September 30, 2018
In addition to protective wear, soldiers must also arm themselves for battle. In spiritual warfare, Christian soldiers take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Contemporary culture often regards the Bible as irrelevant, but as Alistair Begg demonstrates, God’s Word is no ordinary book: it speaks with clarity, authority, and veracity, and is necessary for coming to faith. God cannot be found through human investigation, but He reveals Himself generally through His creation, specially through His Word, and ultimately through His Son.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to the second letter of Peter, to 2 Peter and to chapter 1. And as we are thinking this morning about the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit, towards the end of this chapter we have a very clear statement by Peter in relationship to these things.
Two Peter 1:1:
“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
“To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own [eternal] glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it [is] right, as long as I[’m] in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Father, as we turn to the Bible, we say,
Make the Book live to me, O Lord,
Show me yourself within your Word,
Show me myself and show me my Savior,
And make the Book live to me.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
I invite you to turn to Ephesians, where we find ourselves in chapter 6 and at verse 17, the first half of which we dealt with last time concerning “the helmet of salvation,” and now, in the second half of the verse, we come to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
If you’re visiting with us today, we have been studying Ephesians together, and we have reached the section on spiritual warfare and the armor of God. And we have become aware of certain things that perhaps we knew before, but they’ve been reinforced for us: namely, that the same grace that reconciles us to God antagonizes us to the Evil One, and that the warfare in which we are engaged is not up “against flesh and blood”—that’s not where the wrestling match happens—but the battle is a spiritual battle. And it is for that reason that Paul has reminded us that the armor that we’re given is spiritual armor, and that, essentially, to put on the armor of God is to put on Christ, who is the fulfillment of the great passages in the Old Testament anticipating the one who will come out as a warrior, and he himself will do battle, as it were, by the power of his Word. And that picture has run all the way through, and it comes to light here in the phrase that is before us: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Now, I said last time that I take it that we have moved now from the armor to the weapons. And I’m suggesting there are actually two weapons, and the first of these is the Bible, or the sword of the Spirit, and the second to which we will come is prayer itself—that when you think about the development of the church in the early days as it’s recorded by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, you may remember that the apostles on that occasion had to make a determination that given the expansion of the church and the needs, and the necessary needs being responded to, they would entrust some of those things to others so that they might give themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word”—in other words, that they would take up, if you like, “the weapons of our warfare,” which Paul in 2 Corinthians refers to as capable of bringing down strongholds.
Now, Paul’s readers would have been familiar with the picture of the Roman foot soldier and the sword that he used in hand-to-hand combat. The word here for “sword” is not of a big, two-handed sword, but it is of the makhaira, which was the sword—maybe twelve or eighteen inches—that would be used when battle had ensued. And so he makes the point very straightforwardly that the Christian soldier, then, is armed with “the sword of the Spirit,” and then explains that “the sword of the Spirit” is in fact “the word of God”: the Word that we have read of in 2 Peter chapter 1; the Word which Paul refers to in 2 Timothy 3 that is the inspired, the “breathed out” Word of God; the Word that the psalmist says is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path—in all of its totality, the conviction that the Christian soldier is equipped with that which is necessary for engaging in this battle.
And it is because we believe that that we do what we do as a church, if you wonder why it is that Sunday by Sunday we continue to turn to the Bible together, not only here but in our life groups and with our young people. They’re gone this weekend, but they will be sitting, around this time, under the instruction of the Bible. And that is because we are thoroughly convinced that, to borrow from my late friend Mark Ashton, the Word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God in the people of God. Do you get that? That the Word of God does the work of God through the Spirit of God in the people of God.
