Endure Hardness as a Good Soldier of Jesus Christ

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It is shortly after midnight on Feb. 26, 1852, off the coast of Africa. The troopship HMS Birkenhead has struck a rock and has begun to settle into the ocean. On its decks, 124 women and children are rushed into lifeboats while 454 English soldiers stand at attention on the deck. There is not enough room for them on the lifeboats. Major Seton gives the word of command, “Stand still, and die like Englishmen.” We all admire the discipline of a good soldier.
The purpose of this article is to help us change our minds about enduring hardness, and to revive the pilgrim and stranger concept taught in Scripture. I want to help give you a perspective from the third world countries to help you in readying your mind for the fight.
How is it for the American Christian of 2017? By international standards, we live in the lap of luxury. Central air and microwaves are found in most of our houses, and power seats, mirrors, and windows in our cars. It does not stop there… heated and cooled seats, premium sound systems, and GPS are now commonplace. None of these things were standard thirty-five years ago. Now many are considered necessities and/or standard features.
All of these things and countless other factors have had a conditioning effect on us. These luxuries and comforts are now our rights, and the pursuit of them is our natural inclination. Too many times the soldiers of the Lord’s army are reclined in their armchairs drinking sweet tea, idly reading the news on their smartphones while the church slips into apostasy and millions of pagans die without a Savior.
First Corinthians 9:25 says, "And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible."
I would like to focus on that word, “temperate.” Temperance = discipline. The second definition for discipline is, “training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency. And the third definition is, “the result of such training or control.” This discipline was already noted in the introduction.
How is this discipline learned? We know about physical, emotional, and mental discipline and we admire those who achieve it. We know what it takes to have a successful business. As residential framers, we try to maximize efficiency. We pull up to a new foundation with a plan formulating in our minds as to how we will build a quality house in the least amount of time. The net result is that a few weeks later we wrap up our hoses and cords, put our tools in the tool trailer, deposit our checks in the bank, and head on to the next waiting foundation to repeat the procedure. The whole process takes an enormous amount of discipline which is mastered because of the prize.
Think of the school students bent over their desks for one hundred eighty days or so out of the year. We impose this discipline on them, and it goes a long way in fortifying them for the hardships of life. Perhaps you have admired the discipline of the soldier guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier or wondered at the perseverance of the mountain climbers who scale Mt. Everest. All of these examples teach us that learning discipline is not an easy matter. It is learned through determination and repetition.
When the Apostle Paul wanted to condition young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1, he instructed him to, “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” What is grace, and how is it essential for self-discipline? First, we need to understand that grace is not a fancy theological term. While it may have become that to many well-meaning Christians, it was not used in that way in the Old or New Testament. “Grace” simply means goodwill and favor from God. God wants to help us learn discipline, but He has requirements.
James gives one of the requirements for this grace from God. James was actually quoting from Proverbs 4:34 when He stated that, “God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble.” When you sit down and seriously think about this concept, it is hard to stay excited about it. In many ways, we protect ourselves from staying humble with our individualistic emphasis on promoting ourselves. These ways include but are not limited to designer and fancy clothing, expensive and impressive vehicles, and the various forms of social media. But remember, if you want to learn discipline to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ, we must be strong in grace; and in order to have this favor from God we must be humble.
Closely linked to this requirement of humility is the requirement to ask. Jesus told us this in the Sermon on the Mount. David also expressed it this way in Psalm 138:3, “in the day when I cried… thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.” A proud heart will not ask for help. Those who do not ask will not receive. Too many times I have found that in the midst of the temptation I forget to ask for help from God.
Another requirement for this grace is found in Romans 4:16. “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.” Here the Apostle uses the example of the patriarch Abraham as one who was justified, i.e. declared righteous, as a result of his faith. Justification is a prime example of grace or favor from God. However, before we strike this requirement off as an easy requirement let us remember how Abraham proved his faith. He made an unprecedented move early on in his life, moving to a new location hundreds of miles away from his family without any idea where he was headed. He followed through on circumcision as soon as the command was given, in spite of the cost attached with that. He even went so far as to bind his only son of promise on an altar and raise the knife in readiness to plunge it into Isaac. Do we want this grace from God as badly as Abraham or is our faith simply mental assent?
