Do you like a good fight? Many Americans do. In fact, a very popular sport in our world is boxing. Some of the wealthiest entertainers are those who can "earn" millions of dollars or more for just a few minutes in the ring. But what is it that draws people to fighting? Is it the conflict or the opposition between two sides? Could it be the struggle for dominance or just the battle to survive that many find exciting?
Whatever the reason, whether you enjoy boxing or deplore it, it remains a fact that the Bible contains several passages which use the illustration of a fighter to convey some important lessons. We will explore this comparison between physical fighting and spiritual warfare as soldiers of Christ. These comparisons are powerful and easy for all to relate to. Christianity does not condone physical violence, though these comparisons are found in the Bible. We are not here to "wrestle against flesh and blood" but against the darkness of sin (cf. Eph. 6:12).
The apostle Paul referred to fighting or an army on at least three occasions to exemplify the Christian life as a struggle. In truth, we are battling against the devil, the world, the flesh, and false teachers. But, one may ask, what are some of the characteristics of the army of God?
1. This army is COMPOSED OF VOLUNTEERS.
You will not find a place in the Bible where God has forced anyone to serve Him. No one has ever been drafted by the Lord or forced to become one of His troops. Do you wonder why? The answer is simple: He's given us free will in this realm. Besides, ten individuals voluntarily serving God because of love for His cause are more valuable to God than ten thousand enslaved robots with no freedom to choose! Because of this, it is foolish for parents to coerce their children, or wives their husbands, to be baptized (or to do anything for the kingdom of God that they don't really want to do). A lot of people end up just getting wet instead of being immersed into Christ because they simply go through the motions. They do not obey "from the heart that form of doctrine" that was delivered to them (Rom. 6:17).
However, just because we shouldn't force people to become Christians (i.e., soldiers of Christ), does not mean that we shouldn't encourage them in that direction. The invitation has been extended to all by the Lord - "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). But, until a person has made up his own mind, until a person has decided for himself, and until a person can willingly say, "Here am I! Send me" (Isaiah 6:8), then it is obvious that they are not ready for duty on the battlefield. Three hundred attentive soldiers were better than thousands of scared or indifferent ones under the leadership of Gideon (cf. Judges 7). Listen to one of the great military leaders of Italy. Garibaldi, as he summoned his troops in 1848 into the Square of Rome after his nation had surrendered to the French. This indomitable hero said: "I offer you hunger, thirst, cold, no pay, no barracks, no rations, forced marches, bayonet charges, battles, death. Whosoever loves Italy in his heart, and not with lips only, let him follow me." Four thousand men did follow him!
Brethren, how many of us will be soldiers of Christ when called upon to serve sacrificially? How many of us will follow Jesus as our perfect commander? And there is our second point:
2. This army has a PERFECT COMMANDER.
Our captain is Jesus Christ (cf. Heb. 2:10). He is the commander of our salvation, and He is our perfect example whom we can confidently follow into battle. We will make no mistakes as long as we follow him. Paul said: "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (I Cor. 11:1). Paul simply meant that is was safe to follow him just as long as he followed Jesus. Napoleon, in a famous speech, admitted that Jesus was as incredible commander. Napoleon wondered how a man could command an army of thousands who were devoted to His memory. After he contrasted Caesar, Alexander, and himself as military leaders with our perfect commander Jesus Christ, Napoleon concluded by saying: "We rested the creation of our genius on force; this Man (Jesus) has built an empire on love--and at this moment, millions would die for Him." That was the key, Jesus conquered by love, and not by force.
Jesus is a perfect commander because He is holy, harmless, and undefiled (Heb. 7:26). He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, because he was tempted in all points as we are, yet He did not sin (Heb. 4:15). Because we have such leadership, we can confidently sing lyrics like these: "Where He leads I'll follow, follow all the way."
We will continue this study in our next lesson.