Every time I read of a new suicide bombing in Israel or Iraq, I am reminded that certain segments of the Muslim world see themselves as in a ‘hot’ war and are willing to kill and die for their cause. I am reminded that in numerous training camps in Asia and the Middle East, many young Muslims are being prepared to fight and die as soldiers of Islam. Invariably I am led to ask, “Where are the soldiers of Jesus Christ?”
I have lived most of my life among comfortable middle-class Christians and that may be the reason why I don’t hear much talk about Christians as being soldiers of Christ. Nevertheless that is one of the biblical metaphors of the Christian life. As Paul reminds Timothy in 2Timothy 2: 3-7:
“Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. And as Christ’s soldier, do not let yourself become tied up in the affairs of this life, for then you cannot satisfy the one who has enlisted you in his army. Follow the Lord’s rules for doing his work, just as an athlete either follows the rules or is disqualified and wins no prize. Hard working farmers are the first to enjoy the fruit of their labour. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will give you understanding in all these things.” NLT
A closer look at the above passage may reveal why the soldier metaphor of the Christian life is not in vogue in the churches today.
* Endure suffering? That would put a spanner in my vacation plans! * Do not get tied up in the affairs of this life i.e. in the priorities of this world? Please can we talk about this after my annual bonus? * Satisfy the one who enlisted me? Hey Christianity is cool but let’s not get too carried away with this “living for Jesus” stuff. * Follow the Lord’s rules? A smart guy like me makes up the rules as I go along.
There are also historical reasons why some of us are wary of military metaphors for the Christian life. Too often, the cry of “Onward Christian Soldiers” has been shanghaied by opportunistic militarists of the day who have sent forth Christians into battle with swords and bombs only to do horrendous damage to the cause of Christ. I am no out and out pacifist. I understand that in a fallen world, military action may sometimes be needed to prevent worse horrors. But I can’t see Jesus sending out His believers to further His cause through the maiming and killing of those He died to save. (Matthew 26:47-56)
If we are to re-embrace our calling to be soldiers of Christ we must be utterly clear as to our weapons. And they are these:
* Practical deeds of love * Prayer * The preaching of he Gospel * God’s truth * The testimony of lives transformed by the Gospel * The willingness to be martyred for Christ
(See for example, Ephesians 6:10-20, 2Corinthians 10:4-5, Revelation 12:10-12)
At first glance, the weapons available to the Christian soldier might seem to weak in comparison to what is available to the armies of the world. Maybe. But remember that the earliest Christians would have appeared a motley crew compared to the military might of Rome. But where is the Roman Empire today? Yet all that the early church had were the same weapons that are available to the church today.
I don’t think that the problem is the efficacy of the weapons available to Christians today. The problem is that a large number of the church has forgotten that it is at war. And many believers are in denial about the spiritual warfare that is raging, and their calling to be soldiers.
God has revealed Himself to us in different roles. He is our heavenly Father who loves us more than we could ever love ourselves. We need not fear for our needs or for our future. But He is also our commander in chief. And He has every right to our obedience and loyalty.
The soldiers of Islam are willing to give their lives for their cause. Can the soldiers of Jesus Christ be willing to do any less?
As we approach 2004, let each of us ask the Captain of our souls what He would have us do and where He would have us be. Whatever the cost.
May the Lord give us understanding in all these things.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan