Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Good Fight

The U.S. Navy recruiting offices will be full this week as young men try to enlist to become a Navy Seal following the daring and successful raid which killed most-wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on Sunday evening. The news media has been overflowing with background information about the storied history, arduous training, and quiet elitism of this almost mythological Special Operations Force (S.O.F.), whose secrecy is as legendary as its success. I tried to sign up yesterday as a special Commando-Chaplain. They told me not to wait by my phone.

Most Americans admire the tough, disciplined, supremely self-confident, trained-for-success aura of the Seals, which has earned them the nickname “The Quiet Operators.” It is an all-absorbing job calling for great personal sacrifices. What strikes me as unique about the Seals and the other S.O.F.’s is that there is absolutely no financial reward for their elitism. The most uniquely qualified and gifted surgeons, professors, authors, professional athletes, and business executives almost all receive higher compensation for being above the norm. But staff sergeants in a S.O.F. unit make the same as staff sergeants in Motor Transport or Supply. They do it out of patriotism, to be sure, but they also do it because they revel in being the best. Their pride drives them to use every bit of their capability.

The early Christians drew some parallels between military service and the life of following Jesus. The apostle Paul tells Timothy to “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:4). He refers to Epaphroditus as “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier” (Phil 2:25) and Archippus as “our fellow soldier” (Philemon 2). He tells Timothy to “wage the good warfare” (I Tim 1:18) and “fight the good fight of the faith” (I Tim 6:12), which involves “pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness,” and “taking hold of the eternal life to which you were called.”

The Christian life is rigorous in many ways if pursued seriously. No, it is not as intense as Navy Seal training, but it calls for discipline, seriousness, and sacrifice. We are called to study the sacred scriptures, turn from evil, abstain from immorality, discipline our bodies, serve and sacrifice for others, give generously to God’s work, speak and share the gospel of Christ, and pick up our cross. Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself in godliness, for while physical training has some value, godliness is valuable in every way, both for this life and the life to come” (I Tim 4:7-8).

We are not commandos, but we are not couch potatoes either. How is your training going? Will you fight the good fight?