Hello. My Name is Inigo Montoya.
You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
~ 2 Timothy 3:14-15
Confession: I love the movie “The Princess Bride.” If you watch it with me, be prepared for me utter quotes under my breath throughout the entire show. But I don’t love it for the romance story between Wesley and Buttercup. I love it for the story of redemption the main characters find in being true to the people they are called to be. In particular, there is the story of Inigo Montoya who dedicates his life to the study of fencing in the hopes of someday avenging his father’s death at the hands of the six-fingered man. In one scene in particular, we are introduced to his skill as he battles the Dread Pirate Roberts.
Swordplay as a show of a skilled warrior is somewhat common in movies. However, the swordplay that Paul is talking about in using the Sword of the Spirit reflects something much more along the lines of what we see in the final duel between High King Peter and the Talmarine leader towards the of “Prince Caspian.” The battle we fight is up close and personal, often won with hard work and determination, and often fought against an entity which is less than honorable in his tactics.
The sword we are given in our spiritual battle is the Word of God. Scripture is our greatest weapon against Satan. It isn’t an accident that Paul ties scripture to the only piece of armor which has a primarily offensive use in battle. The rest of our armor is all designed primarily to protect us. The sword is designed primarily for the bearer to inflict harm and ultimately defeat their opponent.
Additionally, to wield a sword well requires training and practice. It requires the soldier to build their strength and be able to precisely control that strength so the sword does what it is designed to do. It requires awareness of not only where your enemy is on the battlefield but where you fellow soldier is and even where any innocent bystanders might be. You don’t pick up a sword and suddenly know everything there is to know about using it well in the heat of battle.
In the same way, our spiritual sword, the Word of God, is something we must train with to wield well. Just as an actual sword can do a great deal of damage to a physical enemy, so can Scripture do damage to the lies and deceit Satan whispers into our ear every time he gets the chance. Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of using Scripture to defeat Satan comes from the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert.
After Jesus is baptized, he is lead into the desert where he fasts for 40 days. At the end of those 40 days, Satan comes to attempt to take advantage of his weakened state with three different temptations. Each temptation attempts to have Jesus use his power as the Son of God for his own personal gain. The first temptation, turning stones into loaves of bread, asks Jesus to use his power solely to satisfy his physical hunger. Next, Jesus is asked to call upon the angles to save him simply because he would be showing off by throwing himself from off of the highest point of the temple. And finally, Satan asks Jesus to embrace the fleeting power of an earthly kingdom instead of providing a way for everyone to be part of the eternal kingdom of heaven.
As part of each temptation, Satan takes words from Scripture out of context, twisting them to make his lie seem like the truth. In response to each temptation, Jesus quotes Scripture right back at Satan to reveal the lie, put the Scripture back into context, and speak the actual truth of God. Jesus doesn’t argue with Satan. He doesn’t have a theological debate. He doesn’t physically duke it out with fists or swords. Why? Because Satan can’t stand to be in the presence of God’s truth and so when it is spoken, he flees. When it is spoken, the battle is over. God’s truth, found in the Scripture, is therefore the greatest weapon Jesus had to defeat Satan in that moment. It is the greatest weapon we have defeat Satan still today.
So how do we wield it well? You don’t have to look too deeply into history to know that Scripture has been used too often to oppress, shame, and hurt others. Scripture has been used to justify human slavery and child brides. They have been used to minimize the suffering and loss experienced by others. They have been used to persuade people that millions of Jews should be die in gas chambers and husbands have the right to physically abuse their wives and children. Again and again humanity has listened to Satan’s twisted use of Scriptures to justify actions which go against the truth of who God is and his love for each and every person. Too often, we have not trained well when wielding our spiritual sword.
To avoid falling into this dangerous trap, one of the greatest training practices is to always be sure you are reading and using any passage from Scripture in its proper context. One of my favorite examples of this comes from Ephesians 5 when Paul talks about how husbands and wives are to be in relationship to each other. I’ve heard lots of sermons and read lots of books and articles which focus on the first part of that passage where wives are told to submit to their husbands (vs. 22-24). I can’t think of a single sermon or book which focuses exclusively on the next NINE verses which explain the responsibility of husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ loves the Church. When you understand the way a man is to show a woman love, sacrificing his personal desires to put her wants and needs first, the previous verses become so much richer and deeper in meaning.
In being armed with the sword of the spirit, we are given an incredibly powerful weapon. But as the saying goes, with much power comes much responsibility. Just as we can defeat Satan with a single blow of truth, so can we mortally wound our fellow soldier and innocent bystanders with a single misuse of Scripture. The best Roman soldiers knew and respected this power when it came to handling their physical swords. We need to do the same when it comes to using Scripture to both share about and defend our faith.
- Put together a list of the 5-10 Bible verses you find the most comfort in and share with others often. With each of those scriptures, take at least an hour to read through 3 or more commentaries about those Scriptures to see what theologians have to say about their meaning and context. Many are available online for free. Some places to start are Studylight.org, Biblestudytools.com, Biblegateway.com, and Biblehub.com. Try reading ones you know are going to be from different points of view and from a variety of different times in Christian history.
- Dive into some study on good apologetics to help you learn how to defend your faith well using Scripture. “The Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel is a good place to start.
- Looking back over all the pieces of armor God supplies for us, which one do you need to use more intentionally in your life right now?