Soldiers of Christ, Arise
2 Timothy 2: 1-7
1. Wars and conflicts have been a tragic part of our human experience ever since our banishment from the Garden of Eden.
• The attempt at resolving our differences through the point of the spear, the edge of the sword, the barrel of the gun, or targeted nuclear missile, has sadly not brought us any closer to a cessation of hostilities.
• The Great War, World War I, was regarded as “the war to end all wars” – the horrors and enormous cost in lives lost and resources spent, was hoped and believed to be sufficient to make the very thought of another war “unthinkable”.
• But just 21 years later we were again embroiled in another bitter World War in Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa that resulted in a total of 62 million deaths from 27 countries.
• Since then, and among the wars and conflicts of other nations, we have endured the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, Boznia, Somalia, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq and the bitter ongoing War on Terror.
2. The War on Terror has required an entirely different approach, strategy and way of thinking about “the enemy”.
• No longer is the enemy someone from a clearly identified nation, with defined boundaries, with standing armies, navies, air force and a recognizable uniform.
• Suicide bombings, car bombings and the televised beheading of innocent civilians is now intended to strike fear into the hearts of all infidels everywhere – and the results have clearly demonstrated that no people in any nation on the planet are entirely safe from this form of barbarism.
3. This War on Terror has also introduced a specifically religious component to the conflict as the radical Islamists define it as jihad or Holy War – seeing themselves as agents of Allah to eradicate all unbelievers from the earth.
• While we may not have felt overly comfortable with the term “Holy War”, we westerners have certainly had general agreement on which wars and conflicts were more “just” or tragically necessary.
• WWI and WWII have generally tended to fit into that category.
• However, the others since then – and particularly Vietnam and now Iraq have so polarized this nation that many have taken out their frustrations and their anger on the military and soldiers as a whole – with some even staging loud and abusive protests at the funerals of soldiers.
• An anti military movement has certainly gained momentum that would even banish from our Bibles and hymnals any mention of or reference to militaristic concepts of war, soldiers, weapons, and victory.
4. On this Memorial Day weekend I would like us to reflect on the legitimacy of retaining and rightly promoting the military language of Scripture and our hymnal.
• I recognize and acknowledge that there are passages like Isaiah 2:4 that prophesy of a day coming when people will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
• I acknowledge that Jesus came as “the Prince of Peace” and at His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane told Peter who had just hacked off the ear of the High Priest’s servant to “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52).
• But there are ample enough other references that present a very different picture of reality. Also in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s own foes will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10: 34-36).
• Does this prove that the Bible is full of contradictions? Does this prove that Jesus is “For war” and not for peace? Not at all. Of course there will be those entrenched souls on both sides of the religious and political divides who will seek to hurl their various proof texts at one another. What it does show is that there are certain truths that have to be held in tension with one another. The truth is not found in a single snapshot or proof text but in the entire “movie of God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture”.
• Yes, there is a day coming when peace will reign and war and conflict will be no more because “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” – but that day has not yet come and the forces of evil, wickedness and darkness still need to be opposed and defeated.
5. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encourages him to “wage the good warfare” (1:18), and in his 2nd letter he urges him to “guard the truth” (2 Tim. 1:14) that has been entrusted to him, and in our Scripture lesson for today, he urges him to be “a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3).
• Just what are the qualities or the hallmarks of a “good soldier”?
• I guess we could list – obedience, loyalty, faithfulness, single mindedness, discipline, fitness, knowledge of the enemy, skill in using his weapons.
6. To help focus our attention on a manageable number of concepts this morning, I have chosen the three letters W, A, and R to represent our WEAPONS, our AIM, and our READINESS as good soldiers of Jesus Christ.
1. To remain alive and do battle effectively, every soldier needs to have both good armor and good weapons. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul instructs us on how we are able to “be strong” and “remain strong” as soldiers of Christ. He underscores that it is only “in the Lord and the strength of His might”.
• Trying to be strong in our own strength and our own wisdom is futile and a recipe for failure.
• We are to recognize who our enemy is and he is not human. Our real battle is a spiritual one and other people – even those who look different from us or speak different from us – are not the real enemy. Our battle is against spiritual forces of wickedness that invade and capture the minds and hearts of people.
2. For this reason we are to put on the whole armor that God provides – the belt of truth to surround us and hold our armor together; the breastplate of righteousness to guard and cover our heart; the boots of the Gospel of peace that enable us to stand firm and move quickly and efficiently over difficult terrain with God’s Good News; the protective body shield of faith to deflect the fiery darts of the enemy; the helmet of salvation to guard and protect our minds and thoughts; and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God that is able to cut through lies and deceit and expose the true intentions of the heart.
