Soldiers willingly follow men who demonstrate acts of self-sacrifice in the most harrowing of circumstances. How much more should we, as Christians, follow the One who endured suffering and death to rescue us from the most terrifying fate of all, an eternity in hell?
That was the idea that entered Paul's mind when, at the end of his own ministry, having been imprisoned by the emperor Nero, he wrote to encourage the young pastor Timothy. Timothy was facing severe conflict in his ministry at Ephesus, and the relentless opposition from heretics, apostates, and persecutors was weakening him. And just like any Christian who experiences difficulty because of following Christ, he needed to be reminded again of his task--to suffer hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
2 Timothy 2:3-4
3 Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs--he wants to please his commanding officer.
A good soldier is one who does not simply do minimum duty for his Lord, but rather is one who serves Him with everything he is and has. As a Christian, that's what we are called to. Paul's words to Timothy are our marching orders, too, as we strive to be a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
The first mark of a good soldier is the willingness to suffer hardship with the rest of the soldiers.
"Suffer hardship" literally means to suffer evil or pain along with someone else. By adding "with me," Paul assures Timothy that he hasn't asked anything of him that he wasn't willing to do. In fact, Paul was writing from a prison cell.
As a Christian in the modern world, it is sometimes difficult for us to understand what serious spiritual warfare and suffering for Christ mean. Even though the secular environment in our society is increasingly hostile to Christianity, we are not faced with loss of job, imprisonment, or execution because of our faith. With few exceptions, being a Christian won't keep us out of college or from getting a good job. But the more faithful we are as a Christian, the more Satan will put roadblocks, hardships, and rejection in the way, the more evident the spiritual warfare will become, and the more frequent and obvious the hardship will become.
We have been called to endure hardship, and every Christian who has gone before us has had his share. And although we haven't yet shed blood for our faith.
In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
We will experience hardship as a Christian for our faithfulness--count on it. Jesus said, "If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you".
Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.
But let us be encouraged for He also said, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world".
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Jesus is the perfect Commander who leads by example and will bring you to certain victory in the end.
Secondly, a good soldier is marked by his separation from the "normal" life.
A "soldier in active service" does not have a 9 to 5 job, or even a long 60- to 70-hour work week. He is a soldier 24 hours a day, every day of the year. His body, his health, his skills, his time--all that he is--belongs to the military. Even when on leave, he is subject to recall at any time, without notice and for any reason. And whenever ordered into dangerous duty, he is expected to put his very life on the line without question or hesitation.
Consequently, he is separated from his normal environment, so that he will not "entangle himself in the affairs of everyday life." Paul is not speaking about things that necessarily are wrong in themselves. It is not that we, as a Christian, should have no contact at all with our former friends and surroundings, but that we should never be caught up and enmeshed in them. Those things are irrelevant to our soldiering and are always subject to being relinquished.
We should never allow earthly matters to interfere with the fulfillment of our duty to the Lord. Temporal concerns and activities, innocent in themselves, have neutralized the effectiveness of many pastors, special ministries, and doctrinally sound churches. Though they once labored faithfully in the primary purpose of serving Jesus Christ to advance His kingdom against the forces of darkness, they have unwittingly taken themselves out of the battle.
Just as the dutiful soldier places his life willingly on the line in the service of his commander, so also will we, as a faithful Christian, willingly deny ourself, take up our cross, and follow Christ.
Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
And we will find yourself echoing Paul's words:
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
The final mark of a good soldier is a genuine desire to "please the one who enlisted him as a soldier."
The Lord deserves our honor, our affection, and our obedience for all He has done for us. His own courage on the battlefield is unparalleled. He stayed the course and went before us to win our freedom and eternal life. And now He seeks our loyal service in His army.
The Christian's greatest desire is to please Christ, and his fondest hope is to be rewarded for faithful service, to hear his Master say:
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!'
With that hope in the forefront of our mind, let our life be animated and driven forward by our love for Jesus Christ. And let us make it our ambition, "whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him" (2 Corinthians 5:9)--He is your spiritual Commander-in-Chief.
2 Corinthians 5:9
So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.