Oftentimes when I think of this verse I tend to focus on the “sword” metaphor that is used. I almost always pass over the “living and active” description. I do not think I am alone in this – most of the teaching I have heard seems to emphasize the “dividing” and “piercing” aspect of the Word of God.
What is so interesting about the description is that God’s word is, in itself, said to be alive. It is almost given organism-like qualities. I don’t want to push the metaphor too far, but I also think we have not rightly done justice to this kind of understanding of the nature of God’s Word.
The Word of God is Living:
Unlike all the other books and writings in the world, only God’s Word is living. It is alive, and it brings life. This is not the only place God’s word is called “living” (cf. 1 Peter 1:23). Surely it pierces and divides, as the scalpel of the surgeon, dissecting to unearth the problem inside. But God’s Word goes much further. It does not simply expose and remove the problem encountered – the sin, the hard heart, the filth, the deception and deceit – but it moves to give life in its place. It is a living instrument, unlike the cold, hard metal of the surgeon’s knife.
The Word of God is Active:
Like its paired term, God’s Word is active, as opposed to passive or inactive. It seeks out, it hunts down, it pursues. It is life in itself and on its own power, it needs no other support for it to do its own work. God’s word does not need human agents for it to do its work or explanation. Though it certainly can be further used as God sees fit through man’s explanation (I am explaining the scriptures right now!) it stands upon its own. It’s common to hear men speaking of their conversion in relationship to a particular verse that convinced them. It is also common (almost without question) to hear of men who’s life was radically changed by a verse or portion of scripture. Certainly there were people and circumstances involved, but it was the Word of God being active in their mind and heart that gave the power and impetus to move forward
In light of this, God’s Word must all the more be held forth. It must be held forth to ourselves: our minds, our thoughts, our hearts; our intentions, our attitudes, our beliefs and our actions; and it must be held forth to others as well. Why? Because it is only the naked and pure Word of God that gives life. All man’s reasoning and persuasion may do a wondrous work on a human heart and conscience, but if these are left without God’s Word, it is ultimately futile and powerless.
Should you wish to be changed and given new life you must expose yourself to God’s Word. It is the only instrument given by God that destroys the flesh and builds spiritual life, that unearths the deceptions and methods of hardening we use to evade God, that convicts the heart and moves it to tenderness towards God and people.
When we carry God’s Word with us, we bear a mighty and powerful weapon. The weapons of men may destroy and kill the body, but only God’s word can destroy and kill and in the very same thrust bring new, vigorous life. Powerful indeed is this weapon we carry.