Shortly after I started leading Bible studies, I grew a strange desire to buy a sword. I knew of a little shop in a mall about an hour away from the university that sold all manner of blades, so, one day, when I had sufficient funds, I made the trek and purchased an epic battle sword. Sadly, it wasn’t sharpened (which is probably for the best), but it still fit the bill: full scale, heavy metal, and awesome. Between this and another sword I was given in college, I felt much more prepared for war, though I wasn’t swinging either blade against the enemy.
Paul, in response to the church at Corinth, writes these words,
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
2 Corinthians 10:3-6
In context, Paul is defending his ministry to the Corinthians, responding to a group in the church who reject his authority and message (ESV Study Bible notes). As he answers them, he specifies where his battle actually lies, pointing not to a dispute over power in geography but to a war over souls. The goal for Paul was not so much to have authority in every city as much as to advance the kingdom and to equip the church wherever he went. To this end, Paul fought a war against the “strongholds” of the enemy, those “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God.” Paul sought to “take every thought captive to obey Christ,” that he might be more surrendered to his Savior than to sin. He sought obedience to God over personal gain, only fighting for authority because, through his authority, he was better able to lead the churches to Christ and away from false teachers. Paul’s life as a follower of Jesus was by no means comfortable; Paul’s life was war. You can see this idea present in his description of “the whole armor of God” in Ephesians 6 as well. To be a follower of Jesus is to be a soldier.
As I began sharing what God was showing me in his Word, this idea was one of the first to hit me. I recognized that I would be leaving my “comfort zone” for a place under fire. Passages like James 3:1 challenged me to take teaching seriously, for the responsibility God places on teachers is no light burden. As I thought more about the fight I was entering, the idea of purchasing a sword began to form. The sword would not be a simple trinket to further clutter my room; the sword would act as a visible reminder that I was at war. Whenever I looked at the blade, I would be reminded of the weight of the glory of God, the responsibility of the ministry, the tragedy of sin, and the desperation of man’s need, and all of these thoughts would compel me to study better, to dig deeper, and to work harder to present myself as a faithful soldier of the Lord and a helpful servant of others.
At least, that was the plan. But, as I was entrusted with more responsibility, I grew lazy in my studies. Life became busy and time grew short. Eventually, the swords were stored out of sight, and the constant reminder went silent. For a couple of years, I slipped into comfort and ease. I was still being molded and grown by the Lord, but I had forgotten the wartime mentality I had at first.
This past week, however, I was reminded of the need to focus. Dr. Blake Newsom preached our campus revival, and he brought a message from 2 Timothy 4:6-8 in which he spoke of Paul’s wartime mentality. He challenged us to wake up to the reality of the fight we face and to “take it to the enemy.” Only days before, I had finished a book review and presentation of John Piper’s book Let the Nations be Glad, wherein Piper reminds believers of just such a mindset. These reminders called the swords back to my mind. They had been collecting dust beneath my bed, rarely being seen and rarely calling me to fight, but they needed to serve their purpose again.
In a way, as the swords were gathering dust, so was I. I was still growing, by the grace of God, but I’d largely lost my sense of urgency. I felt God stirring my heart for academics and for discipleship, but I didn’t feel the weight of war. I treated personal holiness more like a hobby than a necessity, and I considered my studies with far less seriousness than the fight demands. But I’ve been challenged to refocus, and I can’t ignore the reality. The fight against the darkness cannot be a game to me. The battle for the souls of men must never become trivial. Sin takes too many to hell for me to ignore the fray any longer. By God’s grace, I want to fight like a soldier who knows he can’t lose, for Christ has already won the victory. I want to study well, to diligently apply myself to the tasks God has called me to accomplish, that I might better serve those around me in the fight. I want to be the sharpest tool for my Father’s work, an ever useful weapon in the hands of the Master. I want to dismantle the lies and lift high the truth for the glory of God and the good of men. In short, I want to take the fight to the enemy, to advance against the gates of hell, knowing they cannot stand against the kingdom of our God (Matthew 16:18). And I want to be able to say with Paul at the end of my life that, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). I know the fight won’t be easy, and I know the fight won’t be safe. But I know that my God is sovereign, and, if I’m following him, then I have nothing to fear.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle…