The Undistracted Soldier

Six Marks of Christian Manhood

Since Christ saved me, I have been fascinated by war. I learn about conflicts I can see to feel the gravity of that cosmic war I can’t. Although few know it, the unseen conflict is no less vicious or valorous, gory or heroic, real or requiring than wars of men, but much more. I try to enter the psychology of the soldier to better know how to conduct myself in spiritual battle.

Paul does the same as he calls Timothy forward: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:3–4).

Paul’s words have convicted me of my comfortable, lax, civilian Christianity. Does a civilian-soldier exist? I wondered. Maybe as a minuteman of sorts — one who lives his civilian life but can be ready in a minute for conflict when necessary. “Entangled in civilian pursuits and occasionally experiencing service” — that seems too apt a description.

So, it is helpful for me to witness a man in the Old Testament who illustrates Paul’s disentangled soldier: Uriah. At this point, David has impregnated Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, and so David calls Uriah home from war to sleep with Bathsheba in hopes of covering over the adultery.

Uriah’s single-mindedness is heroically tragic. Yet we need to drink from his spirit. Observe, then, six marks of this soldier slain for refusing to play civilian.

The Soldier’s Speech

The first mark that distinguished the soldier was his speech.

When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. (2 Samuel 11:7)

One way to discriminate the lieutenant from the layman is by the topics of conversation they draw out of others. We all have conversational centers of gravity, don’t we? Most of us know our Mr. ESPN, Mr. and Mrs. Netflix Series, Ms. News and Politics, Neighbor Gossip, and Mrs. Grumble About Her Kids. No matter how far away the current conversation appears to you, they rarely fail to cross land and sea to bring you to their default subject. Out of hearts, mouths speak.

For the active soldier, his center is war. He may go along with some small talk, but his heart is not to talk small. How could it be? Men are dying, his brothers fighting, the enemy planning, arrows flying — what has he to do with the latest entertainments? David knows he speaks with a man of war and cannot detain him with empty pleasantries or lesser topics. How is the commander, how is the army, how is the war prospering?

Men of God, what is your heart’s topic of conversation? When people speak to you, do they know your center of gravity is Christ crucified, the human soul, Scripture, eternal life, and the world to come?

The Soldier’s Silence

If Uriah is first distinguished by his speech, he is next distinguished by his actions in silence.

Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. (2 Samuel 11:8–9)

David requests that Uriah go home and refresh himself, get comfortable, stay a while, eat, rest, and enjoy the lawful pleasures of home. To help him relax, he sends servants with “a present” — perhaps some food, some wine, and a few chocolate-covered strawberries.

Remember, “No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Yet here is the one who enlisted him (or who ranks above the one who enlisted him) telling him to take off his armor and take it easy. Does his troubled conscience quarrel with his king or seek to impress him with how committed he is? No. He quietly goes outside the palace doors and, when he thinks himself outside of eyesight, lies down among the servants. His actions speak volumes of his valor where his words speak none.

Men of God, does your left hand know what your right hand does with its sword? Do you sound a trumpet before or after you serve Christ? Are you the soldier or the civilian when you think no one else is watching?

The Soldier of Speculation

The third mark of our soldier is the chatter that surrounds him.

When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” (2 Samuel 11:10)

True soldiers of the cross must be the subject of civilian rumors and speculations. Despite their best efforts to carry out their master’s business with little attention for themselves, their single-mindedness and self-denial eventually expose them as warring men. “Good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:25). And when they do, the bees must buzz about that strange fellow who does or doesn’t do such and such, one so different from themselves.

“Paul lived a life that needed the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be true. Do we?”

Even David, Israel’s great champion (now reduced to Israel’s great citizen) is puzzled by this man so like himself before his fall. If David went out with Joab and Uriah (as he should have) instead of strolling rooftops, helping Satan tempt him to a mighty fall, he might have admired Uriah. Instead, he is left to wonder, Why will this stag avoid the trap? Has he not traveled from far away? David couldn’t resist the journey across the street for Uriah’s wife; he staggers that Uriah should come all this way and not go to her.

