“A Soldier for Christ” is the super-title of this section in the Bible that was read this morning by Mary. Yet, that is just a small part of the text, and is certainly not the main thrust of this text at all.
I have said it before and I repeat myself now that I have never been too keen on using terms that equate religion with warfare. I cringe every time I hear or read the term “Spiritual Warrior for Christ.” I have always held that spiritual peace is better than spiritual warfare. So, yes, I have a bit of trouble when the Apostle Paul tells Timothy that he is to be a soldier for the new religion of Christianity. But, when we read all of the text and not just that part about being a good soldier, we see that Paul also affirms that Timothy is supposed to be an athlete and a farmer for the sake of Christianity.
Why is it that we do not hear these analogies being used when they are just as valid biblically? Why do we not hear famous pastors talking about being a “Spiritual Farmer for the Lord?” No, we only hear the talk of being a spiritual warrior, never a hard-working spiritual farmer!
I remember growing up and hearing really good football analogies about being a Christian. You know, like don’t “spike your faith on the five-yard line.” Why do we not hear more about how to be an athlete winning the crown for Jesus?
Nope, today we hear sermon after sermon about causing a war for the sake of religion. Or, to be blunt, Christian pastors going political and calling it “prophecy.” This last week in the news (Newsweek article about Rev. Jansen of the Global Fire Ministries) there was a story about a pastor who says the US Military is preparing to overthrow the Biden government and reinstall Donald Trump. He tells his congregation to prepare for a civil war that is coming to this country in the “Name of Jesus.” So, if you are wondering, Jesus never came to start a war! It is not our Christian calling to be bellicose. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. And, I am quite sure the US military wants nothing to do with such prophecies.
So, I want to start by really looking at this line in our text that says, interestingly enough, that a soldier’s task is only to please his enlisting officer. You see, in those days, you would become a soldier because a Roman centurion would enlist you. The Roman Centurion enlisted you because he needed a hundred men serving under him so that he could claim the right to become a senator back in Rome. So, the soldier wanted to please his Centurion because he figured one day he would be a Senator and that would be great to have that kind of a connection in the politics of the day. Likewise, the Centurion did not want to start a war. He wanted to become a senator. Cannot do that if you are dead on the battlefield. His only goal was to maintain the one hundred men until such time as he could disband them so that he would be recognized by the Senate.
Saint Paul’s point to Timothy is not “fight, fight, fight.” His point is to please Jesus because Jesus is going places, and you will want that connection! Jesus is the ultimate power in the universe, and it would be good to serve under that power.
Even when in 1 Timothy Paul says to “fight the good fight,” we should understand that the “good fight” is the fight for good—not bringing civil war to the Roman Empire. As a soldier, you sign onto the larger strategy for good.
Alright then, if the main thrust of what Paul is writing here is not about starting a civil war in America, God forbid, then what is the point? Paul notes that he is chained, about to die a martyr’s death in fact, but that the Word of God is not chained. Nothing can stop the Word of God. The Greek word here is Logos that refers as we know from John 1 to Jesus himself. If you have Jesus in your life, then you are free. Physical chains are of no consequence. Galatians 5 “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Death itself could not hold Jesus to the Cross. He rose again.
Just imagine that old movie of King Kong when the giant ape is on display at the theater in New York. The curtain goes up and he is chained to the stage. Then, he sees Fay Ray. Those chains are not going to hold him. He escapes and climbs up the Empire State building. That is the power of love that can break any chains.
The gospel is just like King Kong. I think of all the times that oppressive regimes have tried to stop the gospel and the freedom that it brings. They always fail. Bibles always make it in by the grace of God. The message of hope and freedom always wins out.
China can harass Christian missionaries. Russia can burn bibles—and they have recently. Hate mongers in the Middle East can destroy entire cities of Christians, yet the gospel message continues to spread. It is absolutely free after two thousand years of people trying to keep it chained up somehow.
Two weeks ago the Pope held mass in the town of Mosul in Northern Iraq where ISIS fighters had destroyed every single church. The people swarmed to hear the Pope talk about the peace of Christ that is unstoppable. To symbolize that kind of love and freedom, Pope Francis freed a dove. The dove represents the Holy Spirit of Christ and as it takes to flight that we were all called to fly to heaven in freedom with Christ.
To me there is a different animal that represents this kind of freedom or being unchained. When I was boy, my friends and I used to go out and try to catch lizards. Those little guys are pretty fast. It always seemed as if we could catch the tail, that would break off, but the lizard itself would be free to scamper away. Then, as we know, they can grow a new tail. So, if the mo’o’s tail comes off so easily, is not really needed, and can be re-grown, what is it good for? It is only there to frustrate little boys trying to catch lizards, right?
In Hawaiian, the lizard, mo’o, represents the spine of the island. Its broken tails are the little bitty islands, minor outcroppings of land, that we see from shore. That is how we know the islands are still free! We can see their tails in the water! That is pretty cool.
So, be like the good soldier wanting to please the enlister. Belike the athlete competing for the crown. Be the farmer planting for the harvest. Be the dove ready to take flight in freedom. Be the lizard! Be ready to leave your tail behind to be truly free. (So, you will go home today wondering if the pastor really told you to be a lizard!)
I want to take the last part of this sermon to discuss what is a very rare bit of poetry or chanting that seems to be here in this letter from Paul to Timothy. Like the little bit of a sermon we seem to see at the beginning of Paul’s first letter to Timothy, here we have what appears to be a worship element. It has internal rhymes and meter in the original Greek, but I am not going to sing it to you.
The last line especially catches our attention when it says that Christ will never lose faith even when we do. That is the very nature of the divinity of Christ. It would be like losing faith in one’s self. God cannot do that! But, it also seems to bespeak that Jesus will not lose faith in us.
I once counseled a woman some years ago who came to me, confessing in advance that she was not a Christian. She was in tears because she had discovered that her husband was having an affair. When she confronted her husband about this, he was insensitive and quickly pointed out that the affair that he was having was actually the third one he had had. The woman was devastated.
She asked me what she should do in that situation. She also told me that there was a man that was interested in her, but that she had been faithful to her husband. She insisted on knowing what I would do in that kind of a situation. I started by saying that I was a Christian. And, that even though her husband had broken the faith of the marriage that I would not. And, I told her more specifically that I had vowed to love only one woman until death do us part.
Her remark to me was that she thought that I was right. And, she said “That is the difference with Christians, they are good people. They know loyalty and faithfulness.” We were able to get the husband into counseling. The marriage is still together with much strain and a whole lot of faith.
Her statement that day still rings in my ears though as how others not of the faith see us Christians. We are a faithful people who know that even when others are not faithful towards us that our response must still be faith. We know this because this is the kind of faith that the Lord has in us.