“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12).
Let’s unpack this for a moment. The Bible is living? Last I checked, my Bible, which is sitting next to me as I write this, did not eat, grow, or reproduce in any biological way. In no scientific sense is it detectably ‘alive.’ It is also described as ‘active,’ which again doesn’t jive with the scientific observations, as it just kind of sits there unless I open it.
We all know that words have power. We know that people have written and spoken things that were recorded and copied for how profound they were. We know that speeches have motivated people. We know that the written words of poetry can inspire people. I don’t know if this is all it’s referring to, that the words of the Bible are so important that they must have an affect. If the Bible is the word of God, it must surely be more powerful than the words of men. There may also be some supernatural dimension to the affect of the Bible.
The next part is really confusing, but based on the words that are used and a little bit of research into the Greek, I think it may be referring to something like penetrating into the innermost parts of a person’s soul, so that there is nothing that it does not affect. The next part of the verse “it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” would seem to indicate this, as does the very next verse (Hebrews 4:13) which says that nothing is hidden from God’s sight.
So from this we can infer that the Bible has some kind of active power to affect the minds and spirits of people, even reaching into their inmost thoughts. When reading or hearing the words of the Bible, there is a possibility that we will come away changed.
The third aspect of note in this single verse is that the Bible is described as a sword, as a weapon. This is an interesting metaphor especially when the Bible also says you should live at peace with all people as much as you can (Romans 12:18). So why the war talk?
There’s another passage that refers to the Bible as a sword and uses military terms.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:10-12).
So while there isn’t meant to be a war with people, flesh and blood, there is a war between us and some higher powers or forces of evil, against the zeitgeist of sin that floods this present age, and against actual spiritual forces of evil, including the devil who is apparently scheming.
There are people who don’t believe in the Devil. There are people who believe everything I’m saying in this post is probably crazy, but this post does not serve to debate the existence of supernatural beings. The Bible describes Satan or The Devil as seriously bad news, just going on a few of the passages that mention him. He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), because he used to be one (Isaiah 14:12). He is walking around on the earth to tempt men to sin (The entire book of Job). There is some evidence this is the same entity that caused the fall of man in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3, Revelation 12:9). He even attacked Jesus, the Son of God, head on in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). He is currently prowling around like a lion, looking for someone to eat (1 Peter 5:8).
This is the enemy Christians are called to use a sword on.
So, do you think hacking at a lion with a sword is effective without some other kind of extra protection? You’re more likely to get eaten.
“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:13-17, emphasis mine).
So before we even get to the sword, we have an entire set of armor with a shield, helmet, chestplate, boots and a belt.
There’s lots of things we can pull from this, but the most important thing for this note is that one cannot use the sword alone, without the armor. This is what happens when people throw verses like Leviticus 18:22 up on signs and parade around showing how holy they are. Really, spending all that time that you could have been spending helping someone waving a sign around, how can that be Holy? God values obedience to his word from his PEOPLE first. Trying to force it on others who have not chosen to be His doesn’t do anything to further God’s kingdom. By doing things like this, Christians actually end up accumulating spiritual wounds not only to themselves but to the entire church by not being properly armored.
Christians are supposed to be offering someone their own suit of armor, but we just end up pointing swords at them.
This is a very difficult problem because a sword is, after all, a weapon. It cuts things and it’s painful. Just like a gun in today’s world, wielding a sword is a heavy responsibility, especially a sword that is living and powerful, and even more importantly, affects not just the body but the spirit.
to be continued…
“For God loved the world to the point that he sacrificed his only Son, that whoever would believe in the Son would not die but live forever” (John 3:16, custom paraphrase)
Jesus said these words and they were recorded by one of his disciples. John 3:16 is one of the foundational verses of Christianity. Not in the fact that it comes first or that the Bible itself marks it with special importance, but that it explains the entire gospel message in a single sentence. It doesn’t go into the mechanism or the nature of this eternal life, just the promise. Later, a man named Paul would explain these things in some more detail in his letters and create the foundational documents of systematic Christian theology, but the point is that someone can understand this one verse. The theological mechanism of salvation is not explained, just the basic why and how.
What is outside of my comprehension is not the basis or even necessarily the mechanism of my salvation. The thing I cannot grasp is why. God has one perfect son, who always does right and never fails at anything. Why would he let that son suffer to gain millions of flawed, broken children who have to spend their whole lives stumbling around half-blind, occasionally shining with blinding light but otherwise reflecting him only as a broken, dirty mirror?
The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are in our lives today (Hebrews 4:15, remember this one it’s important). Yet he didn’t cave, even though The Devil himself personally showed up for a one-on-one temptation session (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13). Jesus shrugged off temptation by the power of the Word (we might even say he cut it down Vis-à-vis Ephesians 6:17, but that’s bordering on Bible puns and that’s probably some kind of minor blasphemy). Whether or not Jesus was truly tempted to turn from the path of the cross in the garden of Gethsemane, he chose to surrender his will to God and came out beating death and sin into the ground and leaving them there, Hallelujah.
Despite all this, when we face the same kind of temptation, we cave again and again. God has promised he will protect us from anything we can’t handle. He will always show us the safe path out of dangerous territory and the strength to stand up and walk out. (1 Corinthians 10:13). And still we fall. Even our leaders, those we look up to, pastors and Christian leaders who are looked up to by thousands of people, who were surely working for God’s glory fall in public ways.
The Romans of the First Century CE knew how to punish people. This is nowhere more evident than the description of the time Jesus was in their hands and his crucifixion. However, there is another punishment the Romans had that is less well-known, and is only alluded to in the Bible. They would tie the criminal to a fresh corpse. Either the corpse would rot completely away and he would eventually be free or, more likely, he would die from the disease coming from the festering corpse, and the flies that were constantly flying around it.
The Apostle Paul, the same guy I mentioned earlier, wrote a letter to the church in Rome sometime in the mid-to-late First Century CE. He wrote that he didn’t understand the things he did, because while in his heart he delighted in doing good, evil was always waiting to attack him (Romans 7)
At the end of that chapter, he writes a cry for help “What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Paul was using this punishment to allude to his natural self, something left over from his old life before Christ that he was nonetheless still bound to. It was like a rotting corpse, infecting him with its sickness, holding him down and keeping him from what he wanted to be.
But then, his cry for help shifts gears immediately “Who will save me from this body of death? Thanks be to God! Through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24b-25)
Jesus is the salvation from sin the first time around, but it was not a one-time thing. You don’t just get your ‘fire insurance’ and still have to carry the weight of sin around alone:
Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall (Psalm 55:22)
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
And last but not least
Hebrews:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 (see what I said? It was important) For we do NOT have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (emphasis mine), but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need
The same things that makes Jesus so much better than us, that make Jesus that perfect son, make him able to help us and hold us up in that time of need, and when we aren’t even strong enough to take the way of escape he sets up for us, sometimes he steps in, picks us up and carries us out himself. He doesn’t want us to be broken mirrors, but to shine so brightly that the people will see us and glorify God because our words and actions are so bright they cannot come from any other source. (Matthew 5:16), and he has started to work in us and WILL finish it. (Phillipians 1:6)
So finally I come back to the question of why. Why go to all this trouble when we take so much work? The only answer I have is Love. Love our human minds can’t comprehend. Love so powerful, awe-inspiring that the only proper response is worship. The word for this love in the original greek text of the Bible is Agape.
“To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25)