The Christian: A Soldier In God’s Army – Part 2
The Bible gives us a number of pictures of the Christian. These pictures show us who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do. We began last week to notice the image of a soldier. What are some things we associate with soldiers?
Solidarity: There is a special bond that soldiers share because they have gone through many of the same things- training, separation, hardships. Furthermore, they often share similar values- honor, love of country, courage, etc. They will gladly risk their lives for each other. If necessary, they will even give their lives for each other. In like manner, there is a solidarity shared by spiritual soldiers. In the book of Philippians, Paul spoke of the bond that he shared with a soldier named Epaphroditus. He wrote, “Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need” (Phil. 2:25; cf. Phile. 2). Epaphroditus had been willing to risk his life for Paul and others. Paul wrote, “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me.” (Phil. 2:29-30).
Sacrifice: Sacrifice is a word that we associate with soldiers. They sacrifice many things for the freedom of others. They sacrifice time with their families, holidays, nights and weekends, etc. A few even make the ultimate sacrifice. As you know, we have days of remembrance to remember the sacrifices they have made. Christian soldiers are also known for their sacrifices. In the book of Revelation, John wrote, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” (Rev. 12:11). The greatest love that any man can show is to willingly give his life for another. Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). Priscilla and Aquila had done this for Paul. To the saints at Rome, Paul wrote, “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.” (Rom. 16:3-4).
Submission: A final word that probably comes to mind when we think of soldiers is submission. The military operates by a system of rank. Those of lower rank submit to those of higher rank. Without this submission an army cannot function effectively. Of course, the same is true in spiritual soldiering. To Timothy, Paul wrote, “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Tim. 2:4). The soldier strives to please his superior. To the saints at Corinth, Paul wrote, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him.” (2 Cor. 5:9). In like manner, to the saints at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;” (1 Thess. 4:1). Soldiers must not walk disorderly or out of rank (2 Thess. 3:6). They must walk in a manner worthy of their commander (Col. 1:10). They must submit (Jam. 4:7).
The Christian is a soldier. As a soldier, we should see strength, separation, solidarity, sacrifice, and submission in his life. Are you a good soldier of Jesus Christ?
The Christian: A Soldier In God’s Army – Part 1
The Bible gives us a number of pictures of the Christian. These pictures show us who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do. The first picture that we noticed was that of a farmer. The second picture that we are going to notice is that of a soldier. It was natural for Paul to use the image of a soldier. Roman soldiers filled his world. Commonly a prisoner, Paul had much time to observe them and to learn about their work (Eph. 4:1; Phil.1:12-13). He used military references throughout his epistles - 1st and 2nd Corinthians, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Ephesians, and Philippians. What are some things we associate with soldiers?
Strength: Soldiers are put through extensive training to make them physically and emotionally strong. Think of the early morning runs, the push ups, and the pull ups. To the saints at Ephesus, Paul wrote, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13). The Christian needs strength to fight and to overcome the enemy (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Tim. 1:18; Jude 3). Repeatedly, individuals in the Scriptures were instructed to be strong. As you likely recall, God told Joshua: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them” (Josh. 1:5-6; cf. Heb. 11:34). In like manner, Paul told the saints at Corinth, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13; cf. 15:32). To the young men, John wrote, “I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.” (1 John 2:14).
Separation: Soldiers are often separated from those who are not soldiers. For one thing, they go through intense training or bootcamp to prepare them as soldiers. During this training they are separated from family and friends. In addition to this time of separation, soldiers often live on base which separates them from those who aren’t soldiers. Deployment is another common time of separation. In addition to physical separation, there are many other ways that soldiers are separated from their civilian counterparts. They are different in their thinking, in their dress, and in their actions. Although they may one day be back in civilian ranks, they will likely always be different. In like manner, the Christian soldier is to be separate. To Timothy, Paul wrote, “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” (2 Tim. 2:3-4; cf. 2 Pet. 2:20). In like manner, to the saints at Corinth, Paul wrote, “Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.” “I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:17-18; cf. Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:9).
Salvation: It Is Man’s Greatest Need and God’s Greatest Gift
If you were to ask the average person—“What is man’s greatest need?”—what sort of answers would you receive? If you were to ask the average person—“What is the greatest gift that man could receive?”—what sort of answers do you think you would receive? Would the answers to these questions vary? No doubt! Did you know that the Bible gives one single answer to these questions?
The Bible teaches that God created man in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). The Bible teaches that God loves mankind (John 3:16) and longs to have a relationship with each of them (Matt. 11:28-30; 1 Tim. 2:4). However, the majority of accountable persons are not interested in the will of God and they make choices that violate God’s will—this is called “sin.” Consider what the Bible tells us about sin.
Sin is the result of violating the will of God, which is called “lawlessness” and “unrighteousness” in the eyes of God, whether one “commits” the violating act or fails to “do” what is commanded (1 John 3:4; 5:17; Jas. 4:17). Sin is a personal choice (John 8:34; 1 John 2:1) and is not inherited from anyone else (Ezek. 18:20). The devastating consequence of sin is that it separates man from God, both in this life (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23) and in the life to come (2 Thess. 1:8-9). It is essential to understand the true nature and gravity of sin, so that man can understand his desperate need for salvation from his sin.
