Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 3/26/00
The Sword Of The Spirit
Most of the armor with which the Christian Soldier is equipped is defensive. Why do we wish to protect the soldier? Because we value his life? We do, of course, but if that were our only motive it would be more efficient simply to leave him home. Defensive armor is to preserve his ability to fight effectively, to keep him in the battle. Therefore, in a sense all the armor exists for the sake of the one offensive weapon we are given: the Sword of the Spirit,which is the Word of God.
THE FORGING OF THE SWORD
2 Pet. 1:21 says that prophecy did not come by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Spirit. 2 Tim. 3:16 says that all Scripture is inspired by God. What does this mean? There have been four main theories of inspiration.
- Literary Inspiration
The writers of Scripture were inspired as Shakespeare or Milton were inspired. This view is typical of Protestant Liberalism. But it does not explain either the claims of Scripture or the unique place that Scripture has always had in the lives of Believers. I love Shakespeare, I honor Milton, but neither brought me from death to spiritual life. Our doctrine of inspiration should surely be able to account for the difference.
- Thought Inspiration
The view typical of Neo-Orthodoxy: God may have given the human writers thoughts they otherwise would not have had, but they wrote them down imperfectly, mixed with error. But according to 2 Tim. 3:16, the direct object of the the verb "inspire" is not the mind of the writer nor his thoughts but rather the graphe, the writings. If inspiration does not go this far, by what criterion do we distinguish God's thoughts in the text from the human corruptions?
- Mechanical Dictation
The view typical of Muslim and Mormon theology, and some forms of Protestant fundamentalism. God simply dictated the words to the writers, who were impersonal media. Some parts of Scripture seem actually to have been produced this way--the Decalog, certain passages in the prophets, for example. But this doctrine is too simple to cover all the facts. Luke tells us in Lk. 1:1-4 that he did research; Peter in 2 Pet. 1:15 that he wrote because the apostolic generation was passing away. Frequently, in other words, writing Scripture felt like any other human writing, proceeding from normal motives and involving effort. Also, the individual personalities of the various authors are clearly discernible to sensitive readers. So the third theory, while containing some truth, is also inadequate.
- Plenary Verbal Inspiration
The technical terms come from Paul's language in 2 Tim. 3:16. Plenary means all, and verbal refers to the words. This is the only theory that brings together the claims, the nature, and the effects of the Text. Inspiration is then that process by which the Holy Spirit produced the Word of God through the minds, personalities, and efforts of the human authors, so guiding and superintending their work that they wrote the very words God wanted to convey His message accurately and effectively.
How could the Spirit do this without suppressing the personalities of the writers? Ps. 12:6 says that the Word of God is pure, refined seven times. In other words, He let the authors write as they would, but oversaw the process to prevent (refine out) the error and imperfections that otherwise would have resulted. How can human words become the Word of God? Suppose I ask my secretary to create a memo to the General Studies faculty. I could give her the exact words, or I could let her write it herself. I might then suggest some changes. In any case, once I sign it, Amanda's words become mine in authority and effect--without ceasing to have been hers. A discerning member of my faculty might be able to distinguish the memoes produced by my dictation from the ones Amanda composed herself. But he would have to obey them in either case once I had signed them. God signs the words of the apostles and prophets, as it were, by providentially including them in the Canon.
THE TEMPER OF THE SWORD
What then are the qualities given to Scripture by virtue of having been forged thus? They are,
The teaching, the commands, the promises have the same authority as if Christ had given them to us personally in bodily form.
The teaching of Scripture is totally trustworthy. This does not mean I must pretend there are no problems in the Text; it does not mean I can ignore context and genre and expect my misunderstandings to be inerrant. It does mean that I am never in a position to attribute the problems to the Text itself rather than to the limits of my own understanding. I am never in a position to conclude that Paul got it wrong, in other words.
Heb. 4:12 picks up the sword imagery to say the Scripture is sharp and two-edged, dividing the soul and marrow and piercing the thoughts and intents of the heart. Isaiah said that God's Word does not return void.
Scripture does not tell us everything we need to know (it does not contain a repair manual for Chrysler minivans, for example), but it does, according to 2 Tim. 3:17, contain everything I need to know, which, when applied to the knowledge of the universe I gain through human experience, will enable me to fulfill my purpose to glorify God and please Him.
WIELDING THE SWORD
Let me suggest five steps, based on these truths, to being able to wield this sword effectively in spiritual warfare.
- READ IT DEVOTEDLY
Ps. 1:2 blesses the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on it day and night. Our reading of Scripture must be regular and thoughtful--it is more than an academic exercise, but not less. If not, how can we claim that we believe it is the Word of God?
- INTERPRET IT ACCURATELY
The doctrine of inspiration focusses attention on the concrete and particular form of the words as originally given--for that is what is inspired. Therefore, we cannot responsibly read the Bible without careful attention to grammar, context, genre, the use of literary devices, etc. Subjective interpretation denies the doctrine of inspiration, which says that God breathed out those actual words; faithful interpretation respects the Spirit's choice of those words. So prayer and piety are no substitute for a sharp mind, common sense, and a good concordance; but neither is hermeneutical prowess a substitute for prayer and piety, for a teachable and obedient heart. We cannot afford either alone--we must have both, or the Sword is wasted.
- APPLY IT INTELLIGENTLY
This is where the Church falls down, it seems to me, even when it is trying to interpret accurately. Think of the following list of words, which came off the top of my head in about 30 seconds: abortion, euthanasia, cloning, genetic engineering, affirmative action, videogame, postmodernism, grade inflation, courtship and dating. What do they have in common? All of them raise pressing questions that cry for biblical answers. But not one of them appears even once in Stong's Exhaustive Concordance. And even after we recongnize these questions, it is not enough to simply throw prooftexts at them. We must integrate biblical principles with our general knowledge of the world in the spirit of the Christ that Scripture reveals. If one word of that last sentence fails, we have not yet begun to wield the Sword of the Spirit. But even this is not enough.
- We must PRESENT IT CREATIVELY
The Bible is a closed book to most of our contemporaries. It is not read by the world, and it is not understood or applied very well by the Church. So how do we get the Sword out of the sheath? We must understand our role as that of bringing people into meaningful contact with the Word of God. We must win a hearing for the Bible as the Word of God. How? Three suggestions:
- First, by recapturing the Arts and restoring them to their proper use as servants of the Word, both by direct presentation of Scriptural themes and indirectly through treatments of other themes informed by biblical truth.
- Second, by seasoning our conversation with Scripture. (Some of us have a negative reaction to this idea because all we have heard is dogmatic prooftexting--but if we have gone through the first three steps first, this will not be a problem).
- Finally, our lives must be a recommendation of Scripture. They must manifest spiritual reality so that they require an explanation, which we must then be prepared to give in terms of 1 Pet. 3:15.
- Having done all this, we must then PROCLAIM IT FAITHFULLY
Paul told Timothy to do so in season and out of season. To intelligently and creatively apply the contents of Scripture to all of life is not a task tacked onto our lives; it is our life if we are faithful disciples of Jesus.
In conclusion, a Christian is Scripture packaged in skin, doctrine on two feet. This requires a lifelong dedication to the Text--absorbed, understood, applied, lived, articulated. For it is indeed the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
Here endeth the lesson.