The sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6 is the spoken word of God, and through practice we can wield well God’s word to fight with—and for—God’s people.
The following is adapted from The Revolutionary Disciple by Jim Putman and Chad Harrington.
I sat across the table from my friend at a restaurant in Brentwood, Tennessee, as he shared about his challenges in mission work. He needed encouragement, and the passage of Scripture that I had been meditating on that very morning was applicable to him. So I opened my mouth and quoted the Scripture passage to him.
As I quoted it, I could tell it touched him at a heart level because I could see the tears welling up in his eyes and the blood vessels in his eyes started to turn red as he felt the impact of God’s Word spoken to him at that moment.
My words that day were not novel; they were from Scripture! But speaking them out loud made the difference.
That’s an example of when God used the sword of the Spirit to fight battles for his people—through his people.
Read The Revolutionary Disciple to learn more about warfare in the spiritual realm.
Paul encourages the Ephesian church to put on the armor of God in Ephesians 6. In his description, one particular piece of armor stands out among the rest: the sword of the Spirit. Of all the armor, this is the only true weapon, and it’s the key to winning our battles in spiritual warfare.
Paul describes it as “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).
Perhaps you thought Paul was talking about the Bible here with the phrase “the word of God.” But at the time of Paul’s writing this letter, the Bible as we know it had not been codified, so Paul wasn’t talking about the sixty-six books of the Bible.
He wasn’t even talking about the written words of the Old Testament. We know this because of the specific word for “word” he uses here when he writes “the word of God.”
The Greek language has two main words for “word”: logos and rhema. While logos in the New Testament can carry a deep theological meaning—the organizing principle of the universe that Christ fulfills—rhema means something much more down to earth and practical.
Rhema appears sixty-eight times in the New Testament, and it means the spoken word of God. The spoken word includes the contents of the Bible, but it goes a step further here in Ephesians: It means when disciples speak the word of God out loud to one another.
Taking up the sword of the Spirit means opening our mouths to speak God’s word to help each other in battle.
The spoken word is a strong theme throughout Ephesians, and it reaches its climax here in the armor of God discussion. So if we fight for the church with our words, what do we say?
Sword of the Spirit Use #1: Speak to God in Prayer
Before we open our mouths to speak to one another, we must fight with our words through prayer.
The first prayer we learn to speak as disciples is “I need help,” which confesses our needs to God. Jesus then saves us because we’ve surrendered to his aid. Just like physical infants cry for help, newborn believers need a lot of spiritual help to grow up.
But saying, “I need help,” requires humility, as we’ve discussed. Prayer is the native language of humility because it says, “I can’t do it on my own.”
Pride doesn’t pray.
But the humble disciple easily prays, “Lord, help me. I need you.”
We pray for ourselves, and we intercede for the church. Paul instructs us, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18).
We pray about anything and everything because we need help in every sphere, and because everyone else in Christ needs help too: “Be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints” (6:18).
We fight through prayer, but we also fight through speaking the truth to each other.
Sword of the Spirit Use #2: Speak Truth to One Another
Scattered throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find this theme of speaking truth.
- “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (4:15).
- “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (4:25).
- “Be filled with the Spirit by speaking to one another psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord” (5:18–19, AT).
When we’ve carefully read Ephesians 1–5, this message about the sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6 makes even more sense. By that point, we’ve got a strong understanding of what it means to “speak truth.”
Our words can either build up or tear down.
So Paul says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (4:29). And again, Paul warns, “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking … but rather thanksgiving” (5:4).
Great power is in our words, and we must learn to build up the body by speaking truth to one another in the spiritual realm. That’s how we fight and take ground in the hearts and lives of other disciples.
What does this look like practically?
- Knowing when someone in your small group is discouraged, and then speaking truth to them.
- Picking up the phone when the Holy Spirit prompts you to reach out to a friend so you can share a word from God’s Word that’s on your heart.
- Preaching, teaching, and encouraging truth in any and every form. Having family Bible studies.
- Singing songs together as God’s people.
- Knowing and sharing Scripture from the heart to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When Jesus fought the devil in the desert, what did he use? He didn’t bring a scroll to the arid deserts of Judea. No, Jesus spoke the Word of God, which he knew by heart.
Jesus fought with the spoken word, and that’s how we’re to fight too.
By the power of the Spirit, we can effectively speak the Word of God to the people of God by the Spirit of God. That’s how we fight for the body of Christ as the body of Christ.
To fight like this, we must be saturated in the Word personally and teach the Word corporately.
Read Jim Putman’s thoughts on the importance of creating a culture of accountability for Christians as they work together to grow in discipleship.
Then together we can speak the Word to each other in the world and against the spiritual forces of evil that work inside the hearts and minds of fellow believers. Our words can literally usher in the power of God’s Word to take ground for the kingdom, as we push back evil and God replaces it with good.
Do you know someone struggling with their faith? Speak truth to them. Do you know someone thinking of walking away from their marriage? Fight with words. Are the leaders of your church discouraged in their faithfulness to the gospel? Encourage them out loud.
Your words can fight for souls.
To do this, though, we must share our lives together—in community. We can’t hide from each other if we’re fighting as a team.
Learn more about how be victorious in other aspects of spiritual warfare by reading Jim Putman and Chad Harrington’s The Revolutionary Disciple: Walking Humbly with Jesus in Every Area of Life.