The Christian: A Soldier Ninth in Series: What Is a Christian?
In our noonday series we have been considering “What is a Christian?” Not merely what a Christian does, but what is at the essence. What does the Bible say about what a Christian is? Today we are considering that a Christian is a soldier. This metaphor may seem a bit odd. As was mentioned last week by Dr. Thomas, if you were to make a list of what a Christian is – different metaphors, different descriptions – how many of you would include this word ‘soldier’ as the essence of what a Christian is? You might put "a believer," "a servant," "a disciple," "a follower," or a whole host of other things. But most of us would not initially gravitate towards describing the Christian as a soldier. And even to hear that the Christian is a soldier might, to many of us, seem to be a bit militaristic. If you go to someone, a Christian friend, and you say, “Well, do you know that you are a soldier?” they may put up their guard. This concept of the Christian as a soldier makes many of us feel very uncomfortable. They may think, if not even say to you, “Aren’t we called to promote peace? Isn’t Jesus the Prince of peace? Why are His followers described as soldiers? Didn’t Jesus teach that ‘the one who lives by the sword will die by the sword’?”
Well, despite how this word ‘soldier’ may have fallen on hard times as a description for Christians, it is an apt description of the Christian. It is appropriate, because our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a great soldier. He is described as a commander, even as a great warrior. John, in his letter, reminds us that the Lord Jesus appeared; His coming into this world, the very incarnation itself is related to His work as a soldier, for Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, according to John in his first letter. That is why our Lord Jesus came – to destroy the works of the devil. This reminds us of part of His central work; His work on the cross was to destroy the devil. It is one of the purposes of His work on the cross, in accord with that great promise that was spoken in the Garden of Eden, after the great Fall, when the Lord came and brought judgment on the serpent in Genesis 3:15. “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall crush his heel.” On the cross, the heel of our Lord Jesus was crushed. But on the cross and through the work of the cross, the head of the serpent received a decisive blow. And I think this is what our forefathers who came and gathered at the Westminster Assembly, when they came up with a Shorter Catechism, we’re thinking in question 26 of the Catechism (“How does Christ execute the office of a king?”) when they say, “Christ executes the office of a king, in subduing us to Himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all of His and our enemies.”
Jesus is a mighty spiritual warrior. He said that His kingdom is not of this world. And I think the apostle Paul may have been thinking of all of this when he writes his dear younger friend in the faith, Timothy. Timothy, who is a bit timid, needs to be reminded that he is to be a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. That he is called to be a strong and courageous soldier for Christ. In the section of Timothy that we have from our passage here, in 2 Timothy 2, Paul is reminding Timothy of three metaphors of the Christian. The first is that of a soldier, as we find in verses three and four here. And then he speaks of the Christian as an athlete, and then that of a farmer. But he wants Timothy – and he would want us to know – first of all that a Christian is a soldier.
I think Paul, and Timothy as well, would have known a great deal about soldiers, for Roman soldiers were abundant – they were all over the Roman Empire. Paul himself had a personal experience in relationship with soldiers, as he was chained one to his left and one to his right on many occasions. Paul draws many parallels in his writings from his reflection on the soldiers as he speaks of our spiritual weapons in the book of Ephesians. As he writes Epaphroditus in the book of Philippians, describing him as a fellow soldier as he speaks of another Christian. And as he also describes the way in which we are engaged in a spiritual warfare. If you are a Christian, you are described as one who is a soldier. You are enlisted. You are in a warfare. Regardless of your temperament. Timothy is very timid and somewhat reserved, we find in the book of Timothy. James and John were known as the sons of thunder. They were loud and bold. But whether your temperament is like Timothy or like James and John, you as a Christian, if you know Jesus, you are described as one who is a soldier. You are engaged in a spiritual conflict. Being a Christian means that we are engaged in a spiritual conflict.
And most of the wars that we have had as a nation are in foreign theatres. Most of them have been, but not this spiritual battle. Well it is clear that there is spiritual battle even in the heavenly places, in heavenly realms, it is also true that our enemies in the triad of the world that set against us, the flesh and the devil himself, that this battle takes place around us (much of which we cannot always see) and takes place within us. I grew up in a denomination that, when I was in college, was threatening to remove Onwards Christian Soldiers from their hymnal. I think they were determined to do this until they received about 11,000 letters of supporters of this great hymn of the faith. And this was around the time in my own life – college years – when I really began to understand more clearly of the spiritual conflict in which we are engaged as Christian people.
