As I prepare a sermon for this Sunday, I’ve been considering our station as soldiers in the army of the Lord. Christian soldiers, waging a war different than any fought in the natural world. I’m left considering how a soldier requires a number of attributes to be ready for battle: A strong cardiovascular system – As the demands of the body increase during exertion, these demands must be met with an increase in the rate of delivery of nutrients and oxygen; Increased pulmonary function – As the heart pumps faster to meet the demands of the body, the lungs must be capable of providing oxygen to put into circulation; Swift, Agile feet – A soldier must be ready to move quickly and accurately, his, and his fellow soldiers lives depend on it; Skeletal muscle strength – A soldier must, above all, be strong, ready to meet the physical demands of strength which he will encounter in battle.
These are just a few of the many attributes which a soldier must possess to prepare for battle. As Christians we too, are soldiers in a battle, though our war is of a different sort. Our war is one not …against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. [Eph. 6:12]. We are at war against an enemy who is not defeated with physical fitness, or physical strength. He’s not deterred by how large our stature might be, or how well versed we are in earthly battle tactics. We are involved in spiritual warfare, against a spiritual enemy, for whom our preparation must be wholly different.
So what preparation is necessary for the Christian warrior? What, if not physical fitness training, can prepare us for an enemy we can’t engage in the natural realm? The answer to this, also, is found in Ephesians: ... be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. [Ephesians 6:10]. Our strength must be spiritual in form, to meet the demands of a spiritual enemy, in a spiritual war. The Christian must be stout in heart – For what good are all the weapons of warfare in the hands of the soldier who is to timid, too shy, or who lacks the conviction to use them? The Christian soldier must be strong in suffering for the sake of the gospel – we were all but promised strife, enmity, and long-suffering as we sojourn in a world not designed to be our eternal home. Jesus himself confirmed: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. [Matthew 5:10-12]
And again He says:
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. [Matthew 10:17-24]
You see, we were prepared for persecution, not spared from it! The Christian soldier must be prepared for the sorrow and pain, for should he deceive himself and think “to me, certainly this won’t come”, he will surely be unable to withstand the trial when it comes. Additionally, the Christian soldier must be strong in conviction – for if not founded in the conviction of why we fight, it should be easy to flee the battle completely. You see, when the battle begins, the soldier not convicted of his cause will have little reason to suffer for that cause. In the same way, the christian not fully convicted of his faith, to the end of glad suffering, will equally be ready to abandon the cause of the gospel when the slightest notion of persecution or suffering arises. I am reminded of a terrified man, maybe you’ve heard his name – Peter, who when confronted ’round the fire was quick to abandon acknowledgement of his relationship with Jesus at the mere thought of suffering [Matthew 26:69-75]. Though, tested by the fire later in life, he was not prepared for the fight that day.
The Christian soldier must also be strong to stand in the fight – strength means little in the long-term when not matched by endurance to carry it through the duration of the war. The Christian soldier needs strength to persevere. This strength is, most of all, not borne from within, but is our strength from the Holy Spirit, given as a gift from Jesus to empower us for the work of the gospel. By the strength of our Lord will we endure if we will but humbly admit our feeble frame, and place our hope on Him.
Certainly, listed among the most important attributes of the Christian faith are these – a stout heart, and strength in suffering for the gospel, and strength to persevere throughout our earthly mission. For, when our faith is built on the foundation of the gospel, and framed with these attributes, we can begin the training necessary to stand in the battle; and not simply stand, but stand in victory with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
So then, the question becomes how? How do we train? To train in physical strength is easy to comprehend, but how do we train for strength in the Lord? What training regimen is instituted for a spiritual war not fought by the strength of human might? We’ll look into that in the next edition of this blog series: Anatomy of a Soldier.