Men of God, do others whisper about you or seem confused by your pursuit of Christ (even in the church)? Or are you so entangled that no one notices any difference?

The Soldier’s Self-Denial

Fourth, we find Uriah’s crest: resolved self-denial. Uriah explains to David why he won’t go home:

The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing. (2 Samuel 11:11)

Why does he avoid going home? Why does he deny himself lawful pleasures? Judah and Israel and God himself dwell in tents; his captain and his band of brothers camp in open fields. Should they eat spears and arrows while he eats meat? Should they be drunk on adrenaline while he grows intoxicated in his wife’s love? “As you live, and as your soul lives,” he will not do this thing. Get him drunk to entrap him; he will still prefer your door to his own while duty calls (2 Samuel 11:12–13).

Men of God, have you intentionally laid aside any civilian pursuits because you were sympathetic with your brothers and ambitious for greater usefulness?

The Soldier’s Surety

Fifth, Uriah, the soldier of Israel, knew how to remain faithful under command. In one of the sickest motions of David’s mind, we read,

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” (2 Samuel 11:14–15)

When the man clings to his resolve, David moves to plan B. In the morning, he writes the assassination letter and sends it by the hand of Uriah. David is so confident in Uriah’s honor, so trusting of his sense of duty, that he sends his own death warrant with him, knowing he will not open it. Here is a dark moment indeed for the one after the Lord’s heart.

Would-be soldiers today can struggle with authority, with chains of command. Baristas take orders; we take suggestions. The modern spirit is very civilian, but the soldier’s aim is to please the one who enlisted him. What C.S. Lewis spoke has come to pass:

When equality is treated not as a medicine or a safety-gadget, but as an ideal, we begin to breed that stunted and envious sort of mind which hates all superiority. . . . The man who cannot conceive a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other — the man who has never even wanted to kneel or to bow — is a prosaic barbarian. (Essay Collection & Other Short Stories, 667)

Men of God, do you acknowledge men above you and gladly submit? Could they trust you with your own death warrant? Have you learned to follow, knowing that someday you may be called to lead?

The Soldier’s Scars

Sixth, soldiers bear the marks of active duty on their bodies (or in their graves).

As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. (2 Samuel 11:16–17)

Uriah never made it back to his front door. David “killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12:9). Joab pressed Uriah closer to the walls of the city where archers stood to kill. Strategically un-strategic. To pacify David’s anger at losing other men in the scheme, he explains, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also” (2 Samuel 11:18–21) — wink. David responds, “Do not let this matter displease you, for the sword devours now one and now another” (2 Samuel 11:25) — wink, wink.

Uriah knows the peril of his mission. Chosen suffering separates soldiers from civilians: “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Uriah, the good soldier of a treacherous king and now corrupted commander, charges forth against a wall with valiant men below and raining arrows above. He could have been home with his wife, but instead he died on the field with a dagger in his back. Praise God our own commander knows no such ruthlessness or faithlessness.

Men of God, do we hope to offer to the Lord a civilian life that costs us nothing?

The Soldier’s Salvation

Paul goes on to explain to Timothy what makes such a service worth it. First, forgoing civilian pursuits in service for Christ really does “please the one who enlisted him” (2 Timothy 2:4). Second, Paul writes, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David.” Paul sees before faithful soldiers a “salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8–10). The active soldier for Christ is always the gainer, never the loser.

Uriah died fighting under God’s banner for God’s people; Paul suffers under God’s banner for the sake of Christ’s people. He chooses to suffer as a combatant (and exhorts Timothy to the same) because God’s mission shall not fail. He does not count his life dear to himself because Jesus Christ, the offspring of David, instead of putting his soldiers to death as they fight his wars, has decided the war by dying and rising from the grave to save them. He does not steal his bride by another’s blood; he purchases her with his own.

So, men of God, do we see the glorious end of the soldier’s service? Paul lived a life that needed the resurrection of Jesus Christ to be true. Do we?