Young men and young women of the army of Jesus Christ, I want to begin by telling you a story. It is about a young man who, the day after his birthday in 1971, went as required by law to register for the draft. That young man was me. I did not mind registering so much. But I remember vividly sometime later listening to the radio at my uncle’s shop where I worked for news of how high the numbers went. You see, I was in the last year of the lottery system. Every young man received a number from 1- 365. Mine was 125. Would the government go that high in choosing how many men they needed for the army, or would they not, so I asked myself. As it turned out, they only went as high as about 18 if I remember correctly. You can imagine how relieved I was that I did not have to go into the army. Oh, if I was chosen, I would have gone. But I really did not want to. Actually, I was afraid to. To be completely honest I was terrified at the thought. It was the latter part of the war in Vietnam, a war that we did not win. It was a terrible war where tens of thousands of this country’s troops, some from our own churches, perhaps some of your relatives, lost their lives in the forests and rice paddies of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I never became a soldier of the United States of America.
But I am a soldier. Not a soldier in the army of this country, but a soldier in the army of a better. I am a soldier in the army of the Kingdom of heaven, and Jesus Christ is my commanding officer. He chose me to be that. He enlisted me to be that. I did not enlist. He enlisted me. He made me willing to be His soldier, and my prayer is daily that I may be a good one and live to serve Him.
My speech this morning is about being a good soldier of Jesus Christ. The text that you have chosen for your convention theme speaks of that. “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a soldier of Jesus Christ.” II Timothy 2:3
I. What It Means To Be That
What makes a soldier, a soldier? I think it best to begin with that question, and having answered that, address the reality of being a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
A soldier is a whole lot more than a person with a uniform and a gun in his hand. To be sure, a soldier wears a uniform, and to him is given a weapon. But a soldier is more than that. A soldier is one who knows what that uniform represents, and is trained in the use of weapons. He goes to training, to boot camp. There he is taught what it means to be a soldier. He is taught how to be a soldier. He is taught discipline, to obey orders. His body and mind are prepared, honed to battle readiness, so that at a moment’s notice, should the need arise, he might be ready to go to war.
Further, a soldier, a good soldier, possesses these characteristics: courage first of all. What is courage? It is not as some would have it, the absence of all fear. A soldier, a good one, has fear. Rather, courage is bravery that has one’s fear in control, so that a soldier’s fear does not give way to terror. A good soldier, a courageous soldier, is one who in spite of fear goes forth to battle and faces the enemy.
Secondly, a soldier is one who is a courageous patriot. He is a person with a zeal for the cause which he serves, and for which he is fighting. If one is a soldier in the army of the United States of America, he must possess a zeal for the cause for which this country is fighting. There is no room in the Armed Forces for those who have no zeal. The Army without it will surely lose.
Thirdly, a soldier is one who trusts. He trusts his fellow soldiers to back him up on the battle field and trenches. He trusts his superior officers to have a sound battle strategy. He trusts that his country will support him with supplies, ammunition, enthusiasm, and with prayers. He trusts that the weapons he uses, and in which he has been trained, will perform. If he has not that, he cannot be a soldier.
Now let us address the reality. How many of you have thought of yourselves as soldiers, soldiers of Jesus Christ? How many of you are soldiers of Jesus Christ? A Christian is that, you see. If you are a Christian, you are a soldier. Paul was a soldier. Paul tells Timothy he is a soldier. But it is not just apostles such as Paul, or ministers such as Timothy or such as myself who are soldiers. Every Christian is a soldier. And Jesus Christ is your commanding officer. He is the Captain, the General of the army of God, the army of the kingdom of heaven. Now let me ask you another question, how many of you are good soldiers of Jesus Christ? A good soldier you must be!
What makes you a good soldier? First of all, you wear a uniform, and wear it with honor. What is your uniform? The Bible calls it robes, robes of righteousness, robes of holiness. Those robes are our uniform. A good soldier of Jesus Christ wears them. They distinguish him from the soldiers of Satan who are dressed in the filthy rags of sin. He wears them with pride, considering it an honor to wear them.
A good soldier is one, in the second place, who both has a weapon and knows how to use it. What are your weapons? They are not earthly swords or spears, bows or arrows. They are not Colt 45’s or machine guns or M 16’s. They are spiritual weapons. Paul speaks of such in Ephesians 6 where he enumerates the armor of God. He refers to the sword of the Spirit as being the Word of God. That is our weapon! The Word of God! In that weapon we must be trained. We go to boot camp, if you will, where we learn not only the use of that weapon, but what it means to obey orders, and where our heart and soul are honed to battle-readiness. That boot camp is our homes and the extension of our homes, the Christian school. It is our church and the instruction we receive through the preaching of the Word and catechism. These all teach you how to be good soldiers and how to use that weapon that a good soldier of Jesus Christ has. Learn that training well!
