James 1:16-25 Eph 6:17 Eph 1:13-19
Focus on Word and Spirit
Today we are continuing our New Life series on the armour of God in Ephesians 6 with the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. We are now onto the F of new life. The sword is about focusing our hearts and minds on the Word and the Spirit.
The sword of the Spirit is intimately connected with the helmet of salvation. If we were to translate the Greek of Ephesians 6:17 into English keeping the word order the Greek we would get something like this. ‘and the helmet of salvation accept, and the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God.’ The one verb ‘accept’ is used once for both the helmet and the sword and comes between them. They are given to us together as gifts for us to gratefully accept.
We looked last week at how that verb for accept has the sense of gratefully receive as a gift. The helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit are there already and we are simply asked to receive the gift.
You might know someone, or maybe even you are someone who isn’t the greatest at receiving gifts. Someone who isn’t great at receiving gifts sometimes struggles to receive the gift that is given maybe thinking they’re not worthy to receive it. They might try to give it back to the giver, because they don’t want to accept it.
When God gives us a gift though, we are asked to acknowledge that we are valuable, that we deserve it, and to freely and kindly accept the gift.
The connection between the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
The first thing I want to look at this morning is the intimate connection between the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit.
Last Sunday with Gil we looked at salvation and at three things we are saved from. We’re saved from death to eternal life, we are saved from self-improvement on our own strength to the gift of new creation, and saved from being outsiders, to being included in God’s people, fully accepted by Him. We are given a new identity. In his commentary on Ephesians 6:17 Darrell Bock writes that ‘Salvation and the Word are related because the word is the message about salvation in Jesus Christ.’
The particular Greek word used for ‘word’ in Eph 6:17 means a verbal message. In Ephesians the gospel is a verbal message about salvation that is spoken to us and which we believe. It is the message that gives us our new identity as new creations.
Ephesians 1:13 says ‘And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.’
Our identity as new creations is accompanied by the seal of the Holy Spirit. When Paul wrote Ephesians being sealed was a mark of identification or authentication’. Have you ever been to an event where you’ve received a stamp on your hand when you pay to go in. The stamp authenticates you to be at the event. If you’ve sneaked in you won’t have the right mark stamped on your hand and you’re at risk of being spotted without the mark and thrown out.
So when we hear and believe the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, we are marked out as authentically included in Christ with the Holy Spirit. In other words, we automatically receive the sword of the Spirit when we hear the word. The word and the Spirit go hand in hand, they cannot be separated.
In James too, the word is the gospel of Jesus, and James confirms that we have already received the gift of the word.
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created…
That is that God our Father has given us the gift of being a new creation in Him through the word that we received. If we are given a new birth as new creations, this word in James is the gospel of salvation, just as it is in Ephesians. Then James says
‘21 …humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.’
James, like Ephesians, confirms we have already received the word. James uses the term ‘planted in you’ to confirm that we already have the word. We automatically receive the word as part of our identity as new creations in Christ, and yet, just like Ephesians we are asked to humbly accept this word. The Greek verb behind ‘humbly accept’ in James 1:21 is the same Greek verb as for accepting the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God in Ephesians 6:17.
It is the power of God in that word which gives it the ability to save. The Holy Spirit is the power of God. Alongside the helmet of salvation, you have received the sword of the Spirit. It is yours; you are worthy of it, God has given it to you, yet we are still asked to humbly accept as a gift, something which we have already been given.
There is a purpose to the armour of God. Gil spoke last week as the helmet of salvation giving us protection through the practical application of the message of salvation. The sword, adds more detail to that message.
If we know we have a sword but don’t accept it as a gift it does nothing for us. we could just set is aside saying I’m not worthy of this, or hold it by our sides doing nothing with it, thinking ‘I can’t use it.’ The sword which is empowered by the Holy Spirit does more than carry the power to save us. It carries with it the power to apply the gospel to our lives as required, as the Holy Spirit makes God’s word in whole of Scripture effective in our lives.
In Scripture there is a constant tension between already and not yet. We know the battle has been won, and yet we also know that we sense ourselves to currently be in a spiritual battle. We feel attacked on all sides. We feel angry about things, or anxious about things. We see pain and suffering in the world all around us, near us in our own lives and families, and further afield in the world. The battle is against spiritual powers, not against people, but it is the sword of the Spirit that allows us to defend ourselves against the spiritual attacks we experience that make us angry, anxious, or upset.
Accepting the sword of the Spirit is about discipleship, it is about an openness to God’s presence and the Spirit’s work in helping us understand the gospel and applying it to our lives.
I already mentioned Eph 1:13, ‘And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.’ But Paul goes on after that to talk about his prayers for the Ephesians, In v17 he says ‘I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.’
Paul’s prayer is that their belief develops within them so that increasingly the Spirit helps a person know God more, and practically apply that knowledge in wisdom. It’s not a giving of the spirit for the first time, but a prayer that they would be awakened to the Spirit’s role in revealing wisdom and revelation to them.
James 1:19, 22-25
Although James doesn’t speak of the word as a sword, but rather about something planted in us that we graciously receive, he confirms that the next stage is discipleship. We grow in our application of that word, and our ability to keep anger and frustration at life at bay, as we remain open to the presence of God in our lives. James challenges us not give a brief glance at God’s word revealed to us in Scripture, and then ignore it, but rather to look intently, and do something about it. He uses the example of a mirror.