And it is because this Bible, this book, is like no other book; it is “living” and it is “active,” as the writer of the Hebrews says in Hebrews chapter 4. We’re familiar with reading books to see if we can understand what the book says, if we can understand the intention of the author. It’s a peculiar experience, and a wonderful experience, to be reading the Bible and to discover that this book actually understands us. I read just this week in my study somewhere of someone who had said, when confronted with the reading of the Bible, although he was not convinced enough to follow Jesus, he said, “But I will tell you this: whoever made my heart wrote that book.” “Whoever made my heart wrote that book.” He had this amazing experience of being uncovered, if you like, by the Bible itself.
Now, with that as an affirmation and a conviction as a church family, we realize that we live in a culture that does not immediately embrace that. Actually, we live in a church culture that doesn’t necessarily embrace that. There are many who regard the Bible as having some kind of utilitarian value, but that is largely lost in the past. Now the Bible would be disregarded in many cases as a sort useless relic from a bygone age, in the same way that the horse and buggy was superseded or replaced by the internal combustion engine, and in the same way that the internal combustion engine is about to go the way of the horse and buggy. So, they would say the Bible has essentially gone the same way. There may be value in it historically. There may be literary value in it. You hear people saying that all the time: “Well, it’s very helpful to our people; they can read literature,” and so on. But what they’re actually saying is that there is no pressing relevance that it contains to address the needs of twenty-first century dwellers.
Now, I don’t say that as a rhetorical flourish. I’m constantly on the receiving end of helpful material; all of it is filed somewhere, and I thank you for it. But this was sent to me earlier in our study, and I just filed it away. This is from GQ magazine, the May edition of GQ, and someone sent me this piece where one of the articles was in relationship to the reading of great books. And, you know, every so often you come across one of these things that says, “Great Books That You Must Read Before You Die.” And so, this person wrote an article “Books You Don’t Have to Read Before You Die,” and then he gives a suggestion of books that you should read instead. And no surprise, of course, he includes the Bible in books that you don’t have to read before you die. And this is part of the comments that he makes: “Those who have read [the Bible] know there are some good parts, but overall it is certainly not the finest thing that man has ever produced. It is repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.”
Well, that’s a straightforward analysis. That’s a fair statement on the part of this individual who has concluded this. I wonder whether he himself has given the Bible a fair shake by reading it properly too. I wonder, has he ever been in a hotel room and, before he went to sleep at night, reached in and pulled out a copy of the Gideon Bible? I wonder if the person who wrote that ever read the foreword in the Gideon Bible. I wonder if you ever did. Well, let me tell you a part of what it says. If you open up a Gideon Bible, it begins as follows:
This [book] contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and … happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable.
Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.
And it goes on from there. It’s an amazing and wonderful introduction.
So, when I read the GQ piece, and then I remembered my Gideon Bible piece… And then I remembered Martin Luther in his writings, where he, in The Bondage of the Will, makes this quite staggering statement. Here it is: “Nobody who has not the Spirit of God sees a jot of what is in the [Bible]. All men have their hearts darkened, so that, even when they can discuss and quote all that is in Scripture, they do not understand or … know any of it.”
So, you see, this makes sense of how it is that people can say, “Well, yes, I think the Bible has some literary value. I think there are things here that may perhaps be worthy of our consideration.” And people can sit around and have a conversation about it all, but no sense of what the plotline of the Bible is, no sense of what we have just expressed in our preceding hymn: “Speak, O Lord, as we come to you to receive the food of your Holy Word.” Nothing along those lines at all. Why is that? Why is it? Well, Luther says it’s because the heart of man is darkened.
As I was driving here this morning earlier on, I was thinking along these lines. I was thinking about how in the range of people who come to Parkside, not everybody is prepared to make the affirmation that I have just made. Some of you are wondering. Some of you are pondering these things. And I find myself quoting from the book of Job. Sounds a little pretentious, but I was. I said out loud, “Can a man by searching find God?”—I was saying to myself. And then I thought, “Well, I’m going to ask Siri.” So I said, “Siri, can a man by seeking find God?” To which the reply came, “One option is the little Hong Kong restaurant on Bagley Road in Middleburg Heights.” So apparently, if you are seeking and you like Chinese food… How in the world? I mean, I thought Siri was clever. And then I thought, “Can I not speak the English language?” Then I realized, you know: “Can a man by see-king find God?” I said, “Oh man, now I’m at a Chinese restaurant.”
