2 Timothy 2:1, 3-4 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus…Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs–he wants to please his commanding officer.”
From time to time soldiers make the news for doing outrageous things: killing or abusing civilians, mistreating each other, betraying national secrets. Considering the special temptations and stresses that go along with serving in the military, perhaps this should not surprise us.
We should not let these few stories overshadow the faithful service and honorable behavior of millions who have served their country well. For thousands of years the faithful soldier has been a role model for many walks of life—employees, athletes, students, activists in various causes, and yes, even Christians living the Christian life. Paul’s words to Timothy invite us to look at the soldier as a role model for our life of faith.
One of the first positive attributes we notice of the soldier is strength used for good. Those who serve in our military enter their service in the prime of life. Never will their endurance or raw power be greater than in these years of young adulthood. Through hard work and exercise we train them to be stronger still. That strength will be needed for so many of the challenges that face them, whether in peace time or in war.
Likewise, Paul urged Timothy, “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The strength of Christians, soldiers in the army of God, is not a strength they create within themselves. It is not the result of physical exercise. In his letter to the Romans, Paul reminds us, “While we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Our strength comes to us as a gift of God’s grace. He has brought us from death to life by the cross of his Son.
In my office hangs a cross I received as a gift. It is inscribed with a number of Bible passages promising the Christian strength. Across the horizontal beam of that cross in large letters is the word “strength.” Does that seem ironic? The cross was an instrument of torture and death. It robbed our Lord Jesus of the last traces of human strength before he cried out “It is finished.” Then he commended his spirit into the Father’s hands and died.
The soldier of Christ finds his strength at the cross, because there his sins were all forgiven. God gave him his life back again. The Lord sets him free from fear and fills him with confidence and hope. In Christ crucified we have both the power and the wisdom of God. Like good soldiers, we are strong when we immerse ourselves in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul describes another virtue modeled by soldiers: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” The soldier’s life is not an easy life. Boot camp pushes the body to the limits. Luxuries are few. A soldier’s life often lacks the basic comforts of life. Heat, cold, hunger, lack of sleep—a soldier deals with them all. If you are at war, someone is constantly trying to kill you. And this is no video game in which you may start over using the spare lives you have earned. It is a struggle of life and death. Hardship belongs to a soldier’s life.
Still, it is a noble life. Soldiers endure hardship for a greater cause. They defend. They protect. Their sacrifice makes it possible for others to enjoy the very things they have given up in order to do their job.
We soldiers of Christ endure hardship, too. Since God has already given us the greatest gifts—forgiveness and eternal life—we don’t regard life as nothing more than an opportunity for having or getting things. It is about giving. It is about serving. It is about sharing the gifts God has given. That calls for sacrifice. We make do with less to care for others. We give up comforts because we are dedicated to a cause: spreading the gospel. We want to defend and protect souls, so we sacrifice time, money, and effort for them to hear the good news.
Spreading the word invites attack. So good soldiers of Christ endure hardship, because Christ has made us part of his good and noble cause.
Finally, soldiers learn to carry out their mission with a single-minded focus. They are an example of devotion to duty. “No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.” It is all about the mission and the leader that they serve.
The same is true for us as soldiers of Christ. Those who belong to Jesus by faith know that this is not our home. We do not share the hopes and dreams of the citizens of this world. We are not here to become famous, rich, popular, or to have the most fun.
Our citizenship is in heaven. This world is a place we are passing through. We trust our Commander to provide us with something to eat, something to wear, and a roof over our heads. We concern ourselves with these things only as much as they are needed for our mission. We know they are not the mission. Getting to heaven, and bringing as many others along with us as we can—that’s the concern of the soldier of Christ who wants to please his commanding officer.
On Veteran’s Day we thank the men and women who served and sacrificed to make our way of life possible. We Christians can also thank them for the picture they provide of the soldiers who fight in God’s army—believing soldiers of Christ. May God’s grace keep us faithful to his cause.