The Apostle Paul went on to say in 2 Timothy 2:3, “thou therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” While it certainly is true that God gives grace for our situation, that does not mean that we are in any way exempted from enduring hardness. Read the Martyr's Mirror for hundreds of examples of Christians who endured hardness we can hardly fathom. We need to learn to think “right” about this. Too many times we assume that when the way gets hard, we need to seek an easier path. We assume that God did not intend for us to endure this level of hardness when actually the exact opposite is true.
We need to establish good habits of enduring hardness. Once humans have developed a habit, it becomes much more likely that that behavior will continue. Here are a few principles that relate to habits:
An action that is lavishly rewarded as soon as it is performed is well on its way to becoming a habit. I say this mainly to warn of starting bad habits.
Sometimes habits have to be repeated for 6-8 weeks for them to be learned. This applies even more so to good habits.
The younger we learn good habits, the better off we are.
What are some good spiritual habits? Learn to turn from temptation at the very first hint. This applies especially to young men, but also to all men and women because of the increasing undress and the availability of sensual stimulus in technology all around us. Once we have developed a pattern of turning from temptation quickly, it is much easier for victory the next time. Another good spiritual exercise that should become habitual is rising early for quiet time with God. Time your prayer and Bible reading. When I did this, I was appalled at the short amount of time I actually spent on my knees or in the Word. Think about the amount of time you ideally would want to spend reading the Word or in prayer and set goals. Then set your alarm for the appropriate rising time. Get out of bed on the first ring because this is important. Hitting snooze is a bad habit that has no part in the life of a good soldier learning the disciplines of the Christian life. Men and women with physical and mental discipline do not always have spiritual discipline, but men and women with spiritual discipline always have physical and mental discipline.
Our wealth and technology have enabled us to overcome the hardness of life in many situations. This in itself is not wrong, but we need to realize the conditioning effect that this has had on us. When you sit in church, think about the contrast of your church with so many in third world countries. Many churches in Africa are made from mud brick or of sticks plastered with mud. The backless benches are made from planks sawn with a chainsaw. There is no electricity, running water, or sewer… I believe that God designed the hardness of life to parallel the hardness of the Christian’s struggle against sin. When we remove the hardness from our physical life through wealth and technology, we condition ourselves to softness in our Christian experience.
In 2 Timothy- 2:4, the apostle goes on to warn us about distractions, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.” First of all, we need to identify what those distractions are. I believe that smartphones, wealth, and hobbies are some of the big distractions that we as American Mennonites are facing today.
If you find that you are tempted to waste time or give in to sin on your smartphone, then deal decisively with it. Do not think for one second that it is worth giving up eternal life for a few sinful indulgences. Delete the app from your phone if you find yourself failing with it. If that does not solve it, then go back to a flip phone. Brothers and sisters with smartphones or access to the internet must stay accountable to someone, or they set themselves up for unnecessary temptation. Learn to set your phone down and walk away from it when you are in the house. Do not take it with you into the bedroom or bathroom. If you find it is hard to resist checking on it in church than leave it in the car. Personally, I find cellphone reminders and rings extremely disruptive to a worship service. Also when they are worn on the belt of the brother up front, they can be distractive as well. Having the latest technology worn on a person sends a statement about that brother that can distract from the profound spiritual message he is trying to share.
John Bunyan wrote these lines many years ago about wealth and contentment:
He that is down need fear no fall;
he that is low, no pride.
He that is humble ever
shall have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
little be it or much,
And Lord contentment still I crave
for Thou savest such.
Fullness to such a burden
is who go on pilgrimage,
Here little and hereafter bliss
is best from age to age.
The name of our conference, Pilgrim Conference, was chosen for good reason and should serve as a reminder for us in this affluent age. There are so many good godly causes in need of funding and so many needy around us that we should not be accumulating excessive wealth. This is God’s remedy for us to help us avoid the trap of trusting in uncertain riches that are a snare and drown men in destruction and perdition (1Ti. 6:9,17). This wealth is also mostly to blame for the problem that we as Americans have with wasting our time with hobbies such as hunting for sport and traveling for pleasure etc. Certainly, a good soldier of Jesus Christ who is trying to learn the disciplines of his calling will not want to fall for any of these traps.
In conclusion, we need to be convinced that our spiritual survival depends on learning the disciplines of the Christian life. Second Timothy 2:5 states that a man is not crowned except he strive lawfully. There are severe negative consequences for losing in this fight. "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" and "to be carnally minded is death." We need to remember, like David, when he faced off with Goliath, that there is a cause. That cause for us is the church for which Jesus died. Ultimately it is this cause which will succeed in the end; therefore endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.