1. The Christian Warfare
Excerpt from: John Calvin Bible Commentaries
Part IV: The Christian Life -The Christian Warfare
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 1 Thess. 5:8.
Paul adds this in order that he may shake us the better out of our torpor. He calls us as it were to arms, to impress upon us that it is no time for sleep. He does not, indeed, mention war. But when he bids us to arm with a breastplate and a helmet, he is in fact calling us to warfare. It goes without saying that anyone who expects a surprise attack must rouse himself and keep watching. Having warned us to be watchful while we have the truth of the gospel for light, he now stirs us up with the argument that we have a battle to fight with the enemy, and that it is much too dangerous to be doing nothing. We know that soldiers, who may ordinarily be rather loose-living fellows, when they are near the enemy and in danger of being killed, avoid getting drunk or any other way of "having fun" so that they may watch and be wary. So, since Satan is always breathing down our necks, and is ready and scheming to plunge us into a thousand perils, we ought to be no less watchful and on our guard.
Some interpreters are much too clever in their handling of the pieces of armor mentioned by the apostle. This verse is quite different from Eph. 6:14, where Paul by "breastplate" means "righteousness." Here it is enough to understand that the whole life of Christians is like a perpetual warfare, since Satan never stops attacking and troubling them. It is therefore necessary to be prepared for resistance; and of course we are warned that we had better be well armed against such a powerful enemy. However, Paul does not in this place go into detail about the armor we must have; he merely mentions two pieces, the breastplate and the helmet. But he leaves out nothing a man needs for this spiritual warfare. For anyone who is provided with faith, hope, and love has all the weapons he needs.
Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. Phil. 1:27-28.
In the second place, he commends to the Philippians an indomitable spirit, that they may not be confounded by the fury of their enemies. At that time the fires of savage persecution blazed almost everywhere, because Satan fought with all his force to prevent the inauguration of the gospel; and the more Christ exercised the grace of his Spirit, the greater was the impotent rage of Satan. The apostle, therefore, enjoins the Philippians to stand firm and not to be perturbed.
Which is to them an evident token of perdition. This is the proper meaning of the Greek, and those who translate as "cause" have no good reason for doing so. When the wicked strive against the Lord, they engage in a preliminary battle which anticipates their ultimate ruin; and the greater the outrage they do against the godly, the more they are bent on their own perdition. Of course, Scripture does not teach us anywhere that the afflictions which the godly suffer at the hands of the godless become the cause of their salvation. Paul calls afflictions evidences or proofs [of salvation] in another place also (2 Thess. 1:5). Instead of the word e)/ndeixin, which we have here, there he uses the word e)/ndeigma. It is, therefore, a singular comfort that the attacks and troubles we suffer at the hands of our enemies are visible evidences of our salvation. Persecutions are for God's children the seals of their adoption if they bear them with courage and a calm spirit. The ungodly, on the other hand, produce a token of their condemnation; they hit their foot against a stone which shall be their downfall.
And that from God. This is put here as the last clause, so that it may, with God's grace, mitigate the bitter taste of the cross. It goes against nature to see in the cross a sign or proof of salvation. In fact, the cross and salvation seem to be contraries. Therefore, Paul asks the Philippians to consider that God turns those things which make for our misery into occasions of well-being. In this way, he shows that enduring the cross is a gift of God; for it is certain that everything which is for our good is God's gift to us. "To you," he says, "it is given not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him. Therefore your very sufferings are witnesses to the goodness of God, because in them you have a real evidence of your salvation." If only we were convinced deep in our hearts that persecutions are among God's blessings, what progress we should make in the knowledge of divine truth! What is more certain than that the highest honor which grace bestows upon us is that we suffer reproach, or prison, or troubles, or tortures, or even death itself, in his name? For so it is that he decorates us with his medals. And yet there are many who would tell God to take such gifts away, rather than embrace with grateful hearts the cross offered to them. But so much the worse for our stupidity!
For unto you is given in behalf of Christ not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake. Phil. 1:29.
He is wise to join faith inseparably with the cross, for in this way the Philippians are taught that they have been called to faith in Christ to the end that they may endure persecution in his name. In other words, their adoption could no more be separated from the cross than Christ could be severed from himself.
Thou therefore endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life: that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. 2 Tim. 2:3-4.
It was very necessary to add this second warning. For, anyone who offers to obey Christ, must be ready to endure hardship; there is no perseverance without patience in enduring evil. Therefore he adds, As becomes a soldier of Christ: which means that anyone who is in the service of Christ is a soldier, and that such soldiering consists not in doing evil but in patiently bearing it.
