Soldiers of Christ
To my fellow believers,
I am writing in hopes of reminding you of an identity bequeathed to us by our union with Christ, one that has been neglected in this age of cheap grace and a convenient, comfortable, and powerless Christianity. The scriptures employ a variety of pictures to illustrate who we are as a people saved by grace through faith. Some of these can be seen in the second chapter of the second letter to Timothy, where the apostle Paul used several illustrations as parallels for the Christian life. He urged Timothy to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus”. One who is “not entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him”. Paul also mentions fellow soldiers in his other epistles (Philippians 2:25; Philemon 1:2). This indicates that being recruited as soldiers in Christ's army forms the basis of one of our Christian identities. My appeal to you in this letter, is to consider the One who enlisted us, and to not shirk this calling.
Like most people, you probably do not like to live under the circumstances of war. There are many who profess to follow Christ but see Him as a mere means of providing access to worldly comfort. The scriptures, however, are clear that Jesus did not die for us and save us in order to make us comfortable in this world. Jesus left us a mission, one that will endure until the end of the age and outlive us, but one we are called to take part of and spend our lives for, nonetheless. This mission has enemies. The objects of our mission are bound and blinded in a rebellious worldly kingdom, dominated by a darkness that won’t comprehend the light but instead wage battle upon it. In the Christian life are no options for peace. As Aragorn tells Theoden in the Two Towers: “Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not”, a warning that holds true for Christians just as much it does for Rohan. We do not have any options to avoid risking war. There are no options for staying neutral. There is an aggressive enemy who would not loathe to bring us and others to ruin and deception. Our call is to rise and meet him in battle, as part of a war that in Christ we are sure to overcome. Richard Sibbes wrote that “a Christian, so soon as he is newborn, is born a soldier, and so continues until his crown is put on him.” I urge you, then, to live with a wartime mentality. Before we enjoy peace, let us engage in war.
Sharing in Suffering
As with all of humanity, I am sure that you are familiar with suffering, and how its severity is even more heightened once we belong to Christ. Peter warns the elect exiles to “not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” This follows the same admonition given by Paul to Timothy: “Share in suffering as good soldiers”. Whether you are deployed in the front lines of the battlefield or are working the supply lines on the home front, everyone suffers in war.
But take heed of Christ. In one of God’s greatest displays of love for his people, He took on the frailness and weakness of humanity in order to suffer for them. In this feebleness Isaiah describes him “like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground”. There was no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him. Jonathan Edwards said that “as Christ’s principal errand into the world was suffering, so, agreeably to that errand, he came with such a nature and in such circumstances, as most made way for his suffering.” Indeed, Isaiah goes on and describes him as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” As a man Jesus suffered everything we suffer. He experienced grief, desertion, loneliness, injustice, sorrow, and even death. He wept in the face of loss, endured the pain of rejection, and lived through the torments of pain. God is not just aware of our sufferings, He intentionally lived through them to redeem us, His people. He suffered in order to triumph. As good soldiers in His army, we are called to do the same.
Soldiers suffer. It is a necessary part of the job. The Puritan Henry Smith said that “we are called soldiers, to show how we should suffer.” As we spend our lives in the service of Christ and fulfill the commission of spreading the gospel, we will encounter adversities and experience hardships. There will be times when we have to give up our pleasures and comfort as we serve. At times we will be persecuted and maligned as we follow. And in most times we will experience loss for the gospel. However, as good soldiers we need to press on, for we are not alone in our suffering but are merely enjoying the privilege of sharing in the suffering of Christ. When Peter and the apostles were persecuted and brought to court for preaching the gospel, they went “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” When Paul wrote his letter to Timothy, he had gone through great sufferings in his ministry, was in prison and was about to die. In the same chapter he said, “Remember Jesus Christ… for which I am suffering”. If there is anything we should suffer for, none is more worthy than His name.
