Doug Van Meter - 21 January 2018
Get a Grip, Together (Ephesians 6:17b)
Second Samuel 23:8–10 records the names, and some of the deeds, of David’s “mighty man.” The historian writes,
These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-Basshebeth the Tachmonite, chief among the captains. He was called Adino the Eznite, because he had killed eight hundred men at one time. And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel had retreated. He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to plunder.
I love this passage. I love the picture. I love the principle. A devoted soldier fought for his king, a victory was won, and no small reason for this was the soldier clinging to his sword—clinging so intensely that, even when the battle is over, he could not let go of his sword. He literally got a grip on his sword and victory was secured. Further, the spoils of victory were shared by the rest of the community.
This illustrates well Paul’s intention as he comes to the end of his exhortation concerning the church’s need to stand against the satanic schemes that seek to derail us from our pursuit of Christ and therefore all things biblically Christian. He exhorts, “Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
Christian, you and I are to get a firm grip on the Scriptures. This is essential if we will experience the victory of obedience to our Lord. This is essential if we will all share in the spoils of the victory. Essentially, this is the result of the ministry of a leader who gets a faithful grip on the scriptures and teaches accordingly. The whole church benefits.
A moment ago, I mentioned the church’s need to stand against satanic schemes. That was deliberate.
All too often, as I have often said, Christians turn this passage of scripture into a strictly individualistic exhortation. Clearly, the Christian must apply this personally. But beware lest you remove this exhortation from the larger context of the epistle. The theme of this epistle is the glorious body of Christ. And from 4:1ff, Paul’s exhortation is towards biblical unity in the church. So, when he addresses the matter of spiritual warfare, Paul knows that the church will either stand or will fall together.
A member of our church recently, for various reasons, was not attending the church services. Another member, asking about his absence, said, “Your absence affects my worship.” That is essentially Paul’s burden here: Our individual grasp on God’s word will affect the entire community.
In other words, Paul was thinking of soldiers (plural), not merely soldier (singular). When it comes to taking the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, he wants the church to get a grip together.
At BBC, we have midweek, small group meetings, known as Grace Groups. The elders desire that every member become a meaningful member of a Grace Group. The primary motivation is so that we will all get a better grip on the truth of God’s Word. To the degree that we do so, we will be strengthened in the Lord to stand.
As we bring to an end our study of the armour of God, the aim is for church members to get in a Grace Group because of our gospel-driven commitment to get a grip on God’s Word. Our prayer is that we would be a church of eleazars.
What It Means to Get a Grip, Together
There are two sources of authority that confront us. We must make a choice. The first is the world, under the sway of the evil one. The second is the word, by inspiration of the eternal one.
This is why there is spiritual warfare. And we will only be victorious to the degree that we learn the Word of God and as we learn how to use the Word of God.
Sinclair Ferguson has insightfully observed, that the breastplate of righteousness guards us against Satan the accuser (Revelation 12:10); the gospel shoes protect us from Satan the serpent (2 Corinthians 11:3; Revelation 12:9; etc.); the shield of faith arms us against Satan the tempter (Matthew 4:3; 1 Thessalonians 3:5); the helmet of salvation protects us against Satan the deceiver (2 John 7; Revelation 12:9; 13:14); and, finally, the sword of the spirit, the word of God, is the means of our resisting Satan as liar (John 8:44). (The belt of truth would be included in the latter.)
So, getting a grip on the word is essential if we will be victorious in a world of falsehood. We must get a specific grip for specific attacks. This is seen by the use of the word rhema.
The Greek word rhema speaks of an individual word, portion, or saying of Scripture, rather than the entire corpus of scripture (as we saw it in v. 14). What Paul has in mind is the cut and thrust of spiritual warfare, where a particular truth, a particular scripture, is wielded against the enemy. And I think Ferguson is spot on: The attacks in view are the lies of the evil one.
When the Christian faces the lies of a satanic world system, he is expected to take the very words of God and stand.
For example, when you are tempted to think that lying is not a big deal, remember God’s specific word: “Putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour’” (Ephesians 4:25). When we are tempted to cook the books, remember: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labour, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). When tempted to think that you need not gather with the church, heed Hebrews 10:25: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” When you are tempted to think that watching pornography is not that bad, remember Jesus’ words that it is better to pluck out your eye than to be cast whole body into hell (Matthew 5:27–30). Are you tempted to think that being drunk is not that bad? Remember: “Do not be drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18). Has someone told you that it is better to pursue a divorce than to live in an unhappy marriage? Remember: “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).
I trust you get the picture. Does it seem that there is no hope for your family in this country? With God, all things are possible. Does anger seem to be an effective way to get your way? There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Are you justified in stealing in order to care for your family? You shall not steal. Is your racism justified because of what “they” did to you? Love your neighbour as yourself. Must you be tolerant instead of preaching the truth? Preach the word. Have you no need to obey your parents, who just don’t understand your situation? Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Does your need for good marks justify cheating in that exam? You shall not steal. Does her mistreatment of you give you the right to be bitterly angry? Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
In each of these scenarios, there is a God-breathed rhema that should be wielded by the Christian.
What is the significance of the phrase “the sword of the Spirit”? The “sword” represents responsibility to fight, protect and defend. It represents both a defensive and an offensive posture. It represents rule over the enemy. It represents the nearness of the enemy.
The “Spirit” is a reminder that we are in a spiritual conflict; a reminder that the battle is the Lord’s; a reminder that effort is required; a reminder that this is a matter of life and death; and a reminder that our provision for the battle is sufficient. The appellation, “which is the word of God,” is climactic, indicating that we have all that we need; a reminder that we are not defenceless; a reminder that our warfare is upfront and personal.
Why We Need to Get a Grip, Together
As we have noted, we need to be aware of and alert to the nearness of the enemy. We are in desperate—even life-and-death—need of a word-shaped worldview. Since all that we think and do is driven by some theology, the Christian must do all she can to develop a biblical theology. We don’t always have opportunity to stop and open our Bibles for an answer right there on the spot. So we had better be well-prepared, well-trained to skilfully respond to the glory of God, to the good of our souls and, often, to the good of the souls of others.
We need to get a grip on God’s Word—for several reasons, not the least of which ties in to the theme of Ephesians: our identity in Christ, with one another. Consider that, as our minds are increasingly shaped by God’s word, we will increasingly settle in our identity in Christ. And as this happens, we will be equipped to stand.
Our identity will point us to our inheritance, which will empower us for the inevitable conflict. The word of God is the comprehensive truth that we fasten like a belt to our life. The word of God points us to the righteousness that we have as a breastplate in Christ. The word of God leads us to the gospel that prepares us for conflict with its provision of peace. The word of God equips us with the faith that we require as a shield against the darts of the enemy (Romans 10:17). The word of God informs our mind with gospel promises that produce a helmet of salvation. Perhaps this is why Paul mentions it as the last piece of armour for our warfare. The word of God provides us with all that we need defensively for the battle; and the word of God is itself the offensive equipment that we need for this battle.
How to Get a Grip, Together
It is all well and good to hear this exhortation, but practically, how do we get such a grip that will provide us with victory we need in the fight of faith? Let me identify three ways we get a grip.
First, we get a grip by faith. What I mean, simply, is that we need to believe that God’s word is the sword of the Spirit. Is this not our problem? We read, we hear, we quote—but do we believe? We must believe God’s Word over the words of the liar. This is the way that we please him (see Hebrews 11:6—and the whole chapter!). If we do not have faith in God’s word then we will displease him.
Is this disbelief or doubt in God’s word not what lay behind the first human sin (Genesis 3:1–8)? Satan subtly questioned God’s Word—“Did God really say?”—putting doubt in Eve’s mind regarding God’s word. She doubted God’s goodness and gave in to her own desires. This is the temptation we must avoid.
Often, when I am struggling to sleep, I remind myself of Psalm 3:5 (“I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustained me”) and Psalm 4:8 (“I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety”). The Lord does not slumber or sleep, so I can. I sometimes jokingly pray, “Lord, I know you don’t sleep, and there’s no need for us to both be awake!”
More seriously, when you doubt God’s ability to save your children, cling in faith to his promise: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). When you are grieving the death of a loved one, cling to 2 Corinthians 5:4–8 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. When you are deeply saddened by your singleness, believe God’s all-sufficient grace, as described in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10. When you are worried about how you will make ends meet, remember Matthew 6:25–34 and, by faith, rest in the sovereign feeder of birds. When struggling with anxiety, believe Psalm 56:3: “Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in you.” When you are fearful of the future in South Africa, believe God, who says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). In the face of enemies and afflictions, read and meditate (and perhaps even recite out loud to yourself and to God) Romans 8:31–39:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we are killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
When Satan tempts you to despair, and tells you of the guilt within, remember 1 John 1:9—that God forgives the sin that we confess—and look up to see the Saviour standing, who paid for all your sin, and rejoice that your soul is counted free. Thomas Manton once counselled Christians to show God his own writing, because he is tender of his word.
When you are tempted to disobey, believe God’s Word (as Jesus did) and thrust the truth of God’s word into the heart of the tempter (see Matthew 4:1–11). Like Peter and John, believe God’s promises (see Acts 4 with Psalm 2). Like Daniel and his friends, believe and rely on God and demonstrate such devotion by refusing to compromise. Believing God’s word is the ultimate spiritual heart medication!
Are you tempted to defect? Be like Paul: Remember biblical theology, believe God’s revealed purpose, and stay the course (see Acts 28:30–31; Philippians 1:12–14). Unlike Demas, run to God’s Word, be reminded of his treasure and of his pleasures, and reject the false allurements of the world. Believe God! Apply God’s word—as Jesus did—and thereby send the evil one packing (see Matthew 4:11).
