NEW SOLDIERS (B)

 

E.  Be skilled.

Every soldier must be skilled in how to use the weapons of his warfare. And being skilled assumes that one must receive training in how to use a particular weapon. One then maintains his skill in the use of his weapon by continual practice.

In Ephesians 6 Paul said to “put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ep 6:11). The armor for the soldiers of Christ includes truth, righteousness, the preparation of the gospel, the shield of faith, the word of God, and the helmet of salvation (Ep 6:14-17). The successful soldier of the Lord will be skilled in the use of every article of armor.   This assumes that he remains in the battle against the schemes of the devil in order not to grow weak in the use of his armor.

In order to remain effective in one’s war against the schemes of the devil, he must continually use the weapons of the Christian’s warfare. Paul wrote to Timothy, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tm 2:2). If there is no continual teaching and being taught, then our stand against false teaching will become weak. To be able to engage the enemy means that we have been enabled by the word of God.   Every soldier must be in some Bible class or Bible study in order to learn the word of God. If there are no Bible classes among a group of saints, then it is a spiritually weak force against Satan. In fact, if there is no continual study and teaching of the Bible among some groups, the band of disciples are usually held together only by a musical band on Sunday morning, and not the teaching of the word of God.

We know when we have found a group of soldiers of the cross when we step into a Bible class where people have their Bibles open in order to enable themselves with the word of God. We know we have attended the assembly of a Timothy when we leave with a better knowledge of the word of God. The curse of “cheerleading” preachers is that they stand before a group of people who are weak in the word. The people are faithful to the assembly only as long as the cheerleader entertains them for a moment of ecstacy. Some have wondered why “concert assemblies” have become so common throughout Christendom today. The answer is in the fact that the people have become tired of cheerleading preachers who preach no Bible. The people have simply sought another “spiritual” placebo in order to keep coming to an assembly.

Concert assemblies with all the electronic gadgets and cheerleading preachers who know no Bible, are far from what the New Testament says is a spiritual-oriented assembly of the saints. It is the word of God—the things that Paul taught Timothy—that equips us to stand against Satan. We need more Bible preaching and less concerts. And when we talk about assemblies, we need only a quiet time with one another in order to meditate over the oracles of God in our relationships with one another. If we attempt to substitute anything but word from God to equip the saints to be skilled in the war against Satan, then we will fall far short of being skilled in the weapons of our warfare.

What makes Christianity so powerful in a world of false religions is that the focus of the Christian is on the spiritual, and not on the carnal. Paul wrote of this to the Corinthian disciples who had been diverted to focus on carnal matters:

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but powerful through God for the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Co 10:4,5).

In order to “pull down strongholds” of ignorance, we must know our Bibles. In order to “cast down imaginations,” we must have a knowledge of the word of God.   In order to “cast down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,” we must have a knowledge of the true and living God who is defined in the Bible. In order to “bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ,” we must be obsessed with the word of Christ in order to preach what one must do to obey the Son of God. It is for these reasons that assemblies of the soldiers of Christ that do not focus on teaching the word of God are a work of Satan to keep people ignorant of their Bibles and unprepared to engage him in battle.   Satan knows that if he can keep Christians excited about entertaining themselves, then he can lead them wherever their ignorance of the Bible will allow them to go.

The atomic weapon of our warfare against all that Satan would launch against us is the Spirit-inspired word that has come to us from God by the work of the Holy Spirit. The reason for this is the spiritual power by which God intended that the written word have in the preparation of His spiritual army.

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hb 4:12).

F.  Be disciplined.

If we were a soldier in the military of a nation, but became unruly, we would be court marshalled. No military of any nation can maintain an effective defense of the nation if it is filled with undisciplined soldiers. And so it is with the army of the Lord.

We admire Paul for the discipline by which he conducted his life, and thus, was successful in his ministry. The secret to his success was self-discipline. He wrote, “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Co 9:27).

