A Good Soldier
A. E. Long, Nutley
"Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ", 2 Tim. 2.3.
Paul was quick to draw his analogies from the contemporary Greek and Roman world. The Greeks had a passion for physical fitness, cf. i Tim. 4.8, and this found expression in the Olympiads, where athletes vied with each other for the mastery and the laurel wreath. Thus Paul likened the Christian life to a contest in the games, 1 Cor. 9.24-27; 2 Tim. 2.5. Roman soldiers were much in evidence in the occupation of Palestine. Paul had personal experience of their protection from mob violence, whether actual or expected, Acts 21 and 23. When he was imprisoned at Rome, he was guarded by a Roman soldier, 28.16. From these experiences doubtless derived his conception of the Christian as a soldier engaged in "the good fight of the faith", in which Paul himself was engaged, 1 Tim. 6.12 R.v.; 2 Tim. 4.7. In founding the Salvation Army, William Booth envisaged his Salvationists as those engaged in a fight against the forces of evil, and the creation of a hierarchy in its structure, headed by himself as General, gave added force to the idea. Baring-Gould's militant hymn, "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war .. . Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; Forward into battle, see, His banners go", gives point to the idea of Christians engaged in a fight against the hosts of Satan. The Lord Jesus is indeed "the captain of (our) salvation", Heb. 2.10, even as David became "captain" over those who came over to him at the cave of Adullam, 1 Sam. 22.2.
In writing to Timothy, Paul conceived the Christian as being on active service for Christ; "a good soldier of Jesus Christ" means "one serving as a soldier". Hence the associated feature of "enduring hardness' or R.v. "suffering hardship", as Paul himself did in Christ's service and to which he exhorted Timothy. Hardship is inseparable from the life of a soldier on active service. Nowadays, Christianity is, regrettably, all too often presented as a rather lighthearted adventure and not a cause to be taken too seriously; certainly not one of the nature of a constant fight against a deadly foe. Those who accept Christianity as an easy pathway to glory are unlikely to wish to "suffer hardship" for a cause they have all too easily espoused. The Lord taught that the seed sown in stony places and which failed to mature was tantamount to those who are offended by persecution and fall away, Matt. 13.20, 21.
Paul exhorted Timothy, "Fight the good fight of faith", 1 Tim. 6.12. Paul himself was an outstanding example, "I have fought a good fight", 2 Tim. 4.7. "The good fight of faith" needs "good" soldiers to wage war against the enemy. Bad soldiers do it a disservice. Paul does not see "the good fight of faith" as a battle in which personal faith is involved, but in which "the faith", that is, "the faith of the gospel", Phil. 1.27, is engaged. In certain Scriptures, Paul appears to personalize "the faith". In Philippians 1.27 r.v. marg., Paul exhorted the Christians to strive "with the faith of the gospel" and in 2 Timothy 1.8 r.v. that Timothy "suffer hardship with the gospel". "The faith" itself is under attack, because it personalizes Christ. As "good soldiers" Christians are called upon to "defend" it, Phil. 1.7,17. It can only be adequately defended as Christians act together, "with one mind striving together", v. 27. Paul wished the Christians at Philippi to be "set for the defence of the gospel''; disunity would have vitiated their efforts.
A soldier on active service cannot expect to be featherbedded. It is not of the nature of soldiering. The soldier on active service may need to forgo sleep, certainly home comforts and sometimes good and regular meals. He is expected to fight whenever required, whatever the conditions. In short, his experience as a serving soldier will be the antithesis of everything he had previously known in civilian life. To "endure hardship" means to suffer evil, for although the fight is a "good" one, it is waged against the forces of evil which can inflict suffering and hardship. Paul exhorted Timothy "suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier", 2 Tim. 2.3 R.v. Paul was a veteran soldier, whose "good fight" had nearly reached its end, "I have fought a good fight", 2 Tim. 4.7. The time of his departure was at hand, v. 6. Paul never laid down his arms in the contest, until at length he passed into Christ's presence, to his justly deserved reward, v. 8.
If the outstanding mark of "a good soldier" is to "suffer hardship", it is therefore pertinent to ask, do we stand by that measure? Our practice of Christianity seems to have lost the militancy envisaged by Paul.
A soldier on active service is engaged in a full-time occupation. He must wholly concentrate on soldiering. He cannot live on two levels at the same time. He must resolutely put civilian life behind him, whilst he is a soldier. In this, as in other matters, he cannot "serve two masters", Matt. 6.24, without hurt to one or the other or without inclination towards one of them. Paul expressed this thought in "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life", 2 Tim. 24. To allow other extraneous matters, however legitimate in their time and place, to interfere with his duties as a soldier, would risk the displeasure of his commanding officer, "that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier". To attempt to synthesize active service and civilian life would result in a soldier being neither a "good soldier" nor a good civilian. It is a question of priorities; he must be wholly at his commanding officer's disposal.
Paul wrote warmly of Epaphroditus as a "fellowsoldier", Phil. 2.25. Coming from a veteran such as Paul, this was no mean commendation. Epaphroditus had shown all the qualities of a soldier on active service for Christ, in his brave effort to supply the Philippians' "lack of service" toward the apostle. The Jerusalem church commended Barnabas and Paul as "men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ", Acts 15.26. Epaphroditus was a kindred spirit "because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me", Phil. 2.30. Although we do not know the circumstances that merited the description, Paul also writes of "Archippus our fellowsoldier", Philem. 2. But we can be sure that he had earned that description from Paul in "suffering hardship with the gospel".
To be followed by "A Good Steward"