A lot of people dress up for Halloween each year as a variety of monsters and other diverse personae. Many of us have secret fantasies about who we would really like to be: fantasies about archetypal roles such as heroes, athletes, actors, artists, warriors, kings, scientists, doctors, or entrepreneurs.
What St. Paul is asking us to be this morning is a race of warrior-kings, united under the banner of the King of kings, in whose kingdom we train and fight that one day we may rule with Him. It’s a powerful image of who God intends us to be in this life. And it’s an image that implies not only a lot of hard work but also an immeasurable amount of glory.
St. Paul commissions St. Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Jesus Christ” (verse 1), repeating his theme from 2 Timothy 1 that though our life in Christ is all by the grace of God, we are to do something with this grace, which is to faithfully use it. In particular, Timothy needs to be strong in grace because Timothy is to guard the faith and to use it to demolish enemy strongholds. Paul’s one big theme in both letters to Timothy is that Timothy guard the apostolic teaching with his life. For God to devote 2 of the precious 27 books of the New Testament to this theme, it must be extremely important in our lives.
This apostolic teaching that we are to guard is nothing less than the Holy Scriptures, which Timothy knew since he was a boy. It contains the very same things which Jesus entrusted to Paul and which Paul entrusted to Timothy. At least part of it occurs in yet another “faithful saying” that Paul himself has received, either as a hymn or liturgy or confession of faith, found in verses 11-13. Notice how this hymn is structured in terms of cause and effect, which may be related to the parallelism of Hebrew poetry.
The central “if . . . then” statement that Paul makes, regarding what action we are to take is this one: “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.” Paul is ultimately concerned that Timothy endure in the faith and faithfully guard it and pass it on. Though Paul mentions the need to commit the apostolic teaching to faithful men who will also be able to teach others, I want to focus on how it is that we are to act as warrior-kings so that in due time we may reign with the King of kings.
The first step in being a warrior-king for Christ is to endure Christian boot camp, which is the process of discipleship. You have been enlisted as a soldier in the army of the Lord. There is no sense in denying it: you have been drafted by the King of kings to serve in His army, and now you must fulfill the oath you took to serve Him in all that He asks you to do.
The first thing He has asked you to do is to show up for Christian boot camp, which is also known as discipleship. Your general, Jesus Christ, has asked you to endure His boot camp so that you may be an effective warrior in His kingdom. When a soldier goes to boot camp, he is stripped of his old identity. His hair that indicates he is a Goth or skateboarder or slacker comes off. He is physically pushed to the limits of his endurance so that his character may be tested and so that his body has been trained to endure the kinds of things it will endure in warfare. His individuality is trained so that it becomes part of a larger organism that works and plays and eats and trains together so that it might live and fight as one person.
In the same way, Christian discipleship is the process by which we endure the hardships necessary to deny ourselves, put on the New Man, Jesus Christ our King, and become one fighting unit, the Church. Unlike the process of boot camp, it never ends for the Christian. But there is to be a period of more intense spiritual formation at some point. In the ancient church it was the catechumenate, which sometimes took three years.
Now unfortunately, a lot of the drill sergeants we have are running their units as if there is not a war going on or as if there is no need to form the character and spirit of their recruits. We have drill sergeants (a.k.a. pastors and teachers, including parents) who say, “Come as you are. You don’t have to change a thing to become a Christian because your King accepts you just the way you are. All you have to do is say you’re on the right side and show up for pep talks every once in a while. You’ve heard about other units that require you to endure hardship and to give up your old identity. But you’re in the New Model Army now, and we don’t do that anymore. All we ask is that you believe you should try your best to live right and get others to sign up. You’re on your own now. At ease. Dismissed!”
But “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” This is what St. Paul says. “No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”
Part of the ongoing training a disciple of Jesus Christ undergoes is to give up his engagement with the affairs of the world. We are in a War of the World. Since the war is over who owns the world and how it should be ruled, we must not get out of the world, but we also must not capitulate to it. The war to redeem the world cannot be won by either capitulating to the world or by ignoring it. Earthly soldiers know they must give up the pleasures of the world that they may be more effective soldiers. As Christian warrior-kings, we must endure this kind of hardship as well, where we willingly give up some of the things of the world that we may more effectively follow Jesus Christ. To think that we can serve both Jesus Christ and either the world or our own selves is to have effectively abandoned the army of the Lord for the other side.
Sometimes the hardships we must endure for the sake of our King include persecution from the Enemy or his minions. Paul certainly was no stranger to many persecutions. But even when we are not openly persecuted, we will face enemy resistance that comes from the flesh (the most common and most likely enemy), the world (which works hand in hand with the flesh and is also a common enemy), or the Devil (who is the least common enemy and seems to only come in for certain battles.) You are in a spiritual war, and to fight faithfully in it requires endurance, day after day.
The fact is, that for Christians the ongoing discipleship training and warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil is one and the same thing. It is not just that we are in training for a future battle. No, we are all children of war, born behind enemy lines and in the enemy’s camp. When we are recruited for God’s side, the war does not end but actually becomes visible for the first time.
Every faithful act as a disciple of Jesus Christ is therefore part of your ongoing training to remain a faithful soldier. But every faithful act as a disciple of Jesus Christ is also an act of war on the Enemy and is one more part of the world that has been claimed by and for Jesus Christ.
Don’t think you have to look for the major battles to join: the war is in your bedroom every morning when you wake up. It is in your life and outside your door and even in the sanctuary of your church. You are already in the middle of a spiritual war, and the only question is whether you will recognize this fact and fight for Jesus Christ.
Your King is asking you to faithfully train and faithfully fight, which in His Kingdom are the same thing. He asks a lot of you: everything! But He offers even more: that even now you have begun to rule with Him.
After all, you are a warrior-king.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, I praise You because You have promised that if I have died with You I shall also live with You and that if I endure I shall also reign with You. So train and equip me for service in Your kingdom that I will not fail to be found faithful and receive the crown of glory which You promise to Your disciples. Amen.
O Almighty God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry, that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Practice seeing life as a spiritual warfare. What battles do you know exist in which you are actively fighting? What are you doing to prepare more adequately? Are you fighting as part of a team or as a solo agent? Are there battles He has asked you to fight from which you are running away? Do you require more training? If so, where will you go to get it?
2. How willing are you to endure hardship as a soldier of Christ? What areas in your life have you been unwilling to submit to His discipline? What temptations or obstacles do you face in being a faithful disciple?
Resolution: I resolve today to see my Lenten fast and discipline as part of my training as a warrior-king for Christ. I further resolve to see every difficulty of this day as part of my training and part of the means by which God is blessing me by bringing me closer to Him.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
World War II soldiers, sailors, and landing craft – CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Marine Corps Archives & Special Collections on Flickr
Category: Give Us This Day