Discipleship | Living By The Sword

Living by the sword and dying by the sword. I have often thought about Jesus’ admonition to Simon: put up your sword – you live by it, you die by it. Was Jesus telling Simon to be nonviolent? Perhaps. Was he telling him to be a pacifist? I don’t know. Was he telling Simon that violence begets violence. Definitely. Was Jesus telling him that kingdom purposes preclude violence on our part. I emphatically believe so. But this exchange got me to thinking: what does living by the sword or not living by the sword look like for Christians?

Living By The Sword

There is nothing in the New Testament that justifies a follower of Jesus acting in violence in the name of Jesus. The role of believers is to be a witness. We’re heralds. We proclaim the reconciliation found in Christ. The very nature of the New Covenant prevents us from forcibly converting anyone, even ourselves. You cannot change a man’s heart of stone to one of flesh at the point of a sword. Paul describes literal swords as a tool of the government, not the church.

Despite the fact that violence should not be a tool of the Church, the sword is a powerful motif in the New Testament. Jesus said he was bringing a sword (persecution of his followers). The Word of God is likened to the sword of the Spirit. Jesus is described in the second coming as having a sharp double-edged sword coming from his mouth. In the age to come, swords will be beaten into plows (a fitting end for a device of war to become a tool of peace).

All of these swords still make me think of Jesus’ words to Simon: “Put your sword up. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.” There’s a tension here. Is this an always/never moment? To be honest, I think these questions are a whole other post.

Peter could have died that night living by a sword of steel. Instead he gave his life as a witness to the very Word of God, a much different sword. It makes me think: which sword am I willing to live or die by? Steel or Spirit?

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 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. Ā Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
-Ephesians 6:10-13

Sin has made this world a violent place. When I look at Jesus’ command to Simon, I am tempted to assume it means put away all means of violence from you. But that’s not the case. We wrestle against dark, evil spirits. We fight against sin. We overtake the strongholds of Hell and proclaim the Gospel. Paul likened the Christian life to a race and a fight. This is what living by the Sword of the Spirit looks like: obedience to the Word and walking in His Way for the rescue of sinners and defeat of Hell.

The truth is I really do hate violence, but this is a violent world. Perhaps even more so spiritually. When churches embrace war-like imagery positively and enthusiastically, I cringe a little. Maybe this is because I’ve seen churches tear themselves apart when they focused on the wrong enemy. Maybe it’s because I have a natural aversion to violence. But what I suspect is that it is because my spirit knows even better than my brain that we were made to enter God’s rest.

To answer the question “what does living or not living by the sword look like for Christians,” I can only muse the following: We can live peacefully enough and possibly not die as a result of a violent lifestyle. There’s no guarantee of that, but it’s possible. But if we don’t live by the Word, then we will most certainly experience defeat.

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