'TAKE THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT...'
SERIES: PAUL, AN INSTRUMENT OF THE RISEN CHRIST
by Ron Ritchie
This past Easter Sunday I spoke at the Easter Sunrise Service at Stanford
University amphitheater. Our college pastor, in association with Christian
students on campus, asked me to take the "sword of the Spirit,"
as Paul describes the Word of God in his Ephesian letter, and share the
message of living hope which Christians possess because of the resurrection
of Jesus Christ. I arrived on campus well before 6 a.m. but I could not
find the location of the prayer meeting which was to be held before the
service. When I finally got to the amphitheater and met with the leadership
team, I realized that it was an extremely chilly morning and that I had
not dressed adequately. Although I borrowed a coat, and it helped keep out
some degree of cold, I sat shivering as the crowd began to file in for the
Then I felt another shiver, this time a shiver of fear, as I found myself
thinking, what in the world was I doing there in the first place? Why had
I even accepted this invitation to speak? I wondered. What could I possibly
accomplish among so many bright and intelligent people? Why would they even
listen to me?
A chill of foolishness quickly followed. Was it realistic to hope that God
would use his Word to pierce the closed hearts of people on a cold Easter
morning? Would some respond to God's invitation to forgiveness of sin and
his promise of eternal life through saving faith in Christ?
As the introductions came to an end and it was time for me to preach, I
prayed for courage. "Dear Lord," I prayed,"Please use your
Word to bring many into your kingdom this morning. In my flesh I am filled
with doubt and fear, but in my spirit I have great hope." Slowly, I
felt a sense of peace and calm come over me. I began to speak, but I cannot
tell you what the Lord taught through me. From conversations which I have
had since, however, I learned that the "sword of the Spirit" had
pierced several hearts that morning and some had come to faith in Christ
through what the apostle Paul once called the "foolishness of preaching."
I share this to illustrate once more the fact that we are involved in a
spiritual battle. And although my several chills that Easter morning at
Stanford may not seem to have been very threatening, they were nevertheless
instances of spiritual warfare, reminders of Paul's words in his Ephesian
letter that Christians "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against
the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness,
against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places"
This is what we have been learning in our series of studies in the life
of Paul which we have been following from the book of Acts. The apostle's
experiences as he traveled about on his missionary journeys must surely
have been on his mind when he later wrote the book of Ephesians from his
prison cell in Rome. What enables the Christian to stand in the face of
the "schemes of the devil"? We find the apostle's answer to this
very important question, once again in chapter 6 of Ephesians: "Therefore,
take up the full armor of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil
day..." Paul then goes on to describe this armor: "Stand firm
therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate
of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the
gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with
which you will be able to extinguish the flaming missiles of the evil one.
And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is
the word of God."
The Roman soldier's sword had a blade about 24 inches long. It was sharpened
on both edges and came to a very sharp point. It was both an offensive and
defensive weapon, designed so that a trained legionnaire could cut and thrust
from any position.
"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God," is the weapon
which the Christian must use in the spiritual battles to which he is called.
Paul is suggesting how the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God in the midst
of our spiritual battles. The "word of God" in this instance is
not the Greek word logos, i.e. all that God has spoken and written by and
through his Son Jesus, through the prophets and the apostles. The word,
in fact, is the Greek word hrema, which is the specific word of God for
a specific situation.
An example of a defensive use of the "sword of the Spirit, which is
the word of God" is the occasion when Jesus was tempted by Satan in
the wilderness. Our Lord responded to three different spiritual attacks
by quoting three verses from the Old Testament to deflect the attacks and
force the evil one to retreat. On the other hand, the book of Hebrews illustrates
in the following verse how damaging the "sword of the Spirit"
is when it is used offensively: "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 marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions
of the heart" (4:12).
This is clearly demonstrated in Acts 2 following Peter's sermon after the
Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost and filled each of the disciples.
Peter had demonstrated from the Old Testament that the Jesus whom the Jews
had crucified was their Messiah and God the Father had raised Him from the
dead. Here is what he said,"Therefore let all the house of Israel know
for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ-this Jesus whom you
crucified. Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart and
said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'
And Peter said to them , 'Repent and let each of you be baptized in the
name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins ; and you shall
receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'"
Today we will look at Paul's use of the "sword of the Spirit"
in his address to the Supreme Court of the Jews in Jerusalem. Following
a riot in the temple area over the apostle's alleged introduction of a Greek
into the temple, Paul had been rescued by the Roman cohort and brought to
his barracks to be examined by scourging. "Wishing to know for certain
why Paul had been accused by the Jews," Acts 22:30 says, next day the
commander brought the apostle before the chief priests and all the Council
and set him before them. As he stood before the Council, the "sword
of the Spirit" was the only weapon Paul had in the confrontation which
he would soon face. I am reminded of the words of Jesus to his disciples,
"Behold I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be
shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves. But beware of men; for they will
deliver you up to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall
even be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to
them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not become anxious
about how or what you will speak; for it shall be given you in that hour
what you are to speak, for it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit
of your Father who speaks in you" (Matt.10:16-20).
