The Good SoldierMay 14, 2007
This week promises to be both scintillating and sobering. On Sunday I will be formally set apart (ordained) by my home fellowship and commended to the wider church in terms of my gifts and calling. All at once, this is immensely pleasing and petrifying.
So over the next six days I’m going to be meditating on 2 Timothy, and on this blog chapter 2 will be my focus. There Paul depicts the pastoral office by way of six images: the good soldier (v 3-4), the law-keeping athlete (v 5), the hardworking farmer (v 6), the unashamed workman (v 14-19), the clean vessel (v 20-22), and the Lord’s servant (v 23-26).
How should these images shape our perspective of the pastoral office?
1. The Good Soldier (v 3-4)
The first picture that we must associate with pastoral ministry is one drawn from warfare. This may seem surprising. Often when thinking of pastoral ministry, the images which come to mind reflect the calm, steady task of being a shepherd. This is not wrong of course.
But we should remember that alongside the call to be a shepherd is the call to be a “good soldier of Jesus Christ.”
It is natural that Paul should choose this metaphor; and it is also ironic. Natural because he has had much personal contact with Romans soldiers over the years of intermittent imprisonments. Ironic because he is in the custody of soldiers upon writing!
But to some degree the service of these soldiers has impressed the apostle. In previous letters Paul has used soldier-imagery to describe the armory which believers must adorn (Eph 6:10). Now he applies this image to the pastoral office.
Why then does Paul compare a soldier to a pastor?
i) The uncomfortable life of a pastor
The first reason is that a soldier (like any good pastor) does not expect comfort. Instead he readies himself for conflict and discomfort. As Tertullian put it: “No soldier comes to the war surrounded by luxuries, nor goes into action from a comfortable bedroom, but from the makeshift and narrow tent, where every kind of hardness and severity and unpleasantness is found.”
The war that a pastor is engaged in is somewhat different to traditional warfare, but it is hard enough, and ugly enough, to be deemed ‘a war.’ John MacArthur helpfully suggests that in the NT we learn about of the pastors’ fight against demons, against unbelief and against sin in his own heart. But am I ready to “fight the good fight of faith”?
ii) The undivided life of a pastor
The second reason why the soldier imagery fits well with the pastoral office is that it involves a sole dedication, an unbroken and undivided concentration. Paul writes that a “soldier does not get involved in civilian affairs”, speaking not necessarily of ‘sinful’ pursuits, but any priority or practice that threatens to distract the pastor from his primary commitments.
John Stott comments that: “…what is forbidden the good soldier of Jesus Christ is not all ‘secular’ activities, but rather ‘entanglements’ which, though they may be perfectly innocent in themselves, may hinder him from fighting Christ’s battles.”
This, of course, may take all sorts of forms: from preaching too often ‘away from home’ to some leisure pursuit which is using up inordinate amounts of time, or dare I even say ‘blogging.’ I was impressed to hear how Josh Harris, after accepting the call to take over from CJ Mahaney, severely restricted his outside commitments which would readily distract him from his central task.
So am I devoted solely to my particular call and station, or am I distracted by other things?