Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Being a Good Soldier"

Psalm 18:1-6

2 Timothy 2:1-7

      In the front of our sanctuary, there are two flags -- the American flag to my right, and the Christian

flag to my left; each symbolizing a particular type of freedom.  One is a freedom that allows us to

come and go as we please; to say what we want to say; to live where we want to live; to travel where we

want to travel; to dream, and to pursue our dreams.   And to whom do we owe these freedoms?  Some-

one once put it this way:  “It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.  It is

the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the veteran, not the campus organi-

zer, who has given us freedom to assemble.  It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right

to vote.  It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.”

    Our veterans over scores of years have sacrificed so much to obtain and preserve these precious

liberties; not the least of which is the God-given right to worship as we choose; anytime; anywhere.

This segues into the other particular type of freedom represented by the Christian flag; a greater free-

dom that can be found in Christ, who in the apostle Paul’s vernacular: died as a ransom to set us free. 

This is a freedom from a life of futility and vain pursuit; freedom from the tyranny of sin; freedom from

regret, hatred, bitterness.  At the bottom line, it’s the freedom to love and serve God, and to love and

serve our neighbor.

      To serve either of these flags faithfully and effectively – and the freedoms they symbolize – we

must meet certain requirements.  Before one can become a veteran, he or she must first be a good

soldier.  So a question for us today is this:  What does it take to become a veteran; not just a military

veteran, but a spiritual veteran?  Paul knew something about that.

      Having enlisted in the Lord’s army – or perhaps more accurate to say, having been drafted on the

road to Damascus – Paul endured more than his share of dangers, toils, and snares during his lifelong

term of service.  He was surely the consummate spiritual veteran.  Toward the end of his earthly life,

he was facing execution for his commitment to Christ.  While we can’t say for sure, the letters to his

friend Timothy may have been written from a prison cell.  At any rate, Paul knowing that his end was

near wrote his final thoughts and instructions to his younger colleague; passing along to him the torch

of leadership, and reminding Timothy of what was truly important; encouraging him to keep the faith. 

Timothy’s general orders:  “Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving in the

army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer.”  In these

two short verses, Paul lays out four aspects of what it takes to become a veteran soldier of Christ, which

draws parallels to those who have served as soldiers of their nation.  We’ll begin with enlist.

     One cannot become a veteran if one doesn’t first enlist, or sign-up.  Most of us are thankful that

we no longer use a forced draft to the U.S. military.  Instead, recruitment officers are deployed to

encourage young men and women to volunteer.  But we have the freedom to choose whether or not

to serve in the American military today.  And people make that choice for a variety of reasons.  Some

young people enlist out of a sense of patriotic duty.  Some were raised in military families, so they see

themselves carrying on a proud tradition.  Others sign up so they can eventually get a college educa-

tion.  Still others are looking for a sense of direction and purpose for their lives.  Some need an outlet

for their anger.  A few are trying to stay out of trouble, and even out of prison.  Whatever the motives,

it’s a serious decision.  It is life-changing to, in effect, leave everything behind.

      Don’t you know that God does not force anyone to serve God’s Kingdom either.  It could be argued

that Paul was more a draftee than an enlistee.  That notwithstanding, God does deploy recruitment

officers – like you and me – to encourage people to serve in God’s ranks.  But in the vast majority of

cases, it is our choice.  People choose to enlist in God’s army for a variety of reasons as well.  Maybe we

were brought up with the faith of our parents.  Maybe we sensed God’s leading in our lives.  Perhaps we

came to Christ looking for a sense of purpose and direction.  Maybe we’re trying to stay out of trouble. 

No matter the reason, it’s a life-changing decision to follow Jesus, and not one to be taken lightly.  Jesus

hyperbolically emphasized its seriousness when He said as recorded by Luke: “Whoever comes to me and

does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself cannot

be my disciple.  Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”  Following

Jesus is a life-altering commitment that requires full devotion.  There are many here today who testify it

was the best decision they ever made. So the first aspect of becoming a spiritual veteran is enlisting.  The

next is sharing in suffering.

      For economy of language, let’s call this second aspect enduringSoldiers in every branch of the

military have a lot to endure; not the least of which is the grueling punishment of basic training.  I

remember my son-in-law David sharing some of what he had to go through to become a green beret.

The survival portion of that training alone could break the strongest young man.  There are of course

lesser and greater physical hardships which soldiers willingly endure for the sake of their call to ser-

vice -- the limitations on personal liberties; the rigidity of military life; crummy pay.  One of the most

difficult things is just being away from family.  David and Vicki can tell you all about the level of endu-

rance that requires, and the high price military families pay.