But we are in a warfare. Our warfare is not against flesh and blood, we are reminded. And we have the promise that those who are with us – the seed of the woman, the Lord Jesus and those who know Him – are greater than those who are with them – those who are with the seed of the serpent. We have a promise even that our great warrior, Jesus Himself, He indeed is with us, indwells us by His Spirit, and that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. So, as I began to hear these passages of Scripture in college, I began to have great confidence in God who is able to promote His own cause and defend His name and strengthens His children as they seek to live for Him in this world. A day is coming in which the enemy – he is a defeated foe. He might seek to create havoc in this world and try to divide and create conflict among the people of God – but a day is coming where he will be cast into the lake of fire. And we are those who triumph with the Lord Jesus our commander and our great king. We are in His army. We are engaged in a mighty spiritual battle.
Earlier (I guess it was last century), one of the themes in our country was: “Uncle Sam wants you.” And then, maybe a few years later, was the theme: “A few good men.” In our country, our armed forces (and someone spoke to me before, and wanted to make sure that I included the marines when I was speaking of soldiers, and others would have that same sentiment as well) but among those who served in all the armed forces in our country is about 1.7 million, or about one half of one percent of our population as a country. Well, in the Christian community, in the Christian faith, 100% are soldiers, are engaged in warfare, are called to respond with courage and with faith the way that is exemplary of being a soldier. And really, this I think is what the apostle Paul is driving at. He says: know that you are a soldier, and that you are in a warfare, in a battle.
And then secondly, he reminds us…let me first read 2 Timothy 2:3, 4: “Share in suffering, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” And here he calls us to live our Christian life as faithful soldiers for Jesus Christ. And if you think about those grand qualities of soldiers at war, even in the midst of battle, when their character rises to a zenith of courage and of sacrifice, of commitment, of zeal – and you who have served in our armed services know how this is common among fellow soldiers, if you have seen them in battle and seen them rise to the occasion – this is what Timothy is called to do by the apostle Paul. And all of us who follow Timothy, who have received the truth of the Gospel and seek to pass that truth on to others, that we are called to do as well. And here Paul reminds Timothy and calls us to three aspects of living as faithful soldiers in the Christian life, and I’d like to briefly look at these three, as the apostle Paul addresses the troops, under the commanding head our Lord Jesus, his spiritual soldiers.
He reminds us, first of all, to endure hardship or to share in suffering, as we are reminded in verse three. And certainly a soldier is one who realizes that life as a soldier in active duty is something that is not comfortable. There are sacrifices that are made. There are risks that are taken. Suffering is often times a part of serving as a soldier. And you who have served know this to be the case, know of some of the hardships – the loneliness, being away from the family at times, the risk, the threats, the food – all the different things that come into a life that is not easy, that is not comfortable. Here Paul reminds Timothy that we are to be those who endure hardship. That we share in suffering for Christ as a good soldier. The Christian life is not always an easy life, while it is so deeply rewarding. I am always struck the times when I hear people speak that: “I have become a Christian, and all my problems went away.” And I rejoice in that, because there is some truth to that – our greatest problems are dealt with with the Lord Jesus and His work on the cross. However, often becoming a Christian introduces us to new challenges in life – new struggles, new difficulties – and does not release us from an easy comfortable life. And so he writes to Timothy saying, “Join with us.” That is really literally what he is saying here in suffering: “Join us in obedience in following after the Lord Jesus.” Join us in unflagging loyalty. Join us in sacrifice.
I don’t know about in your home, but when I was growing up and coming along I remember hearing members of my more extended family, older generations, speak of how in World War II it called for a time of sacrifice, and even austerity. There was a phrase that would be mentioned: “The war is on.” And because the war was on, people lived their lives differently. They had to sacrifice. They had to make the most of what they had. They had to share one with another. As Christians, we are to remember that the war is on, and we have to be willing to make the sacrifices that Christ calls us to. That we are not to seek and reach for that which is the most comfortable or easy path in life, but as soldiers we are to own the cause, and sometimes suffering comes as a result of that cause.
Certainly in Timothy and Paul’s day, there was a great deal of suffering for the sake of the Gospel for Christians, men and women and children who stood for the Lord Jesus. It was every costly thing. Historically in our culture it has been a less costly thing. Our own society is changing in many respects. It is becoming a more costly thing. A Christian man spoke to me recently of how that his own conviction to follow Christ in his business cost him a promotion, because he was going to do things the right way, with integrity in his business, and was asked to do some things that were a bit shady. And so there is a cost, at times, even for us. It may seem subtle and not as overt as for Paul and Timothy in their day.
