Christ’s Good Soldier

2 Tim 2_4-4

2 Timothy 2:3–7 (NLT)  Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.

Paul is writing perhaps his final letter to his beloved son in the faith Timothy.  As he sat in prison, he was thinking about all the things that he wants Timothy to know.  The things he would tell him in person if he were present.  When I was activated for Operation Desert Storm, my son was only about 4 years old.  As we had no idea that the war would be so short (it was actually finished before we had finished our training), we were all thinking about what might happen to us.  I wrote in my journal many pages of what I wanted my son to know as he grew up in case I never returned.  Thankfully, the war was very short and I returned safely after only half a year.

Paul uses a couple of metaphors in this passage.  He compares the Christian life to that of a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer.  As a retired soldier, I am often reminded that the values of the US Army are deeply ingrained in me.  Many of these values are the same or similar to Christian values:  loyalty, duty, respect, self-less service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

As Christians, Paul says we should be like soldiers.  Paul had in mind, perhaps, the Roman soldier who kept him captive and had charge over him in the Mamertine prison.  What Paul says is still true for soldiers today.  Soldiers don’t involve themselves in civilian affairs.  (v. 4)  Instead they endure suffering along with their comrades.  A study was conducted in WWII as to why soldiers fought.  The answer was not because they believed in the mission (even though most did), nor because their commander told them to, nor because of patriotism (although they were patriotic), but rather, they fought because they wanted to protect their friends, their comrades in arms, the man to the right and to the left of them in line.  They had endured the suffering of hard training together before they deployed, and endured the hard suffering of the war together.  So they fought not to let their friends down.  Paul is encouraging Timothy to endure suffering like a good soldier by having a mission focus.

Mission focus is a concept that the Army came up with maybe 30 years ago.  The overall mission of the Army “is to fight and win our Nation’s wars by providing prompt, sustained land dominance across the full range of military operations and spectrum of conflict in support of combatant commanders.”  Everything that the US Army does is to fulfill that mission.  Each combat mission has a military mission statement that falls under that mission statement.  The Army’s focus then is on fulfilling the mission.  They have mission focused training, and mission focused structure that enables the US Army to fulfill its mission.

Likewise the church has a mission.  Our mission statement is given in Matt. 28:19, 20:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Everything we do should be focused on fulfilling this mission.  Everything means everything:  how we live our lives, how we structure our church, how we conduct business in the church, our outreach to new people, what kinds of programs we have in the church, how we welcome and make places for new people in the church.

In the realm of all possible good things, there are many good things that the church can do.  But every church struggles with the same limitations, no matter how large or how small.  We all have limited resources of time, money, and volunteers.  Everything we do should maximize our mission accomplishment.

How do we do that?  In my ministry, I have tried to focus my time and energy on the 20% of activities that will accomplish 80% of the mission.  These are what we used to call mission essential tasks.  If we do these 20% of activities, then we will accomplish 80% of the activity.  What would our churches look like if our entire focus was on fulfilling the mission which Christ has given to us?

Many people think that the church in the US is declining, because of increased theological liberalism, others think it is because we are not liberal enough.  My research on church growth has indicated that theological bent (however we describe it) has little or no bearing on church health or vitality.  What makes the difference is whether a church is focused on the mission of reaching new people and making new disciples for Jesus Christ.  If a church is focused on reaching new people with the Gospel through evangelism and witness, and outreach and mission, then they will probably be a vital and healthy congregation, and they will grow, no matter where they are, or what circumstances they are in (the demographics of the area).

Lord, help me to endure hardship like a good soldier.  Help me to have the same mission focus that you had, to always keep your mission in mind, that I will please you, my commanding officer.  Forgive me for the times when I forget my mission and lose my mission focus and get involved in trivial controversy and fighting over words.  Strengthen me to control my tongue.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

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