• If you notice in this list of armor, there is no mention of any protection for the back. I believe there are two very good reasons for that. First, that the Believer who is standing “in the Lord and the strength of His might” never has any reason to turn his/her back and run from the enemy. We are told by both the Apostles James and Peter to “Submit ourselves to God and then resist the devil and he will flee from us.” (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9). The second reason why we have no protection for our backs is that we Christians are to be looking out for one another and covering each other’s backs. Good soldiers do that sort of thing for one another – even to the point of laying down their lives for one another.
1. Paul tells us in our lesson that the aim of a good soldier is “to satisfy the one who enlisted him” and so as a result the soldier does not “get entangled in civilian pursuits”. There are obviously passions and pursuits that are perfectly legitimate for civilians to engage in – entertainment, sports, hobbies, recreation, you name it – and they can participate in them as and whenever suits their inclinations.
• But the moment a soldier enlists in the military he/she surrenders those personal “rights” for the greater objective of accomplishing the various assignments and objectives of their platoon, company, regiment, or division.
• Their goal is to obey and carry out the orders of their commanding officer. This point is clearly illustrated in Luke 7 where we have the story of the Roman Centurion who came to Jesus for healing of one of his servants who was on the point of death. Jesus was willing to go with the officer but he replied, “Just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one ‘Go’, and he goes; and to another, ‘Come’, and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this’, and he does it.”
• You cannot have an effective army where every soldier just does his or her thing as and when it pleases them.
2. The same holds true for the church and is one of the reasons why we often do not achieve many of our goals and objectives – because it is considered largely as a voluntary association of private individuals who give of their time, energy, and resources when it is convenient for them to do so.
• I include myself under this word as much as I am speaking to you. This is not a case of the pastor chastising the congregation; rather, I am simply stating a matter of fact and offering an explanation for why the church often doesn’t function as well and as effectively as it might.
• This is one of the reasons why early Methodism was far more effective in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ than we are, because in addition to speaking much about “saving Grace” John Wesley also spoke about the Laws and Discipline of the People called Methodist. And Class Leaders exercised a very specific and watchful spiritual oversight of those members under their care. Accountability for their walk with the Lord was taken very seriously.
• If we had to try some of those same strategies today we’d probably be told “Hey, get your nose out of my business!”
3. We live today in an age where “tolerance” has been elevated to virtually one of the highest divine virtues.
• The Scriptures need to be re-written in “Newspeak” so that principles and values and standards and commands and articles of faith are to be re-shaped and re-formed to accommodate and fit in with the latest political correctness.
• To use “Oldspeak” or to not accept every behavior and lifestyle as of equal, legitimate, and perfectly beneficial value is to be castigated and ostracized as a bigot, a fundamentalist, a homophobe, and basically evil person.
4. A good soldier of Christ needs to keep his or her focus particularly when the battle intensifies and your light is spoken of as darkness, and your good is condemned as evil.
1. The image Paul presents of the Christian soldier in Ephesians 6 is of one who is at the ready at all times – he has on his belt, his breastplate, his boots and he is awaiting the battle call of the watchman.
• The moment the alarm is sounded, he grabs his shield, his helmet, and his sword and heads out to the battlefront.
2. In the Ephesians passage you notice Paul writes about standing “in the evil day”. Thank the Lord that not every day is “the evil day”. Sometimes we may go for days and weeks without there being any major battle to cross our paths. Life just seems all rosy and sweet. We are indeed grateful for those times, those seasons of respite.
• But then all of a sudden, seemingly from nowhere and without apparent provocation, all hell breaks loose with a barrage of flaming darts from the evil one – often disguised and wrapped in the bodies and personalities of our loved ones and friends.
• Even Jesus had to contend with this sort of strategy from the devil when Peter took Him aside and rebuked Him for saying that He would have to suffer and die, and angrily Jesus replied, “Get out of my face, Satan! For you are not on the side of God but of men.”
• And dear Peter, who knew and learned from this personal experience, of allowing himself to be hoodwinked and used by the enemy, wrote in his 1st Letter, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And I guess we could add that sometimes he comes along quietly and unobtrusively like the slithering and venomous snake that he is.
So I guess to wrap up this message, as one who personally enlisted in this army 45 years ago at age 14, I challenge myself and each one of you who enlisted to seriously review the implications and responsibilities of your enlistment and make whatever adjustments and re-alignments are needed for you to be well acquainted with your armor and weapons, to be certain, confident of and in full agreement with your aim, and alert and ready to take action at the order of your Supreme Commander-in-Chief.