“Finally, My brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might, put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).
“This charge I commit to you, son Timothy… that… you may wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18 cf. 6:12).
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).
“Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The New Testament frequently uses military and combat language when speaking of Christians and the church (e.g. Ephesians 6:10-20; Colossians 2:8 KJV; 1 Thessalonians 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:3-4; Hebrews 10:35 cf. Ephesians 6:16; Jude 3; Revelation 19:11-16). Christians are soldiers of Christ. Collectively, therefore the church is the army of the Lord’s.
Why is the comparison made? (1) It has to do with warfare. We are in a spiritual war. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Our armor includes faith, hope, love, the truth and righteousness of the gospel, plus prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:8; Ephesians 6:14-18). Our weapon is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The stakes are high. This war is for our souls, and the souls of others. Eternity is at stake.
(2) It has to do with duty. “I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). There are some things for which it is worth fighting. Christians are to defend the faith. Thomas B. Warren remarked, “Christianity is not what many people seem to envision it as being. It is not a religion in which ‘just any and everything goes.’ Rather, the living of the Christian life involves fighting for the truth and fighting against false doctrine (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Timothy 6:12;2 Timothy 2:3; Ephesians 6:10-17; et al).” (Warren, Jesus – The Lamb Who is a Lion, p. 148). Those who care about the truth, and the spiritual well-being of souls (self and others) should be ready willing and able to wield the sword of the spirit. Thomas Warren has written, “A sword is not a toy. A sword is not made for the purpose of giving mere ‘slaps on the wrist.’ A sword is a weapon of war… it is a weapon to be used in the battle for the souls of men. It is to be used to affirm and defend the truth and to deny and refute false doctrine” (ibid). It is our duty to contend for the faith. If we do not, then who will?
(3) It has to do with hardships. “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). Soldiers at war face many hardships. Even so, Christians must be willing to endure hardships. Commitment is needed. Paul wrote, “I suffer trouble (hardship – B.H.)… I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:9-10). Then, he encouraged and warned, “If we die with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).
(4) It has to do with priority and loyalty. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier (2 Timothy 2:4). A good soldier knows that he cannot become so entangled in the things of this life that he neglects his orders; neither, should the Christian. Commitment and loyalty are needed.
This does not forbid secular work. Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:1-3). He worked with his hands (Acts 20:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8). Paul’s secular work was done – not only to support himself – but to help spread the gospel. He was not confused about whom he served (2 Timothy 2:4 cf. 2:15; 2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
(5) It is about not being a coward. “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward” (Hebrews 10:35 cf. Ephesians 6:16). Tom Moore commented on Hebrews 10:35, saying – “There seems to be an allusion here to conduct of weak and cowardly soldiers, who in the day of battle would want to throw aside their shields and turn their backs on the enemy” (ed. Devin Dean, Studies in Hebrews, pp. 214-215).
Imagine what we could accomplish, if every Christian took their duties as soldiers of Christ, as serious as those in the U.S. Armed Forces do. (1) Imagine if we trained to use our weapons as if our lives and the lives of others depended on our proficiency. Would any be negligent in studying the Bible at home? Would any be AWOL from Bible class, or worship assembly? For tent-making? For sports? For a day in the park? Family time? (2) Imagine if we each had each other’s back, as soldiers do in war. Imagine that our aim truly was to help each other to heaven? (3) Imagine if we would work together, as soldiers should. All would be present (if possible) at the Gospel Meeting, and each would try to bring a friend. The goal would be to win souls, and we would work together to do it. (4) Imagine that each understood authority and did only what was authorized by the Commanding Officer. Too many are playing Christianity by their on rules, and by their feelings. (5) Imagine that discipline was practiced, and consistently practiced. High standard would be maintained. Those who sowed discord and undermined an effort would not be tolerated. Acts of treason would be punished. (6) Imagine that we took our objectives as serious as a battlefield commander. Imagine if we truly fought with zeal. (7) Imagine if we were determined to leave no one behind. The U.S. Armed Forces tries to leave no one behind, even the dead. If we had this attitude, then no longer would fallen members be removed from membership rolls without effort to save them.
Have you ever noticed how may of the songs that we sing are based on this picture of Christians being soldiers of Christ and the church being the Lord’s Army? Here are several you will recognize…
“I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery, I may never fly o’er the enemy, but I’m in the Lord’s army. Yes sir! (Song: I’m in the Lord’s Army)
“I am a hard fighting soldier, on the battlefield. / I am a hard fighting soldier, on the battlefield. / I am a hard fighting soldier, on the battlefield. / I keep bringing souls to Jesus by the service that I give. (Song: Hard Fighting Soldier)
“Soldiers of Christ, arise, and put your armor on, Strong in the strength which God supplies through His beloved Son. Strong in the Lord of hosts, and in His mighty pow’r, Who in the strength of Jesus trusts is more than conqueror” (Song: Soldiers of Christ by Charles Wesley).
“Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross; lift high his royal banner it must not suffer loss.” (Song: Stand Up! Stand up for Jesus! by George Webb).
“Onward Christian soldier, Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before! Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle, see his banner go! / Like a mighty army moves the church of God; Brothers, we are treading Where the saints have trod; We are not divided; all one body, we one in hope and doctrine, one in charity” (Song: Onward Christians soldiers by Sabine Baring-Gould).