THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT
T. PIERCE BROWN
We want to consider the difficulties of using the Sword of the Spirit correctly or effectively because of our failure to recognize the varied meanings we may attach to English words. Besides that, we are imprecise in the use of many words, even if we understand the proper meaning. The following examples may help you to be aware of that difficulty, and to deal with it more adequately.
Suppose you ask such questions as: “Did God intend for Judas to betray the Lord?” Or “Did God plan for man to sin?” If we say that God “intended” for Judas to betray the Lord in the sense that it was God’s will for him to do it, we have one mind set. If we mean that God recognized that Judas would have the free will and want to do it and “intended” to allow that to happen, we have another viewpoint. If by “plan for man to sin” we mean that it was his hope, wish or desire that man sin, then we have a contradiction in terms by saying “It is the will of God for man not to do the will of God.” Or “God does not want us to do what he does want us to do.” If by “plan for man to sin” we mean that it was in God’s plan that when man sinned (as God knew he would), God would provide the remedy, we have a different idea.
We are more liable to err if we think, “This specific word always means (something specific)” instead of thinking, “This person means (something) by using that word in that way.” That is, words may have a variety of meanings, and only by considering the context and other factors can we decide the approximate meaning of the author as he uses that word.
This is related to the same kind of question answered in 2 Peter 3:9 about God’s will. “Is it God’s will that any perish?” Peter says that it is not. But we may come to a different answer if we ask, “Who is it that will send men away into `everlasting punishment'” (Matthew 25:46)? If we answer, “God” then we may say, “It IS God’s will that men perish.” But if we do so, we are not talking about the will in the same way Peter was. Is it God’s will that the righteous be saved, and the sinners be lost? Who will deny that? So we could say, “It is God’s will that the sinner perish.” One clue to what might be confusion because of an apparent contradiction is in an understanding of the difference in the meaning of “thelo” and “boulomai,” both translated “will.” Another is to recognize that the “will” of God may be discussed in terms of his perceptive will and his decretive will. That is, he gives a precept or command that means he wants or wills something to be done. However, he may not decree that it will be done, despite what we might do. We might use other terms, such as permissive will (what he will allow to happen), and his purposeful will (what he will cause to happen).
One may ask, “Did Christ WANT to die on the cross for us?” One may answer the question with either “yes” or “no” depending on what he means. Christ says in John 6:38, “For I am come down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” So we might answer, “Yes, Christ wanted to die for us, for he said that it was his own choice that he lay down his life.” Yet when he says in Luke22:42, “Nevertheless not my will but thine be done” he shows there is a difference in his will and God’s. How can it be true that his will is the same as God’s and yet different? The solution is not hard when one realizes that there are two “wills” about which he talks. One is the “boulema” or fixed purpose. The other is the “thelema” or wish.
Without knowing anything about the Greek language, a father may tell his child as he gets ready to spank him, “I don’t want to do this.” The child might reply, “I don’t want you to either, so why not just call the whole thing off?” The father wants to spank his child, or he would not. He is not lying when he says he does not want to, for his “want to” and his “not want to” refer to different things.
Our imprecise use of the language may cause us to say, “The church and the kingdom are synonymous.” Or we may say, “Elder and pastor are synonymous.” That is not so. The more exact and accurate way to express it is “The term `church’ and the term `kingdom’ refer to the same group of people in this dispensation.” Or, “The term `pastor’ and the term `elder’ refer to the same person as we speak of those who direct the work of the New Testament church.” If we say they are synonymous, this would suggest that the word elder and the word pastor mean the same thing. They do not. The word elder refers to an older person. The word pastor refers to one who shepherds the flock. The word church means “the called out ones.” The word kingdom means “those who are under the authority of the king.” When we are talking about those who are among the saved in this dispensation, both words refer to the same group. But the words are not synonymous.
A person may say, “One should shun the appearance of evil.” He may mean, “One should avoid anything that looks like (appears or seems to be) evil.” He may mean, “When evil appears (actually is there) he should not participate in it.” The advice may be good in either case, but they do not mean the same thing. You may know that when Paul said something like that in 1 Thessalonians5:22he was referring to the latter situation. When evil appears in any form, abstain from it.
We may ask a question, “Is it possible to be perfect?” We may mean by that, “Is it possible that there is any human being who is accountable for his actions who has not sinned?” Then we would normally give the answer Paul gives in Romans 3: 23, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” We may mean, “Is it possible for a man to be perfect in the sense of doing exactly what God wants at any given moment, or having no sin counted against him?” The answer is “Yes.” Or we may mean, “Is it possible for a man to be perfect in the sense the Bible often uses the word (mature or full grown)?” Again, the answer is “Yes.” There is no way for you to know what I mean by the question unless the context shows you, or I tell you specifically. Often controversy and hard feelings are created because a person assumes that since he knows what a word means (“perfect” means “perfect” and anyone who does not know that is stupid), then any other person who used the word means what the first person means.
Other questions of similar import might be, “Can a person save himself?” Surely most of us who preach have said something like, “Since man could not save himself, God had to send a Savior.” But Peter said, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts2:40). Of course most of us know the answer to what might be a problem for others. Man can not save himself in the sense that he can provide the means for his salvation or merit it, but he can save himself in the sense that he can accept what Christ offered on the terms by which it was offered. The solution is not found in denying that a person can save himself, and building a theological system around the idea that it is all by God’s sovereign grace. It is found in discovering and teaching all that God teaches about the matter, and showing the harmony between the statements that may seem contradictory.
Does baptism save us, or does it not? Peter says it does in 1 Peter 3:21. We can deny that it saves us in the sense of “baptismal regeneration” through some sacramental act that imparts divine grace. We can deny that it saves us just by going through some ritualistic activity. But if we deny that it saves us, we deny the Bible. My point in this article is that if we hear a person say, “Baptism does not save us” we should take at least another step before we blast him with our theological guns. We should try to find out if he means that baptism has nothing at all to do with our salvation and cannot save us in any sense, or whether he means that baptism does not save us in the sense that we are trusting in the ritual or water for some sacramental or magical cure.
Our tendency may have been to “make a fast draw” and start shooting at the false doctrine we heard, even if the person who taught the false doctrine might believe the same thing we believe if we had given him a chance to say it again with the same brilliant clarity with which we would have said it. A little more concern for “The Golden Rule” might help a lot. There is little doubt that I have blasted false doctrine that way, and may do it again, especially if the person who stated it was a member of some denomination and I thought I already knew what he believed. I have less tendency to do it with one whom I call a brother in Christ, for I am more willing to assume that he believes the truth, but just did not express it as well as he might. We would never lose anything by showing the same courteous awareness to anyone, even an atheist, on almost any subject. It is always possible that a person did not say what you thought he said, did not mean to say what he said, did not mean by what he said what you thought he meant by what you thought he said. Even if he said what you thought he said, and meant what you thought he meant, the proper thing to do is to clarify that before you launch your destructive projectile or poison gas, or whatever you use to defeat him, which you will presumably call the sword of the Spirit. It is a tragic truth that this may cause you to be classified as a liberal compromiser who thinks false doctrine should not be condemned, but if you are a Christian, you can probably stand that false charge.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600