In relationships with others: someone comes to know Christ, and many of their friends may scatter. And as we have been reminded from this lectern before, how the Lord is ever faithful in providing friends to us and to His people. There are all kinds of implications that can come; ways in which we might be called to suffer. Suffer perhaps not as Paul or Timothy, but suffer nonetheless. Our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world: many of them face great difficulty, much suffering. Certainly we are to pray for them and be supportive and helpful of them. But our Lord Jesus reminds us that if we follow Him, we will encounter suffering and difficulty, and if we are faithful in Him. He said, “As they persecuted Me, so will they persecute you.” So we are called, first of all, to endure hardship.
The second calling of a good and faithful soldier of Jesus Christ is that a soldier must be single-minded, must be committed. As Paul puts it to Timothy, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits.” A soldier gives himself to his call, to his work. He is a soldier. He is not distracted by other things. Paul may have been referring to what is called the code of Theodosius. And this code basically said: we forbid men engaged in military service to engage in civilian occupations. Can you imagine being on the battlefield, and there you pull aside and pull up your Blackberry and you check your eBay account and see how things are doing on your account, or you are trying, on the side, broker business deals. No! You are a soldier. You give yourself to the cause. You are single-minded. You don’t allow yourself to be distracted or side-lined, for you are in a dangerous environment and it would be very difficult and disastrous for you to do so.
And so we are called as Christians to be wholehearted and single-minded in our devotion to Jesus Christ and to the Gospel. It means that we must be people who focus on what God has called us to do and to be. It may mean we need to shut off other things that are not necessary. This does not mean that we are to ignore our responsibilities at home or at work or our call to serve and honour our commitments in the community and the larger world, but what it does mean is that we are not to become entangled, as Paul reminds Timothy, in civilian pursuits. Not to be caught up and tripped up by the things of this world. Many things are good, innocent and wonderful in themselves – hobbies and activities and interests and careers. But we need to remember that a war is going on and that we are soldiers.
Recently I was in the Dallas airport waiting for about an hour, and I saw this soldier (actually who was coming here to Fort Jackson for some additional training) talking with a very nice lady. This lady was talking with him about his soldiering, about Fort Jackson, about a variety of things. (Transcription of audio file from 22:46 to 23:00 omitted.) This lady began to ask him about politics, and she had a strong conviction concerning her perspective on politics, and he went to a stone-face. He was listening; he did not respond at all. He redirected the conversation back to his work as a soldier in the interest of our country. I noticed she was reeling it back in to her particular angle or slant, and then at some point he said something like, “Ma’am, I am a soldier. I don’t get involved in politics. I serve at the commander-in-chief’s order and pleasure.” He was focused. He was resolved. He was single-minded and knew his mission. And we are to be those who are that way – who were focused on the Gospel.
I was thinking and was doing a bit of reading of American Christianity, Presbyterianism in America, in the 1800s. In the early half of the century, essentially, the Presbyterians were focused primarily on preaching the Gospel, and as the Gospel was proclaimed, much wonderful things – many of the great schools in our country, other hospitals and things – were done that were a great good to people in the cause of Christ. But the Presbyterians in the second half of the century, their focus was not directly on the Gospel primarily, it was on all the other things of doing good in our community. We are called to do good, but they lost their focus and they lost their effectiveness for Christ. A good soldier knows his mission. And part of our mission is to make the Gospel known to others. To grow in God’s grace according to God’s word and with prayer, and to help the saints for serve in fellowship and love, one for another. What is your calling as a soldier? What gifts has the Lord given you? You are to be single-minded, not distracted from this great work to which Christ has called you.
And briefly, just one final admonition for being faithful soldiers comes in the final clause of Paul’s instruction to Timothy: and we are not to be “entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” We are to please our commanding officer. The task of the soldier in the field is to please those who are over him. To obey them. As Christians we have a new ambition in life, a new desire, and that is to please the Lord, to honour Him, to live for His praise and for His glory. This is to be the passion of our own lives, of our own hearts, demands or souls, our life, our all. Here we’re reminded that we are in a spiritual warfare, that we have become soldiers of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’re reminded as well that as soldiers we are those that are called to endure suffering and hardship. And we as well are those who are single-minded. But our grand aim is to bring pleasure to our Lord Jesus, our commander-in-chief – to love Him, to delight in Him, to make Him known and to serve Him. As we are reminded in Him that we began with this probing question, “Am I a soldier of the cross?,” may God give us grace that we indeed might know the Lord Jesus, and as we come to know Him that we might be faithful soldiers enlisted by Him, that we may own his cause and not blush to speak of His name to others.