Using the Sword of the Spirit.
Thoughts on The Bible as a Weapon
Recently, I have been thinking about a phrase. “Using the Bible as a weapon.” This term is often used in a negative way. You are using the “Bible as a weapon,” is often not a statement that is meant as a compliment. But scripture does say that the word of God is a weapon.
Hebrews 4:12 says,
“ For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing to the division of the soul and the spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.”
The word for “word” in this passage is Logos. And in the Greek Logos can refer either to Jesus the Logos made flesh or the written logos of God, the scriptures. From the context of the passage I think it is clear here that the author is referring to the scriptures. So the Bible itself compares itself to a sword, it seems that scripture approves of using the Bible as a weapon for that is what it is. Some people by the very nature of the message being preached will be made uncomfortable, distressed, and even hurt, as the Spirit convicts people of their sins through the Word of God. That being said, we know weapons require training. They require wisdom to use. So if the Bible is a weapon how is it to be used? The fancy term for this is hermeneutics, how we study, interpret, and apply the Bible. From this and other passages I would like to present some key principles for using the Bible as a weapon, which seems to me to mean using the Word of God in a way that convicts people of their sins and leads them not just to feel bad about themselves but leads them to repentance and new life.
- The Truth cuts both ways. Isn’t it interesting that this scripture in Hebrews says the Bible is a double edged sword? That means it can cut in any direction. Left or right. So in our hermeneutics if the Bible only cuts to the left (the liberal or progressive church) or to the right ( the conservative or evangelical church) perhaps this is a sign that we are not using the Word of God correctly. If our reading of scripture causes us only to confess beliefs that we are comfortable with perhaps this a sign that we are not open to the Holy Spirit who is the one who guides us in all truth (John 16:3).
- We will be held to account. The justice of God requires the judgment of God. It requires some form of Hell/judgment and not everyone will escape this judgment. Scripture tells us that even Christians will be held to account, that though we are saved by grace through faith there will be some reckoning of our works and our words. Jesus is clear that we will be held to account for every careless word we say (Matthew 12:36). And that we as teachers of the Gospel will be held to an even higher standard (James 3:1). As a preacher, I, like many preachers, have a big mouth. And I have been more than guilty of my fair share of careless words. But as I have come to take seriously the judgment of God that belief has slowly tempered my speech. Generally, I make it a discipline to prepare sermons a week in advance. And I pray before each sermon that what is of God embed in hearts and bear good fruit and that which is not fall away and be forgotten. The weight of preaching the word and administering the sacraments has fallen upon me since I have been ordained. It is a great weight. I don’t feel worthy of it most days. The idea that frail and feeble people can stand up and speak from an ancient text and somehow speak something that is beyond them, that is of God, seems crazy at its face, but it is why we gather, it is what we hope to hear on Sunday mornings. How many of us who preach the Gospel genuinely consider the idea that we shall be held to account for false teaching whatever our theological or political persuasion may be? We may not always know if our interpretation is correct but believing that we shall be held to account for false teaching will help us accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit so we may speak the word of the Lord for a particular situation.
- What Will it Cost You? When deciding whether or not to preach a message on a hot button subject I think we as ministers must count the cost (Luke 14:28). What will this cost me if I say this? Am I willing to pay that cost? I think this can work in two ways. First, if bringing up a subject that is a hot button issue in the wider society costs you nothing, you may want to consider the possibility that this is not a word from the Lord but you simply playing to your audience or you getting up on your “soap box”. And if that is so perhaps you might want to ask yourself if you are preaching on this subject just to win the approval of your congregation? Does the text justify the example? Have you chosen a text to complain about something going on in the wider world? Or does the text you are preaching on somehow mysteriously relate to current events even though you did not plan for it to happen? Choosing a text to address a particular event may be appropriate especially in times of tragedy. On the other hand, it may be your flesh just wanting to argue with people who are not there to defend themselves.
Likewise, a message may cost you very dearly in your context. If you don’t make a habit of riling people up and yet feel convicted nonetheless that you should preach on a controversial subject, this could be a sign of the Lord speaking to you
- Do you have the spiritual authority to do this? Spiritual authority, in my opinion is hard to define. Part of it may be due to your position. Part of it may be due to your calling and the grace/anointing/ spiritual gift that the Lord has given you. But much spiritual authority is based on your personal relationship to God and to people. In Acts 19 we are told about the Sons of Sceva were Jewish exorcists who thought they could cast out demons simply by using the name of Jesus. It didn’t work out so well for them. The demonized man attacked them and sent them away beaten and bleeding. The message here is that spiritual authority isn’t just about a title or the right words. It is about relationship. Relationship to God and relationship to people. If you can bring a difficult word from the pulpit depends upon if you have developed respect and trust with your congregation and if you have a good personal devotional life so you can correctly hear from the Lord.
