The Believer as a Soldier
Ken Totton, Cambridge, England
The geographical position of the Promised Land ensured that the Israelites were exposed to wars, frequently not of their own making. Not especially militaristic, the nation of Israel is often seen in the Old Testament as being cast upon God to protect them and embolden them against opponents far more numerous and better equipped than themselves. In the New Testament, we find that the Christian’s enemies are essentially spiritual, for ‘we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places’, Eph. 6. 12. Our Lord’s words to Pontius Pilate should be definitive for all His followers, ‘My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence’, John 18. 36. How much better it would have been for the cause of Christ if these words had been obeyed through the centuries!
In New Testament times, Rome ruled the civilized world, and the evidence of military power was apparent on every hand. The thought of soldiers marching in formation, battling valiantly in foreign campaigns, and enjoying the sweet triumph of victory provide the New Testament writers with a rich and instructive set of metaphors.
The believer’s enemies
Conversion initiates a life-long struggle in the believer’s life between the flesh and the Spirit.1 To the dismay of every new convert, the flesh – one’s unregenerate nature – remains, ‘unremoved and unimproved’. Moreover, in addition to the flesh within, the world – the evil world system presided over by the devil – presents a constant danger from without, at times enticing our hearts, and at other times confronting us with cruel opposition. The world is the devil’s masterpiece and kingdom, and he himself is the relentless foe of all who seek to serve God. Whilst he is to be resisted, it would be folly to underestimate his power and subtlety, and we need to pray constantly ‘bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’.2
Christ’s pivotal triumph
Lest we should quickly despair, let us remember that our Lord Jesus Christ has already decisively triumphed over all the malignant spiritual forces arrayed against us. Through death He destroyed him who had the power of death.3 Therefore, the key to the Christian’s victory on every battlefield of life is to stand assuredly on the ground that Christ has already won for us. It is not a question of pioneering new territory, but rather (like Israel in the Promised Land) a matter of possessing what our Lord has secured for us. In our weakness, He must be our sure resource and our strength, at the same time drawing encouragement from the heroes of faith who ‘out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens’.4 Christ’s ultimate victory is assured, and through Him His people are overcomers, and ‘more than conquerors’, remembering always that ‘the battle is the Lord’s’. On the other hand, shallow triumphalism is to be avoided; instead we must soberly bear in mind that we are chosen to be His soldiers in a theatre of deadly conflict. The basics of military life will therefore provide us with some vital imperatives.
Characteristics of the soldier
The Christian soldier does not fight alone, and it is encouraging that scripture emphasizes the collective aspects of Christian warfare. Roman armies were expert at military manoeuvres in which warriors stood shoulder to shoulder, supporting and protecting one another. Terms such as ‘fellow-soldier’, ‘fellow-prisoner of war’ abound.5 Paul’s letters to Timothy exhort his younger colleague to suffer hardship as ‘a good soldier of Jesus Christ’ and to ‘fight the good fight of the faith’.6 Paul regarded his apostolic labours as campaigns, in which he fought with spiritual weaponry to storm pretentious strongholds of proud opposition to Christ and His gospel.
An essential part of being a good soldier is discipline, for example, the ability to ‘keep rank’ and, thus, be an asset rather than a liability to one’s companions. King David enjoyed the support of men who could ‘keep rank’, ‘being men of war, that could order the battle array’.7 For our part, in a day when individualism is rampant, what a need there is for godly discipline and obedience, whether to our Lord as ‘commander-in-chief’, or to local leaders of His appointing. The experienced soldier knows how truly vital teamwork and comradeship are.
