by Trevin Wax, Bible and Reference Publisher, Lifeway Christian Resources.
You think of a pastor and a Bible, and you think of a book. But maybe our imaginations ought first to run to a different image: a pastor carrying around a sword.
This is the pastor’s weapon. It’s the sword that belongs to someone in the army of the Lord, battling the powers and principalities that have arrayed themselves against the living God. The battle is fierce at times, and the man of God must be equipped. He needs the sword.
So, truth be told, when we head out after our time of study, or when we are getting ready to preach, or deliver a word in the hospital or a funeral, we don’t just place our Bible into our bag as we head out into the world; we are sheathing our sword. We are on a battlefield. This book is life to us. The difference between heaven and hell, life and death, salvation and judgment.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit—which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:17)
Hebrews 4:12 goes further. “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
When John had his vision of the risen Lord in Revelation 1:16, he saw that a “sharp double-edged sword came from his mouth.”
I’m afraid this image of the Word of God as a sword that judges the heart, that penetrates to the core of our being, is not what many people have in mind when they think of their own Bibles. Research shows the average home in North America has 4.7 Bibles in it. Based on the statistics, those Bibles sit on a shelf somewhere, piled away in a drawer or in a closet. We live in a country where millions of spiritual weapons are collecting dust.
Meanwhile, among those who say they read the Bible regularly (once a month or more), how many see the Bible as the sword that will help them through the battle of life? Many look to the Bible for something that will give them a bit of inspiration for the day, a bit of comfort in a cold world.
We should be thankful to God that the Bible does inspire, and (glory to God!) it does give comfort. But it’s the comfort that comes after you’ve been pierced with insight, the comfort that comes after the surgery to remove your spiritual cancer, the comfort that comes after a long day of battle where the sword is in action in judging—the world, the church, your heart.
Falling On the Sword
Pastors should not come to this book like theatrical sword-fighters, putting on a show in front of an audience we hope to wow with our skills of how we can toss and juggle a sword and flip it around. That’s playing with a sword as part of a show, not wielding a sword as part of a battle.
“Rightly handling” this sword means we should teach it correctly, and the pastor must experience the piercing of this sword before he wields it in battle. Typically, the phrase “fall on his own sword” refers to someone who has arrived at a point where all hope is lost, where there is no other option but suicide, or to take the blame and receive the fallout for failure. It’s when a person gives up, surrenders. A soldier who falls on his own sword is taking the cowardly way out. Instead of fighting, he’s surrendering.
But falling on the sword is not cowardly. It’s courageous. As Christians, we are the only army in the world called to fall on our swords before we wield them. We fall on our swords first, because we trust God’s Word to help us kill the self, die daily, and surrender to the Spirit. The world says, “Be true to yourself” and “Follow your dreams.” We crucify the self the world tells us to be true to, and we follow Jesus.
We fall on our swords because we believe that the Word of God that pierces and penetrates to the core of our being will not only bring judgment but also salvation. It will not only bring death to the old self, but also life through our new identity in Christ. We believe the Word of God is sharp, yes. But it is also good. Taste and see the Lord is good, the psalmist says.
The Word of God Is Sharp
Ambrose, the great preacher who inspired and taught Augustine, pictured the penetrating insight of the Scriptures in this way:
God who is the judge of our thoughts and intentions of our hearts,” “penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit” says, “Adam, where are you?”
I love that quote from Ambrose because it reveals the heart of a pastor who realized that the God cuts to the heart is the God who cares about our heart.
We see in these pages a God who pursues people with his love. A God of fire who burns away our sin. A God whose Word wounds us in order to heal us. His sword cuts deep, not to condemn us, but to show us our spiritual state and bring about the healing that comes through the gospel.
What is the challenge for pastors?
- Do not let your sword sit sheathed on the shelf. You need the sword if you are to do battle against the evil one. Take up the sword before you pick up your phone in the morning. Praise God with psalms before you post online. Read Proverbs before you scroll through Twitter. Hear from Jesus before all the other voices clamoring for your attention.
- Do not ever wield this sword against someone until you have let it pierce your heart and soul first. We have no business preaching the Word that judges the hearts and minds of others if we do not first sit under the judgment of the Word.
- Do not treat this sword in a way that brings attention to yourself or your talents. This is a sword for battle, not for show. And if it were a show, Jesus–not us–would be the star!
Remember, this Book is a sword. Use it wisely, prayerfully, and powerfully.
This post is adapted from my talk at the For the Church micro-conference at The Gospel Coalition. To see the other speakers from this event—Russell Moore, H.B. Charles, Matt Carter, Jared Wilson, and Owen Strachan—check out the video below.