Training hands for battle

On a bookshelf, I spied a book with the title on the spine: “House to House.” At first I thought it was a book about personal evangelism. Then I saw the author was designated as “Sgt.” I pulled the book out enough to see the subtitle, “An Epic Memoir of War.”

The title reminds one of another battle phrase: hand-to-hand combat. In spite of weapons of mass destruction, guided missiles with surgical precision and, now, drones that can fire and take out the enemy, armies are far from dispensing with the foot soldier who often must fight in close quarters.

Life in Christ is described in terms of the metaphor of war. “Fight the good fight for the faith,” Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6.12 (HCSB). Later, he wrote him, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4.7. A coworker is a “fellow soldier”, Philippians 2.25; Philemon 2. Discipline and suffering make one “a good soldier of Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 2.3-4. Jesus also used battle metaphors to describe discipleship. (See, for example, Luke 11.21-23; 14.31-23.)

Old Testament battle language is easily borrowed for the experience of Christians. What is often literal in the old covenant becomes a good figure for spiritual truths.

King David praised God for deliverance from his enemies and said,

He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend even the strongest bow.
2 Samuel 22.35 NET

He gave glory to God for his training. His success was God’s doing. His strength came not from weapons or horses or men, but from above. God gave him ability as a soldier and leader.

We do find references to some of the Israelites who “were trained for war” 1 Chronicles 5.18; 12.8, 24, etc. King Solomon was surrounded by mighty warriors “skilled with a sword, well-trained in the art of warfare” Song of Solomon 3.8. Apparently, in Israel some sort of program or school existed to train soldiers.

Today, like David, we continue to credit God for gifts of service and the fruits of labor. At the same time, training hands for spiritual battle often comes through guidance from other people of God.

To our mind, this training ought to focus, among other things, upon what caused the church to grow in the first century — personal evangelism, sharing the truth of God’s good news with friends and neighbors. We might call it, in spiritual terms, house-to-house warfare, or hand-to-hand combat.

In some places it seems that training for full-time service focuses unduly upon pulpit sermons delivered on Sundays. These first-day messages are important moments, but such attention seems to be driven by a clergy mentality in not a few churches. We need to do better.

The work of Christ in all the world, as we’ve often said, needs boots on the ground. More than that, it needs men and women who are able to win the hearts and minds of sinners from house to house and one on one. It’s a far different thing to deliver a prepared message from a pulpit than to deal with doubts, questions, and challenges in face-to-face dialog.

Some preachers have confessed that they do not know how to teach a personal Bible study, and they have never done so. Many, many pew-sitters boldly state the same. That such creatures exist among us attests to a shameful state in God’s church.

The prophets Isaiah and Micah looked forward to the days when “they will no longer train for war” Isaiah 2.4; Micah 4.3.

In one important sense, those days have not yet arrived. Today, we need better and more effective training of God’s people for the task at hand.

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