Soldiers, War, and the New Testament Part 2
New Testament Lessons and Illustrations from Military Imagery:
In the 2nd part of this response, I will address some of the New Testament passages that use Military imagery to teach lessons to believers. I will be focusing mainly on these examples to highlight the positive aspects that the Apostle Paul uses as he looks at a successful “soldier” or military campaign. These passages show that there are admirable qualities in military service—principles which we should follow after in our own lives.
Please realize that my comments on these verses are not the primary teaching to be gained from the passage. Paul wrote most of these as instruction / challenge to young ministers. Yet, I do believe they show positive support for the purpose and credibility of military service.
New Testament writers, and especially the Apostle Paul, used numerous military images as a resource for Christian lessons, and to serve as examples/illustrations for believers. These passages are usually not explained to the recipients of the Letters, thus indicating the people were familiar with the subject of the military, warfare, and soldiers. The following are some examples, in no specific order, but each one teaches something to believers because it stands as an example of what is effective, good, or right. Almost all of the New Testament military images of military service are of a positive nature.
Here again is one of the most direct teachings from the New Testament regarding God’s plan and purpose for Human Government.
1. Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God.
2. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves.
3. For rulers are not [to be seen as] a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do good and you will have its approval.
4. For government is God's servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. [The] government is [to be] God's servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong.
5. Therefore, you must submit [to its laws and ordinances], not only because of [the fear of] wrath but also because of your conscience [as a believer].
6. And for this reason, you pay taxes, since the authorities are God's public servants, continually attending to these tasks.
7. Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)
A Winning Strategy:
1 Timothy 1:18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, in order that you might war [strategize] a good [excellent] warfare by them…
Many of the encouragements that God gives us in the Bible are good common sense. This is one of those. The soldier entering battle needed to be guided by good strategy. All of his preparation and training, his equipment, and valor could be rendered useless by poor planning. Timothy was facing opposition by false teachers, and those who wanted to replace the truth of God’s Word with the philosophies of men. Paul told this young minister that he needed to remember the “words” that God had spoken to him previously. These were specific words of advice that would serve like “military intelligence”. God wanted him to know these things before he got to the “battle” so that when he did encounter his opponents, he would know what to do. By following these words of advice (prophecies), Timothy would not only win but would be able to “strategize an excellent / noble war”.
We established in Part 1 that God has set “governments” in the earth to bring temporal peace and stability to this fallen world. The plans of evil men must be subdued—and military power is one of the means of doing so. Often, the very presence of these “enforcers” is enough to still rebellion and violence. But there are times when action must be taken in order to remove the troublemakers and restore order to an oppressed society.
Soldiers understand the importance of these words. Those who stand as enemies of civility have a strategy for anarchy and oppression. Only “good strategy” will allow them to overcome their evil. Good information is needed about the plans of the enemy, insight into their methods, and creative ways to defeat their schemes before they are employed. And, God is on the side of order. Soldiers can believe for wisdom to help overcome the strategies of the enemy. He can help them, and the leaders above them, to gain the “excellent strategy” to wage a winning campaign. Many of the prayers that are offered in support of our “soldiers” concern this very issue. The enemy is smart—we must be smarter.
The “Battle-field” becomes the “Harvest-field”
It is important to remember, soldiers are not waging war in the name of Christ or the Church. It is not a campaign to “convert” the enemy to Christianity. Yet, God is interested in order—and that is what they are waging war to establish. It is possible that the order that is established will open avenues to bring many to the Gospel—and for that, we certainly pray.
Once the proper strategy has been used to overcome the enemies, then the “tranquility of proper government” can allow for the opportunity for Missionaries, Pastors, and Churches. Maybe this is not what many of our government leaders are planning, but as “believers” we have another agenda. As “soldiers of the U. S.” they are to carry out their assigned duties of subduing evil, and bringing peace. Yet, soldiers who are believers carry a “double-sword”. As believers, they are also “Soldiers of Christ”, chosen vessels of the Lord, witnesses of Jesus Christ. No one knows better than they, the difficulties that must be overcome in order for peace to be realized, and the Gospel to reach that culture. They are “advanced warriors” sent into the land to prepare for a future harvest. They can pray with great precision about the things that need to be done. Even as they carry out their natural duties, they can be “surveying the Land” and preparing “strategies for victory” both in the natural and spiritual realms. God cares about the lives of the people there, and their hope of salvation. Soldiers are one of His agents. Consider that before the seed can be sown in the ground, the “plowman” must first break-up the soil…and that is not an easy task. Future ministers of the Gospel who will see a harvest from the “field” where they now serve will have to thank God for the faithfulness of those who prepared the way.
Equipped To Win:
It seems evident that the Apostle Paul was quite impressed by the “natural” ability the Roman Army. This passage pays tribute to the excellent manner with which a Roman soldier was equipped. Tested on the battlefield in wars ranging from Northern Europe to Arabia, they were “dressed for combat”. Paul uses this “equipping” as a tool to teach the believers about their ability to stand against the “forces of darkness” in battle. God’s people are engaged in a spiritual battle to live the victorious life God has purposed for us. But, we can’t do it without Him. We have the ability to stand in our relationship to Him. We are protected against the attacks of the enemy through the truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and hope that are ours through Jesus Christ. And, we are equipped with the “Word of God” as the all-powerful, ever-ready weapon which will bring us victory.
Ephesians 6:11–17 – Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
12. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the world's rulers, of the darkness of this age, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
13. Therefore take to yourselves the whole armor of God, [in order] that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
14. Therefore stand, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness
15. and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
16. Above all, take the shield of faith, with which you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
17. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God…
The reason the Roman government equipped their armies in this manner was so that they could be victorious in any battle. The only way for Rome to maintain the “peace” was in their ability to overcome evil kingdoms, stop invasions from the outside, and put down rebellion and anarchy from within. Soldiers are engaged in this same activity. This world will never be a “peaceful” place until the Lord returns to establish His Kingdom. There will be wars, oppressive kingdoms, and those who desire to overthrow society. Something must be done to maintain order—this is the role of government and its military arm.
