As soldiers, He calls us to do battle daily. Even when it hurts.
“SHARE in SUFFERING as a GOOD SOLDIER of CHRIST JESUS. No SOLDIER gets ENTANGLED in CIVILIAN PURSUITS, SINCE (BECAUSE, SO THAT) his aim is to PLEASE the one who ENLISTED him.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4 (emphasis mine)
In verse 3, Paul commands Timothy to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Notice that this is a commandment, not a suggestion. You may think, “I don’t have suffering in my life, my life is easy.” I would urge you then, to tremble, as Hebrews 12:6-8 reads “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” I would argue that this discipline that the writer of Hebrews speaks of is suffering, as verse 11 says “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” If discipline entails pain, then I would argue that we may establish with certainty that Hebrews 12 undoubtedly speaks of suffering. To be in pain is to suffer.
We are soldiers for the LORD. He enlisted us. That means that he CHOSE us for his army. He chooses those he wishes to choose and when he wants to choose them. As soldiers, he calls us to do battle daily. But what do we battle? And why do we battle? We aren’t battling against flesh and blood, but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” as Ephesians 6:12 explains. We do not battle the things of the world.
We wage war in a spiritual battle. We battle as soldiers, not civilians, because our aim is to please the LORD, the one who enlisted and chose us. In fact, I would argue that he enlists us so that we please him through obedience and by pleasing and obeying him we glorify him and enjoy him. Meaning, that he enlisted us so that, in the midst of suffering, in season and out of season, we might have joy and pleasure in him. Yes, I said pleasure in him. Suffering exists for our joy, among other things, such as perseverance, the testing and confirming of our faith, and righteousness. Additionally, it goes without saying that he also enlists us in order that he might partner with us – mere dust – in advancing the kingdom of God. What an honor!
We don’t get entangled in civilian pursuits because we are exiles in this world. We look different. We are soldiers, not civilians. So we act differently and march and walk to a different beat than civilians, or sons of the world. Soldiers engage in combat and battle while civilians do not. Oftentimes, soldiers must go miles and miles away to engage in warfare and penetrate enemy lines, while civilians sit in the comfort of their homes. Soldiers are not thinking the same thoughts that civilians think. Jon Bloom, co-founder of Desiring God, explains that “a soldier expects to suffer the rigors and dangers of war; a civilian does not.” Paul’s soldier analogy suggests that soldiers do not go off and commune with civilians in the heat of battle and engage in trivial civilian matters when they have received a far more important task – to suffer as a good soldier and please their Commander and the One who enlisted them.
From this, I find that Scripture works together to produce the following conclusion.
As we share in suffering as good soldiers, we can “rejoice in the LORD always” (Philippians 4:4), and not only that, but we can rejoice in discipline and suffering itself because it produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope (Romans 5) – a hope in an inheritance as a son or daughter of the LORD, which we know we have when we are disciplined and when we suffer, as the LORD is treating us as sons and disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12). If we know that we are sons and have an inheritance that is unfading, we can “rejoice that [our] names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).