Seeing that salvation is man’s greatest need leads easily to recognize that the greatest gift that God could give to man would be the same—salvation from our sins! Our salvation was part of the eternal plan of God (Gal. 4:4; 1 Pet. 1:18-20). God longs that we might “be saved FROM wrath through” Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:9). God longs that we might be saved TO a “reconciled” relationship with Him (2 Cor. 5:10). God longs that we might be saved “FOR good works” in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10).
And God offers the gift of His salvation to every person on earth! The Bible teaches that ALL are lost in sin (Rom. 3:19, 23). The Bible teaches that ALL will be judged in the end for how they have lived (2 Cor. 5:10; Matt. 25:31-46). The Bible teaches that God wants ALL to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). The Bible teaches that wants the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus to be preached in ALL the world (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15). The Bible teaches that God has extended His invitation for salvation to ALL people (Tit. 2:11; Rom. 1:16; Rev. 22:17).
Salvation! There is no greater need among man today! There is no greater gift from God today! Do you have it? I’m not asking if you have some version of it! Do you have GOD’S salvation from sin?
The Christian: A Farmer in God’s Field
The Bible gives us many pictures of a Christian. These pictures are designed to help us to see who God wants us to be and what God wants us to do. The first picture that we want to consider is that of a farmer in God’s field.
Plowing - The first step is to prepare the ground for planting. To prepare the ground, the farmer plows the field. The plough roots up what is presently growing in the soil and softens the soil to receive the seed that will be sown. Isaiah detailed this process to make a spiritual application. He wrote, “Give ear and hear my voice, Listen and hear my speech. Does the plowman keep plowing all day to sow? Does he keep turning his soil and breaking the clods? When he has leveled its surface, Does he not sow the black cummin And scatter the cummin, Plant the wheat in rows, The barley in the appointed place,And the spelt in its place? For He instructs him in right judgment, His God teaches him” (Isa. 28:23-26). You may recall that Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen when he was called to follow Elijah (1 Kings 19:19). I believe that you will agree that Elisha could plow a pretty big field with that tractor. It didn’t run like a Deere, and it wasn’t green, but it got the job done. No doubt, you recall that Jesus used ploughing in His teaching. You may even see some clear connections to Elisha. He said, “And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”(Luke 9:61-62; cf. 1 Kings 19:20-21). To plow a straight row, the farmer had to keep his eyes focused forward (Phil. 3:13-14).
Planting - The second step is to plant the seed. You may recall that Jesus told a parable about a sower that went forth to sow (Mat. 13:3-9). The more that the farmer sows, the greater the potential harvest. Paul wrote, “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6). As you know, Paul was using sowing to teach a lesson about giving. We read, “So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:7-8).
Pulling - The third step was to pull up the weeds that appeared in the field. Although plowing disrupted the weeds and gave the seed an opportunity to come up and begin to grow, it did not totally eradicate the weeds. Some of them would reappear and need to be pulled up to keep them from choking out the good plants. You recall that Jesus spoke of that problem in the Parable of the Sower (Mat. 13:7). As you may recall, Jesus did not address pulling up the weeds in that parable. That was not His focus in that parable. In another parable, the Parable of the Tares, the subject of pulling up weeds would come up. We read, “Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’” (Mat. 13:24-28). Sadly, on that occasion, it was not possible to remove them without destroying the crop (Mat. 13:29-30). Please note that though the tares were not pulled up that day, they were going to be rooted up one day (Mat. 15:13).
Picking - The fourth and final step was to harvest the crop. The farmer waited patiently for this day to come. James wrote, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.” (James 5:7). When the harvest finally came, the farmer rejoiced. The Psalmist wrote, “Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalms 126:5-6). The farmer rejoiced as he gathered his crop into his barn. You may recall that Jesus and others often spoke of gathering the wheat or the crop into the barn. John the Baptist declared of Jesus: “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12). You may recall that Jesus told a story about a rich man who had such an abundant harvest that he did not have room in his barns to store it all (Lk. 12:16-21). Perhaps, you are thinking, but wasn’t he condemned? Yes, he was. But, he was condemned for the foolishness of leaving God out of His plans.
If you have ever farmed, then you know that farming is hard, but rewarding work. Paul wrote, “The hardworking farmer must be first to partake of the crops.” (2 Tim. 2:6). Let’s be busy as Christians fulfilling this role that God has given us (1 Cor.3:6, 9).
At the funeral of President Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Sr., recounted a story that showed Reagan's greatness. Bush recalled a time when he came to visit Reagan in the hospital and found the President down on his knees wiping up a spill. When Bush asked Reagan why he was doing that, Reagan explained that he did not want anyone to fall or for the nurse to get into trouble. Reagan could have pushed a button and had someone else wipe up the spill. However, that isn’t how servants think. That isn’t what servants do.
As great of an example of humility, love, and service as this is, there is one that is even greater. The Apostle John records an occasion when Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, got down on his knees and washed the dirty feet of the disciples. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded” (John 13:1-5).
One of the last acts that Jesus did on the earth was wash dirty feet. This small act of service was soon to be followed by a greater and more costly one - dying as our Passover lamb. Jesus could have commanded one of the disciples to wash His feet and the feet of the others. He was certainly worthy of such service and obedience. However, that wasn’t how His mind worked.
Over objections, Jesus kept washing. Why did He do that? He did that because He did not want the to get into trouble. They were evidently arguing about who was the greatest. They were seeking positions of power and glory. We know that this had been an ongoing issue with them. On an earlier occasion, Mark records, “Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35).
By admonition and action, Jesus taught them to serve. We read, “So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:12-17).