Since 2011, I have had the privilege of writing editorials for the Baptist Messenger, which I have done under the headline “Conventional Thinking.” For 2019, in this era of new beginnings and a New Year, I am reintroducing my column as “Sword & trowel.”
The phrase, which is a reference to the Book of Nehemiah, was used by the late, great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, whose publication that was founded in the 1860s still bears the name. The biblical image is one of building up and of spiritual warfare.
As followers of Jesus, our “sword” is, of course, the Word of God (Eph. 6:14). By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are each part of the Body of Christ and the household that God is building (Eph. 2). A sword is for battle, and a trowel is for building up, and each of these aspects is essential to a life of discipleship.
We sometimes focus on one of these aspects of the Christian life to the neglect of the other. To illustrate, think of the issue of sexual ethics and marriage, which have been at the heart of so many political and cultural debates in recent years.
It is tempting to many Christians to be only people of the truth and to neglect grace. With arguments ready and swords drawn, we are so ready to proclaim the way things ought to be, that we forget to be redemptive and graceful about it.
There are still other Christians who feel so compelled to build other people up with positive things, to be such an encourager, that they compromise or forget the truth. I, myself, have often fallen into both of these traps many times.
Yet, God gives us a great example through Nehemiah’s workers, as they constructed the walls of Jerusalem that God was prompting them to build, while being under enemy fire. They were on a God-given mission, carrying sword and a trowel (Neh. 4:15-23).
Although the spoken and written word is only one aspect of Christian life, it’s my prayer that the columns and articles published in the Baptist Messenger in 2019 and beyond would challenge and build up—like sword and trowel—in a lost and dark time that desperately needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ.