By: Raymond Harris
This Meditations and Reflections topic is a result of life’s experiences and interactions with the lives of various disciples. Some disciples are very strong in their faith, never deviating, always there for others during the storms of life; but there are some disciples who lose their way (and this has caused me to ponder why?); yet there are other disciples who have been in the faith from a few to many years, but never really become better equipped, better able bodied disciples.
I guess in some ways this Faith: Full Force is reflecting on the Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Soils (Matthew 13.1-23), Paul’s teaching to bear the burdens of self and others (Galatians 6.1-5), and reflecting on Paul’s admonition to Timothy to endure the hardships as a good soldier of Christ (2 Timothy 2.3-4).
A Hard Lesson Learned
Faith is a full contact sport – especially when questioning the conclusions others have drawn. The battle for faith is exactly that – a battle.
God through Jesus offers an olive branch of peace, but bringing that olive branch is not always received politely or even with kid gloves. Fighting the good fight does not truly allow the disciple to walk away from the battle ground uninjured. The reverse is the truth. Unfortunately, this is why some disciples are persuaded they can engage the “good fight” as sideline soldiers.
Fighting the good fight requires frontline soldiers and involves being hurt by others, sometimes viciously, even by other “Christians”. But Jesus teaches that even though we be brutalized, the one being brutalized will attain the maturity of Jesus himself, when questioning religious conclusions, receiving brutalization, yet not returning brutality – all done in order to help bring the brutalizer closer to God.
Fighting: At What Cost?
Fighting the good fight is not for the cowardly, but for the courageous. Yet, courageousness is only seen in the skilled servant. The skilled servant not only knows their weapon, but has experiential skill in using the “sword of the spirit” and uses that sword in a well intended way, like a well-trained marks-man, or a well-trained swords-man. Any other use is one that misses the mark, bludgeoning and hacking away at the “victim” revealing the servant unskilled and unsportsmanlike in their “battle”. The “battle” may be won, but at what cost?
Fighting the good fight is battle, and not a battle to be fought in ugly brutality; but a fight to be fought with skilled precision of a well-trained soldier. Unfortunately, not all solders rise to the level of expert, many remain somewhere between basic training and skilled. It can be well attested that just because a person has been trained to use a firearm or a sword, does not mean the person knows how to use that firearm or sword in a real battle – such is the same for a disciple and the “sword of the spirit”.
Just because a disciple has become a follower of Jesus, does not automatically make them skilled in their use of the “sword of the spirit” and we should take that to heart – God’s Word is truly a sword. We are told that it can “cut asunder”1 but too many disciples, church leaders and ministers included, bludgeon the victim leaving them, at best, injured and worse, left for dead having been pushed away from the Gospel. Instead, a skilled servant uses the “sword of the spirit” like a well-trained soldier or knight, engaging the opponent, and tactfully using the “sword” persuading them of the superiority of the Gospel, thereby helping bring them to discipleship, or, at least, allowing them to leave the “battle” reflecting positively on the engagement.
The Heart of the Gospel
Helping bring others to discipleship is analogous to some people watering,2 and leaving the “battle” reflecting positively on the engagement is analogous to the planting of a seed.3 Few wars are won in one battle. An army may be defeated, but the governing ruler of that army is “persuaded” through repetitive engagements. This continual process can be fatiguing to the soldier “fighting the good fight” but the process must continue. It is the superiority of the Gospel that wins, by overcoming evil with good. Fighting the good fight in the good way – allowing opponents, perhaps even allies, to enter the field of battle, beating (and sometimes brutally) the servant of the Gospel; yet the servant gives the opponent to little to no harm. This is the fullness of Christ. This is sacrificing oneself for the benefit of the opponent. This is the heart of the Gospel.
The unfortunate reality is that few disciples are trained into skilled soldiers of the cross; instead they are encouraged and permitted to remain unskilled soldiers battling a fight for good that they are not fully equipped to engage. Many people are put off and turn away from discipleship because of the behavior exhibited by these unskilled disciples during “battle”.4 Not only do these disciples hurt the non-believer, in their haphazardness they inflict friendly fire – hurting fellow disciples. Who are these soldiers helping?
It is one thing to cause injury when youthful and unskilled, it is quite another to be a veteran and remain unskilled. Belligerence of self skill and arrogance of knowledge of the “sword of the spirit” is an enemy of the good fight, Paul recognized this and stated such in Romans 2.5 Awareness that a weapon works and that the weapon is useful does not equate to knowledge of how and/or why the weapon functions the way it does.