Now, the answer, of course, to that is that man does not know God by investigation but by revelation—that God has disclosed himself; that God is a God who speaks; that, in Schaeffer’s work from the [’70s], “He is [here] and he is not silent.” In the same way that if you and I sit in companionship with one another and neither of us speaks, there is really no way of us knowing what is going on inside our own hearts and minds; it is when we give voice to it that we can understand what each other is thinking and feeling. In the same way, God has disclosed himself.
Now, I set myself out today to examine the importance, then, of this first weapon, the sword of the Spirit, by thinking first of all in terms of how absolutely necessary it is for coming to faith; secondly, how absolutely necessary it is for continuing in the faith; and thirdly, how absolutely necessary it is in contending for the faith, in using it both defensively, parrying the thrusts of the Evil One, and then using it offensively in the cause and challenge of evangelism. Now, what I want to try and do, then, is work along the first of these lines in the awareness of the fact that I won’t get to number two and three this morning.
The Bible reveals what, for example, the Westminster Confession clarifies—namely, that God makes himself known by means of what we refer to as general revelation and special revelation. By general revelation we understand that the goodness of God, the wisdom of God, the power of God, is revealed in his world by “the light of nature” and by “the works of creation and providence.” By “the light of nature,” the writers of the Confession were referring to the fact that we, men and women, have been made in the image of God, so that God has made men and women in order that we might know him and in order that we might enjoy him. And deep inside of the heart and mind of an individual is this consciousness of this reality.
In the same way, he has revealed himself in creation, so that, in the words of an old, old song, you know—who was it, the Bachelors or somebody who sang it?—
Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
Or touch a leaf, [and] see the sky,
Then I know why I believe.
Or think of Satchmo:
I see skies of blue, red roses too.
I see them bloom for me and you.
And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”
I see friends greeting friends, saying, “How do you do?”
And they’re really saying, “I love you”
And I say to myself, “What a wonderful world.”
Why does he do that? Why don’t you have songs penned by atheists? Who wants to sing them? Who even believes them? Who, if one is honest, is prepared to deny the reality of God’s general revelation—that by the light of nature he has made me with an innate awareness of the fact of his creation and he confirms it for me in the reality of that which I see around me?
And furthermore, every time I attend a funeral, I find myself saying, if not verbally at least thinking it, “There is something more than this.” Why is that? Because God by his general revelation has set eternity in the heart of man. Therefore, to deny that is just to deny it—that by nature we are both invaded by God and we are surrounded by God. Therefore, we can run, but we can’t hide. The fact is that we know, but we choose not to know.
If you’ve been spending a lot of time trying to convince your agnostic friends that there is a God, stop! You don’t need to. They know there is a God. God says they know there is a God. God made them with an innate awareness of the fact of God, established it in their lives, revealed it in the world. Atheism is a choice. We know, but we choose not to know. We challenge the notion of a good God. We deny his existence. We reject his authority. We resent his interference. And, the Bible says, on the strength of all that God has disclosed of himself, since we knew these things and turned our backs on them, we are accountable. And not only are we accountable, but in many cases we’re actually miserable. Miserable. You say, “I haven’t seen so many miserable people lately.” No, I don’t mean every morning you get up and say, “I’m horribly miserable.” But when you get up in the morning, or when you lie in the evening, or when you’re on a long car ride somewhere, and you begin to think about the big things, the deep things, can I ask you, what fills that great vacuum in your heart?
I know you think the only person I ever listen to is Paul Simon, but I do listen to some others. Here is one of my other friends:
I’m dizzy from the shopping mall;
I searched for joy, but I bought it all.
It doesn’t help the hunger pains
And a thirst I’d have to drown … to ever satiate.
