The sword of the Spirit (the Word of God, Ephesians 6:17) simultaneously saves and divides: "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). The very nature of the gospel is at once unifying and dividing: It reconciles man to God "by grace, through faith" as it separates the saved from those who reject the truth and remain lost in sin (Ephesians 2:8) (Romans 5:1-2) (1 Peter 2:7-10). An example of this "sword" at work is seen in Antioch in Pisidia when Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel there (Acts 13:44-52). While the Jews of that city blasphemed and opposed the truth of the gospel, the Gentiles believed and were saved. Thus, while souls were united with Christ in baptism, others were hardened in their sin (Romans 6:3-7) (Acts 7:54). Likewise, we are not dismayed or disheartened when some reject and oppose the gospel. The sword of the Spirit makes it clear who is on the Lord's side.
Christians are engaged in a great spiritual warfare, and the
enemy takes no
prisoners: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12) (cf. Rev. 12:17). We must put on the whole armor of God and wield the sword of the Spirit to be protected by the power of God against sin (Ephesians 6:10-17). When a Christian does not have the fortitude of faith to oppose sin and error in his own life and anywhere else he/she confronts it, the sword of the Spirit remains in its sheath - the enemy will not be slain. Our weapons of our warfare are "mighty in God for pulling down strongholds," but we must use them in faith if we are to have victory in Christ (II Corinthians 10:3-5). When brethren grow "tired" of the spiritual battles before them, they exhibit a weakness the enemy will surely exploit: "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small" (Proverbs 24:10). With the strength of our faith in God and His Word, let us use the sword of the Spirit to steadfastly resist the devil (1 Peter 5:8-9).
The sword of the Spirit extracts sin from one's heart and life: "For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12) (cf. II Timothy 3:16-17).
May we be willing to use the Spirit's sword in our own life to remove sin, defend ourselves from sin and defeat the forces of error.
A good deal has been said of late about brethren "biting and devouring" one another. To be sure, the warning given us by the Spirit of God through the apostle Paul deserves our strictest observance: "But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (Galatians 5:15) At the same time, it may be that we incorrectly identify as "biting and devouring" that which is approved by God and which ought to be supported by the people of God. How can we tell the difference? We want to "approve the things that are excellent" ("distinguish the things that differ", ASV footnote) that we "may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:10). So, must properly apply the warning while not unjustly accusing the innocent. How can this be accomplished?
To understand and heed this warning we should note that "biting and devouring" is a work of the flesh ("an opportunity for the flesh", Galatians 5:13, 20-21) that violates the royal law, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Galatians 5:14; cf. James 2:8). We must crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts, including the temptation to bite and devour (Gal. 5:24). At the same time, we can legitimately conclude that what the Spirit of God supports and approves in the arena of contending for the faith is not the "biting and devouring" of Galatians 5:15 (cf. Jude 3; Galatians 5:16-18). This ought to help us distinguish what is indeed "biting and devouring" and what is not.
False teachers bite and devour the innocent with their false
teachings. One form of "biting and devouring" takes is false teaching
(cf. Romans 16:18). This is exactly the context in which Paul issued his
warning. With their doctrine of binding circumcision the Judaizers put a yoke
upon the brethren (Galatians 5:1-6). Their false teaching hindered obedience to
the truth and troubled the saints (Galatians 5:7,10). Left unopposed, the
infectious error of false teachers permeates and contaminates souls (Galatians
5:9). Thus, Paul and others opposed their error with the gospel (Gal. 2:4-5).
For that, some wrongly regarded Paul as their enemy (Galatians 4:16) (Galatians
5:11). The real enemy is the one who advances error, for error devours the soul!
Paul was not guilty of "biting and devouring" when he severely rebuked false teachers for their false teaching. Paul said, "I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off" (mutilate themselves, Galatians 5:12). Would we scold and blame Paul for his approach in dealing with the Judaizers: "we agree with what Paul said but not with how he said it"; or "that Paul is just biting and devouring his brethren!" No, no, dear brethren. Paul was serving his brethren through love as he exposed and rebuked the false teachers (Galatians 5:13) (Galatians 6) Galatians 4:16). [And please remember, he wrote by inspiration (1 Corinthians 14:37).]
It is not "biting and devouring" to pointedly expose and rebuke error with the truth of the gospel. "'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:12-13). Is it wrong to slander, to falsely accuse, to maliciously smear the reputation and character of another? Of course it is (another form biting and devouring takes, Ephesians 4:31-32).
We must be able to distinguish between "biting and devouring" (sin) and the justified rebuke and piercing exposure of error using divine truth (Galatians 4:16) (Ephesians 4:15) (Hebrews 4:12) (Hebrews 12:6). Unless we can tell the difference we may likely "call evil good, and good evil"; error will find refuge, truth will be discounted, and souls will be devoured by the devil” (Isaiah 5:20).