Onward Christian Soldier

Bible Book: 2 Timothy  2 : 1-4
Subject: Soldier Christian; Christian Living; Dedication; Discipline
Series: Independence Day
Introduction

This week our nation, America, celebrates its Independence Day. We remember that many soldiers gave life and limb for our freedoms, one of which is our freedom to express our Christian faith without fear of government intervention. That feardom has been purchased and maintained through the decades by soldiers.

It is interesting to note that the Bible presents the Christian life as that of being a soldier of Jesus Christ. This does not mean that we are called by Jesus to physically fight enemies, but rather speaks of the commitment, discipline and devotion required to live for Jesus in this world. In fact, at no time are Christians told to advance the cause of Christ through intimidation or violence - never! But, being a Christian soldier means that we take seriously our walk with the Lord. Today I want us to think on the idea of the Christian Soldier - the committed believer living in faithfully in a tough world. The dicisplined believer is essential to the ongoing mission of reaching our world with the gospel.

Our text is found in 2 Timothy, chapter 2:1 - 4:

"You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier." (NKJV)

I served in the United States Army from 1963 to 1966, including a tour of duty in Vietnam, in a portion of 1965 and 1966. When I think of those days, the training that we endured and the discipline that was required, I note that very little discipline exists in the average Christian that is required to be a soldier. As Army soldiers, we were put through physical, mental and emotional training. The hours were long and so at night I would fall into bed and go to sleep before my head hit the pillow. But, it all paid off when the time came to be in a war zone. The discipline and training seemed unnecessary, but it was apparent why this was so important once we landed in the middle of the Vietnam conflict.

Think of the fact that Timothy was told by the Apostle Paul that living the Christian life is tantamount to being a soldier. He did not mean that Christians are to physical fight the enemy, but that we are to grow and and be tough in our commitment and discipline so that we might endure all the the devil throws at us. To be a Christian is to be obedient to the Commander, the Captain of our Salvation, Jesus Christ. I pray that we will make a new commitment of our lives to be dedicated soldiers of the cross in this service today.

“During the War Between the States", writes Gary Redding, "a Union solder from Ohio was shot in the arm during of the battle of Shiloh. His captain saw he was wounded and barked an order: 'Gimme your gun, private, and get to the rear!’ The private handed over his rifle and ran toward the north, seeking safety. But after covering two or three hundred yards, he came upon another skirmish. Then he ran to the east and into another part of the battle. Then he ran west but encountered more fighting there. Finally, he ran back to the front lines, shouting: 'Gimme back my gun, cap'n. There ain't no rear to this battle!’ When it comes to spiritual warfare, ‘there ain't no rear!’” [Preaching, Apr/May, 1990.]

Indeed, there is no place for us to hide behind the lines in this great war taking place on a spiritual level. The Christian is often portrayed in Scripture as a soldier. Let me preface everything I am going to say with a statement regarding the spiritual nature of this comparison. I've said this already, but it is critical that we understand this matter. The Lord does not teach us that we are to be violent in order to bring about His Kingdom on earth. Some people are using violence to advance their religous cause and that is wrong, evil and contrary to everything Jesus taugth and did. Yet, even some so-called Christians advocate violence. Those who bomb abortion clinics and verbally abuse people who hold different views on social matters are not in the will of God. Jesus lived in a time of unprecedented evil. Herod was on the throne in Israel and he was a wicked man, and actually he was a violent criminal. Rome ruled over the land and many people were treated with cruelty by them, but Jesus did not advocate overthrowing Herod or the Roman Empire with violence. In fact, when Peter took a sword and cut off the ear of a Roman soldier in defense of Jesus, our Lord rebuked him and healed the soldier. So, please be clear, our talk of military language in this message must be understood as having to do with our battle with Satan and his minions, and not a physical or verbally abusive battle with people in the world.

What, then, do we intend with the military language when discussing the Christian life? Let me share with you 7 truths related to this subject.

I. The Calling of the Good Soldier

In 2 Timothy 2:4 we read that the soldier is to obey the one who is his commanding officer. The term used here is one which means to call an army together. It refers to one who has the authority to conscript soldiers.

Listen carefully, every saved person is one who has been called by the Commander and has enlisted in His service. We have been chosen by Him and we have responded to His calling. The moment we become Christians we are enlisted in the service of the King of Kings. Look, for example, at John 15:16, which reads, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit - fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. He chose us. He called us to Himself!"

