The Bible tells us that ‘Without a vision, the people will perish.’ (Proverbs 29:18)
Helen Keller, a prolific writer and lecturer, has this to say about lacking in vision. "The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision."
Our vision this year is “Every member a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
The metaphor of a soldier is common in the New Testament. In his letter to the Philippians and to Philemon, Paul commended Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25) and Archipus (Philiemon 1:2) as “…fellow soldiers” even as Paul considers himself a soldier.
BEING A GOOD SOLDIER
Paul in his final letter to his protégé Timothy, gives three metaphors - soldier, athlete and farmer.
We need to understand why Paul uses the word “soldier” as the first metaphor.
It was appropriate because Timothy needed courage to fulfil his mission. Timothy was installing leaders in embryonic churches, dealing with false teachers and turncoats, persecutors, carnal and halfhearted Christians. It was inevitable that Timothy faced daily challenges. To encourage Timothy, Paul wrote, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” (2 Tim 2:3)
As Paul looked back at his very rewarding but tough life, he could see that all Christians are called to be soldiers. To be a soldier is not a term reserved just for elite Christians. The moment someone becomes a Christian, our Master, the Commander-in-chief, enlists that person into His army.
But why would Paul qualify the soldier to be a good soldier rather than being just a soldier.
Paul gave us 3 areas to consider.
a) A good soldier endures suffering.
Being at war means to be in action. Being a Christian is not just about being loved. It is no longer a faith that is purely philosophical but one that has to be lived out. “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18 )
Soldiers are not just dressed in immaculate uniform in a military parade but at a moment’s notice, they can be covered in gore and blood. They would be tested to their limits. They could be hurt and seriously wounded. Paul could show his battle scars and exhorted Timothy to be willing to throw in his lot and share with him the suffering that a good soldier needs to go through.
In our society, we are not persecuted in terms of being made martyrs. We suffer only in the sense that a few people may show funny looks when they find out that we are Christians. In our witnessing we may get rejected and made to feel uncomfortable.
Another form of suffering is when God does not seem to be answering our prayers in the way that we have wished. Paul asked the Lord three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed but God said, “ My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor 12:9)
The thorn in the flesh for you and me may not be a physical ailment but it well can be a fellow Christian whose personality or immaturity grates against ours. It can be their discouraging remarks. We “suffer” because we have to bear the burden of our weaker brothers and sisters. (Rom 15:1)
If you are a good soldier, you will endure suffering because you have been entrusted with a mission. The key test is whether you and I can still trust God in the midst of suffering.
b) Be single minded.
Staying focused is like using a magnifying glass to direct and harness the sun’s rays on a combustible item to get a fire going. A good soldier is single minded over his mission. How does one balance one’s main goal between that of being a good soldier of Jesus and being a good employee or business-owner? Paul was a tent-maker, and Jesus, a carpenter. Their vocation is not their main goal but their calling is.
The goal then is this, in whatever we do, whatever our line of business may be, we are to focus on seeking to please God and manifest the character of Jesus Christ.
A good soldier does not get entangled in civilian affairs. A soldier in the thick of battle cannot afford to drift off to think about his retirement plans and his next holiday. Any loss of attention can cost lives! To be single minded means giving up your options, burning your bridges andresolving in your heart to live as a Christian wherever you are and in whatever you do.
c) A good soldier learns to please the Commander-in-chief
Duty means that we stay true to the commitment until the purpose is achieved even in sacrificing self interest. A good soldier will not give up but will persevere even under duress and hardship. They will not become cowardly and quit. They will not surrender because the going was just too tough. Suffice to say, a good soldier is one who is willing to pay the ultimate price of laying down his lifein order to fulfil his mission.
We look at Jesus who is a good soldier. He set the example of fulfilling all that the Father wants Him to do. He fulfilled the Father’s mission even when it means being crucified on a cruel Roman Cross.
The soldier will not do anything that contradicts the oath and the military code that he signs up to. As a soldier of Jesus, he does not bring disrepute through scandals and sin to the Name of Jesus and also to the church. He is bound by the code of honour. He will not sin in the church through gossips and being judgemental. Within the church, we honour one another as brothers and sisters in Christ and foster a spirit of camaraderie. We recognise each other’s gifts and calling, and strive towards helping one another to succeed.
War brings out the true self. While fighting, a soldier proves himself to be a man of courage and an inspiration to many. He will not run away but stand his ground. He will go to the rescue of those trapped in darkness to share the light of the Gospel. He feels a strange stirring when he hears his Commander-in-chief say, “Take that position for Me.” There is a passionate zeal because of the desire to win the battle for the Lord. The armies of the world will fight for honour and glory to prove to themselves and to others their valour. Meanwhile, the army of God battles to serve Him – to bring Him honour and glory.
KNOWING OUR MISSION
General Patton of World War II fame said, “The soldier must know what he is doing at all times. He must know the objective.”
Our church mission statement is clear. It is to obey the Great Commandment
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. (Matt 22:37-38)
and to fulfil the Great Commission
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)
This mission must be emblazoned in the heart of every good soldier in Emmanuel Church.
To love God is to obey Him. Obedience to Him means doing what matter to Him. Jesus’ mission on earth was to reconcile sinners to the Father. Our mission is no less. As good soldiers of Jesus, we fight to win as many people as possible for Him. We fight to save lives for eternity. So in this state of war, we fight with the love of God in our hearts. But where do we receive that love? We love because He first loved us. It is this love that inspires us to reach out and touch others It is this love that will cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess that He is Lord. Through our cell groups, various church ministries and spheres of influence, we advance His Kingdom.
We need one another to advance His Kingdom. As such, we will continue to build up good soldiers across our tri-generations – the children, the youth and the adults. In the building up process, it is important to help one another be more Christ-like. As Ray Stedman said, “Christianity is not a way of doing special thing; it is a special way of doing everything.”
This year, we are embarking on the 5th spiritual discipline of good works. Our Lord Himself was full of good works during his earthly ministry – loving the unloved, delivering the demon-possessed, healing the sick, restoring the poor in spirit, championing those who are down-trodden and drawing all to the bosom of His Father. Emulating His example, we, too, will embrace good works as part of being a good soldier. We can be assured that Jesus will be with us every step of the way. Jesus says, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.