It is absolutely necessary for us to think these things over. How many people we see every day who throw their spears away, people who had passed themselves off as good soldiers! And why does this happen, except because they cannot get used to the cross? In the first place, they are so soft that they cannot stand the thought of battle. Secondly, their idea of the warfare is to get into an [immediate] fight with their enemies. They cannot bear to learn what it is to possess their souls in patience.
He continues with the simile from warfare. Strictly speaking, at first he spoke of a "soldier of Christ" in a metaphorical sense. Now he definitely compares military warfare with the spiritual warfare of the Christian man. Military discipline requires that, as soon as a soldier puts himself at the disposal of a general, he leaves his home and every business behind, and thinks of nothing except the warfare to which he is committed. So also we, if we are to give ourselves wholly to Christ, must break away from all the entanglements of this world.
By the affairs of this life he means the care of maintaining a home and other ordinary occupations. The farmers leave their farming, and the merchants their shops and their business until they have served their term as soldiers. So also, whoever wants to fight under Christ must lay aside all the involvements and preoccupations of the world, so that he may apply himself wholly to the warfare. In short, let us keep in mind the old proverb, Hoc age; this do: which means that in doing our holy duty nothing should hinder our zeal and attention. The common translation, "No one who fights for God," etc., corrupts the whole meaning of what Paul has in mind.
Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them. . . . Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life. Matt. 19:27-29
Peter tacitly contrasts himself and the other disciples with the rich man whom the world had turned away from Christ. Since they led a life of privation and wandering, and suffered insults and sundry vexations, without hope of a better future, he asks rightly whether it was for nothing that they had left behind everything they had and had devoted themselves to Christ. It was absurd that when they had been despoiled by the Lord, they should not receive back more than they had lost.
But then, what were all those things they had left behind? Being poor and low-class folk, they did not even have a house to leave behind; hence, their boasting was nothing less than ridiculous. Our own experience shows that people commonly overestimate the things they do in the way of duty before God. There are people who were hardly more than beggars under the papacy; and now they go around arrogantly, complaining that they have made great sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. However, there was some excuse for the disciples who, although they did not possess splendid fortunes, lived by the labor of their hands, and were no less happy in their homes than people of great riches. And we know that humble people, who are used to a quiet and decent life, find it harder to be torn away from their wives and children than those who are driven by ambition, or thrown this way and that by the winds of prosperous fortune. Of course, unless there was some reward waiting for the disciples, they had been foolish to change their way of life. Still, although one might excuse them on that ground, they were wrong to demand a taste of triumph before their warfare was finished. When annoyance at the delay of our reward creeps upon us, and lures us to impatience, let us first learn to consider the consolations with which the Lord reduces the bitterness of the cross in this world, and then let us raise our spirits to the hope of heavenly life. Christ's answers make these very two points.
And whosoever shall leave. After having raised their minds to the hope of the future life, he offers them comforts for the present life, and fortifies them for bearing the cross. God does not allow his people to be grievously afflicted, at times even to the point of forsaking them, without making up for their sufferings with his help. Jesus does not say this to the apostles only; he takes the occasion to address his words to all believers in general. The point is that those who willingly give up all for the sake of Christ, have their chief reward in heaven; and yet, even in this life, they are happier than if they had kept everything.
However, it does seem that the hundredfold compensation provided them is not in line with the facts. For in most cases, those who have been deprived of their parents, or children, or other relatives, wives who are widowed and those stripped of their fortunes, all because they have borne testimony to Christ, do not recover their losses; on the contrary, in exile, lowly and forgotten, they struggle bitterly with poverty and hardship. To all this I answer: When we consider God's grace with which he relieves the miseries of his own, we must confess that it is to be preferred to all the riches of the world. For while the unbelievers flourish, they do not know what is waiting for them on the next day; therefore, they must always live in turmoil because of perplexity and fear; neither can they enjoy the smile of fortune without, one way or another, stupefying themselves. Meanwhile, God gives his own a glad heart, so that to them the little they enjoy is worth much more than if without Christ they were affluent with an abundance of riches. I interpret with persecutions added by Mark as follows: Christ means that even though the godly are always persecuted in this world, and live as though the cross were tied to their back, still, the condiment of God's grace is so sweet that it exhilarates them, and makes their condition more desirable than the luxuries of kings.
[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and complete that which is behind in the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church. Col. 1:24.
The apostle had previously claimed for himself the authority which was his by virtue of his calling. Now he is concerned that the Colossians do not detract from the honor due him as an apostle because he had been in bonds and was persecuted for the sake of the gospel. For, Satan uses these occasions to bring contempt upon the servants of God. Further, the apostle encourages them by his example not to be terrified by persecutions; and he reminds them of his zeal, so that his words may carry more weight. Nay more, he settles the matter with an appeal to his love for them, and asserts that he is joyful and only too willing to suffer affliction for their sakes. Someone will ask, "But where is this joy from?" It is from the fruits which [his labors] have produced. "It is pleasant for me to be afflicted for you, because I do not suffer in vain." In the same way, in a former letter to the Thessalonians, he says that, having heard of their faith, he rejoices in all privations and afflictions.
