The Christian Warfare
The Church Militant
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.—2 Corinthians 10:3-6 NIV
By Carl Hagensick
The Bible abounds in figurative language. The picture of warfare is an apt one to describe not only the battle we fight within against the myriad temptations of the flesh, but the larger battle for truth and justice worldwide as Christ and his armies joust with Satan and his legions (Rev. 19:11-16) in the “battle of the great day of God Almighty” (Rev. 16:14).
In the battle mentioned in our text the enemies of Christ are described as arguments, or “imaginations” as the King James Version has it. Each thought must be captured and converted to Christ. The victory in this war is not accomplished, even at death. It is then that the lessons learned by the Christian soldier now will be used to attain obedience in the rest of the human race: “to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.”
A Soldier’s Qualifications
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). Enduring hardness is only one of the many qualifications of a good soldier. Training, attention to orders, obedience, co-operation with one’s fellow-soldiers, and battling the loneliness and other temptations peculiar to military life are others.
The endurance of hardness is a fundamental purpose of a soldier’s basic training. Not only does strenuous daily exercise toughen his physical muscles but he must learn to live with the bare necessities of life. Constant humiliation by his drill sergeant prepares him for the lonely life of the battlefield and subdues his individuality, so that he is willing to instinctively obey orders and become part of a team. He is trained well both in the weapons he will use and in his responsibilities toward his fellow soldiers. All of these fit him to become part of a well organized military machine.
The Christian, too, needs strong muscles—spiritual muscles. He must be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10). His basic training includes constant repetitive spiritual exercises so that “by reason of use” he might have “his senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. 5:14). Jesus set sterling example of soldiers living under spartan conditions, so much so that it is said of him, he “hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). He, too, knew the pangs of loneliness, especially when his own disciples deserted him. “Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (John 16:32). How that loneliness increased when, on Calvary’s cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
The need for implicit and immediate obedience is well illustrated by the centurion who approached Jesus to heal his servant. Not wishing to impose, he suggested that Jesus merely say the word and not bother himself with coming personally. His reasoning was that of a military commander who was accustomed to obedience from his men: “For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Luke 7:8).
The rigors of a soldier’s life leave him open to many temptations. Constantly faced with the danger of dying he wants to be sure to enjoy all the fruits of living. Tasting the fruits of power, the whole world seems in his grasp. Being separated from wives and loved ones, he longs for female and family companionship. Having idle hours at his disposal, there are myriads of pleasures competing for his attention. It is little wonder that Paul adds the admonition, “no man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life” (2 Tim. 2:4)
Paul: A Model Soldier
A model for the Christian soldier to follow is the Apostle Paul. He holds himself up as an example in 2 Timothy 3:10, 11: “But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.” Here Paul outlines nine ways in which he exemplifies one who has learn to endure hardship.
DOCTRINE: This would be better translated as teaching or instruction. Paul spent the greater part of his ministry admonishing the early church on the necessity for fortitude in facing the loneliness and difficulties of the Christian way.
MANNER OF LIFE: Not only did Paul teach about what true Christianity really means, he lived it. His litany of sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 set a standard of devotion to a cause that perhaps has never been equalled.
PURPOSE: A soldier must have a vision. He must believe in the rightness of his cause. As most armies are used to establish the rulership of their masters, so the Christian army is for the purpose of removing the forces of evil which seek to prohibit the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. One of the objectives Paul saw in his Christian welfare was helping others also experience the freedom which is in Christ: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim. 2:10).
FAITH: Not only belief in the rightness of what he is doing, but a good soldier must have confidence that his side will ultimately be victorious. He must be sure that while defeats may occur on the battlefields of life, these are but temporary setbacks. He must “know that all things work together for good,” because he is one of those “called of God.”
LONGSUFFERING: Constancy in bearing up under the burdens of life is still another necessary attribute for the Christian soldier. Literally, the Greek word suggests a “long temper.” Anger is a constant temptation to the soldier because of the opposition he receives. The thought here appears to be a willingness to hold back that subjective anger in order to carry out one’s duties.
CHARITY: Charity, or better translated, love, is not usually thought of as a necessary attribute of a soldier. Yet who has not seen pictures of soldiers on the battlefields of this world befriending the children and the homeless of the lands to which they are sent. It is this same kindof compassion which should mark the Christian warrior.
PATIENCE: As distinct from longsuffering, the patience here refers to the constancy of composure under trying circumstances. There is much in both the warfare of this world and the spiritual warfare of Christ that can easily lead to depressions. It is this patience which keeps the Christian soldier at his task. One of the biggest problems every military establishment faces is the case of the AWOL soldier, “absent without leave.” When the Christian lets his zeal run slack he is a spiritual AWOL and useless as a soldier.
PERSECUTIONS: Not only do an army’s foes resent their presence, but often they are disliked by the very ones they have come to help. Jesus and the early church found it the same when often the Jews were more their persecutors than were the Romans. As Paul said of his trials: “The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” (Rom. 15:3).