It is imperative that we understand this principle. We must be called to Him, for without His call we cannot respond. You pick up your phone when it is not ringing or chirping, just in case someone is calling. At least I hope you don’t. He calls, we respond. This is how we are saved and enlisted in His army.

You see, we must have a divine change in order to serve our Divine Lord. We must have a change from the inside out and not the other way around. You can't become a soldier of Christ by deciding to be a better person. One must sense the call of God, the conviction of sin, the consequences of delay and then make a commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior in order to be part of family of God - to be enlisted as a good solider of Jesus Christ.

D. L. Moody, the great American evangelist, once said, “If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.” (Ravi Zacharias, "The Lostness of Humankind," Preaching Today, Tape No. 118.) A change on the outside is insufficient for the soul. The change in the life must come from the heart, and only the Lord that accomplish that remarkable, eternal alteration in the human soul.

Once we have been called, and once we have responded to Him, we are fully enlisted in the army of the King. Then we need an understanding of and a commitmen to ....

II. The Commander of the Good Soldier

Look at Hebrews 2:10, and note that this text refers to Jesus as the Author, which also means Captain, of our Salvation. 2 Timothy 2 tells us that we are to obey Him who called us, who chose us.

What does a good soldier do?

  • A good soldier knows who is in charge
  • A good soldier does what he is commanded to do
  • A good soldier honors his commit
  • A good soldier does not take advice from outside sources
  • A good soldier remains at his or her post if life and in death

Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey me.” Love is not in word but in deed. So being called and enlisted in His service means that His love drives us ot be good soldiers of the cross.

In his book “Fresh Bait for Fishers of Men,” Louis Albert Banks tells of an incident that clearly illustrates what it means to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ. On one occasion while Sir Henry Brackenbury was a military attaché in Paris, he was conversing with the distinguished statesman Gambetta, who said to him, “In these days there are only two things a soldier needs to know. He must know how to march, and he must know how to shoot!” The Englishman quickly responded, “I beg your pardon, Excellency, but you have forgotten the most important thing of all!” The Frenchman asked, “What's that?” Brackenbury replied, “He must know how to obey!”

Indeed, that is our duty. We must know how to obey.

Now, to do this properly we must consider ...

III. The Commitment of the Good Soldier

Look again at our text. In verses 3 and 4 we see the call to commitment in the life of the believer. This call to commitment is similar to that of the call to commitment in the life of a soldier. A soldier takes a vow, a pledge to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America and to defend the nation against all enemies, domestic and foreign. Likewise, the believer pledges to follow our Captain and to stand for Him at all times.

Look at Ephesians 6:10-12. Note that we are called to stand, and having done all to stand.

In John 15:19-21 we read, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.”

We are no better than our Lord - we must be ready to serve Him in a world of hatred against us. This calls for a commitment on our part. It is not easy. It is a military life. It is a life of devotion.

Now, all of this sounds quite rigorous, and it is. So, let's look at ...

IV. The Conditioning of the Good Soldier

We read in 1 Timothy 4:8, "For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”

We are to be conditioned for the battle. This means knowing God’s manual for spiritual military action. Look at 2 Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”

Again, we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We are conditioned by studying and living the Word of God, which means that we must be prepared to endure trails of all kinds. The Chrsitian life is not a walk in the park. To live as a Christian is not to be loved by the world, or even fully loved by other Christians. The good soldier must be committed to Christ under all circumstances, some of which may be brutal to your mind, heart and soul. I recall just now a man whose wife left him with two small children. She wanted to go live in New Orleans and turn her life into one long party. She was reared in the house of God and her husband was a dedication and committed Christian. He was crushed emotionally. Yet, I watched him pull up his bootstraps, look toward the Commander's face and go on with the Christian work. He never wavered in his faith or in his works. That is God's calling for us. Don't let the enemy defeat you, even if it means sorrow, hurt or shame. The Christian soldier just keeps following His Lord, who never wavered on His way to the cross.

Also, we must think for a moment about ...

V. The Comrades of the Good Soldier

The Christian soldier must take into consideration his fellow soldiers. Many are our numbers and we serve on many battle fronts, but we all serve the same Commander, our Lord Jesus Christ. Note what Paul wrote on one occasion, as recorded in Philippians 2:25, “But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.”

Epaphroditus was called a "fellow soldier" of Paul. How fitting. We who are saved are fellow soldiers of Christ. The Bible tells us that Moses thought of His fellow comrades. We read in Hebrews 11:25, “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”

What about the case of a fallen soldier? Look at Galatians 6:1-2. We are to restore that person. We are to act in compassion and concern toward our fallen brothers and sisters. We are to do all we can to return them to full service to the Lord.

During the Boer War (1899-1902), a man was convicted of a very unusual crime. He was found guilty of being a discourager. The South African town of Ladysmith was under attack, and this traitor would move up and down the lines of soldiers who were defending the city and do everything he could to discourage them. He would point out the enemy's strength, the difficulty of defending against them, and the inevitable capture of the city. He didn't use a gun in his attack. It wasn't necessary. His weapon was the power of discouragement. Encouragement, on the other hand, can be a powerful friend. It strengthens the weak, imparts courage to the fainthearted, and gives hope to the faltering. One of the greatest ministries we can have is to lift the spirits of our fellow believers.

Are you an encourager of your fellow soldiers? Just now, think of anything you have done or said to encourage a fellow Christian in the last few days or weeks. Every beleiver suffers attacks from the enemy, and some of them come in ways you know nothing about. Taking a moment to write a note, speak kindly, or to let a fellow Christian know how much their service means can make all the difference in the world. We can all find some wrong with others - in fact, we can all find some things lacking in our own lives. What people need is a helping hand, a loving word and a sincere prayer as they serve the Captain of our Salvation.

Let us also look at ...

VI. The Conflict of a Good Soldier

We are definitely in a war. Look at Ephesians 6:10-12. Our war is not with flesh and blood but with our enemy, the devil, and all those with him. This is a real battle not an imaginary one.

“When a Moslem makes a religious pilgrimage to Mecca, he kisses the Black Stone (the stone that supposedly came down from heaven), drinks from the well of Hagar, and throws stones at the three pillars that represent Satan. No doubt Satan is more amused than offended. Certainly he is not wounded. If we want to do battle with evil, we will have to do more than throw stones at pillars. We will have to live holier lives and help others to do the same.” (Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997)).

We cannot play games and be good soldiers, for our duty is to move forward with the Lord and for the Lord. We are not to hold the fort, but to storm the enemy camp. Mary Lou Carney had to pick up her daughter at O'Hare International Airport one evening when the traffic was terrible. It was bumper-to-bumper for miles. The next day she complained about it to a friend who worked near the airport and had to cope with that kind of traffic every day. It was awful, Mary Lou said. I was barely moving. Her friend smiled knowingly and said, “The rule of the commute is this - ANY forward movement is good.” How true that is for us in our battle with the devil. Any forward movement is good. Sadly, too many are in God’s army are AWOL, in retreat and just sitting still!

Lastly, let us joyfully consider ...

VII. The Culmination of a Good Soldier

Paul was a good soldier. Hardly anyone would think to argue with that fact. Look at the culmination of his life in the very same book where we began this message. 2 Timothy 4:7-8 states, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day - and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” Galatians 6:9 reminds us not to grow weary in doing the right things, for in due time we will reap a harvest.

I can remember the day I boarded a plane from Vietnam heading back home to my family. I was married and had a daughter who was just 2 years of age. My heart rate increased and my joy was indescribable as I neared home. What a delight it was. If I had not served my country in an honorable way, my homecoming certainly would have been shameful and embarassing. Yet, having served honorably, I felt such happiness to finally be going home to my wife and daughter. One day, we are going to meet Jesus. Let us serve faithful now as soldiers of our Lord so that our home-going will be one of incredible joy!

Conclusion

A Christian leader from another generation said,

“Some want to live within the sound of chapel bells,

I want to run a rescue mission within a yard of hell!”

Too many of us are looking to the church to meet every need we have and provide us with every comfort we can think of, but let me assure you that it is our duty to be faithful to Jesus. We are to endure hardness for Him. We must never be content with doing less.

A milk company came up with a neat little slogan which they painted in large letters on the side of their delivery trucks. It read:

“OUR COWS ARE NOT CONTENTED! THEY'RE ANXIOUS TO DO BETTER!”

If we are to avoid becoming self-satisfied, we need to adopt a similar attitude. Our work is tough, our Savior is mighty, our work is critical, our time is short, our numbers are few, but we serve the Captain of our Salvation - so let us rise up and follow our Leader!

We must remain faithful. We are soldiers of Christ. We must live and sing,

“Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war,

With the cross of Jesus going on before."

"Must I be carried to the skies

On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize

And sailed thru bloody seas?"