I could look into a mirror and see that I had a dirty splodge on my chin, food between my teeth, and greasy hair, and then just walk away. If I then went out to meet up with friends like that, then the whole looking in the mirror thing would have been pointless. Either my friends would joke a bit about my appearance, or they would say nothing out of politeness, but either way I’m not really doing myself good by going out looking a mess. But If I looked in the mirror and responded by taking a shower and brushing my teeth, then looking in the mirror was of value, and I’ve done something about it.
If we move the mirror analogy to God’s word we could open the Bible and read James 1:19 which says 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
We could say to ourselves, that was nice, but then instantly forget it, and then an hour or so later get into a big argument with a family member because we misunderstood something they said and then got upset and angry.
Or we could say to ourselves, God wants me to listen carefully to people and be slow to get angry, so that I don’t get angry without reason, and damage my relationships. Then an hour or so later when a family member says something that hurts, ask them ‘what did you means by that and why did you say it?’ and after listening for a while realise that it was a misunderstanding, and not get angry or upset.
That is what James means by looking intently. We read or listen, we take note, we learn, and we respond. We take time to listen to what the Spirit is saying to us in and through the word.
James’s mirror analogy of looking and then forgetting is like us having the sword of the Spirit, but not using it. we are attacked Spiritually as life goes against us, and we take all the blows against our armour, and the stabs that get our weak spots, because we don’t know how to hold up the sword in defence.
Or we could use our gift – taking care to think about what we see in the Word and understand it. Then we can block the blows from the spiritual forces of evil, with our sword of the Spirit, as the Spirit helps us apply truths to our lives.
The living sword
Although James describes the word of God as law in v25 this is not dead law. It is living and powerful. As Hebrews says ‘the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword…and it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
This sword is living for two reasons that are found in James 1 v25. It is the perfect law, and it is the law that gives freedom. Together these show that it is the Holy Spirit living in our hearts that gives the word of God it’s living power.
Perfect: Jeremiah 31:31-34
The regulations and laws of the Old testament were weak and unable to make anyone perfect or free. Hebrews 7 18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
But Hebrews 7goes on to say in v28 that the Son, that is Jesus, has been made perfect for ever.
The better hope that we have is Jesus. The perfect law then is the new covenant which Jeremiah wrote about in advance. Jeremiah 31:31-34
31 ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord,
‘when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,’
declares the Lord.
33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,’ declares the Lord.
‘I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
James tells us that the word is planted in us. Like the new covenant it is written in our hearts.
Freedom: Romans 8
The most important thing to note about what James says though, is that this looking intently into this perfect law is about freedom. If we feel forced and required to do something then we aren’t doing it in freedom, we’re doing it because we feel like we are slaves to the Word. And that takes us back to the helmet of salvation. We’re saved from death to life, saved from trying to do things in our own strength, and saved from being outsiders, by being made new creations, as God’s people through new birth. We are released from the pressure of making ourselves perfect, because Jesus has already done that on our behalf.
This freedom, though, is not about us now being careless about how we live our lives. The perfect law is written on our hearts because the perfect law is the Holy Spirit living in our hearts, the Spirit we all have planted in us from the first moment we believe.
Psalm 40:8 says, I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.’
When God’s word is in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we want to do God’s will. We therefore have freedom to do the very thing we want to do. We want to Please God. And since it is the Holy Spirit living is us that defines us as Children of God, we are free to make mistakes along the way without fear, because our hearts are set on living by the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
All this is Romans 8
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh,[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.[c] And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires
11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’
How do we accept the gift of the sword?
James asks us to look intently into the Word. The Greek word carried the idea of bending over to inspect something carefully. The looker knows there’s something important to be seen and tries to make sense of it. It may be like a puzzle, or mystery, and understanding it probably won’t come easily or all at once. But the main thing is the desire to understand the important thing. It’s a word rarely used in the New Testament. But it is used to for Mary, and John, and Peter when each look into the empty tomb of Jesus trying to make sense of what has happened. The Holy Spirit only helps us understand mysteries when we are ready to understand them.
And because the sword of the Spirit that is the word of God lives in our hearts at all times, the Holy Spirit may enable us to apply the word at any time of day or night. We might wake up with a sudden thought of something that will enable us to live well. I believe that the Holy Spirit might guide our minds and hearts in understanding and revelation even while we’re dreaming, doing dishes, or reading a novel or watching TV. It may even be a TV program that helps us understand something more of God.
I can’t accept that; I can’t use that?
To return to our introduction. This gift of the sword of the Spirit is for you. If you think ‘nah, that’s not for me, I don’t understand Scripture, then know this: It is for you. You are worthy of it. You are able to receive it.
The word is the gospel of Salvation in Jesus Christ as proclaimed to us, so whoever you are, the Holy Spirit will enable you to understand God’s word however it comes to you. It may be in Scripture, or it may be through other people proclaiming the message of Scripture while you listen.
Anyone can do this, because the Holy Spirit knows us and works with us: With our unique personalities, abilities, and experience. The word and the Spirit work together in such a way that the word is applied uniquely to us, and it is able to cross all the boundaries that separate people and cultures across time and space. It can also be applied at the group level to us as a church, and to families, and even to towns like Rosyth as the Spirit leads.
Jesus used memorised Scripture to refute the devil when he was tempted in the wilderness, and memorising bits of Scripture is always a useful thing. But not everyone is able to memorise scripture and that’s OK because it isn’t actually necessary. What is necessary is simple openness to God. Desire to do God’s will, and openness for the Holy Spirit to do just what Paul prays for the Ephesians in 1:17. that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.