Believers are frequently compared with those in military service in the Scriptures. Paul describes the spiritual warfare that followers of Jesus Christ wage, instructing us to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). We are told that we are like the “good soldier of Jesus Christ,” and that “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits” (2 Timothy 2:3-4). Even our thoughts, beliefs and opinions come within the sphere of military imagery (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
How does that imagery affect our gathering together for services on Sunday and Wednesday, or in small groups and Bible studies at other times?
Detail of a manuscript illustration depicting a knight carrying the “Shield of the Trinity.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples on a pre-resurrection reconnoissance mission (Luke 10:1-12). The men on this mission were to be very focused, undistracted, and singularly occupied with accomplishing the purpose Jesus gave them. They were to travel light, like military scouts, carrying “no money bag, no knapsack, no sandals.” And while many versions say the disciples were not to “greet” anyone on the road, the King James says they were not to “salute” anyone, which fits the tone of Jesus’ instructions. As he would later tell them, “all authority” had been given to him, and should his disciples be tempted to salute anyone else on the mission — submit to the authority of another — their allegiance to Christ would be diluted, the chain of authority confused, and the mission compromised.Later, the disciples returned and reported to Jesus what they had experienced, and how the mission was accomplished (Luke 10:17-20).
Followers of Jesus Christ today are also on a mission. But too often we allow ourselves to think that our mission happens only on Sundays and Wednesdays, for a couple of hours, and we fail to consider that the entire week, every week, every year, is a mission deployment for the King.
Consequently, when we gather, our prayer requests are about sickness. We rarely report our difficulties with marriage, parenting, employment, relationships, witnessing, evangelism or personal holiness, or even our successes in those areas. But spiritual warfare is happening all the time in each of those areas of our lives.
We can recover a whole-life view of discipleship — following Jesus into spiritual battle — if we remember that part of the reason that we gather together is to Report, Re-fuel, Rejoice, and Re-deploy.
It’s easy to report sickness. It’s much more difficult to report our battles in marriage and parenting, personal holiness, or even in evangelism and disciple-making. But when we don’t, we risk treating the vast proportion of our lives as outside the mission we live for Jesus Christ. In practice, we begin to think and act as if the mission isn’t even relevant to those things. We don’t want to hear everyone’s “dirty laundry” every week, but treating daily difficulties (and successes) as part of the mission enhances everyone’s service to Christ.
“Fellowship” for many believers is fried chicken and a devotion. But biblical fellowship involves much more, including encouragement, instruction in the Word, praise and “agitation” to good works (Hebrews 10:23-25). As we fight spiritual battles at work, at home, and within our heart, our hope can be deflated, our vigor drained, and our motivation sapped. Just like the advance scouts who can carry no purse nor money bag, we need to return to “base” frequently to get supplies. Hearing the Word, praying, and praising with other believers re-stocks the tools of our mission trade.
When the disciples returned from their advance scouting mission, they rejoiced with each other and with Jesus at what had happened (Luke 10:17). It is crucial for believers to hear how God is working fruitfully in the spiritual lives of others, whether that be progress in killing personal sin, knocking over proverbial idols, reconciling relationships, or proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers. Even when we think we are unable to rejoice in our own situations, we can rejoice in hope, and rejoice that our mission is sure to succeed because the King has guaranteed victory.
Unfortunately, the Christian life is not lived in the sanctuary. Devotion to Christ is not fulfilled in the prayer closet. Worship, prayer, Bible study and fellowship are part of following Christ, but there is a reason that worship services and small group meetings don’t last all week. Our mission is to keep taking assignments and keep deploying into the field of operations. You may have seen the sign, posted above the exit of the sanctuary, that says “You are now entering the mission field.” That’s good, but it’s more accurate to say “You are now starting your mission.” When we leave Sunday worship, or Wednesday prayer meeting, or our small group fellowships, we are re-deploying with a set of mission objectives to accomplish, in our personal holiness, our family life, our employment, our disciple-making.
The mission doesn’t always go as well for us personally as the seventy-two disciples reported that it went for them. But we still rejoice that our “names are written in heaven,” and that we are privileged to serve Jesus Christ in our mission.