Most of us are familiar with Paul’s frequent allusions to fighting “the good fight” and putting on the “armor of God.” It is clear that one aspect of the Christian’s life is to be a good soldier for Christ. But what does that really mean for us, for those who are unfamiliar with military life or have not experienced it firsthand (or secondhand through our spouse)?
Consider this quote from Essential Virtues (Jim Berg):
“Military personnel in any branch of our armed forces, when protecting our country’s interests, must be able to subordinate their personal passions in order to carry out the country’s mission. Their bodies may be screaming for rest while on an extended march, and their hearts may be bursting with longing for those they love at home, but they say no to their desires – and they continue to say no to their desires over the long haul and under great pressure.”
Think about it. If our soldiers chose to focus on those they left behind (spouses, parents, siblings or friends), they would be un-focused on their mission at hand. If they chose to think only about how worn out he felt, how hungry and tired and overworked he was, his performance on his job would quickly diminish. Does this remind you of anything Paul said?
“Thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3-4, KJV).
Or, to put that last part another way:
“No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (ESV).
So how does this apply to us?
For those in the U.S. military, it may be easier to draw the parallels between serving our country and serving our God. But the rest of us may need to actually sit down and think about it. How are we to avoid “getting entangled in civilian pursuits,” or with “the affairs of this life,” spiritually speaking?
The whole key here is discipline. Think back to 1 Timothy 6. Paul lays it out for us in a few simple steps:
- Flee the enemy, v.11: “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (referring here to the previous verses regarding various sins and worldly lifestyle choices).
- Pursue the mission, v.11: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.”
- Continue in the fight for victory, v.12: “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”
Discipline is necessary to complete each of these steps. It is necessary to continually flee from the enemy (sin), and it is necessary to continue pursuing the mission (godliness).
Now think about the flip-side for a moment. Berg continues with the following scenario:
“Imagine how effective a soldier would be if he exercised and trained only when he felt like it. How ready would he be for battle if he practiced his marksmanship and studied battle strategies only when he felt up to it? What if he put on twenty extra pounds by snacking on chips, soft drinks, and ice cream? What if he opted out of the long training hikes where he would have to walk and run for miles in full gear? Instead he stayed in the barracks surfing the Internet and communicating with his friends back home. Or what if he spend the majority of his time off the base partying and shopping?”
This type of behavior simply does not work for the military.
The whole idea of boot camp, and other training sessions, is to discipline the soldier so that he cares more about the success of the unit (or battalion or company) than he does about his own comfort. There are always guys (slackers) like the one mentioned above, but honestly, nobody likes them. None of the soldiers want to go into battle with them, because how does the disciplined soldier know that the slacker will truly “have his back”?
If the slacker has been doing his own thing all along instead of paying attention to the instructors and following orders, how will he know what to do — and how to do it — when real life hits him and he goes into battle? And of course, the instructors don’t care for these guys either, because they fail to listen and obey what they are told. These are the guys who run the risk of being discharged dishonorably or hit with punishments for not following orders.
Similarly, any Christian who fails to follow the orders of his Commander will be ineffective in spiritual battles.
A believer who cares more about his own comfort (“I don’t want people to think I’m weird”) or who is always looking back at what was left behind (think of Lot’s wife) will be utterly useless in the fight against the enemy. Other Christians – or soldiers – will not go to that person for help, because there is no evidence of victory being won in that person’s life. The Commander, Jesus Christ, will be displeased with this person, for he ignore his Commander’s orders and thinks he can do things his own way instead. He ends up surrendering to the enemy rather than winning the victory over the enemy.
So once again, how does this apply to us?
- First of all, we need to consistent and persistent in fleeing from temptations. To use the words of James 4:7 – “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
- Second, we need to be obedient to the orders of our Commander, orders in Scripture as well as orders given to us by the pricking of the Holy Spirit. We need to fervently “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5-7).
- Finally, we need to remain consistent and diligent in the fight. “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 firm” (Ephesians 6:13; see also vs.14-18).
Remember, anyone who would be called a disciple must be found in discipline to his Commander.