And now we go to characteristics. Courage! A good soldier of Jesus Christ is courageous. No, that doesn’t mean you have no fear. I have fear. But by the grace of God I am not terrified. I have my fear in control (though it is a daily struggle). It is grace and faith that does that. It is prayer that helps me in my fears. It will help you. It is sufficient for every soldier of Jesus Christ. With your fears go to Jesus Christ. He is there for you. Go also to those whom Christ has given you, your parents and pastors, as well as others.
Patriotism and zeal! A good soldier of Jesus Christ is patriotic, filled with a zeal for the cause of Christ. This zeal is rooted in love, love for Christ, love for your country – heaven, love for your citizenship in that country, and the fact that Christ has called you to serve. Do you possess that love, that zeal? There is no room in the army of Christ for those who do not. There is only room for zealous patriots.
II. The Warfare That Must Be Fought
There is a war that must be fought. It is not against the armies of North Vietnam or Iraq or any other earthly foe. It is against sin and Satan. It is a war that goes on every day and every minute of every day. Sin and Satan are real. They exist and never cease to assault us. Sometimes they are bold and confront us with a frontal attack. They bombard us with false doctrines and worldly pleasures to defeat us. Sometimes they are more subtle, lurking in this form or that to catch us unawares, hoping our guard is down.
Over against such the word of our commanding officer is, “Don’t entangle yourself in their affairs”. We read in verse 4 of II Timothy 2, “No man that warreth entangleth himself in the affairs of this life!” The idea is, don’t involve yourself so as to be entangled. Don’t involve yourself with embracing false doctrine. Reject it! Don’t involve yourself with worldly pleasures. If you go by a movie theater, keep on driving. If you are at a party where the liquor comes out or drugs, to use a phrase, “Just say no” and leave. If your boyfriend or girlfriend tempts you to go too far and engage in sex, resist that. If you don’t, you will become entangled, all tangled up in the devil’s spider web of destruction. Do not let that happen! Fight!
Will that be easy? No, that will be hard. There will be, as the passage tells us, hardships. A soldier’s life is full of them. So also the life of the good soldier of Jesus Christ. Paul knew them. He refers to that in verse 9. The word translated “suffer trouble” in that verse is the same word translated “endure hardness” in verse 3. He suffered the rejection of men. He stood up for the truth with the sword of the Word, and he was hated. He suffered bodily harm. He was whipped, beaten, stoned. Twice he was imprisoned in Rome. He wrote II Timothy during that second and last time. And yes, he finally was killed, suffering death itself on the battle field. As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, hardships you will have! I think that one of the greatest hardships a young person faces is rejection by other young people. Oh, so much you want to be liked by your peers. You want to be in the in-crowd, not out. Now, being “in” is all right, but not if it means doing things that you ought not be doing, going places you ought not be going, saying things you ought not be saying. Then be “out”! Endure this. Stand up under it. In so doing you will be “out” with your peers, but you will be “in” with Christ. And that is all that matters.
Be pleasing to Him. That must be true of you. For Christ has chosen you to be a good soldier. The passage in verse 4 speaks of that. We read, “that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” Think of it! Christ has chosen you. He has enlisted you. You have not enlisted in His army. He has enlisted you. What grace! What honor has been bestowed on you, that you should be a soldier of Jesus Christ! Then “please Him”.
III. The Encouragement That That Soldier Has
What encouragement do you have? To get at that I want to go back to that last characteristic of a good soldier. I left it for this point. That characteristic was trust. A soldier trusts. He trusts his fellow-soldiers. He trusts his superior officers. He trusts his country and the weapons given to him. In them he finds his encouragement.
Trust your weapon – the Word of God. It will not fail you! Trust your country. Heaven will not fail you! Trust your fellow soldiers. And fellow soldiers, do not violate that trust. Trust your superior officers, your parents, your pastors, your church. And parents and pastors and all who are in authority, do not violate that trust. But should father, mother, pastor, friend, or anyone else do so, there is one who will not— Jesus Christ! He will not fail His good soldiers who stand in the front line of the battle. Never!
How do I know that? I know that first of all by personal experience. Christ has never failed me. But I know that secondly, because His Word tells me so. It tells me in the first place that he fought the battle for me. He did that on the cross. It tells me secondly that though the battle rages on, the outcome is certain. Victory! That’s the outcome. No earthly soldier knows that before he goes to battle. But the good soldier of Jesus Christ does. And it tells me in the third place, that for the good soldier of Jesus Christ there is the welcome home ceremony, the victory parade. And the crown of victory that shall be given us at that day. Paul refers to that crown in verse 5 and again at the end of this epistle.
What say you to that? There is a saying used by the Army, “Be all that you can be in the Army”. Be all that you can be, all that Christ wants you to be, in the army of Jesus Christ! You have your marching orders. Now go forth! Go forth with a song in your heart and on your lips. “Go forth”, as we sing from Psalter #407, “In His service and strong in His might to conquer all evil and stand for the right. For this is His word: His saints shall not fail, but over the earth their power shall prevail; all kingdoms and nations shall yield to their sway. To God give the glory and praise Him for aye.”