The Christian as a Soldier
2 Timothy 2:3-4
Led by the Spirit of God, the Apostle Paul passes from the subject of Sonship (2:1, 2) to that of Soldiership (2:3, 4); from the family of God to the army of God.
How do we become soldiers in God’s army? The answer is simple. We must enlist. Only by voluntary enlistment can we become soldiers in His “Salvation Army.” He will not force us to join against our wills, though it is definitely His will that everyone enlist (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). Timothy voluntarily enrolled at Lystra (Acts 14:6), and became “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (see Acts 16:1-3). Have you been to God’s “Recruiting Office” to ‘sign up’ and thereby be made a new creature in Christ Jesus by receiving Him as your own personal Saviour and Captain? What a grand thing to be changed by the power of God, to change uniforms — from Satan’s rags of sin to the Saviour’s robe of righteousness — and to change sides, thereby to be united and linked with the risen, ascended, glorified, and soon coming Captain who has conquered every foe. The time to enlist is NOW (2 Car. 6:2), while you are yet young, just as Timothy did.
On one occasion when returning from a meeting, it is reported that D. L. Moody told his hosts that there were two-and-a-half conversions. They smilingly said, “Oh yes, two adults and a child, presumably?” “Oh no,” said Mr. Moody, “two children and an adult.” The time to receive Christ is while you are young for then you have a whole life to offer and dedicate to God.
We want to consider three highly important lessons about the Christian as a soldier as revealed in this brief but blessed passage of Scripture. The first lesson we want to note is
His Divine Selection
Every soldier, and especially one in God’s army, is chosen for a specific task (2:4). He is called upon to wage a courageous warfare and the Christian soldier eventually learns that he has not been drafted from the ranks of men, but divinely selected. As a cap-stone to the parable of the marriage supper, the Lord Jesus said: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matt. 22:14). God desires and needs hand-picked men and examples of His divine selection are found throughout the Scriptures (e.g., Moses in Exodus 3: Joshua in Joshua 1:1ff.; Gideon and his 300 in Judges 6 and 7; the disciples in John 15:16; and Paul in Acts 9:15, 16). To be sure, the examples just cited are outstanding ones. Nevertheless, what was true of them insofar as their divine selection is concerned is true of all believers. Here, then, is one of God’s great secrets which He reveals to His own, a military secret, if you please. Once saved by God’s grace and soldiers in His army, it may come as a surprise to learn that from the God-ward standpoint our Lord has chosen us, not we Him (John 15:16; Eph. 1:4), but such a discovery surely comes as a happy surprise, if also as a humbling one.
We come now to the second important lesson concerning the Christian as a soldier — namely,
His Designated Superiority
God’s desire, design, and designation is that we be “good” soldiers of Jesus Christ. Today, in the fighting forces of our nation many prove to be bad soldiers and are a disgrace to the country they represent. Then too, especially in war time, there are some who outwardly wear the uniform of the army, but inwardly they are not true soldiers at all. Such are infiltrators, fifth columnists, spies — not loyal soldiers. This same condition prevails even in God’s army, and in His Word the Lord has, time and again, warned His true soldiers about the infiltration of the enemy into the ranks (cf. Acts 20:29-31; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:18, 19).
Are you a “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” a true (as the adjective “good” may be translated) soldier of His; or are you misrepresenting Himself and His army?
A soldier bearing the much feared and respected name of Alexander was brought before the famous conqueror, Alexander the Great, having been condemned for a crime he had committed. “What is your name?” asked the emperor. “Alexander, sir!” answered the trembling soldier. “Then either change your name or your ways,” commanded Alexander, whereupon the wayward and condemned soldier was abruptly dismissed without further discipline in his case.
While it may not be possible to fully affirm the validity of the foregoing incident, its moral is excellent. Our classic chapter of 2 Timothy 2 has a very precious and practical text bearing upon this matter of living up to our name as Christians. Do you recall it? “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity” (2:19). We do well to prayerfully ponder and diligently practise the truth of this great text. May we in no wise be guilty of bringing dishonour and discredit to that “Name which is above every name.”
