Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:3–4, NIV)
Over the years, the various branches of the United States military have utilized slogans in their recruiting efforts. In the 1980s and 90s, the Army urged you to “Be All You Can Be.” The Navy told us, “It’s Not Just a Job, It’s an Adventure!” And we cannot forget “The Few, The Proud, the Marines.” Reality for everyone does not always live up to the slogan.
In contrast, the apostle Paul said, “Join me in suffering.” Do you not think that he could have come up with something more inspiring than that? Perhaps, but we can be sure that Paul could not be accused of deceptive advertising. Paul’s appeal was more in line with the call of Jesus than what we hear from many contemporary preachers and teachers. After all, it was Jesus who said, “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, NIV). Paul came by his words honestly, after all, the Lord revealed to Ananias at the time of Paul’s conversion: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:16, NIV).
Nevertheless, there must be a temptation to soften or temper the appeal or somehow make it sound more exciting than simply saying, “Join with me in suffering” or so we might think. Paul went on to further define the role of a good soldier of Christ Jesus, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs…” This imperative has never been more important than it is today. We must get our priorities right!
Our allegiance seems to be in constant tension between the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdom of our God. Although we have responsibilities as citizens of earthly nations, our true citizenship is from above. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other…” (Matthew 6:24, NIV)
We do not deny the responsibilities of our earthly citizenship and as good citizens we vote, pay our taxes, give honor to whom honor is due, etc., but beyond that our loyalty and duty belong to Jesus Christ. Here in the United States, it seems as though every 4 years, we are being told that this is the most important election of our lifetime and that if the vote doesn’t go “the right way,” life as we know it will be changed forever (and probably not for the better), or so we are told.
In the face of this alarmism, we can ask these questions: Is God still God? Will anything that happens catch him by surprise and unprepared? And finally, will the outcome of an election change our mandate and mission in any way?
Upon reflection, we are confident that God is still God, that nothing catches Him by surprise or unprepared, and that our mandate and mission to proclaim the gospel and make disciples will not change, so why then is there so much fear and angst among the people of God?
Could it be that we are more concerned about “civilian affairs” along with the comforts and amenities of this life than we are about “pleasing our commanding officer?” How do we view the overall spiritual condition of the people around us? Are we satisfied with our own spiritual fervor and obedience? Would we benefit from being shaken out of complacency?
In recent years it seems as though the church has tried to avoid military analogies, in part because some have tried to co-opt God’s blessing or endorsement of their own alleged “holy wars.” Nevertheless, to talk of weapons and warfare is unavoidable in the Christian life. In our spiritual warfare, there is no place for conscientious objectors or those who minimize, ignore, or neglect their responsibilities as followers of Christ. 300 years ago, Isaac Watts posed the question in a hymn:
Am I a soldier of the cross,
a foll’wer of the Lamb,
and shall I fear to own his cause,
or blush to speak his name?
Must I be carried to the skies
on flow’ry beds of ease,
while others fought to win the prize,
and sailed thro’ bloody seas?
Since I must fight if I would reign:
increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by thy Word.
In conclusion, we do not know what the future holds. And even while fulfilling our obligations as earthly citizens, we entrust our future to the one who called us, that is to Jesus who said he would never leave us or forsake us. We pray as Jesus directed, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It would be unnatural to seek suffering, yet Lord let us be willing, if necessary, to endure suffering for the cause of the gospel and your kingdom. Use us in any way that you see fit.
They once asked John Wesley how he gathered a crowd. Wesley replied, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn!” May we be ready to “report for duty” regardless of the cost even to “join with me in suffering”.