Onward Christian Soldiers

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Soldier Praying
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. – 1 Peter 5:8

On Sunday, 1 May 2011, the world exploded in jubilant celebration as the news was heard that Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind terrorist behind the horrific events of 11 September 2001 that claimed the lives of many innocent men, women, and children, had been shot and indeed killed. For nearly a decade men and women of the United States Armed Forces and Special Intelligence Agencies had stood a vigilant watch for any viable lead that would help them bring this criminal to justice. Their tireless, unselfish devotion to such a great cause warrants a salute and highest honors from all faithful Americans.

Many of the men and women who were involved in the covert operations that ultimately brought about the demise of Osama Bin Laden are Christians. Not all of them work out of office buildings, but many of them are soldiers in the line of fire on the battle field. These  soldiers stand  vigilant watches in the heat and the cold, through the storms and through the rain, by land, by air, and by sea, both day and night, 24 hours, 7 days a week. They do this not only for their own protection, but that you and I will always be able to enjoy the freedoms that we so cherish. They do it so that this great nation of ours will forever be “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.

Some people may wonder  how a Christian can justify going to war, and more importantly, how a Christian can justify taking the life of another human being. As a Christian, and as a 30-year retired United States Navy veteran, I have often pondered the question regarding the justification of war. Is war ever justified, and where is the proverbial line in the sand drawn to distinguish between fighting a war in the name and honor of defending oneself and one’s family, and raging a war against another nation solely because of anger, hatred, bitterness, and frustration against that nation?

Unfortunately, the world in which we live is full of men who are evil and therefore sin abounds continually. Because of this, regrettably there are times when it is deemed necessary to use force in order to secure justice for the innocent and the helpless. However, when the onslaught of war has been considered, its legitimacy must be carefully evaluated. At such a time when war is ultimately declared, the Christian must remember that his ultimate allegiance is not to his country, albeit patriotism is a noble virtue, but to the commands and dictates of Almighty God. As a valiant soldier he must come to the full and complete realization that his true Commander in Chief is the Lord Jesus Christ. Even in the midst of heated battle, the Christian must at all times remain faithful. Nations may rage, but the Great Commander in Chief remains in total control of all situations, and He has already seen the final outcome of all conflicts. Indeed there will come a day when He  “shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Micah 4:3).

Scriptures teach, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). And so, it is our Heavenly Father’s desire that if at all possible, we should lay down our weapons of war, and “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Just as the military soldier is called to arms on the battle field, Christians are also called to duty to serve in the Lord’s army. As soldiers in the Lord’s army we must stand a vigilant watch and “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (see Ephesians 6:10), “because [our] adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour“ (see 1 Peter 5:8).

As military soldiers must be dressed appropriately to enter battle, soldiers in the Lord’s army must also dress appropriately for the battle. In Ephesians 6:11-17 we are instructed to:

11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12 For we awrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14 Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
15 And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
16 Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The Apostle Paul gave the following counsel to his young son in the Gospel, Timothy, as recorded in 2 Timothy 2:1-3,

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

Paul warns Timothy of the difficulties of the ministry and urges him to be strong, in contrast to those who had defected. Faithful men were to be selected and trained as leaders and teachers. Thus, personal discipleship was a vital part of Timothy’s leadership.

The word for “soldier” in the Greek is STRATIOTES and is used in the natural sense in Matthew 8:9; 27:27; 28:12; Mark 15:16; Luke 7:8; 23:26; six times in the Gospel of John; thirteen times in the Book of Acts; and not again in the New Testament in this sense. Some of the characteristics of a good soldier of Jesus Christ are: (1) in his personal life he is strong spiritually through dependence upon the grace of God, (2) in public he is effective in leadership, example, and in teaching others, and (3) in the midst of persecution he is able to endure to the end, preserve and press on in affliction. In 2 Timothy 2:3, the word soldier is used metaphorically of one who endures hardship in the cause of Christ. As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we are to “endure hardness” which literally means we are to suffer affliction in order to be rewarded.

Therefore, the good soldier of Jesus Christ must keep the fire of his service burning bright. In 2 Timothy 1:6- 7 we read, “ Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up [keep in full flame] the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands [this refers to Timothy’s ordination]. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power [Greek: Dunamis – This is the ability to accomplish whatever He wills us to accomplish. Note that it is from this Greek word “dunamis” that we get our English word “dynamite.”], and of love [Greek: Agape – volitional love], and of a sound mind [a disciplined mind].”

And, in 2 Timothy 1:13-14 we read, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us” (see also Ephesians 4:11-16; 5:18).

A good soldier of Jesus Christ also trains daily in the use of his armor and weapons. In 2 Timothy 2:15 we are taught to, “Study [The command to study means “give diligence and be zealous.” It involves a total effort of mind, emotion and will] to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [literally means “cutting straight”] the word of truth.”

The Apostle Paul appeals for efforts to be made to properly interpret the Word of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 we are taught that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God [Greek: Theopneustos – literally “God-breathed”], and is profitable for doctrine [to tell one what to believe], for reproof [to tell one what is wrong], for correction [to tell one how to correct wrong], for instruction in righteousness [to tell one how to live]: that the man of God may be perfect [Greek: Artios – “proficient, capable” – having everything needed to do what God wants], throughly furnished [“thoroughly equipped”] unto all good works.” God’s inspired Word, properly used and applied, provides all that we need for life and ministry.

A good soldier of Jesus Christ must also keep himself pure. In 2 Timothy 2:20-22 we read,

But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

A good soldier of Jesus Christ must prepare for persecution, and be able to endure it. In 2 Timothy 3:10-12 we read,

But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (see also Acts 13:1314:28).

And, he must fight the good fight to the finish. The Apostle Paul was a good soldier of Jesus Christ and at the end of his life he was able to give this final testimony:

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).

As good soldiers of Jesus Christ we must be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong, and let all be done in love. And we must,

Take heed to [ourselves], lest at any time [our] hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon [us] unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21: 34, 35).

Therefore, we must watch “and pray always, that [we] may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).

May we all be found to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And when this mortal life is over, may we, like the Apostle Paul, be able to put the final exclamation point of our lives in place with the words “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”