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A Good Soldier

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A good soldier makes a difference in the world. Someone has written:

IT IS THE SOLDIER
     It is the soldier, not the preacher, who gives us freedom of religion.
     It is the soldier, not the reporter, who gives us freedom of the press.
     It is the soldier, not the poet, who gives us freedom of speech.
     It is the soldier, not the protestor, who gives us freedom to assemble.
     It is the soldier, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
     It is the soldier, not the politician, who gives us the right to vote.
     It is the soldier, who not only salutes the Flag, but serves under the Flag, fighting for the country that Flag represents.

            This Tuesday is Veteran’s Day, a day set aside to honor those men and women who have faithfully served their country. It is a day to honor the difference a soldier makes.

It is a time to remember soldiers of the past: George Washington’s men crossing the Delaware, the men who served under Generals Lee and Grant, fighting for all they’re worth in the War Between the States, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s army storming the beaches at Normandy. It is a day to remember the sacrifices of today’s soldiers and their families who sacrifice so much fighting the war on terror. Soldiers make a big difference in this world-a difference for which you and I should always be grateful. We should pray for our soldiers and their families, and let them know every chance we get how proud and thankful we are for them.

This is why it doesn’t surprise me that the Bible uses a good soldier as a model for you and I about how to live our lives. As far as we know, the apostle Paul never served in the military, but he did spend a lot of time around soldiers—one of them saved his life; others guarded him while he was in the custody of the Roman Empire. Paul uses a good soldier as a picture of what it means to be a good Christian.  This morning I want us to look in 2 Tim. 2:3-4 where the Bible tells us 3 ways you and I are called to be good soldiers for Christ.  

PRAYER

            What does it take to be a good soldier? I suppose you could come up with many lists. But Paul chooses 3 qualities of a good soldier that also describe a good soldier of Jesus Christ. He begins by telling us a good soldier must

I.              BE A FIGHTER (v. 3)

Somebody who’s been there came up with 5 rules for combat:

1. Always remember: if the enemy is in range, so are you.

2. When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend.

3. Anything you do can get you shot -- including doing nothing.

4. When in doubt, fire until your weapon is empty.

5. The enemy attacks on only two occasions:

when you're ready for them and when you're not ready for them.

A good soldier is always ready to fight when necessary. From what I understand, every person in the military is trained to some degree in combat. One friend of mine who pilots Apache helicopters told me even the chaplains get this training, though his chaplain told him if you see me firing a gun, we’re all in big trouble!  Throughout history, from ancient times to modern days, a good soldier is a good fighter.

Paul tells his young friend Timothy the same is true for a good soldier of Christ. When he urges Timothy to be …a good soldier of Christ Jesus…in vs. 3, he reminds him we are in a war. You’ve got to be ready to fight.

Ephesians 6:12-13 12For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

            Paul isn’t just using flowery language here---this war is real. Ever since Satan fell from heaven, he’s been waging war against God and His kingdom.  There are soldiers on both sides, the army of darkness attacking the good soldiers of Christ.

It’s going on right now. Some of you are fighting this war. You might be engaged in battles against temptation. Some of you are in a constant battle against discouragement and depression. Others are fighting against doubt and unbelief, trying to hold on to your faith in Christ. Some of you are prayer warriors, fighting on your knees before the Lord for lost loved ones, your church, or other servants of God. fighting for your loved ones in prayer, pleading for their salvation, pleading for them to come to Christ.  

These battles are not won by faint hearts, but by brave soldiers prepared to fight to the death. It isn’t won by the strongest arms, or the best missiles—it’s won by prayer and faith that holds on to God’s promises when it would be easier to quit, holding on in prayer and never give up until God gives the victory.

You are but a poor soldier of Christ if you think you can overcome without fighting, and suppose you can have the crown without the conflict.- Saint John Chrysostom

God is looking for good soldiers for Christ who aren’t afraid to fight. Can He count on you? Can Christ depend on you to keep fighting, even when you feel weak, even when you’re tempted to give up? Can you family, your friends, your church, depend on you to be a good soldier who is willing to stay on your knees and fight until God gives the victory?

If you want to be a good soldier of Christ, you’ve got to be a fighter. You also have to

II.            BE FOCUSED (v. 4a)  

During the Civil War, Major Sullivan Ballou wrote a letter to his wife Sarah, to whom he had been married only six years.He died a week after he wrote this letter:  

My Very Dear Sarah: Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more ...I know…how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and suffering of the Revolution. And I am willing, perfectly willing, to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this Government and to pay that debt...Sarah, my love for you is deathless…yet my love for country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on…If I do not (return), my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle-field, it will whisper your name…[i]

Major Ballou captures the struggle a good soldier goes through, between his duty to those he love sand his duty to his country. For a good soldier to say yes to his duty, he must often say no to many other things.

The veterans whom we honor on Tuesday all had this same focus. They loved their families and their lives, but they were willing to lay their feelings aside to serve the greater good of their country. They demonstrate that a good soldier must be focused.

Paul reminds Timothy a good soldier of Jesus Christ must also be focused. He must not be distracted by other things as he fights this spiritual war. He must ..endure hardship…  and not allow himself to become entangled …with the affairs of this life…

Col 3:1-2 1If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

That doesn’t mean other things don’t matter. The army doesn’t expect a good soldier to forget his family or his friends or his life back home. But they do expect a good soldier to remember the bigger picture of the importance of serving their nation.

In the same way, a good soldier of Christ must always remember the bigger picture. A good soldier of Christ keeps always keeps his/her eyes on what is eternally important. You must see beyond what is temporary to what is eternal. Like what?