A good soldier will discipline his mind to focus on his duties as a soldier. This is what Paul instructed Timothy to do when he wrote, “No man engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life …” (2 Tm 2:4). If one would be a good soldier in the Lord’s army, then he must do as the Spirit wrote to the Colossians:

If you then were raised with Christ [from baptism], seek those things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth (Cl 3:1,2).

A disciplined soldier in the Lord’s army is one who is obsessively focused on his purpose as a soldier of the Lord. He does not allow his attention to be diverted by the things of this world.   He may use the things of the world to support himself, but worldly things do not have priority in his life.

Gaius disciplined his life according to spiritual priorities. John prayed for Gaius that in all things of the world he might prosper, but the prosperity in the things of this world was to be “just as” he spiritually prospered (3 Jn 2). As long as our spiritual prosperity is on the top of our priority list, then we will have no problem with controlling the prosperity of the world. This will take great discipline. But it is essential as good soldiers of the Christ to seek kingdom things first by keeping our minds on those things that are above (See Mt 6:33).   In the context of John’s prayer that Gaius prosper in all things, Gaius was using “all things” under his control to support evangelists who were preaching the gospel (See 3 Jn 5-8).

G.  Be courageous.

What good would a soldier be in the heat of battle, if he runs from the battle. Valor should be synonymous with being an effective soldier in any army.

We would conclude from Paul’s statement in Romans 1:16 that he was a soldier of valor: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel ….”

We must remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tm 1:7), “Therefore,” Paul wrote, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord …” (2 Tm 1:8).

Peter and John boldly preached Jesus in the heart of the religious world of Judaism. The religious leaders of Jerusalem subsequently “called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus (At 4:18). But Peter and John answered these misguided religious leaders, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you more than God, you judge” (At 4:19).   Every disciple of Jesus must take a bold stand as this. And then, every disciple must boldly reply to such religious opposition as Peter and John did to their religious opposition: For we cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard (At 4:20).

Later in the same environment of religious opposition, some religious leaders again “strictly commanded” that the apostles not teach in the name of Jesus. But the apostles boldly replied, We must obey God rather than men (At 5:29).

The greatest opposition that the soldier of Christ has comes from those who think they are doing the will of God, but are actually opposing those who are walking contrary to their religious traditions.   It was those who represented the traditions of the Jews who opposed Jesus throughout His earthly ministry.   It was this opposition that eventually nailed Him to the cross. Therefore, if we oppose someone’s teaching, we must first check our own beliefs with the word of God. It may be that we too are opposing the preaching of Jesus because we are defending only our traditions, and not the Bible (See Mk 7:1-9).

Being a disciplined soldier of the cross assumes that we will receive opposition. When Jesus used the cross as a metaphor to explain the extent to which one must go in order to be His disciple, His immediate disciples knew exactly what He meant. There was no misunderstanding on their part when He said, “And whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (Lk 14:27).   It was religious opposition that resulted in His going to the cross. The same will often take the soldiers of Jesus to their crosses.

The Romans executed criminals on crosses.   But there was more to the crucifixion than the actual nailing of one to a cross. The one to be crucified was to carry his own cross to his own execution.   It was like one having to dig his own grave. It was a judgment of humiliation before execution. Most of the immediate disciples of Jesus had certainly witnessed someone who was humiliated by carrying his own cross to his own crucifixion. It was surely a horrible sight to behold. And when Jesus made the preceding statement concerning the bearing of the cross of discipleship, a knot probably developed in the stomach of many of those who were following Him. If discipleship means bearing a cross to crucifixion, then one should think twice before enlisting in the Lord’s army.

The reason for the call of such tremendous commitment from Jesus was explained when He concluded the context of His teaching on commitment in Luke 14. “Salt is good,” Jesus said. “But if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will it be seasoned? It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill.   It is thrown out.” (Lk 14:34,35). A soldier who has no valor is worthless in this war in which we are involved against the evil of this world.

Every one of us must realize that we will stand in judgment beside the one who made the following statement to some disciples who were less committed:

What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus (At 21:13).