AFFLICTIONS: Here again the Greek word really means hardships. Paul was both buffeted by enemies without and with struggles within himself: ” without were fightings, within were fears” (2 Cor. 7:5).
The Spoils of Victory
Soldiers are often spurred on in their battle with dreams of booty from their conquests. As Abraham refused all such spoils after his victory (Gen. 14:23, 24) and the Israelites were refused to take of the spoils of Jericho (Josh. 7:11), so the Christian is not to exercise materialistic greed in his warfare. But there is a spoil nevertheless which is freely his, a promotion to a higher office, to reign with Christ over the conquered possessions. This spoil should be an ever present incentive in his battle, even as it was with their Master. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
There is yet another spoil in this warfare. The battle is against Satan and his hosts. In the beginning he stole life and its attendant pleasures from the human race. After his defeat this spoil will be reclaimed by Christ, shared with his church, and eventually returned to its rightful owners, the redeemed human race. We can trace this disposal of the spoil in the following verses:
- “Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil [take a spoil of] his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house” (Matt. 12:29).
- “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong [the church]; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors: (Isa. 53:12).
- “Thy tacklings are loosed; they could not well strengthen their mast, they could not spread the sail: then is the prey of a great spoil divided; the lame [mankind] take the prey. And the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick: the people that dwell therein shall be forgiven their iniquity” (Isa. 33:23, 24).
Close camaradarie often binds soldiers together in lifelong friendships. Often they owe their very lives to a fellow warrior. One that Paul especially calls a fellow soldier is Epaphroditus of Philippi:
“Yet I supposed it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellowsoldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” (Phil. 2:25-27).
The willingness to become physically sick in the service of a companion is a true mark of a faithful Christian soldier.
An example of the closeness of those who share the battlefield together is furnished in the case of the centurion who beseeched Jesus on behalf of his sick servant. “And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant” (Luke 7:2, 3). The word translated “dear” in this verse is from the same Greek word that we derive our word “intimate,” and describes the closest of human relationships.
The role of Jesus as captain is clearly spelled out in Hebrews 2:10: “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
Although the word captain is not the most accurate thought for the Greek archegos, which should be more accurately translated “prince”, it does describe a similar relationship as that of a captain to his troops. In the Septuagint of Numbers 13:2, 3 it is translated by the English words “ruler” and heads”: “Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them. And Moses by the commandment of the LORD sent them from the wilderness of Paran: all those men were heads of the children of Israel.”
In any event the good captain does not send his army into battle, he leads them. Frequently he is in the forefront of the fray. In the Old Testament it is not uncommon to find the captain of the troops dying in the battle. He directs as much by example as by precept. He leads us not where he is not willing to go himself.
Nor does he leave his soldiers unprotected but gives them a full panoply of armor:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints.”—Ephesians 6:10-18;
THE GIRDLE OF TRUTH: The girdle not only kept the clothing close to the body for better protection but additionally the tightness of the girdle strengthened the stomach muscles so that the warrior could better perform in close hand to hand conflict. The assurance that the cause for which one is fighting is right and just performs these functions for the Christian soldier. Its importance is stressed by being the first element of the armor to be mentioned.
THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS: In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 it is called the “breastplate of faiith and love” for these are the component elements of righteousness. Because the breastplate covers the heart and other vital organs it is an essential defense and corresponds well to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
SANDALS OF PEACE: It seems oddly ironic that an element of the soldier’s armor would include an article of clothing representing peace. Actually it is the “preparation of the gospel of peace.” Now is not the time for peace in the world, for reconciliation between God and men; but it is the time for the “word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18, 19). In another prophetic battle scene our attention is called to the “feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace” (Isa. 52:7). Our warfare is one that truly does have peace—not just the peace of the victor but also the peace of the vanquished—as its final objective.
THE SHIELD OF FAITH: Like a shield, faith is mobile. The battle described by Paul to the Ephesians is unequal. Instead of two warriors locked in close hand to hand battle, one of the adversaries is equipped with fiery darts and can fight from a distance. These darts are doubts and must be met with one’s faith firmly anchored in the scriptures. “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even your faith” (1 John 5:4).
THE HELMET OF SALVATION: In 1 Thessalonians 5:8 Paul calls it “the hope of salvation.” The best protection for attacks to the Christian’s intellect, his head, are his assurance of salvation. He has the knowledge that the Lord is not judging him so much on what he knows but on what he does with what he knows. “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his” (2 Tim. 2:19).
THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT:The only offensive weapon in the Christian’s panoply, this sword is described elsewhere as a “two-edged sword,” and is used for applying the principles of God’s word to ourselves as well as to others. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
Being therefore fully armed, let us not be slack in marching forth into battle so that, at the end of our course, we can say with the Apostle Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7).