Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. Three times the devil tempted Him; three times Jesus rebuked the devil saying “It is written …”. Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (excerpted and paraphrased from Matthew 4:1-11 ESV).
Time and again I’ve heard preachers and teachers refer to this passage of scripture as our definitive example for overcoming the devil, often suggesting that every believer should commit volumes of scripture to memory to draw upon when caught up in battle with the enemy.
Now I don’t know about you, but when I’m in pitched battle, my ability to think and react coolly and rationally is greatly impaired; fight or flight mode is engaged and survival is my only concern. Victory over my adversary? In all honesty, my hope is either to escape the enemies grasp and run, or to inflict enough of a blow to stun him and in the letup, escape to safety.
For example, many years ago while attending a conference in Kansas City, my brother and I got lost while walking back to the convention center following our lunch at a restaurant. While we were walking, two men in a car wheeled up, jumped out and ran across the street towards us. My brother and I abruptly turned around and walked hastily in the opposite direction. The men quickly caught up to me and one of them began propositioning me with temptations of sin. I responded to each proposition with “no, I don’t want that” and continued walking as quickly as I could. Admittedly, I was frustrated with the Lord, who when it all started and I began to flee, said only “Don’t stop.” After we’d gone half a city block, the Lord asked “had enough?” and I replied “YES!” He then said “speak in tongues” and immediately I did as He said. Instantly the men stopped as if they had walked into an invisible wall and they looked at each other with stunned expressions of confusion. At the same time, I had the vision of a sword being lowered between me and the men which let me put some distance between us and to catch up with my brother, where we crossed the street and blended into the crowd of people who were returning to the convention center.
I don’t think anyone would argue in that moment, I was being pursued and tempted by devil(s). So what scriptures should I have used to refute their disgusting offerings of drugs, prostitutes and gambling? Is it reasonable to expect that in the midst of such an obscene and potentially life-threatening confrontation that I would recall applicable scriptures and recite them as Jesus did? Or is it more reasonable to trust in God’s protection and respond obediently to the instructions of the Holy Spirit when in battle?
Therefore take up the whole armor of God … the belt of truth … the breastplate of righteousness … shoes [of] the gospel of peace … the shield of faith … the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (excerpted from Ephesians 6:13-17 ESV)
Note that in Paul’s description of the “whole armor of God”, he draws upon the image of a soldier to describe the various implements of battle. In keeping with Paul’s description, the belt, breastplate, shoes, shield and helmet are worn defensively to protect the soldiers loin, heart, feet, body and head. The only offensive weapon identified by Paul, is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
And so in that moment, I did speak the Word of God, by utterance of the Holy Spirit (the gift of tongues). What was said I do not know, since the Lord gave me no interpretation. Nevertheless, what was spoken had the authority and power of God through the Holy Spirit, which stopped the evil spirit(s) in their tracks, thereby letting me escape without harm.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (excerpted John 1:1-14 ESV)
Had my safety relied upon my ability to recall and recite the written word (scripture) while under extreme duress, I may well have been assaulted and robbed that day. Thankfully, the Word of God is more than the Bible; the Word of God is the Lord Himself, who dwells within me through His Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19) and who Himself when I was in trouble, rebuked the enemy in spite of my frightened and panicked flesh.
Thank you Lord, for wielding the sword of the Spirit on my behalf. Thank you that my safety and well-being does not depend on my ability to wield scripture; rather, You are my safety and well being for You are the Word of God.