Separated from the World
Paul proceeds to describe the good soldier as one who is “not entangled in civilian pursuits.” As good soldiers then we must have single-mindedness. Let us not take our eyes off the mission and be sidetracked by the things of the world. Soldiers are not sent to the battlefield to build their houses, eat good food and enjoy their possessions. Arms and supplies are provided for the sole purpose of fighting a battle and accomplishing the mission. Anything else only serve as obstacles in fulfilling our roles. The Puritan George Downame says, “Let us use our worldly things as wise pilgrims do their staves and other necessaries convenient for their journey. So long as they help us forward in our way, let us make use of them, and accordingly esteem them. But if they become troublesome hindrances and cumbersome burdens, let us leave them behind us, or cast them away.”
Pursuing earthly pleasures might seem wise to the eyes of the world. However, a good soldier knows that real enjoyment comes after the battle, and so they despise the fleeting pleasures of sin by looking forward towards their heavenly country. “Satiated they were, but not satisfied,” John Trapp says of those who pursue worldly treasure. Our lives here are brief, our yearnings deep, worldly pleasures shallow and short lived. They not only become distractions to our battles but they fail to satisfy. Samuel Rutherford writes, “When the race is ended, and the play is either won or lost, and ye are in the utmost border of time, and shall put your foot within the march of eternity, all the good things of your short nightdream shall seem to you like ashes of a blaze of thorns or straw.”
So with Paul let us say “we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” Focus on the battle. Be grateful for everything you have in your hands and use them, not as distractions but as means in fulfilling your mission. Worldly pursuits fail to satisfy. Take joy in your longing for your heavenly home.
When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Serving for His Pleasure
The reminder to Timothy was very explicit regarding the good soldier’s aim: “to please the one who enlisted him.” It is a sober reminder that all our services in this war have one ultimate goal, and that is the pleasure of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was He who called us and gave us the privilege to be part of His army by loving us and redeeming us from the enemy. It is He who has set the standard on how we shall live. Richard Baxter says, “If you love your Lord you should love to imitate Him and be glad to find yourself in the way that He hath gone before you. If He lived in the greatest contempt of all the wealth and honors and pleasures of the world in a life of Holy obedience to His Father, wholly preferring the kingdom of heaven, and seeking the salvation of the souls of others, and patiently bearing persecution, derision, calumnies, and death, then take up your cross and follow Him joyfully to the expected crown.” In Christ, we have a captain who went before us and bid us to follow in His steps. He did not stay in the back of His army but led before them in the front lines. As William Guthrie said, “His cry not Forward, but Follow.”
There is no greater objective in our lives then than to live in a way that pleases Him. Elsewhere, the apostle Paul calls this our “spiritual act of worship.” We are to present our bodies as living sacrifices, transformed, and no longer conformed to this world. We are expected to use all that we have, what the bible might call “talents”, for the profit of our master. We are expected to love Him more than our possessions, our families, and even more than our lives. We are expected to lay our hands on our labors for Him, and not look back. And all these for His pleasure and delight will be worth it. Please the one who enlisted you. Glorify Him in your days. He is worth all of these because His love is better than life.
Richard Sibbes wrote, “Let us not look so much who are our enemies as who is our Judge and Captain, nor what they threaten but what He promises; we have more for us than against us. What coward would not fight when he is sure of victory? None are here overcome but those that will not fight.” On our side Christ has already claimed victory. What then is stopping us from joining in His army? Let us live as soldiers for Christ, sharing in His sufferings, separate from the world, and serving His pleasure. Isaac Watts says, “Is Christ the captain of salvation? See what a blessed army He has listed under His banner of love, and they have followed Him through all the dangers of life and time under His conduct. These are the chosen, the called, the faithful. They have sustained many a sharp conflict, many a dreadful battle, and they are at last made more than conquerors through Him that has loved them. They attribute all their victories to the wisdom, the goodness, and the power of their divine leader and even stand amazed at their own success against such mighty adversaries. But they fought under the banner, conduct, and influence of the Prince of Life, the King of Righteousness, who is always victorious and has a crown in His hand for every conqueror”. Christ has saved us and called us to be part of His army.
He has sounded forth the trumpet That shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men Before His judgement seat; Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; Be jubilant, my feet; Our God is marching on.
Would it be that all of us Christ’s disciples would come forward and say, “Here am I Lord, please send me and use me. I want to be in that number.”
In Christ our Captain,