2 Timothy 2:3-4 “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.”
First let me say, I am a veteran of two wars. I served honorably and then retired from the United States Army. I have seen the best and the worst in people under various circumstances. I am neither a pacifist nor a warmonger. I know what bravado brings and what bombast leads to; I am not ignorant. I know the value of swagger and boasting after taking one on the chin and I know the cost of chutzpah. All of it is garbage compared to what Christ has given me.
Because of my military experience, a number of brothers have approached me about themselves or their sons and/or daughters serving in the military. My advice to them is the same two simple points:
- Be rooted and grounded in the Word.
- Treat the military as a mission field.
1. Rooted and grounded
Upon enlistment in any branch and in any nation’s military – except maybe the Iraqi military – the aim is to break down the individual and build up the team member. The goal is for you to lose your sense of self and commit to the ‘greater good’ of the team. The environment is one of mental and physical exertion, exhaustion, and violence.
It is a culture that promotes death. Teamwork is the official hallmark of a good “Soldier”, yet selfishness is praised among the ranks as long as it doesn’t impact the team. They worship the idol of the ideal warrior.
No moral standard
In basic training, or ‘boot camp’, the recruit will see all manner of moral standards, both religions and every flavor in between. Trainees will see both hypocrisy and zeal from other religions that are notable. Once trained and serving in a regular unit, the depravity only expands with the liberties the Airman, Marine, Sailor and Soldier now has.
Military life is advertised as being like a 9-5 job, but I know of no other 9-5 job where you live with the people all the time and your job is to kill or maim other human beings. The juxtaposition of moral ethics and this mission can be staggering at times.
The military is a place of regulations, a petri dish of society with rules made to accommodate differences no matter how morally right or wrong they are. Adultery is a felony offense under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice, yet sex – more specifically promiscuity – even adultery and rape are presented as admirable.
If you are not rooted and grounded in the Word, not just knowing the Word, but growing in it – in Him – you will be “carried about with every wind of doctrine”. If you are not rooted and grounded you may find yourself as having been or currently serving the god of humanism.
2. Military as a Mission Field
I fully understand how a young man would want to do something “cool”. I get it. I was that stick-skinny kid that wanted to be part of something bigger than himself, that wanted a reason to boast when his friends were in college. This is the flesh. The cares of this world are career, self-gratification and self-aggrandizement, and the military is no different.
The world is concerned with politics and personal rights. This is not in keeping with either Romans 12:1-2 or Galatians 2:20. I spent 15 years of my career serving me and then the last 7 trying to serve the King of Kings. Every person who is considering the military as a career field should, like a missionary, pray about how they will serve.
Practice and priorities
They should plan how they will serve and practice serving in that capacity before leaving. This takes discipline, but the military is very good at creating disciplined Soldiers. The question is the topic of discipline.
You can be a Christian – a zealous one at that – and be in the military. Just keep your priorities straight. The reality is that if we as Christians in the military put our career goals and aspirations first, then we have by definition put Christ second or third. If we are not serving the risen Christ of God first then we are wasting His time.