 A good soldier remembers this world is not our home. This old earth has been here an awfully long time—longer than you or I have been around.

We’ve lived here all our lives, but it’s not our home. God created you and I to live in a perfect world, where there is no war or suffering or dying. One reason why we weep and hurt and wonder and doubt is because we’re homesick for heaven, our true home.

This world is not our home—it’s our battlefield. It is the place where the war between good and evil, God and Satan is being played out. There are times when God graciously allows us some much needed R & R, but there is never a time when our enemy is not at work, trying to find ways to defeat us and discourage us. You hear his propaganda over all the airwaves, on the billboards. He wants us to keep our eyes on the here and now, and forget about God, or righteousness, or love.

Most importantly, he wants us to forget our mission. Every good soldier remembers his/her mission, and your mission is of the utmost importance: your mission is to rescue people from the enemy, to tell them how they can be free from his clutches, how they can join the resistance movement and become good soldiers of Jesus Christ.

It is in this context that you and I go to work, go to school, shop for groceries, go on vacation, spend our time and our money. We do all the needful, ordinary things everybody else does, but we see through all of the temporary things to what is eternal. We laugh and we cry, we have our ups and downs, but we never allow the things that pass to blind us to the things that never pass away. Keep your focus not just on what’s important tomorrow, or ten years from now, or even 10,000 years from now, but keep your focus on what is eternal.

A university professor tells of being invited to speak at a military base one December and there meeting an unforgettable soldier named Ralph. Ralph had been sent to meet him at the airport. After they had introduced themselves, they headed toward the baggage claim.

   As they walked down the concourse, Ralph kept disappearing. Once to help an older woman whose suitcase had fallen open. Once to lift two toddlers up to where they could see Santa Claus, again to give directions to someone who was lost. Each time he came back with a smile on his face.

   "Where did you learn that?" the professor asked.

   "What?" Ralph said.

   "Where did you learn to live like that?"

   "Oh," Ralph said, "during the war, I guess." He then told about his tour of duty in Vietnam, how it was his job to clear mine fields.

   "I learned to live between steps," he said. "I never knew whether the next one would be my last, so I learned to get everything I could out of the moment between when I picked up my foot and when I put it down again. Every step I took was a whole new world, and I guess I've been that way ever since."[ii]

That is the attitude of a good soldier of Christ—living on earth, but focused on heaven.

            But one more thing, Paul says, about a good soldier is that he/she must

III.           BE FAITHFUL (v. 4b)

Being married to marine means that I know a little bit of Latin—Semper Fi, always faithful to

God, country, and Corps. That means more than just taking orders—it involves being faithful to other soldiers, but especially being faithful to your commanding officer.

It’s this kind of attitude Paul commends  to Timothy when he says a good soldier of Jesus Christ is committed to pleasing the One who enlisted him as a soldier.

Who enlists us as soldiers in this spiritual war? Christ Himself. He calls us to follow Him, to lay down our lives for Him and for one another. But there is more to being a faithful soldier than just following orders. The great French military genius Napoleon Bonaparte recognized this difference when he said

Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires; but

upon what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love, and at this hour millions of men would die for him.- Napoleon Bonaparte

Love is the difference. It is love that makes us faithful to our Commander-in-Chief.

There are stories about soldiers who were faithful to their leaders not just out of a sense of duty, but from a heart of admiration, of loyalty, of love. From the ancient battles of Rome to the modern wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, there are men who demonstrate such a mixture of courage and kindness, such a devotion to the men who serve under them that their soldiers would follow them anywhere, would lay their lives on the line without even thinking for their commander. Their faithfulness is grounded in their love.

The good soldier of Jesus Christ is faithful to Him out of a heart of love. They Him so much because He loves them so much. They know He has laid down His life for them on the cruel Cross of Calvary, that He rose again to give them a new life, that He is coming again to end this war and take them home. Their faith in Him makes them faithful to Him.

One of the most tragic events during the Reagan presidency was the Sunday morning terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, in which hundreds of Americans were killed or wounded as they slept. A few days after the tragedy, Marine Corps Commandant Paul Kelly visited some of the wounded survivors then in a Frankfurt, Germany, hospital. Among them was Corporal Jeffrey Lee Nashton, severely wounded in the incident. Nashton had so many tubes running in and out of his body that a witness said he looked more like a machine than a man, yet he survived. As Commandant Kelly neared him, Nashton, struggling to move and racked with pain, motioned for a piece of paper and a pen. He wrote a brief note and passed it back to the Commandant. On the slip of paper were but two words—“Semper Fi”—the Latin motto of the Marines meaning “always faithful.” With those two simple words Nashton spoke for the millions of Americans who have sacrificed body and limb and their lives for their country—those who have remained faithful.[iii]

This morning I am recruiting good soldiers for Jesus Christ.

I cannot promise you an easy road—if you want to be a good soldier for Jesus Christ, you’ve got to be a fighter, because there’s a war going on. If you are going to be a good soldier you will have to be focused, not on the things of this world, but on what is eternal. He is looking for faithful soldiers, who will serve not just out of compulsion or duty, but from a heart of love for the Savior.

I conclude with the words of a beautiful old hymn written by Isaac Watts:

            Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His Name?

  Must I be carried to the skies On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize, And sailed through bloody seas?

 Sure I must fight if I would reign; Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain, Supported by Thy Word.

  When that illustrious day shall rise, And all Thy armies shine

In robes of victory through the skies, The glory shall be Thine.


----

[i]Focus on the Family Newsletter, March, 1994 10,000 Sermon Illustrations, electronic ed. (Dallas:

[ii] Barbara Brown Taylor in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.

[iii]Robert J. Morgan, Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed.

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