In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans. Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor… These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day”. Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of WW II and Korea, Congress was requested to make this day an occasion to honor those who have served America in all wars. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day. A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date.
In many churches, just like ours, there stands two flags—the American Flag and the Christian Flag. These two flags represent two types of freedom. One is a freedom that allows us to go where we want to go, say what we want to say, to live where we want to live, to dream big dreams and pursue them.
It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press. It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech. It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble. It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote. It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
Veterans over the centuries have sacrificed so much to obtain and preserve this precious freedom—which also includes the God-given right to worship our Creator anytime anywhere. That leads us to the other type of freedom, represented by the Christian Flag—a greater freedom that can only be found in Christ, who died as a ransom to set us free. This is a freedom from a life of futility, freedom from the tyranny of sin, regret, hate, and bitterness. It’s the freedom to love God and love our neighbor.
To serve either of these flags (and the freedoms they represent) faithfully and effectively, we must meet certain requirements. Before one can become a veteran, they must first be a good soldier. “Are you a good soldier of the cross?”
The Apostle Paul knew a little something about that. Having enlisted in the Lord’s army after encountering Jesus on the road to Damascus and enduring countless dangers, toils, and snares, Paul was a veteran Christian. In his last letter, while in a Roman prison facing execution for his commitment to Christ, Paul wrote his final thoughts to a young pastor named Timothy, challenging him to be a good soldier of the cross.
“Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.” – 2 Timothy 2:3-4
In these two short verses Paul alludes to four activities of a soldier that represents a different aspect of what it takes to be a good soldier of the cross.
You can’t become a soldier if you don’t enlist. Our country no longer uses a forced draft. Recruitment officers are sent out to encourage people to volunteer, but men and women have the freedom to choose whether or not they serve in the American military today. And people make that choice for different reasons.
God does not force anyone to serve in the service of His Kingdom, either. He does send out recruitment officers, like you and me, to encourage people to serve in His Army, but it’s our choice. People make the decision for different reasons. Maybe you were brought up with the faith of your parents, maybe you sensed God’s leading in your life, or maybe you came to Christ looking for a sense of purpose and direction. No matter the reason, it’s a life changing decision and not one to be taken lightly. Following Jesus is a life-altering commitment that requires full devotion. It’s a personal pledge that you are going to let Christ become the leader of your life. And I’m certain there are many here today who testify that it was the best decision they ever made!
2 – ENDURE
American soldiers in every branch of the military have a lot to endure, not the least of which is the grueling physical punishment experienced during basic training. There are many less physical hardships that soldiers have to endure as well. One of the most difficult things is just being away from their families. And then there’s the rigidity of military life. If you want to be a good soldier, you have to have endurance.
Thank God that we living a country where Christians don’t experience the kind of hardships they do in other parts of the world—hardships like the ones Paul experienced. During his missionary journeys Paul was flogged, stoned, shipwrecked and much more. But even in America, life is full of hardships. Bad things happen. Our faith if tested. As soldiers of Christ, we have to endure. We have to keep the faith. And we have to praise God, even in the midst of our struggles.
3 – ENGAGE
General Sherman once said, “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is hell!”
While I’ve never experienced the horrible aspects of war, I have great respect for those who have been engaged in war. Even those service men and women who were blessed to serve during peacetime, however, must still be prepared to engage the enemy. Through training exercises and combat practice they stay sharp and vigilant, always prepared for battle.
As Christians we need to do the same. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we have to be prepared to engage in spiritual warfare. We battle temptation. We stand opposed to false religions and worldviews that are hostile toward Christianity. We are called to defend our faith. We can’t be afraid to stand up for Jesus either in public or in our personal relationships.
In the Lord’s Army, we don’t kill our enemies; rather, we make them our allies. In the Lord’s Army, we aren’t fighting alone. Just as soldiers in a squad, platoon or company, depend on each other, Christians rely on our church family to support us and stand beside us. Even more, we have God on our side.
4 – ENTANGLED
I heard about a new recruit, shortly after joining the Navy, who asked his officer for a pass so he could attend a wedding. The officer gave him the pass, but informed the young man he would have to be back by 7 p.m. Sunday. “You don’t understand, sir,” said the recruit. “I’m in the wedding.” “No, you don’t understand,” the officer shot back. “You’re in the Navy!”
When you serve this (American) flag, you are expected to be completely committed to your country and to allow nothing to prevent you from performing your duties and serving faithfully.
When you serve this (Christian) flag, you are also expected to be completely committed to Christ and His Kingdom. You are expected to serve Him faithfully, not allowing anything to keep you from doing His will.
Unfortunately, countless Christians, after coming to Christ in faith, do get entangled in the affairs of this world. They let other things become more important to them than Jesus. In fact, Jesus told a story about that very thing. He talked about a farmer who scattered seed everywhere he went and the thorns “choked” the plants. (Luke 8:14). We need to be careful about the things we let distract us from Jesus. As Paul said we need to count everything else as garbage except knowing Christ. (Philippians 3:8).
There are two types of freedom—embodied in two flags. We want to say many thanks to the Veterans who have served to preserve our political freedoms, which allow us to freely worship our Creator who gives us that greater freedom we all so desperately need.
Maybe you’re entangled in the cares and worries of this life, maybe you’re afraid to engage people in spiritual conversation, maybe you’re enduring some hardship and need someone to stand with you and help you to fight the good fight, or maybe you haven’t yet enlisted in God’s army but you’re thinking about it and you need someone to talk to. I don’t know where you are in your relationship with God, but if there is anything I can do to help you become a good soldier, come talk to me.
A man visited a soldier in the hospital and said, “You have lost your leg in the war.” The soldier replied, “I didn’t lose it—I gave it.” Jesus did not lose His life either. He willingly gave it for us so we could be reconciled to God. Let us give our life for His cause.