The Heart of the Matter

elaborate-sword-hilt

“Brilliant military strategist” are three words that have never been used to describe me, primarily because they would be a great big whopping lie. In Risk, my goal is to seize the territories with the coolest sounding names—which is why I will always defend Kamchatka with every ounce of military power I possess, typically while the entire continent of North America is pried away from me piece by piece. With games like chess, while I understand what each piece does and how it moves, I’ve never been able to think several moves in advance. My general approach is to move a piece at random and see what happens. I like to think this makes me a wild and unpredictable opponent, but in reality it makes me more like the guy who stops to pick his nose in the middle of a barroom brawl.

The point is, if you’re going into battle, you’re going to want someone other than me calling the shots—because, let’s face it, there’s nothing less inspiring than a general whose stir-to-action speeches all boil down to, “Well, let’s give this a try, I guess!”

But you know what? For all my tactical incompetence, I can at least grasp some of the “bigger picture” facets of warfare—like, say, how the goal is to win. And how the best way to win is by defeating your enemy. And how the best use for weapons is to aim them at the enemy and not yourself.

That last one is fairly obvious, right? I mean, as a general, you wouldn’t want to arm your troops with high-powered bazookas only to later find a smoldering crater where home base used to be. That means your troops decided to use their own tents as target practice, and that maybe you should have given that Bazooka Safety Training Class after all. It just makes sense—weapons are for using on the enemy. That’s obvious.

Isn’t it?

When Paul lists the components to the armor of God, there’s only one offensive weapon: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). We take up this sword to do battle, not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). It’s a battle that cannot be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears—a battle waged in a spiritual realm against the forces of evil itself, where the rules of mankind’s warfare rarely translate the way we expect.

The sword of the Spirit is a terrific proof of that. The author of Hebrews elaborates on that sword, noting some of its incredible characteristics:

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

(Hebrews 4:12)

This is a weapon with no rival. We’re told it has the capacity to cut down to the very core of its foes—and wielded the way God intended, nothing can stand before it. But what is the way God intended us to wield the sword of His Spirit—the very word of God?

Paul explains,

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

(2 Corinthians 10:3-6)

The sword of the word was given to us as a means of “casting down…every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” and “bringing every thought into captivity.” We’ve already established that this is a spiritual war whose primary battlefield isn’t a physical one—it’s not as if we’re called to march out and topple literal strongholds. Where, then, are the strongholds Paul writes about? Where are the arguments and the high things and the disobedient thoughts?

For that, we’ll look to a psalm of David, where the shepherd king prayed,

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

(Psalm 139:23-24)

David was concerned about searching out and destroying “any wicked way” that had cropped up within his heart—and we know from the prophet Jeremiah that the human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). If there are spiritual strongholds, if there are disobedient thoughts, if there are things exalting themselves against God, then that’s exactly where they’re going to be hiding.

…And we have a sword specifically designed to pierce its way right to the hidden thoughts and intents of the heart.

I don’t mean to imply here that there is no external warfare to be waged. I’m not saying that all we have to do is meditate hard enough until we’ve overcome our own shortcomings. But I am saying that unless we’re using the sword of the Spirit on our own hearts and minds, we’re not using our God-given weapon to its fullest extent.

That sounds great, but what does it mean? James gave us a good place to start when he wrote,

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

(James 1:21-25)

When used and studied on a regular basis, God’s word does something incredibly unsettling in the heart of a disciple. It starts to show us who we are—slicing like a well-honed blade through all the facades, all the self-deception, all the smokescreens, revealing who we are at the core of our being. And because we’re flawed, imperfect human beings, that core is going to show us some pretty ugly things—in effect, the very sins and lurking temptations that threaten to bar our entry into God’s Kingdom.

Is it pretty? No. Is it something we enjoy seeing? Absolutely not. But it’s something we need to see, because we can’t afford to stay blind to the things going on within our own hearts—and it’s the living and powerful word of God which makes that possible.

It doesn’t make sense (at least, not from a human perspective), but one of the most important things we can do with the weapon God has given us it to use it on ourselves—to peer deeply into “the perfect law of liberty,” to come to understand what kind of men and women we are, and then beginning the vital (if painful) process of casting down “every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”

The battle will be long, it will be difficult, and will bring us to the brink of defeat time and time again. But God has given us the sword of His Spirit—a weapon that, if we are brave enough to use it, will enable us to keep Paul’s charge to Timothy: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:12).

At the end of this battle is a reward prepared by God for us—a reward that will make every moment of this fight more than worth the blood, sweat, and tears we put into it.

To arms, my friends. To arms!

Until next time,
Jeremy

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