There comes a time in the active career of a soldier when he is ordered to retreat and not to resist; to flee and not to fight. All good soldiers of Jesus Christ have orders from their Captain to “Flee …youthful lusts” (2 Tim. 2:22), yet to “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12); to retreat in the face of temptation (1 Tim. 6:11), just as Joseph did (Gen. 39:12), yet to “Resist the devil” (Jas. 4:7 — the verb conveys the idea of a ‘once-for-all’ stand against the devil).
As we encounter and engage our enemies in our relentless spiritual warfare, let us make sure we are thoroughly familiar with our Captain’s commands for every circumstance and implicitly obey them.
We come now to our third and final important lesson relative to the Christian as a soldier, a lesson to which we give special emphasis.
His Dutiful Service
The dutiful service of “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” includes at least three things: Suffering, Separation, and Submission.
Suffering: Both H. C. G. Moule and J. N. Darby translate the opening words of 2:3 as: “Take thy share in suffering …” (cf. 1:8 where the same Greek verb occurs). The thought expressed is that of fellowship in suffering, hardship, toil, and pain. Paul calls upon his young and trustworthy colleague, Timothy, to share with him the suffering involved in a faithful gospel witness. This same thing is expressed and illustrated, in some measure at least, in the words and circumstances of the Captain of our salvation as He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:38; Luke 22:28). Paul and Peter also lend expression to the same matter elsewhere in the Scriptures (Phil. 3:10; 1 Pet. 5:9).
H. C. G. Moule recalls that “In the early days of the English reformation a notable group of young student Christians was planted by Wolsey in his great foundation at Oxford, Cardinal College now Christ Church. All of them, unknown to the founder, were men powerfully influenced by Luther, and they all fell into inevitable trouble when their convictions were avowed. Sharers for a time of a loathsome prison, they discovered there the happiness and strength of fellowship. ‘Brothers indeed we were in those evil days,’ wrote one of the suvivors, looking back long afterwards” (The Second Epistle to Timothy, p. 74).
Separation: The word “warreth” literally means “serving as a soldier,” and carries with it the thought of active duty. While it is true that a soldier has his times of rest, sleep, ease, and recreation, the whole purpose of his existence is a strenuous, vigorous one. The soldier viewed here is not on parade, or on leave, but on active duty. There is a conflict on and the man’s whole life is keyed up, ready for action.
Ours is an unremitting conflict, a warfare against the world, the flesh and Satan himself. From this army and battle there is no discharge, no demobilization. How much do we really know about the strenuous nature of the Christian life? This type of vigorous warfare demands separation from all that would hinder active service and the realization of practical victory in fighting “the good fight of faith.” A true soldier of Jesus Christ will not be dabbling into politics, questionable pleasures, or be A. W. O. L. in this continuous conflict. He must be separated from any and all influences and ‘weights’ that would hinder him in combat. This separation, this clear-cut break with the entangling affairs of this life, is both for his own welfare and for that of the army to which he belongs.
Submission: Absolute obedience to his commanding officer is required of a soldier. The “good soldier of Jesus Christ” must be obedient to the Captain of his salvation. The issues of life and death are at stake. Delays are dangerous; disobedience is disastrous. Through our Captain we are “more than conquerors” (Horn. 8:37). He has given us the victory (1 Cor. 15:57), for to have Him as our Captain is to have the victory since He is the Victor. As we seek to faithfully press on in obedience to His commands and in the sufficiency of His strength, we realize in our practical experience the presence and power of Him who “always causeth us to triumph in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:14).
May our faithful God make us, and keep us, strong for Himself midst the unremitting conflict of the Christian life. Like Joshua and Caleb, Paul and Timothy, may we be faithful and obedient soldiers in the service of our victorious Captain, and at the end of life’s relentless conflict be able to say with Paul, in some measure at least: “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 to me only, but also to all them that have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7, 8, A.S.V.).
General Gordon, the hero of Khartoum, drew up for himself the following four great principles: (1) Entire self-forgetfulness. (2) The absence of all pretension. (3) The refusal to accept as a motive the world’s praise or disapproval. (4) To follow in all things the will of God, and to stay the soul on Him.
The famous general must have been a student of 2 Timothy, and who knows but what H Timothy 2:3-4, might have been among his favourite texts.