued our series through Ephesians. As we’re nearing the end of this rich letter penned by the apostle Paul, we have engaged in a mini-series on the armor of God and the necessity of being ready for war. As previously stated, the Christian life is not a picnic. It’s a war. We are to approach the Christian life as if we’re in a war rather than a dodge ball tournament. The stakes are high and our enemy is serious.
Paul has been describing the different pieces of the armor and weaponry necessary for the Christian. As Paul most likely looks back to Isaiah 59 and other passages in the prophecy of Isaiah, he sees there the depiction of Yahweh clothed for war. That image along with Paul’s knowledge of the Roman soldier’s weaponry formed the background whereby the apostle concluded his letter with a wartime mentality for the church in Ephesus (and the churches of the surrounding areas).
The final two pieces of armor and weaponry include perhaps the most critical part of the soldier’s attire—the helmet and the sword. First, the helmet would have been made of bronze and leather and would have always been worn by the soldier in battle. As stated earlier, Paul looked back to Isaiah 59:17 to see God clothed for war complete with a helmet of salvation. Therefore, here in this text it’s as if Paul is saying that God himself provides his own helmet to his children as they are sent out into the war of the Christian life. The Christian must possess salvation given by God (true saving grace) in order to be a Christian, and that helmet of salvation serves as protection to deflect the attacks of the evil spirits.
In like manner, the soldier would be sent out into battle with a sword. The sword pictured here would not be the long sword often depicted in movies. Instead, it would have been the shorter sword worn on the belt or armor of the soldier. As Paul describes it, he calls it the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God. It is indeed the Spirit of God who wrote the Bible. It is the Word of God, and the choice of vocabulary here points to the idea of the gospel proclaimed as opposed to a mere possession of a Bible. The devil laughs at a Christian who walks around with his sword in the sheath.
The sword of the Spirit (God’s gospel) serves to protect us from temptations to sin, doubts of our salvation, weaknesses in the faith, and attacks upon the validity of God’s Word. Not only does the sword serves as a defensive weapon, but it also serves as an offensive weapon. The Christian is to press forward in battle using the sword of the Spirit—the gospel of Christ. As Christians are sent out into the world of darkness, we are to open our mouths and proclaim the gospel. Inviting people to our church service, sending them an encouraging message, or living a Christian life before their eyes is not enough. We must share the gospel verbally with a desire to persuade them to believe. This is exactly what Paul did in his ministry (see Acts 26:18).
As the church of Jesus Christ marches onward for Christ with the whole armor of God, each Christian can take the sword of the Spirit with confidence knowing that it’s God through His Word that brings a hard heart to repentance. Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ (Rom. 10:17). How will unbelievers call on the Lord of salvation if they have not heard (Rom. 10:14-15)?
Hebrews 4:12 – 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.
How unsuccessful would an army of soldiers be on the battlefield if they had their entire armor on, but kept their sword in their sheath? The devil laughs at such tactics. How strange would it be if the entire army marched across the battlefield in hopes that by their synchronized marching and efficiency they would cause the opposing enemy to surrender? We must do more than live out our faith before others. We must take our sword from the sheath and explain the good news of the gospel with unbelievers.