“Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).
Many people, when they receive Jesus as their Savior, assume that they’ll immediately become very happy and all their problems will be solved. They think they’ll never have any more difficulties, but this usually isn’t the case.
When discussing the tests and trials that new Christians often face, especially those who are witnessing their newfound faith to others, my mother used to say, “The Devil doesn’t start shooting until you ‘go over the top’!” She was alluding to the trench warfare of World War I. The soldiers on both sides often spent days or weeks huddled in their trenches, during which time they held their fire. But whenever one side ordered an offensive and their soldiers climbed over the top of the trenches to attack their enemy’s territory, the other side would immediately start shooting at them with all their big guns!
It reminds me of the story about Sam, a Christian who was the servant of a wealthy, unbelieving plantation owner. One day Sam’s boss asked him, “Why is it, Sam, that you’re a Christian, and yet you have all sorts of problems and tribulations? I don’t even believe in God, and I don’t have nearly as much trouble as you do!”
Sam replied, “Well, boss, I guess I’ll have to think about that one before I can answer you.”
A few days later, Sam’s boss went duck hunting, and took Sam along to help him.
After Sam’s boss had shot several ducks, he shouted to Sam, “Bag the live ones, Sam! Bag the live ones! Leave the dead ones lay!”
(When hunting ducks or other fowl, some are killed outright. Others are only wounded and will sometimes revive enough to fly away if the hunter doesn’t quickly grab and “bag” them.)
When Sam returned with the ducks, he said, “Boss, I think I have the answer to the question you asked me the other day. I’m a live one!” And he went on to explain, “The Devil’s afraid I’m going to get away, so he tries to bag me first. You’re a dead one! He’s not a bit worried about you. He’s already got you!”
The Devil is out to stop each new Christian the best he can. He can’t get us back once we’re saved, because we can’t lose our salvation; we’re the Lord’s forever. The battle for our souls is won, and it’s a permanent victory (John 6:37; 10:28–29). We will never have to fight that battle again, thank God! That was a battle we couldn’t have possibly won ourselves. Jesus won it for us when He suffered and bled and died on the cross to save us (Ephesians 2:8–9; Romans 6:23; 5:8).
Although the Devil can’t get us back, he can still give us a lot of trouble. He will especially do all he can to try to keep us from serving God and winning others into the Lord’s kingdom. Every person won to Christ is a threat to the Devil. Every new Christian is potentially capable of winning hundreds of others away from him, so the Devil tries to destroy his or her usefulness to the Lord. Of course, he tries to destroy these new Christians, too, through accidents or sickness or any way he can. He can’t destroy their spirits any longer because they’re saved, but he can sure try to give them a lot of other troubles.
In the face of such opposition, some Christians ask, “Well, what did receiving Jesus do for me, anyway? I’m having these horrible trials now!” Christians who complain like that need to stop and think about what Jesus has done for them. They’re saved; that’s the main thing. They’ve got eternal life; they’re not going to Hell; they don’t have to worry about death anymore. Even if they die, He’s going to take care of them. Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), and, “I am with you alway[s], even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20 KJV).
Where’s their gratitude? Where’s their love and loyalty? Isn’t the love of their Savior worth fighting for? Aren’t their new Christian brothers and sisters worth fighting for? Maybe they don’t want to go through all these trials and tribulations just for themselves, but shouldn’t they be willing to fight for the sake of others? Jesus won the battle for their eternal happiness. He fought and suffered for their salvation, and now He wants them to be willing to fight and suffer some, if necessary, to save others.
They also need to remind themselves that there are all kinds of benefits to being a Christian. They’ve got all the promises in the Bible on their side now. Yes, “many are the afflictions of the righteous,” but the second half of that verse promises, “but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). Even if they have to make some sacrifices, the Lord’s going to repay them a hundred times over in this life (Mark 10:30). They can also have peace of mind, contentment of heart and a feeling of genuine accomplishment for all they do for the Lord (Isaiah 26:3; John 14:27; Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:7).
They have the greatest power in the universe—God Himself—on their side. They can rest assured that no matter what happens, they’re going to win in the long run. Regardless of how difficult the day-to-day battles may be or how heavy the fighting may get, they’re going to win the overall war. The final victory is already theirs. They cannot lose because they’re on the winning side!
They need to keep their eyes ahead on the eternal goal, as is brought out in the “faith” chapter, Hebrews 11: “By faith, by faith, by faith…” It says that all the great patriarchs of the Bible looked forward, through the eyes of faith. They weren’t satisfied with being citizens of this world; they looked for a heavenly country, a heavenly city, made by the Lord. They were willing to go through trials and tribulations and be strangers and pilgrims here—people without a country—because they knew they had one coming and they knew it was worth fighting, living, suffering and sometimes even dying for! (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). So although there are battles, the eternal rewards for fighting those battles are worth paying a price for, worth sacrificing for.
Even the rewards received along the way for serving Jesus make it worth the fight. What soldier on earth gets paid a hundred times everything he gives up to join the army? That’s what the Lord promises His soldiers here and now. All this and Heaven too! (Mark 10:30). Our sufferings aren’t even worthy to be compared with the blessings that we already have, much less the glory we’re going to enjoy!
