Near the beginning of the war in Iraq, our friend, Jesse, was unexpectedly called up. A physician in his 50s and a member of the reserves for years, he certainly didn’t expect to see active duty. But there he was, living in a tent and eating dust, his medical practice on hold and his wife and kids fending for themselves.
About the time Jesse was on active duty in the desert, I kept encountering Christians who were complaining that they “just weren’t happy.” Oh, they had plenty of reasons to be unhappy. After all, the economy wasn’t what it used to be, and their portfolios were suffering. Their marriages were getting a bit stale. Their church had chosen a style of music that didn’t suit them. And so, they decided, maybe it was time to back off on this Christianity thing and seek a little pleasure. A little, mind you. Not a lot. But after all, God wanted them to be happy. Didn’t he?
As I observed the contrast between Jesse’s life in Iraq and the discontent my friends here were experiencing, I began to understand the military metaphor that the Apostle Paul used to remind Timothy to stay focused on the work he had been called to. In 2 Timothy 2:3-4, Paul says, “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.”
As a woman, I had never taken that metaphor too seriously. But the Iraq war brought the military to the forefront of my awareness. And more recently, we’ve seen the shoddy treatment of our National Guard in Washington, D.C., sleeping in a parking garage and eating cold sandwiches. Maybe you have also become more aware.
As I’ve watched so many friends become distracted by the god of happiness, I’ve become even more aware that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we’re engaged in a cosmic battle that has been raging since before time. The forces of good and evil remain locked in a conflict of values, lifestyle, and belief. As in the military, the fight is sometimes to death, and the consequences are high. Could it be that we can take a page from our soldiers as we consider how God wants us to live our lives amid this battle?
We are under authority
American soldiers are submitted to a sovereign government and to the branch of the military in which they serve. We as believers must be submitted to the sovereign rule of our Commander in Chief, Jesus Christ, and to the branch of His army called the local church. For us to go about daily life as there were no conflict makes as little sense as for an American soldier to go sightseeing when he’s supposed to be on duty.
One of the most disdained words in the Christian vocabulary is submit, followed closely by obey. Especially as American Christians, we chafe at the thought. Yet the writer to the Hebrews doesn’t compromise when he says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
No military unit can expect to be successful if the troops won’t follow orders. Why do we think we can have a successful church or ministry with each member deciding whether to follow orders or strike out on their own?
A soldier can’t serve in two armies at the same time
People who do that are called double agents or traitors. No one admires them in a war zone.
Jesus tells us that no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. He assures us that we can’t serve both God and mammon (see Matthew 6:24). We often think of mammon as money, but in fact, it’s anything that becomes more important to us than Jesus. Anytime we try to serve another master, it’s idolatry and we become traitors to the army we’ve enlisted in.
Back in the days of Elijah, the people of Israel were serving both Yahweh and Baal—just in case. Sure, Yahweh was powerful, but after all, Baal controlled fertility and you didn’t want to risk making him mad. So they faithfully offered sacrifices to Yahweh—and Baal. Pretty much like we do today. Jesus and pleasure; Jesus and happiness; Jesus and my job…. Just in case. Elijah challenged them with the same decision we face today. He bellowed, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing (1Kings 18:21).
It’s the same today. So many false gods clamor for our attention. So many idols demand our time, our finances, and our loyalty. Once again, our commander in chief asks the question, “How long will you waver between two opinions?”
A soldier’s life is not his own
The drill sergeant makes that clear from the first day in boot camp. You wear what you’re told to wear and get your hair cut according to military standards. You obey orders and go where you’re assigned when you’re assigned. You can’t question or negotiate, even if you aren’t “happy.” You can’t quit when it’s inconvenient, unpleasant, or when the going gets rough. And you may die.
When Jesse went to Iraq, he quickly learned that his life was not his own. He faced horrendous dust storms and monotonous food. He missed the graduation of one son and almost missed the wedding of another. As Paul reminded Timothy, he had to endure hardship and could not be distracted by civilian affairs if he wanted to please his commanding officer (see 2 Timothy 2:3-4).
As soldiers in the army of Jesus Christ, we also need to remember that we are not our own. We’ve been bought with a price (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). Therefore, we need to focus more on glorifying God with our bodies, souls, and spirits and less on being “happy.”
A soldier needs to maintain good relationships with his buddies
These are the guys who will be on his right and left in the trenches. They’re the ones who will cover him in danger and encourage him in loneliness. He wants to know he can trust them and they him. The last thing a solider wants to worry about is whether his fellow combatant will shoot him in the back.
Likewise, within the body of Christ, we need to maintain good relationships, being faithful and responsible. Paul reminds us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes this means giving up our personal “rights” to have things our way, to be happy. We need to guard our tongues and our attitudes so that we don’t give the enemy an opening to harm us.
A soldier has only the authority he earns
Jesse couldn’t go off and fight the battle any way he wanted to, using any weapon he wanted to. He had to follow the rules of engagement. And he couldn’t take command just because he thought he could do it better. He earned authority by his obedience to the standards set by his commander. In fact, he couldn’t even take a job he thought he might like better. He had his assignment, and that’s what he was expected to do.
2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” How often do we try to fight God’s battles using our intelligence, our strategies, or our desires? It just doesn’t work, any more than a soldier can fight using a table knife. How often do we try to wrest the authority from the pastor, the boss, or the committee chairman? It won’t work. How often do we declare that we love God, but engage in sin because we want to be happy? It won’t work.
We talk a lot today about revival. About reaching the lost, reaching our city, our workplace, or the world for Jesus Christ. Before we can do that, we need to earn the authority of the uniform through holiness and submission to our Commander in Chief and to those he has placed in authority over us. We need to be willing to pay the price, to be prepared for the battle, and to use our weapons.
A soldier must stay alert and avoid passivity
One of the major causes of death early in the Gulf War was friendly fire. And what causes that? Carelessness. Mistakes. Not paying attention. A soldier can’t afford to be passive or let down his guard for one minute. If he does, someone can get hurt.
When the battle rages on and on, it’s easy to grow weary. When that marriage doesn’t change, that child doesn’t obey, or that co-worker doesn’t change, it’s easy to say or do something that hurts. It’s essential to stay alert because our enemy is prowling around, just looking for someone to devour (see 1 Peter 5:8). And if we aren’t careful, he may use our passivity or “friendly” fire to bring in the prey.
So if we hope to win the cosmic or the cultural battle, it’s important to learn to be a good soldier. It isn’t always fun, but no one promised it would be. And the rewards extend far beyond our personal happiness. They have eternal consequences.
 Not his real name.