I. The defensive use of the sword. Acts 22:30-23:5
But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had
been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests
and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before
them. And Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, "Brethren, I
have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this
day." And the high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him
to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him," God is going to
strike you, you whitewashed wall1 And do you sit to try me according to
the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to me struck?" But the
bystanders said, "Do you revile God's high priest?" And Paul said,
"I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written,
'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'"
It is easy to imagine the tension in the court when Paul began to speak.
On one side stood the hated and confused Romans, and on the other side the
high priest, in company with the seventy members of the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees,
the Sadducees and the Scribes. In the middle, standing on the very stones
upon which Jesus, and later Peter and John, stood some 24 years earlier
was the apostle Paul. The issue once again was Jesus, the man whom the Jews
had crucified such a long time ago. How this must have frustrated the Supreme
Court! Year after year they kept having to confront these pests who called
themselves followers of the Way, these fanatics who claimed that the Jesus
who was crucified had risen from the dead.
What was the apostle's point in his opening statement about his having a"perfectly
good conscience before God up to this day"? He was not saying he was
perfect, or that he never made a mistake. What he was saying was that to
the best of his knowledge, as he had walked before men and God as a Pharisee,
a Roman citizen and a follower of Christ, his conscience was clear and clean.
He had not broken any Jewish, Roman, or spiritual laws. He was neither a
renegade Jew nor an opponent of the Law.
The high priest reacted to this statement by ordering that Paul be struck
on the mouth. Ananias, the high priest, was not the same man who held that
office in Jesus' time. He was a man of bad character who was later called
to Rome to answer cruelty charges pressed by by the Samaritans. Paul responded
by defending himself from Scripture, the "sword of the Spirit,"
saying, "God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! And do you
sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me
to be struck?" It was illegal to strike a Jew before he was properly
and legally accused. And it was all the more offensive for a Jew to be struck
by another Jew, especially in front of Romans. The Lord Jesus experienced
the same treatment at his late-night trial (John 18:22).
Faced with this spiritual test, the Spirit of God brought to Paul's mind
two particular verses from the Law of Moses First, from Leviticus 19:15:
"You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to
the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly...I
am the Lord..." And then from Deuteronomy 25:1-3: "...judgment
by beating only if found guilty..."
Calling the high priest a "whitewashed wall," Paul was saying,
in effect, "I walk before the Law blamelessly, yet you, you religious
hypocrite, hit me, breaking the very Law you are required to uphold"
Informed that he was addressing the high priest, Paul immediately realized
what he had done and once more was willing to stand under the Law. He may
have been unable to recognize that the man was high priest either because
of his poor eyesight or perhaps because the priest was not wearing his robes
of office. In any case, once again the Holy Spirit moved to Paul's defense
with the Word of God from Exodus 22:28: "You shall not speak evil of
a ruler of your people."
The spiritual principle here is articulated in Psalms 119:11: "Thy
word have I treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee."
Paul had hidden the Word of God in his heart, and the Spirit of God brought
that word to his lips in his defense. In this case the Lord led Paul to
apologize to the high priest, based on his Word, not on Paul's feelings.
Hiding God's Word in his heart was the key to Paul's blameless life before
God and man.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote from prison to a German soldier on the front
lines of battle:
When I think of you...I have to try very hard not to let all my thoughts
dwell on the many cares and anxieties that beset you, instead of praying
for you properly. In that connection I must talk to you sometime about prayer
in time of trouble. It is a difficult matter, and yet our misgivings about
it may not be good. Psalm 50 says quite clearly, "Call upon Me in the
day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." ...And
I must say that the last two nights have made me face this problem again
in a quite elementary way. While the bombs are falling all around the building,
I cannot help thinking of God, his judgment, his hand stretched out and
his anger not turned away...
The key to Bonhoeffer's faith was his knowledge of the Word of God which
he had hidden in his heart. He was ready to use that Word both defensively
and offensively to minister to himself as well as to his friends and his
Having employed the "sword of the Spirit which is the word of God"
defensively before the high priest and his court, the apostle Paul is now
led by the Holy Spirit to use the Truth of God offensively.
II. The offensive use of the sword, 23:6-11
But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees,
Paul began crying out in the Council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, the
son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!"
And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and
Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there
is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge
them all. And there arose a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the
Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, "We find
nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to
him?" And as a great dissension was developing, the commander was afraid
Paul would be torn to pieces by them and ordered the troops to go down and
take him away from them by force, and bring him into the barracks. But on
the night immediately following, the Lord stood at his side and said, "Take
courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so
you must witness at Rome also."
