One of our men leaves this coming week to serve our country in the middle east. He is a good man and he loves the Lord, he loves his family, and he loves his country. He will be missed around here by many (including me and my family), but I rejoice in his willingness to serve our nation and I will pray for his safety as he is away, as well as for his influence for Christ amongst his fellow-soldiers and for his family that is left behind.
The Bible often uses the picture of soldiers and physical warfare to remind believers of the very real, but invisible, spiritual warfare of which we are all involved. As I thought of my friend in preparation for leaving this week, I was drawn to Paul's words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3-4
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
Paul uses a number of illustrations in this passage regarding the nature of Christian service and Christian living. Among these illustrations are comparisons to racing or competition ("strive for masteries"), to farming ("the husbandman that laboureth"), and this passage here on being a good soldier.
When Paul speaks of this soldier, I find it challenging to consider the traits that he lists, for these traits ought to be evident not only in the lives of good soldiers who are fighting the physical battles, but of all of us who desire to fight successfully in the spiritual warfare.
A Good Soldier Endures Hardness
One of the realities of being a soldier is that there is often times great hardship in being a soldier. There is the hardship of the conditions in the field. There is the hardship of the lost opportunities of things that could be done were the soldier at home instead of far away. Perhaps the greatest hardship, however, is the hardship of separation from loved ones.
In the spiritual realm, there are times when there may be physical hardships in the spiritual battles - and Paul certainly knew something of those hardships (see 2 Corinthians 10, for instance), the reality for most believers in America is that any "hardness" we may have to endure for Christ is not likely to be that of the physical nature. The reality is that the hardness that you and I are most likely to be called to endure involves relationships - relationships that are strained as we seek to do those things that are pleasing to Christ rather than following through with the world's way of doing things. Of course, as believers, we can take heart in the Lord's promise that this is to be expected (John 15:18).
A Good Soldier Ends Entanglements
Another reality of being a good soldier is that the soldier who is on the battlefield has to recognize that the entanglements of this world need to be avoided if he is going to fight successfully. Focusing on the things of his world back home instead of focusing on the task at hand can be very dangerous on the battlefield. Even good things must be left behind for the sake of successful soldiering.
In the spiritual realm, the picture is again obvious. Believers need to be careful to end entanglements with the things of this world if we are going to successfully serve as soldiers for Christ. It should be obvious that the sinful things of this world ought to be avoided - after all, "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17) However, successful soldiering does not just involve ending the entanglements with sinful things. Successful soldiering also often requires that we get rid of the silly things and even the "not bad, but unnecessary" things.
A Good Soldier Pleases His Commander
Another reality of the characteristics of a good soldier is that the good soldier is careful to do those things that please his commander. He does not follow his own agenda in the battle, but he instead follows the orders and instructions given unto him by his commander. A soldier that "goes rogue" is a danger to himself and those around him.
In the spiritual realm, believers need to be focused on pleasing Christ. While we recognize that we can do in our own strength apart from Christ (John 15:5), He has nevertheless given us instructions and commands and as good soldiers it should be our hearts desire and our life's practice to please Him. Too many times it is easy for believers to pursue our own agenda rather than Christ's agenda. Our flesh wants us to please it, instead of pleasing Christ. The world around us clamors for us to please the world instead of pleasing Christ. A good soldier focuses instead on pleasing Christ.
What about your life? Are you a good soldier of Jesus Christ?
Have you shown yourself to be a person who is willing to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ? Are you willing to take the ridicule of "friends" and even family for standing up for Christ and the truth? Enduring hardness requires dedication to the cause and discipline to carry through.
What is your relationship to the entanglements of this world? Are you eliminating all sinful, silly, and useless entanglements or are you caught in a web of wrong actions, wrong affections and wasted time?
When we think of our daily walk, whose agenda are we pursuing? Who are we seeking to please? Are we seeking to please our Master and Commander or are we seeking to please ourselves?
May each of us strive to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
Just my thoughts,
* The preceding is (to some degree) a summarized reflection on the message I preached this morning at Fellowship Baptist Church of Salisbury.