      Paul had instructions for Timothy regarding endurance:  “Share in suffering like a good soldier of

Jesus Christ.”  We should be so thankful that we live in a country where Christians don’t experience

the kind of hardships Christians do in other parts of the world; hardships like the ones Paul endured.4

During his missionary journeys, Paul was flogged, stoned, shackled, jailed shipwrecked, and much more. 

But even in our privileged time and place, life is full of hardships.  Bad things happen.  Our faith is  

often and sorely tested.  James writes of this in his letter:  “whenever you face trials of any kind,

consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”  As

soldiers of Christ, and as spiritual veterans, we endure in the faith, and we praise our heavenly

Commander-in Chief, even in the midst of our hardest battles. 

      A third aspect is engagement, or in Paul’s language, “serving.”  Renowned Civil War General Wil-

liam T. Sherman once said, “You don’t know the horrible aspects of engagement in combat.  I’ve been

through two wars and I know.  I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes.  I’ve seen thousands of men lying on

the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies.  I tell you, war is hell!”  While I myself have never

experienced the horror of war, I have the greatest respect and admiration for those who have served our

nation’s military and have been engaged in the hell of combat.  Even those service men and women who

were graced to serve during peacetime were nevertheless required to be prepared to engage the enemy. 

Through training exercises and combat practice, they remained sharp and vigilant; always prepared

to protect and defend. 

      As Christians on the front lines, we are called to do the same.  As Paul explains in chapter 10 of his

second Corinthian letter:  “Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to

human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine

power to destroy strongholds.  We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against

the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  In other words, as good

Christian soldiers and spiritual veterans, we have to be prepared to engage in spiritual warfare.  We

battle temptation.  We fight our own inner-demons.  We are confronted by religions, philosophies and

worldviews that are opposed to, even hostile toward, the Christian faith.  We engage injustice and

 oppression, defending the weak and powerless.  We are called to defend our very faith with reason and

clarity.  We can’t be afraid to stand up for the principles of our Christian faith -- either in the public

square, or in our personal relationships.  All this we are to do with kindness, gentleness and respect;

for in the Lord’s army, we don’t seek to annihilate our enemies.  We seek to make them allies.  And in

this engagement, we aren’t fighting the good fight alone.  Just like soldiers in a squad, platoon, or

company, we stand side-by-side, depending on each other.  We rely on the community of faith – our

local community here at Central; our broader community of Christian sisters and brothers everywhere. 

And what better Commander-in-Chief could we serve under than Almighty God?  So in order to be a

veteran - military or spiritual - we must enlist, endure, engage.  Finally, we must not get entangled.

      There’s a story about a new recruit who, shortly after joining the Navy, asked his commanding

officer for a pass so he could attend a wedding.  The officer granted him the pass, but informed him

that he had to be back on base by 10 p.m. Saturday.  “Sir, you don’t understand,” said the recruit.  “I’m

in the wedding party.”  “No, you don’t understand,” the officer shot back.  “You’re in the Navy.”  When

a man or woman serves our nation through their military service, he or she is expected to be com-

pletely committed to our nation – its interests; its constitutional principles; its defense; allowing

nothing to get in the way of their performing their duties and serving faithfully.  They are not to

become entangled in affairs of the world that would prevent them from fully serving their call. 

      With regard to following Him, Jesus makes it clear that entanglement in the affairs of the world can

get in the way of enlistment, endurance and engagement.  Yet the reality is that too many Christians,

after coming to Christ and hearing the word, get entangled in all sorts of worldly things.  They let

those things take priority over their devotion to Christ and their growth in the Christian faith. Jesus,

in fact, once told a parable that touches on this very thing.  It was about a farmer who scattered seed,

everywhere he went; the seed serving as a metaphor for the good news of the gospel.  Jesus said, “As for

[the seed that] fell among the thorns, these are the [people] who hear [the word]; but as they go their

way, they are choked [or entangled] by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit

does not mature.” We need to be careful about the things we let distract us from Jesus, and the

service to the gospel in which we have enlisted.  For such entanglement, in a manner of speaking,

takes our eyes off the prize.

      Maybe we’re entangled this morning in the cares and worries of this life.  Maybe we’re hesitant to

engage; to put the rubber of our faith to the road.  Perhaps we’re enduring some hardship and need

others to stand by us and help us fight the good fight.  Maybe we’ve not yet enlisted in God’s service;

not quite sure we’re up for such a level of commitment.  Surrounding us this morning are military

veterans, and spiritual veterans;  all of whom are willing to draw alongside us and encourage us in our

journeys, and inviting us to enjoy the freedoms represented by the two flags in the front of this very

sanctuary.

On this day, Lord, we honor our veterans – the military veterans who have served our nation with

commitment, resolve, courage, and faith; the spiritual veterans who have served Your church with

commitment, resolve, courage, and faith.  May we together proclaim the freedoms we enjoy, as

Americans, as Christians, all to Your honor, and the glory of Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102