And I don’t know how to fix it.
And I don’t know what it is.
No, I don’t know what it is
When autumn comes,
It doesn’t ask;
It just walks in where it left you last.
… You never know when it starts
Until there’s fog inside the glass around
Your summer heart.
And I don’t know how to fix it.
And I don’t know what it is.
No, I don’t know what it is
That’s John Mayer.
You see, the light of nature, the works of creation, are unable to bring a man or a woman into a saving relationship with God, who has made him. For that to happen necessitates the Word of God, the sword of the Spirit. Because it is then, in the Scriptures, that the great theme song of God’s creation and purpose is revealed to us. It is there that we discover… And you discover it all the way through the Bible! For example, in the story of Jonah—you’re reading in Jonah, perhaps, and you read the declaration of Jonah where he says, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!” “If there’s salvation anywhere,” he says, “it must be God himself.” You read in the Prophets, and the prophets are pointing forward to one who will come and fulfill all the expectations, providing in himself that which we can never find in ourselves—that the gospel is the good news that we can’t save ourselves, neither by being good nor by being religious nor any other approach; and the good news that God has sent Jesus to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, challenging, if you like, our indifference, challenging our rebellion.
And God, in the mystery of his purposes, has chosen to take that story of his love and have it preserved in a book, preserving it for us in a written record of his inestimable love for those who have turned their backs on him. It is a quite remarkable story, isn’t it? Adam and Eve turn away, they are banished from the garden, he provides them with a covering, and yet he reaches out to them. The God against whom I have offended is the God who comes to seek me and who loves me in Jesus. And at the very heart of this we find ourselves with the sword of the Spirit.
Now, think about it on two levels. Number one, it would be possible theoretically for God to have done this simply by oral transmission, so we just keep talking to one another and passing it down from generation to generation in the way that folklore happens or stories are recorded, whatever else. And for a period of time that was true. Before the Gospels were penned, oral tradition carried it along. The Old Testament was present; now is added to it all of this, so that we might together be able to look at this.
What a wonderful privilege it is to be able to turn to a congregation and say, “Please take your Bibles.” Do you realize it’s only in the last four hundred years that any pastor was ever able to say that? Post-Reformation and post–the printing press. Up until that time, nobody had a Bible that they could take. It had been preserved in that way; now it’s placed in the hands of the people in order that we might be able to look in the Bible and say, “Now, wait a minute. We’re talking about the love of God.” People say, “Yes, ‘God is love.’ We can find that everywhere; we can read it everywhere.” All right. How do we know what the love of God is? Well, let’s go to the sword of the Spirit. Let’s go to the Word of God, so as to save ourselves from inventing notions and to help ourselves understand the wonder of his love. So, for example, Romans 5:8: “God shows his love [towards] us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Or 1 John: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and that he sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
You see, when we take up the Bible, it’s dangerous. Because this book, as we said at the beginning, is alive. Jim Packer, in one of his pieces, describes an incident where there was a man in a public square somewhere in Britain, and there was a hat on the ground. His hat was lying on the ground, and he was running around it shouting, “It’s alive! It’s alive! It’s alive!” And he gathered a crowd, and then he picked up his hat, and underneath it was his Bible, and then he picked up the Bible and began to speak to them about the fact that the Bible is a living book. It was a very clever way to attract a crowd.
Well, is it or isn’t it? I would say to those of you who are wondering: there’s a reason why the writer to the Hebrews describes it as “sharper than [a] two-edged sword.” In other words, the Bible is like a surgeon’s scalpel. The surgeon’s scalpel is able to cut right through all of the outer layers, cut right to the very heart of it all. And the Bible does that. See, the Bible will cut through all of our defenses. Oh, I find myself saying, “Well, you know, I’m too clever to believe this,” or “I’m too good to need this,” or “I’m too secure to be concerned about it”—the Bible will cut through that. The Bible is able to penetrate my conscience. The Bible shows me that even my innermost thoughts are known to the God who wrote this book. Because it is no ordinary book. Because what God says is what the Bible says, and what the Bible says is what God says.
