“Sharper than Any Two-edged Sword”
WHAT is sharper than any two-edged sword? God’s Word, the Bible, according to the apostle Paul: “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and their marrow, and is able to discern the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—Heb. 4:12.
In the days of the apostle Paul one of the weapons used in combat was a dagger-like sword that was two-edged. It was especially used in fighting at close quarters and for stabbing rather than for slashing. It therefore well served Paul’s purpose to illustrate the effectiveness of God’s Word, for his Word cuts deep and divides between soul and spirit in that it distinguishes between what we appear to be as a living creature, the soul, and our mental attitude, the spirit, thereby making bare the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Today there are countless contradictory schools of psychology, all striving to probe the human heart and lay bare its secrets. But none, nor all together, can compare with the Word of God in regard to this, for it was written by the One who made the human heart. What he thinks of the heart of fallen humankind his Word tells us: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?” Not the psychologists, nor the psychiatrists, but “I, Jehovah, am searching the heart, examining the deepest emotions.”—Jer. 17:9, 10, margin.
Among the many examples showing how deeply God’s Word cuts and how well it divides between the deed and motive are the words of Jesus at Matthew 6:1-8. We may not even be aware of it, but if we do our deeds of piety and charity in public, if we let them be seen by others, they cease to have merit. Our very motives become suspect and we become hypocrites. Those charitable institutions that advertise gifts received for the purpose of encouraging giving are actually working against the best interests of the givers. In a similar vein Jesus, at Matthew 7:1-5, condemns as hypocrisy the tendency to use, as it were, telescopic and microscopic vision in judging others and yet be abysmally blind when judging oneself. Our lack of objectivity makes our motives suspect. Are we consciously or unconsciously trying to exalt ourselves?
The apostle Paul evinced like inspired sharp mental discernment. At 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 he shows that eloquence, learning and works of charity will profit us absolutely nothing if our motive is not pure. Note also his keen understanding of the human heart when he says, regarding making contributions for needy brothers: “Let each one do just as he has resolved in his heart.” When a worthy cause is first brought to our attention we impulsively resolve to be generous, big-hearted. But when the time comes to actually part with our shekels, how prone we are to hedge, to rationalize and to feel that our resolve was a rash vow and that prudence indicates giving less! Nor should we give grudgingly or under compulsion, “for God loves a cheerful giver.”—2 Cor. 9:7.
Quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures on the subject of divine discipline, Paul is likewise deeply discerning. When we are chastised we are likely to go to one of two extremes: either we pull out from under the rod by rebelling and belittling the correction or we feel so sorry for ourselves that we become discouraged and give out, quit. Striking at both extremes as well as showing why we should avoid them, Paul says: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.”—Heb. 12:5, 6.
That the apostle Peter also was taught of Jehovah as regards these things is strikingly brought home to us in his counsel to those who are pastors or shepherds in the Christian congregation: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly, neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly, neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Pet. 5:2, 3.
Peter well knew that, even as with literal sheep, caring for Christian sheep involves many hardships, long hours and hard work. So what is the selfish, fallen human tendency? For a shepherd to carry out his duties with a sigh, because he simply has no choice in the matter but is compelled to do it, as though he were carrying an onerous burden. Rather than manifest such an attitude or disposition, he should serve willingly, appreciating the privilege.
Peter further warns shepherds against serving for dishonest gain. A position of oversight brings with it peculiar temptations. How natural it is for selfish human nature to become dishonest, selfishly taking advantage of the conditions! Proof of that is seen in the record made by shepherds in the days of ancient Israel, in Jesus’ day and in ours. Not for self-gain but for the love of God and his sheep, eagerly, must shepherds serve.
Touching on another human failing, Peter warns against shepherds’ wanting to lord it over the flock. How easy it is to take oneself too seriously when given a position of responsibility! How prone we are to acquire the dictator or boss complex and rule with a high hand! It could even be done in all good conscience because of an exaggerated estimate of one’s responsibilities. So the shepherd is counseled to conduct himself as he would want his sheep to conduct themselves, with humility. Moses’ law gave like discerning counsel to the one made king. He was to read daily in God’s Word lest he feel himself better than his subjects.—Deut. 17:19, 20.
Truly God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts deeply, dividing or distinguishing between soul and spirit, between our life as humans and our mental attitude. It makes bare to us the thoughts and intentions of our hearts by its very commands as to what we should and should not do.