This same man would conclude, “Finally, brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might (Ep 6:10).   We must not forget “that the lake that burns with fire and brimstone” is reserved for the cowardly (Rv 21:8).

H.  Be a servant.

Good soldiers know how to suffer in serving.   The purpose of a soldier is the preservation of the nation that he has committed himself to defend. Soldiers have thus given themselves to defend the nation at all costs. Suffering in service reveals the commitment by which they seek to serve their country.

The danger of becoming a lukewarm soldier is that he will be tempted to compromise in the midst of conflict. It is for this reason that Jesus was ready spew out the Laodicean disciples (Rv 3:15,16). The only guard against becoming lukewarm is to serve continually. Christianity is like riding a bicycle. If one does not keep pedaling, he will fall off. In reference to service, Christianity is not “on again, off again.” One is continually serving because of his total sacrifice of himself to Christ (Gl 2:20). If he stops working, he will fall off.

The Christian is engaged in spiritual warfare.   There is no time to lay down one’s weapons or armor. The time for rest will come at the end of our lives. It will then be as Paul said of his own life: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished my course” (2 Tm 4:7). Only when we can speak of our fight in the past tense can we finally lay down our armor.   It is only when we have fought the good fight that we are allowed to lay down in eternal rest. So it was with Paul when he wrote his final words in prison before his beheading.

When one becomes a new creature, he has committed himself to love (serve) the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk 12:30). He has committed himself to love (serve) his neighbor as himself (Mk 12:31). This is a life-style of commitment. It is not something from which a disciple takes a furlough. Being a disciple is a lifetime commitment to serve others. Therefore, while in our conflict with those who are enemies of the cross, we press on.   Even in prison, Paul would not be detoured from engaging the enemy.

Brethren, I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before. I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Ph 3:13,14).

I.  Be a comrade in Christ:

Soldiers must be disciplined in team work. There must be a strong sense of camaraderie among the soldiers in order that the army remain focused on the enemy and not on one another. In the army of the Lord, the team work of the soldiers is maintained through forgiveness. If there is an unforgiving spirit among the soldiers of Christ, then there can be no camaraderie in our war against evil.   Our battles among ourselves will take our focus off the enemy (See 2 Co 11:20; Gl 5:15).

Unfortunately, many soldiers in the Lord’s army have fallen victim to being the unforgiving servant about whom Jesus spoke in a parable in Matthew 18:21-35. When we think we are in the right at a time when we have actually wronged others, we are often very quick to start making judgments concerning the one we feel has supposedly wronged us. But as illustrated in the parable, the unforgiving servant forgot how much he had been forgiven.

In fact, the extreme amount that the unforgiving servant was forgiven by the king makes senseless any debt that he might extract from his own debtor. If the magnitude of our forgiveness by God does not inspire us to be merciful to others, then our newness in Christ is tarnished. Jesus concluded the parable with the statement, “So likewise will My heavenly Father do also to you, if each one of you does not from the heart forgive his brother” (Mt 18:35).

If we would pray for forgiveness from the Father, then it is our responsibility to forgive those who wrong us. This was the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples.   “And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Mt 6:12). Our forgiveness by the Father, therefore, is conditional. “But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:15). Therefore, “If anyone has a complaint against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also should you” (Cl 3:13).

Forgiveness is not for the benefit of those who have offended us. It is for the benefit of our own mental attitude. If we are unforgiving of those who offend us, then our spirit of unforgiveness will boil up within us and develop a bitter spirit. It is for this reason that Jesus said, “… if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.   If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Mt 18:15). Jesus did not condition our forgiveness of our offending brother on him coming to us and saying, “I’m sorry.” The offended must take the initiative and go to the offender.

But “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave there your gift before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother …” (Mt 5:23,24).   If one is the offender, then he too must head in the direction of the one he has offended. The offender and offended must meet one another on the road as they approach one another for reconciliation. When it comes to brotherhood, the desire to always seek reconciliation should typify the identity of the disciples of Jesus.

 [Next lecture: July 19]

 

 

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