The hymn writer puts it wonderfully when he writes, “He speaks, and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.” Now, think about that. It doesn’t say, “Begg speaks, and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.” No one has received new life as a result of hearing my voice. You can hear my voice right now. God chooses to use human instrumentation; we understand that. But the real issue is that we hear the voice of God. How do we hear the voice of God? By the Holy Spirit. Who does what? Who takes the very Word of God and brings it home to us, saying to us deep inside, “This is true. This is for you. This describes you.” You see, no individual is able to do this. “He speaks, and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive.”
You see, because when we hear God’s voice, then we’re persuaded. Our eyes cannot see that the Bible is the Word of God. Our eyes cannot see our need. We don’t see ourselves as guilty, lost, responsible. And indeed, we are so keen to make sure that nobody suggests to us that we are guilty, lost, and responsible that, either metaphorically or literally, we want to stick our fingers in our ears when we are uncovered by what the Bible says. But it isn’t till the Spirit of God illumines the Word which he has provided for us, it is when the Spirit of God shows us ourselves and then shows us our Savior—it is then that, in being persuaded of the Bible’s truthfulness and persuaded not that it is a divine authority as a result of the arguments of some person…
The only proof of the truth of the Bible is the Bible. There is no higher authority. If it is the voice of God, if it is from the mouth of God, who else are you going to go to beyond God to substantiate its truth? No! Because ultimately our conviction about the veracity, the utility, the benefit of the sword of the Spirit is in itself an act of faith—a faith that is not self-engendered nor produced by clever argument, but a faith that is created in the heart of a man or a woman by none other than the living God himself, who preserved his truth in a form that people like you and me could read. That is what theologians refer to as accommodation: that God has accommodated himself, in the way that a mother accommodates herself to her child, bends down to her or to him, reaches down to him, doesn’t speak from afar, doesn’t shout at them from up on top of a ladder—no, comes down. Here’s the message: that in Christ, God has come down.
So what surprise is it when Jesus says, “The words that I speak are not my words. They are the words the Father has given me to speak.” He proclaimed the Word of God the Father so that we, now having it inscripturated in a sword, may be able to trust it, to believe it, to share it, and to live it.
So, that’s point one. And we’ll try point two this evening.
Let us pray:
Our gracious God, grant that all that is helpful may be retained and any that is untrue or unclear, unhelpful, may be banished from our recollection. Lord, we want to hear your voice beyond the voice of a mere man, always, always. And then we want to hear your Word saying to us, “Today, if you hear my voice, do not harden your heart.” For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
 R. Hudson Pope, “Make the Book Live to Me” (1943). Language modernized.
 Ephesians 6:12 (ESV).
 Acts 6:4 (ESV).
 2 Corinthians 10:4 (ESV).
 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV).
 See Psalm 119:105.
 Hebrews 4:12 (ESV).
 Jesse Ball, in “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read,” GQ, April 19, 2018, https://www.gq.com/story/21-books-you-dont-have-to-read.
 The Bondage of the Will, in Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings, ed. John Dillenberger (New York: Anchor, 1962), 174.
 Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, “Speak O Lord” (2005).
 Job 11:7 (paraphrased).
 See Frances Schaeffer, He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972).
 The Westminster Confession of Faith 1.1.
 Ervin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, andAl Stillman, “I Believe” (1953).
 Robert Thiele and George David Weiss, “What a Wonderful World” (1967). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See Ecclesiastes 3:11.
 See Romans 1:19.
 See Romans 1:20.
 John Mayer, “Something’s Missing” (2003).
 Jonah 2:9 (ESV).
 1 John 4:8 (ESV).
 1 John 4:10 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 4:12 (ESV).
 See Psalm 139:2.
 Charles Wesley, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” (1739).
 John 12:49 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 3:15 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.