Christians who are besieged with problems should count their blessings and think about all these positive things, not the negative—the doubts, fears, woes, troubles, and afflictions the Devil sends their way. They should thank God for their blessings, thank God for His love, thank God for His salvation, thank God for His protection, thank God for His provision, thank God for everything—whatever God sends their way or lets the Devil bring! (Philippians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
New Christians need to realize that there’s a war going on—a war of the worlds between the Devil’s dominion and the kingdom of God—and they need to be prepared to fight in that war. They need to understand that they’ve joined the Lord’s army and it’s engaged in battle with the Devil and his evil works. It’s a fight! After all, that’s what armies are for—to fight battles. They’re on the winning side, but they’ve still got to fight!
Christians who start doing something for the Lord and then complain about some of the hardships sound like the athlete who joined a sports team and then moaned, “Well, now that I’ve joined the team, why do I have to train? Why do I have to go through these tests and trials? I thought I was appointed to win!” Well, that’s not the way it works! You’ve got to earn your laurels in this fight. His Word says, “Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).
In the Lord’s army, He often lets His soldiers go through some of the heaviest tests in the very beginning, just like boot camp in the army, where new recruits experience some of the toughest training in order to weed out all those who just can’t make it. The Lord allows the Devil to test the “recruits” to see if they can take it. The battles will often rage hot and heavy until the Devil sees that he can’t stop them, but then he usually gives up for a while and tries something else. The Bible says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7), and, “When the Enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him!” (Isaiah 59:19).
Serving the Lord is often a struggle, but we learn to like it because we know we’re on the right side, the winning side, and we’ve got the right Commander, Jesus, who we’re proud of and happy to live for and serve. We like the battle, just as an athlete likes the athletic trial. We like to fight the Devil and defeat him in the never-ending battle for the souls of men. We like the fight, the excitement, and the exhilaration of victory on the battlefront. Every time we win a soul to the Lord, that’s another victory, another battle won. What a contrast to the quitters and complainers!
God got so sick of the way the children of Israel complained and murmured against Him and Moses after they left Egypt that He let all but two of the older generation—millions of people—die in the desert. Imagine! He had delivered them from slavery, miraculously guided them, and provided their every need, and all they could do was complain.
He had told them to go in and possess the Promised Land, and had promised to help them overcome all obstacles, but when their scouts came back and reported that there were walled cities and giants, the people whined, “Oh, yes, it’s a land flowing with milk and honey, but we don’t want to fight those big giants!”
So the Lord as good as said, “If you prefer to die in the desert rather than fight for the Promised Land, if you feel that God’s country is not worth fighting for, then you can die for the desert!” And they wandered for 40 more years in the wilderness. The older generation died there and their bones, bleached white on the desert sands, became a testimony to their unbelief and constant complaining.
God then allowed their believing children, who by that time were adults, to enter the Promised Land, conquer and possess it. Only the second generation had faith; the older generation had lost it. The older ones had survived all those hardships in the desert, but were never able to enjoy the benefits of the Promised Land. They suffered so many things in vain—and this has been a sobering lesson to all God’s children ever since (Numbers, chapters 13 and 14).
The people that fight almost to victory and then complain and quit just before the victory is won never get to enjoy it. They go through so much suffering and hardship, and then miss the victory. Talk about losers! Those who quit just short of victory are the real losers. They lose so many benefits and blessings and rewards. The Lord says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).
It reminds me of a story that was supposed to have taken place during the early days of Communist Russia, when Christians suffered terrible persecution. A platoon of Red Army soldiers rounded up some Christians and forced them to strip naked. Then the soldiers forced the Christians at gunpoint to go out onto a frozen lake. The officer in charge told them that if any of them wanted to save themselves from freezing to death, all they had to do was renounce their faith.
So the Christians froze and dropped one by one, until only one was left alive. He finally could not endure it anymore and stumbled across the ice toward the guards, screaming that he would deny his faith. As he approached the soldiers, one of them suddenly ran out onto the ice to meet him.
“Here, take my uniform! Take my gun!” exclaimed the guard. “I’m going out there to die in your place! I was watching all of you, and as each one dropped dead, I saw a crown placed on his head! But just as the hand was coming down from Heaven to place a crown on your head, you broke and ran. So here, take my uniform and my gun. I want to take your place! I want that crown!”
There’s no crown without a cross, no testimony without a test, no triumph without a trial, no victory without a battle! Remember, that’s what you joined the army for—to fight and to win! So let’s get on with the battle! As long as you keep fighting, you’ll keep winning.
Take a lesson from John Paul Jones (1747–1792), a famous captain of the fledgling Continental Navy in the American Revolution. During a 1779 sea battle, his ship had been shot out from under him and was sinking. Half his men had been killed and many others had been wounded, including Jones himself. When the enemy captain called upon Jones to surrender, Jones screamed back, “Surrender? Hell no! I have not yet begun to fight!” He refused to surrender and kept on fighting—and he eventually won the battle.
That is the kind of fighter who wins victories—the kind that refuses to stop fighting. No soldier who gave up and quit ever won a battle. No soldier who waved the white flag of surrender was ever able to wave his own flag over the enemy’s battlements.
May God raise up soldiers who like to fight for the Lord with the weapon of His Word, who enjoy defeating the Devil, who know they can’t lose—conquering heroes who like to live and fight and sacrifice for Jesus and their brethren and the truth! That kind of soldier can’t be conquered. Even if they die fighting, they can’t lose, because they’ll get a crown of glory!
The apostle Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Will you be able to say the same?
“Endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).