“And take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB95)
Historically, the soldier in Paul's day would have one of two types of swords which he would use in hand-to-hand combat. There was the broadsword which would have been about 3 to 4 feet long and was quite heavy. In the hands of a strong soldier who knew how to wield it, the broadsword could have a devastating impact on the enemy. And, there was also a much smaller sword, almost dagger-like, ranging from 6-18 inches long. This one was called the “makira.” This is the type of sword spoken of here in Ephesians 6. It was the smaller, more easily wielded, sharp double-edged sword used in hand-to-hand combat. It was the kind of sword which the soldier could quickly and easily maneuver to defend against the thrusts of his opponent, and in verse 17 Paul specifically refers to this sword as the “Word of God.”
I find it interesting that just as there are two types of swords; the huge and hefty broadsword and the smaller and more easily wielded one, so are there two words for the Word of God. And, just as Paul is not referring to the broadsword here, he also is not referring to the full and broad Word of God—the complete Bible. He is not figuratively speaking of picking up and swinging the entire Bible at our enemy. This would have been represented with the word “logos,” which is used in the opening verse of John's Gospel. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” (John 1:1) Instead, Paul used a second, less frequently used word, “rhema.”
Where “logos” is the total utterance of God, “rhema” is a specific saying, promise, truth or principle of God. Where we might look at “logos” in that sense as the whole Bible, “rhema” would refer to a specific verse or passage specially selected from the “logos” for the situation. “Rhema” refers to individual words of God such as a passage or a verse which has special application to an immediate situation. It does not refer to the whole Bible. Where the Bible or “logos” is the entirety of the Word of God or possibly the full armory, the “rhema” is just one of the weapons in the armory. It is specific to the situation or to that specific fight or parry of the sword.
It is these specific verses that you stand on when attacked that apply to the specific nature of the attack. It is these particular verses that seem to come alive and take on new meaning, even leaping off the page to direct or speak to you when maybe you’ve read them many times before without noticing just what they had to say. That’s a “rhema.” These “rhema's” are called the “sword of the spirit” because they originate with Spirit of God as the author of the Word of God, and because they are God's weapons for the believer to use when fighting off Satan's attacks or lies.
As a sword, the Word of God is useful both as a defensive and an offensive weapon. As a defensive weapon, John MacArthur states, “Unlike the shield, however, which gives broad and general protection, the sword can deflect an attack only if it is handled precisely and skillfully. It must parry the enemy weapon exactly where the thrust is made. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, His defense for each temptation was a passage of Scripture that precisely contradicted the devil's word. (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10.) ... Scripture is not a broadsword (rhomphaia) to be waved indiscriminately, but a dagger to be used with great precision.” [EPHESIANS, p.370, MacArthur.]
When we are tempted to do things that are wrong and we want to rationalize what we are about to do, it’s the specific passages of scripture that set us straight. When we find that we have failed and we’ve been defeated by Satan and we are in sin, it these “rhema” passages that come to our minds that then become the means of preventing any more painful reoccurrences of the same sin.
Jesus made it very clear that we cannot overcome Satan's deception by human reasoning. You can only do it by God's revelation. Jesus said in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in My word, [then] you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus also prayed later in 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” It is critical for us to use God's weapon of truth, the “rhema”, for it is our only valid weapon against the darkness of deception.
While we have been looking at these pieces of armor as defensive in nature, “rhema” is also an offensive weapon. We can use the “rhema” of God offensively to aid another individual who is being spiritually attacked by the wicked one by helping them be released from the grasp of his lie by showing them the truth. For instance: doubt often hits us when we are alone, and it gains a foothold in our lives, making us ineffective and sometimes unable to believe God for anything else. Then a brother or sister in Christ quotes a specific verse that erases the doubt and reminds us about something of God's character or maybe a promise or something we need. So we can definitely use “the rhema” as an offensive weapon.
This all points to what should be an obvious conclusion. And that is that the greater exposure there is to Scripture, the more we can use this mighty sword in our lives. And exposure comes from more than just sitting and listening to a sermon on Sunday. The battle we are engaged in is an everyday battle, and as such our time in the word really should be in line with the need. Imagine being attacked and being told, “The armory doesn’t open until Sunday. Hope you can hang on.” This is not how God works, but many Christians live as if He did. The psalmist asked and answered this important question in Psalm 119:9 and 11 where we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” … “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9, 11, NASB95)
Paul wrote to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15, NASB95) The only way, as 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says that we can “destroy speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God,” that is, identifying and rejecting specific lies, then replacing them with the truth, is to know “the rhema,” the specific truths of God found in His word.
But even if you don’t know them, don’t fret! Use the concordance of your Bible or call a mature Christian friend. Yesterday, as I sat on the couch listening, my wife Robin was that friend on the other end of the phone for a young person in need. They talked. She spoke truth to the situation, and they prayed.
(Again, this post is adapted from the course on Spiritual Warfare prepared by Joe Burgess for Calvary Crossroads Church from a sermon series given by Bob Bonner)