If we are to be effective Christian warriors how must we proceed? Ephesians chapter 6 verses 10-20 is the most comprehensive passage on the subject of Christian warfare, and should be studied carefully. We are to take to ourselves the ‘whole armour’ of God. This is the complete equipment of the heavily armed soldier. We dare not wait until the evil day is suddenly upon us; rather, we are to be ready, armed, and watchful at all times, shunning sloth and carelessness. As the conflict is spiritual, only spiritual resources will suffice. ‘Girt about with truth’ suggests personal integrity, and readiness for service. The breastplate of righteousness points to practical, transparent righteousness of character and conduct. Having one’s feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace echoes a famous passage in Isaiah.8 It indicates that every Christian should be a bearer of the saving message of the gospel, both for the blessing of others, and for our own sake. Deep confidence in God will be a shield. Salvation, appropriated and enjoyed, supplies a vital helmet. The Christian warrior, like his Lord, is privileged to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. But, have we made it our own? Are we comfortable and competent swordsmen? The Greek here suggests readiness with a timely word or saying, appropriate to the present threat, which will put the enemy to flight.
Examples of good soldiers
Scripture provides us with many examples of faithful and valiant soldiers. Let two suffice, one from each Testament.
1. Uriah the Hittite
As Christians we are to be soldiers on active service, not entangled in the affairs of civilian life.9 Uriah the Hittite was characterized by great loyalty to David. He would not visit his wife Bathsheba when his fellow-soldiers were at the battle: ‘The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing’.10 Singleness of purpose, and freedom from distracting cares, are essential for the service of Christ. Uriah did not recoil from the hottest battle, but laid down his life. How despicable his treatment at the hands of David!
From the outset, suffering was the appointed lot of the Apostle, in part designed to keep him humble and usable in Christ’s service.11 2 Corinthians chapter 11 catalogues the ‘battle-honours’ won by Paul in the service of Christ. Not that Christian soldiers should dwell on such things, but Paul was facing unusual circumstances requiring him to write thus to the Corinthians. He bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus. He knew that suffering for Christ must precede reigning with Him. What do we know of hardship, inconvenience and opposition, in the furtherance of the work of the Lord?
An intellectual giant, he set about demolishing arguments, and vocal strongholds of satanic opposition, with alacrity. Is this not a timely challenge to us in the modern world, where Christianity is often discounted in favour of atheism and even, at times, the weirdest beliefs? Armed with the glorious gospel of Christ, the kingdom of God calls loudly for the engagement of faithful and prayerful warriors who will follow in this noble tradition. Indeed, every believer is called to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.12
Chosen to be soldiers
In an alien land
Chosen, called and faithful
For our captain’s band;
In the service royal
Let us not grow cold;
Let us be right loyal,
Noble, true, and bold.
Frances Ridley Havergal
The warrior’s recognition
So much for present conflict, but what of the future? Following campaigns, deeds of gallantry are weighed, and battle honours and campaign medals are awarded for acts of outstanding bravery. Likewise in ancient times the victorious Roman general could look forward to the ultimate honour of a triumphal procession in Rome itself. His seasoned and loyal commanders and soldiers would be there, with the fragrance of incense filling the air, the appreciative crowds imagining the valour displayed on battlefields in some remote corner of the empire.
Such considerations surely point us to the future, and the day of Christ, the day of review and reward. Paul was looking well beyond the discomforts of prison and the approach of martyrdom when he wrote: ‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day: and not only to me, but also to all them that have loved his appearing’.13
Soon ‘the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed’. May we be found as those who have pleased Him who has chosen us to be soldiers!14
- Gal. 5. 17.
- Matt. 6. 13 RV, cp. 1 Pet. 5. 8-9.
- Heb 2. 14; cp. Col. 2. 15.
- Heb. 11. 34.
- Fellow-soldier Phil. 2.25; Philem. 2. Fellow-prisoner (of war) Rom. 16. 7; Col. 4. 10; Philem. 23.
- 2 Tim. 2. 3; 1 Tim. 6. 12; 2 Tim. 4. 7.
- 1 Chr. 12. 38 RV.
- Isa. 52. 7.
- 2 Tim. 2. 3 ‘The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase’, F. F. Bruce.
- 2 Sam. 11. 11.
- Acts 9. 15-16; 2 Cor. 11. 30.
- Jude 3
- 2 Tim. 4. 7-8 RV.
- 1 Cor. 15. 52; 2 Tim. 2. 4.