Ultimately, the constructive use of the sword of the Spirit is a faith issue. We will not use it if we do not believe it. This is the rub, as they say. In what may be an example of circular reasoning, we read the Bible in order to believe the Bible—and we believe the Bible because we are reading the Bible. Or, at least, we should be. That is why expositional preaching is so important. That is why biblical theology is so important. That is why biblical counselling is so important. That is why reading and studying the scriptures is so important. That is why what you read is so important. That is why who influences (instructs) you is so important (see Proverbs 13:20; Psalm 1:1–3ff). That is why making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ in accordance with the Great Commission is so important. That is why meaningful church membership is so important. That is why everyday talk in our homes is so important (see Deuteronomy 6:4–9). That is why well-trained eldership is so important. That is why properly functioning Grace Groups are so important.
We need to be assured of the power of the Word. Its strength arises from its source (the Spirit of God—see 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:6–21; 2 Samuel 23:1–3), its scope (it covers all eventualities), and its sufficiency (Psalm 19:7–9).
Second, we get a grip by focus. By this, I mean that we must apply ourselves to God’s Word. Like the psalmist, we must desire the word of God more than gold (Psalm 19:10). God’s word to us must be sweeter than honey and the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10). Or in the words of another psalmist, we must pray, “I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and contemplate your ways. I will delight myself in your statutes: I will not forget your word” (119:14–16).
We need indoctrination and meditation. We must learn it if we will wield it. We cannot apply what we do not acquire. Knowledge of this word is essential for the sword to be effective. Memorisation will go a long way in this regard. This knowledge must be spiritual and experiential knowledge. In other words, we must move from indoctrination to implementation. Seeking counsel is fine, but at some point we must just do what we need to do. There is a danger of addiction to counselling and counsellors.
Related to the previous observation, if we will be properly trained in the word, then in addition to personal study, special classes, and corporate Lord’s Day worship, our Grace Groups are a means towards this end.
A verse that often strikes me (sometimes in my heart) is Proverbs 18:1: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages [breaks out] against all wise judgement.” Being both the busy and introverted person that I am, it is easy for me to retreat to my cave to just be alone. No doubt, there is an appropriate time for this. However, Solomon reminds us that being a loner can be dangerous. It can be the expression of the height of folly.
When Christians deliberately withhold themselves from the fellowship of others, we tend to justify all that we do while often being blind to the error of our ways. When we deliberately withhold ourselves from the fellowship of other Christians, we miss out on the opportunity to be strengthened in the faith by being trained and equipped for warfare. In other words, when Christians withhold themselves from discipleship-oriented gathering with other Christians, they lose their grip on reality: reality as it is—according to God’s word. This is why our Grace Group ministry is important. When Grace Groups function as they are intended to function, our grip on the Word of God is strengthened. And with that, our grip on life to the glory of God is strengthened.
Grace Groups provide constructive opportunities to ask questions and to acquire answers. They provide wonderful opportunities to hear the insights of others and to learn practical applications of the truth. They provide encouraging opportunities to be strengthened in our conviction concerning the ever relevant truth of God’s Word. They provide prayerful opportunities to be strengthened in our faith, to be strengthened in our pursuit of the truth of God in Christ. They provide partnering opportunities for faithfully facing the conflict.
One of my daughters recently gave me a special gift. Someone had drawn an artist’s rendition of my five daughters, taking from a photo of the five of them together. Underneath the picture, this inscription is printed: “She stands firmly on her own two feet, and I just behind her should she ever need me.” That is really how we should think about church. Yes, individual Christians have the Spirit and can therefore stand firmly on their own two feet, but as soon as they have need of others, there is an entire church just behind them.
What Happens When We Get a Grip, Together
Briefly, at least three things result when we get a grip, together.
First, we are enabled to live a life of fidelity to God. Because we deliberately cling to and walk in his truth, we remain faithful to what he expects of us.
Second, we are enabled to live a life of integrity before others. We become covenant-keepers rather than covenant-breakers. Because we cling to and walk in God’s truth, we respond to one another in a truthful way.
Third, and finally, we are enabled to live a life of credibility before others. They see that we walk according to our word because we walk according to God’s word.
But who is sufficient for such a life? Only Jesus Christ our Lord. As we strive to get a grip, we often find ourselves failing. But we have a Saviour who never lost his grip on the word of God and, because of this, he never loses his grip on those he has graciously grasped (John 10:28–30). He always held his grip and was able to claim, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). He always kept covenant. He never did wrong and therefore he never did anyone wrong. He never lost on his grip on obedience. Because he held his grip, God honoured him—by the resurrection. And because of this, we have a Saviour.
May God help us to get a grip on the grace of God, by getting a firmer grip on the word of God. May our Grace Groups be a means for this—for all of us who are the people of God.