The “enforcers” of Godly order must be prepared and equipped in the natural realm to stop those plans. Both Paul and Peter prayed for and honored the established government of Rome. They recognized the value of maintaining the civil order. And, they realized the freedom given to the Church to spread the Gospel was unhindered when that order was kept.
Although this may seem a minor point, I see in these two passages a great word of encouragement for all who are in military service.
Philippians 2:25 …Yet I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker, and fellow soldier…
Philemon 1:2 …and to Archippus our fellow soldier…
The scriptures use many images and terms to teach a lesson. This is one of the things that has made the Bible such a great treasure of wisdom. Language, culture, knowledge, and philosophies all change—sometimes in a manner of a few years. But there are certain images that remain more or less constant. The image presented by a farmer 3000 years ago is not much different than one of today. So, I feel it is significant that God often relates spiritual truth to us in His Word through the imagery of soldiers.
In these verses, Paul bestows a title of honor upon his associates by the use of “fellow soldiers”. It was a title that would be recognized by the recipients and would convey a message of respect, credibility, and selfless service. These were men that Paul dearly loved. They had labored with him and were of the same heart and mind—serving Christ with their very lives. And, he honored them by calling them, “soldiers!" In borrowing this term from the “world”, he was selecting a word that carried a certain degree of value. There was nothing derogatory about this term—he would not address some of his dearest friends with a word that gendered disgust. It was an honor to be called a soldier—it is an honor today!
The Excellent Soldier:
2Timothy 2:3–4 – Wherefore, endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4. No one who wars [entangles himself] with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who chose him to be a soldier.
This is one of my favorite images of the soldier used in the New Testament. There is much that can be learned from these verses in relation to ministry, and that is why Paul used it. I have often used these statements as challenges to those preparing for ministry. But that is not my purpose here.
The main point here is that a “good soldier” (the Greek word actually carries more the idea of excellent than good) is one who gives himself to please the commanding officer—to carry out his duties fully and without distraction. He is willing to endure great hardship to accomplish the mission set before him. It is because of this “motivation” that he does not “entangle himself in the affairs of life”. Let me explain that phrase.
Every Roman soldier was assigned the equipment necessary for his assignment. That included his weapons, armor, and uniform. Part of his uniform was a “cloak or tunic”. This was a garment that served as a coat, blanket, and shelter. It could offer protection from heat or cold, rain or snow. But: when he was advancing in battle—engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat—the cloak was cast aside. Why? Why would he lay aside the “comfort” of his cloak? Because in close combat with sword and shield this very article of comfort could become a death trap. His weapons and his body could become “entangled” in the cloak, and the enemy would take advantage.
So, the lesson is, a “good soldier” must, by necessity, set aside the “comforts of life” when he is to be engaged in battle. There is no option. What is acceptable, even desirable, when he is not deployed to the frontlines of conflict can be deadly when he is facing his enemy. Soldiering is not easy—and too often the families and civilians they serve have no awareness of the issues they face daily, of the sacrifices they make…of the hardship of armed conflict.
Yet, as “good soldiers” they willingly serve, choosing to take the battle to the enemy rather than wait for him to come to their home.
One of my former teachers stated that “no man should be considered for the ministry unless he has been trained in the military”. His point simply was that there are things that are honorable and good, humbling and character-building, proving and shaping that can only come from the disciplines of military training. To this day, I have allowed my military preparation shape and inform my ministerial experience. My most often referenced book on Leadership is, “The West Point Way of Leadership” by Col. Larry R. Donnithorne (Ret.).
Discipline is not a vulgar word. It is necessary and it is foundational in military training. The ability to maintain focus under fire, the clarity of mind to make “split-second decisions” (and get it right), the development of a deep regard for the “corporate” responsibility and integrity of the unit, and the endurance to carry a mission to its completion at all cost are all invaluable lessons learned in the military.
What is learned in training and in battle is what we as ministers need in our lives.
Keeping Your Post:
2Timothy 4:7c …I have kept the faith.
The final image I want to address is this beautiful phrase found at the end of verse 7. The Apostle Paul was giving a summation of his life of service to the Lord and the Church. He said, “…I have kept the faith”. The words, “have kept”, are a word which means to guard against loss or addition. When used in a military metaphor it carries the idea of a soldier who has been assigned to his post. He stood his guard, and at the completion of his allotted time, he handed over the guard to the next soldier. During his post, “nothing got in…nothing got out”. He was vigilant, loyal, and trustworthy. He was not serving his own purpose or his selfish desires. He was only being faithful to the assignment given to him. He kept the faith.
Men and women around this globe are dedicated to maintaining a “temporal order” that is necessary so that our society may be able to live in peace and quiet. Military service and law enforcement establish a peace that subdues evil, rebellion, and anarchy. There are numerous and horrible things that the enemies of mankind would desire to unleash upon society. The overthrow of civil governments would allow untold misery and oppression. These “threats” to peace must not be allowed to advance. Military vigilance and strength stand as a great deterrence to this planned assault on humanity. And, swift “judgment” of evil forces is necessary for the peace and freedom of our society.
Their diligence and selfless service are truly appreciated.
I firmly believe God does regard the service as honorable, worthy, and essential. There are not enough words of gratitude which we can express to fully thank those for their sacrifices they, and their families, have made. But, we do pray for their safety, for their success, for the accomplishment of their mission, and for them to experience the peace that God alone can give through Jesus Christ.