The Great Commission
Bringing people to the Gospel as disciples is part of the Great Commission,6 baptizing them is also part of the Great Commission;7a but continued training after baptism is the third part of the Great Commission.7b
A church that continually focuses on the fundamentals of the faith is forcing the Christian soldier to remain unskilled – this would be analogous to the Military requiring a soldier to remain in basic training, never letting the soldier grow beyond basic skills. A church that does such establishes a situation for the Christian soldier to be hurt by the ultimate adversary.
It is the responsibility of the church to continue training the soldier for that soldier’s good – helping them become skillful in the word of righteousness, so that they can have their senses exercised to discern good from evil.8 This insinuates that the soldier will, at some point, be capable of making decisions for themselves about doctrines and faith without complete reliance on the church leaders.
Soldiers are trained to assemble and disassemble their weapon, assembling first with the aide of eyesight, then assembling without the aide of their eyesight. Soldiers also learn not just how to assemble their weapon but also how to fire their weapon, how best to hold it, how to care for it, how to clean it, and how to repair it. In essence, the soldier becomes one with the weapon. This is done not just for longevity of use, but also for accuracy during use. Weapons are deadly. Deadly whether the soldier is skilled or unskilled – this is why Paul refers to the Scriptures as the “sword of the spirit”.9 But the unskilled soldier through inexperience can and will use the weapon injuring an ally or opponent that a skilled soldier may not.
The disciple simply cannot remain basically skilled and/or basically informed about their weapon. Providing the Christian soldier with a chamber loaded with a high powered round (that being a Bible quote), or having a magazine filled with ammunition (a bunch of Bible verses) provides the Christian soldier with only basic awareness of their weapon. Doing such does not fully arm or train the Christian solider, and it does not mean that the soldier can effectively engage on the field of battle. What is that Christian soldier to do when they run out of ammunition? Pick up the weapon and use it like a stick?
Pressing a basically skilled soldier into battle can lead to many negative outcomes, part of which includes the soldier leaving the battle field, or becoming a discouragement to other soldiers who then leave the field. This seems to be a reason why the Hebrew writer encourages Christians to add to their basic training (their fundamentals of the faith) by moving onto maturation becoming a skilled soldier of the Cross.10
I want to offer another thought. Longevity in the battle does not automatically equate to increased skill; it is entirely possible for a soldier to fight with their “basic skills” and never truly become a skilled soldier. Longevity also increases battle fatigue – Military soldiers are given respite from their battlefield; disciples must do the same. Battle fatigue leads to lack of good judgment and leads to increased pride of self skill. Skilled soldiers ask to leave the field in order to recuperate, and skilled soldiers also ask to leave the field in order to receive better training.
Skilled Soldiers Question
There is also one other major thing that a skilled soldier does that the unskilled soldier does not necessarily feel comfortable doing. A skilled soldier verifies commands, and questions things in order to make sure the “battle” is correctly engaged. An unskilled soldier takes commands and believes that listening without questioning is faithfulness, but the skilled soldier always examines the commands and raises questions when necessary.
We know this because the Bereans were referred to as being “more noble” because they searched the Scriptures,11 this insinuates they did not believe everything they were told. Skilled soldiers know that not everyone can be trusted, and therefore questions every thing,12 because not every one is battling for good, even if they are an “ally”. This means that even the commands (questioning the accuracy of doctrines) must be verified.
The skilled soldier fighting the good fight of faith is always maturing in and refining their skills. The skilled soldier is forgiving of allied soldiers who are less skilled, and helps them grow in their skills. Yet, the skilled soldier engages the opponents of the good fight in a good way allowing them to see the Goodness and the Good News of the Gospel.
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1. The sword of the spirit can “cut asunder”. Hebrews 4.12.
2. Helping bring others to discipleship is analogous to some people watering. 1 Corinthians 3.6.
3. leaving the “battle” reflecting positively on the engagement is analogous the planting of a seed. 1 Corinthians 3.6.
4. Many people are put off and turn away from discipleship because of the behavior exhibited by these unskilled disciples during “battle”. Romans 2.17-24, especially Romans 2.24.
5. Belligerence of self skill and knowledge of the sword is the enemy of the good fight, Paul recognized this and stated such in Romans 2. Romans 2.1-29.
6. Making disciples part of the Great Commission. Matthew 28.19-20.
7a. Baptizing them is also part of the Great Commission. Matthew 28.19-20.
7b. Continued training after baptism is the third part of the Great Commission. Matthew 28.19-20.
8. Having their senses exercised to discern good from evil. Hebrews 5.12-14.
9. Paul refers to the Scriptures as the “sword of the spirit”. Galatians 6.17.
10. Becoming a skilled soldier of the Cross. Hebrews 6.1-3.
11. Bereans referred to as being “more noble” because they searched the Scriptures. Acts 17.10-11.
12. Skilled soldiers know that not everyone can be trusted, and therefore questions every thing. I John 4.1.