Following his apology for his remarks about the high priest, Paul looked
at his accusers and perceived that they were divided between Sadducees and
Pharisees. The Pharisees were the separatists of the priestly leaders. Fundamentalists
to the core, they held to the letter of the Law. They believed in angels,
spirits, and the resurrection of man to either heaven or hell. Among the
religious of their day they had the greatest spiritual influence over the
Jews. But they struggled with self-righteousness, and with the notions of
good works, mercy and judgement. But in spite of their struggles men like
Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee, and others of their persuasion came to recognize
that Jesus was the Messiah and they placed their faith in him as Lord.
The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the aristocrats of Jewish society.
They were the nation's lobbyists to the Roman government. They believed
only in the written Law and did not recognize the oral or traditional sayings
of the fathers. Rigid in their judgments, they did not believe in the resurrection
of the body or retribution of the individual in a future life because Moses
never mentioned these things. The did not believe in angels, or spirits,
but only in God.
This, then, was the make-up of the court to whom Paul began crying out,
as the text says, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of the Pharisees;
I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!" The Lord
Jesus once was brought to this very room to be tried before the high priest
and his court. "Tell us whether You are the Christ the Son of God,"
he was asked. Our Lord responded by using the Word of God offensively, saying,
"You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you
shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming
on the clouds of heaven.
These were the very stones upon which the apostle Peter stood also following
his arrest for healing a lame man at the temple gate. Acts 4:8-12 records
Peter's words to the council on that occasion, "Then Peter filled with
the Holy Spirit said to them, 'Rulers and elders of the people, if we are
on trial today for benefit done to a sick man as to how this man has been
made well, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel
that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God
raised from the dead, by this name this man stands here before you in good
health." "We are innocent," Peter was saying, "it was
Jesus who healed this lame man, not us."
Stephen, who was full of grace, power and wisdom also was falsely accused
by the Jews of uttering blasphemous words against Moses and against God.
He too was dragged before this council for declaring that "this Nazarene
Jesus will destroy the temple and alter the customs which Moses handed down
to us" (Acts 6). When the high priest asked, "Are these things
so?" Stephen used the"sword of the Spirit" offensively against
the supreme court of Israel. "Now when they heard this they were cut
to the quick..." Acts 7:54 records.
Let us look at Paul's so-called crime. The apostle had shared with the Jewish
crowd that 20 years earlier he had been the Christ's enemy before he met
Jesus on the road to Damascus. Following that, his life had been totally
changed from the inside out, and now he found himself a prisoner of the
Lord. "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees, I am on trial
for the hope and resurrection of the dead...." said the apostle, thereby
aligning himself with the teaching of the Pharisees. But he wanted to take
things a step further. That is why he let them know, as he had done the
day before, that in light of that teaching he personally had experienced
the fulfillment of that hope in meeting and speaking with the risen Jesus.
Suddenly the focus of the court shifted from Paul to the chief doctrinal
differences which were being debated between the two schools of belief.
The debate resulted in a partial verdict. Some of the scribes of the Pharisaic
party said, "We find nothing wrong with this man: suppose a spirit
or an angel has spoken to him?" The unfortunate Claudius, the Roman
cohort, had another riot on his hands! He had failed in his quest to get
to the bottom of the first riot and discover why Paul had been accused.
For the third time he has to rescue Paul from the mob and once more take
him to the Roman barracks.
But Paul has an encouraging word awaiting him from his Lord, as the text
says, "...on the night immediately following , the Lord stood at his
side and said,'Take courage for as you solemnly witnessed to My cause at
Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.'" The risen Lord had promised
his disciples that as they witnessed of him in the Age of the Spirit he
would be forever spiritually and at times physically present with them.He
had spoken to Paul on the Damascus Road; he spoke to him again in the temple
three years later; he had spoken to him in Corinth; and now once again he
speaks to Paul in the Roman barracks in Jerusalem.
We have come full circle. Christians today are living in the Age of the
Spirit, and our commission is the same as the one given to the apostles
and disciples: "...you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has
come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all
Judea, and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts
1:8). Our Lord is still ministering through us to call out of the Gentile
nations a people for his name (Acts 15: 4). Paul has shown us that he was
involved in a spiritual battle, the same kind of warfare that we now are
involved in. He also demonstrated in his own life the truth that he had
written to the Ephesians some years after he had left them to take this
trip to Jerusalem, "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His
might. Put on the full armor of God that you may be able to stand firm against
the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of
this darkness, against spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God that you may be able to resist
in the evil day... Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth,
and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your
feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; in addition to all, taking
up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish the flaming
missiles of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword
of the Spirit, which is the word of God."
Christians face spiritual warfare on all levels, physical, emotional, and
spiritual. That is why God has provided all of these resources in Christ
to enable us to stand. In Him, we have everything we need to survive. Thus,
what the apostle is saying in Ephesians is that Christians should wrap themselves
in the Person, the power and love of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
If we do this we will be enabled to fulfill in our lifetime the commission
to witness to the Gentiles up until the moment of Christ's return. Let us
take courage then, remembering His words, "Lo, I am with you always,
even to the end of the age."
Catalog No. 4107
Ron R. Ritchie
April 24, 1988
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