- Do you have scriptural authority? Does the scripture you are preaching on deal with the subject or do you have to stretch the scripture to make the connection?
- Do you have personal authority? Have you experienced the subject you are preaching on in your own life?
- Do you have wider knowledge on the subject? Personal experience can be selective. If you are preaching on a controversial subject have you done research? Does your research come from only one source? Are you ignoring information that challenges your viewpoint? Does the truth you are presenting cut both ways?
- How would you preach this sermon if those you are critiquing were in the room? Often it is easy to talk about people who are not there or subjects that are distant from you. Would you be as confident in what you plan to say if the people you were critiquing were in the room and could respond to you?
- Do you care about people and not what they think? As I have talked with pastors and reflected on my own experience as a pastor I have come to see that many pastors are afraid of their people. Part of ministry is being called. And part of being called usually means we do not end up in a church that fully agrees with us theological or politically. Thus we are afraid to preach the courage of our convictions. Recently, I was deeply moved by an opinion article in the New York Times entitled, “Congregations Gone Wild”. The basic premise of the author is that pastors burn out not because of long hours or low pay but because we sacrifice the courage of our convictions. While Paul did say ministers of the Gospel deserved a wage for their work (1 Timothy 5:18, Galatians 6:6) I think he refused to take a wage because of this very problem, that his witness might be compromised. Indeed, many a minister, myself included are guilty of the sin of being a “people pleaser.” We go against Jesus’ command and we fear people over God (Matthew 10:26-32). Surely, congregations may like a pastor who never stirs the pot, who is entertaining, and makes them feel good. Maybe even we pastors if we are somehow rewarded for such behavior with a growing congregation will come to enjoy it as well. But slowly it eats away at our Spirits. I have been in so many pastor groups where shepherds admit to fearing their sheep and I have envied pastors in congregations where that was not the case. Whatever theological or political stripe we may be do we respect our shepherds enough to give them space to preach their convictions? If we don’t we are not a church we are a social club.
That being said even if we as shepherds come to a place in our lives where we do not fear what people think about us we can fall into the opposite trap of not caring about people. We don’t care what people think and we don’t care about people. I have fallen into this trap. Maybe you know a pastor who has as well. They are so confident in what they believe that their response to you when you bring a concern is, “well that may be your opinion,” or “well we are just going to have to agree to disagree.” Maybe that may be the ultimate outcome. But should that be where a pastor starts? Should that be where you start? Even with someone who by objective standards is in the wrong should we as pastors treat people that way? My experience is when I have said such things it has only produced a spirit of offense. What may have been an ideological, theological, or practical difference, becomes personal very quickly. The majority of church splits people claim are about ideology or theology but I believe at their core many are about personal offense.
I have come to see that there is a difference between true and false unity. I do think the scriptures call us to some sort of unity in belief, spirit, and behavior ( Philipians 2:1-11). While I believe that a loving community can stay together for a time ending a debate with “let’s just agree to disagree” will eventually not end well. There are some things in our relationships, core values, that we simply cannot agree to disagree about. May it be issues of interpersonal behavior or theological differences there are some things that will eventually divide us if not dealt with and resolved. And maybe resolving such issues means we do part ways and maybe that is not a bad thing. If people leave a church I pastor because they disagree with my teaching I think that is appropriate. But I mourn as a shepherd if they leave because they are unheard or hurt because I have not heard them. We as believers are called to live in peace if we can (Romans 12:18). We don’t always have to have the last word. We must be wise as serpents and gentle as doves ( Matthew 10:16). Not every fight is worth having. Not every word will be met with receptive ears. Being slow to anger and slow to speak is an essential quality for a teacher of the Word (James 1:19). But so is preaching the truth is love (Ephesians 4:15). If we are not slow to anger and slow to speak we may not be very good pastors and teachers. But if we continue to sacrifice the courage of our convictions our ministries will become whitewashed tombs, appearing to be clean and put together, but empty and dead on the inside.