“May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Psalm 149:6).
Several verses in the Scriptures utilize the spiritual metaphor of a sharpened sword. Most famous, of course, are the words of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:17 which directly liken the word of God to a sword. It’s a simple but effective metaphor that brings to mind the powerful ability of a warrior’s blade to accomplish his purpose – whether defending good or destroying evil. But it’s also an analogy we can profitably think about in terms of how the best swords are made.
Eventually, sword masters discovered that they could make the most effective sword blades through a process of fusion. Earlier sword blades had great disadvantages. If they were made of hard metal, they would sharpen well and hold a keen edge, but they shattered easily in actual combat. If they were made of soft metal, they would flex in combat and not shatter, but they would not take or hold a good edge and soon became blunt and unusable.
The sword masters solved this problem by creating swords made from both hard and soft metal – paper thin laminations of soft and hard metal that were successively fused together through skilled craftsmanship until blades were produced that had great flexibility but that also retained a deadly cutting edge.
Something like this holds true of the principles we find in the spiritual “sword” that we are given to use. Time and again the Scriptures juxtapose qualities that seem to be opposite, yet both are needed to make us effective. Consider just a few examples of opposites fused in the Bible, and how we might apply them:
Justice and Mercy: “…Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another” (Zechariah 7:9). Punishment should take into account circumstances as well as attitude.
Letter and Spirit: “You should have practiced the latter [Spirit of the Law], without neglecting the former [Letter of the Law]” (Matthew 23:23). We should follow the spirit of the law without making it an excuse not to follow the letter when that is appropriate.
Truth and Love: “Grace, mercy and peace from God … will be with us in truth and love” (1 John 1:1-3). We should tell the truth, but need not do it in ways that unnecessarily hurt others.
Correction and Encouragement: “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Timothy 4:2). We should always correct with encouragement to do better.
In all of these examples and in many other situations, the Scriptures show us that while all of the qualities mentioned in such pairs are important, taking only one approach or the other can be problematic or even wrong. In so many cases we need both of the seeming opposites to live and to serve as we should. It can help us to achieve real growth to look for pairs like these as we study the Scriptures, and to meditate on how we can make sure we are developing in both areas. It is the combination of metals of opposite characteristics that makes effective swords – and it is often the fusion of complementary spiritual truths that makes the word of God such a powerful sword of the Spirit.