And fill up that which is behind, etc. I take and to mean because; he says that he is joyful because in suffering he is associated with Christ. He desires nothing more blessed than such fellowship with Christ. He presents all believers in common with the comfort that in all tribulations, especially in those they suffer for the gospel, they share the cross of Christ, to the end that they may rejoice in sharing his blessed resurrection. Nay more, he affirms that in this way what is lacking in Christ's own afflictions is completed. Romans 8:29 says the same thing: "Whom God has chosen, them he has predestined that they may conform to the image of Christ, who is the first-born among the brethren.'' Moreover, we know that since the Head and the members are united, the name Christ sometimes includes the whole body. This is evident from 1 Cor. 12:12, where, speaking of the church, the apostle finally concludes that being in Christ is like being [a member] in the human body. Therefore, as Christ suffered once in himself, so he now suffers every day in his members; and the sufferings which the Father decreed and appointed for his body are completed [in the church].
There is a second consideration, which ought to encourage and comfort our spirits in affliction: God himself has fixed and appointed by his providence that we be conformed to Christ by enduring the cross, and that our communion with him extend to this very point.
To this, he adds a third reason: that the sufferings of Christ bear fruit not only for the few, but for the church as a whole. He had before said that he suffered in behalf of the Colossians; now he declares more inclusively that the fruit of his sufferings extends to the whole church. Philippians 1:12 also speaks of this same fruit. What other explanation of this verse is clearer, simpler, and less forced? Paul rejoices in tribulation because, as he writes elsewhere, he considers that if Christ's life is to be manifest in us, we must carry about his death in our own bodies (2 Cor. 4:10). He says the same in the letter to Timothy: "If we suffer with him, we shall also reign with him: if we die with him, we shall also live with him" (2 Tim. 2:1). All will end in joy and glory. Hence, if the members of Christ are to have a symmetry with the Head, they must not reject the state which God himself has appointed for his church. The third point is this, afflictions must be borne to the end willingly, because they are useful to all the godly and promote the well-being of the whole church, by giving a peculiar beauty to the truth of the gospel.
Then they shall deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated by all nations for my name's sake. Matt. 24:9.
Now Christ predicts for his disciples another kind of temptation which shall try their faith; namely, that besides the common afflictions [of man] they shall be hated and detested by the entire world. It is hard enough and sad enough for the children of God to be afflicted without distinction from and together with the wicked and despisers of God, and to be subjected to the same punishments which come upon the latter because of their crimes. It appears the height of injustice that they should be oppressed with the hardship of greater evils which do not touch the ungodly. Just as wheat, after being beaten with a flail together with the tares, is ground under a millstone and crushed, so also God not only afflicts his own with the wicked, but in addition subjects them to a cross which goes beyond what others [have to endure] so that they appear to suffer far greater misery than all the rest of the human race.
Christ here is speaking of the afflictions which the disciples were to suffer for the gospel. What Paul says in Rom. 8:29 is of course true. Those whom God elects, he destines to bear a cross, so that they may conform to the image of the Son. But there Paul means more than persecution at the hands of the enemies of the gospel. Here, on the other hand, Christ is speaking of the kind of cross which the faithful have to carry because of their witness to the gospel; for this makes it necessary for them to incur the hatred of the ungodly, to face their insults and provoke them to fury. He wants to warn his disciples that, as he had explained to them before, the doctrine of the gospel, of which they were to become witnesses and heralds, would at no time please the world or receive its applause. So he prophesies that they will not be fighting with only a few enemies, but that, everywhere they go, nations shall rise against them.
It was monstrous and incredible, calculated to amaze and trouble the strongest minds, that the name of the Son of God should become so infamous and hateful as to create hatred everywhere toward those who honored it. Therefore, Mark says, take heed to yourselves; and in this way he brings out the purpose and use of the above warning that they be prepared to endure, lest, being incautious, they be overcome by temptation. It is added further by the same Mark that when the disciples of Christ shall be brought before kings and rulers, it will be a testimony against them. Luke puts it a little differently: This will happen to you in testimony; but it means the same thing. For Christ says that, where his gospel is defended at the peril of death, there the testimony for it shall be all the greater.
Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter. Ps. 44:22.
The faithful here plead for God's mercy, not because they are punished for their own evil deeds, but because they are hated by unbelievers for the name of God.
At first sight, this seems a foolish complaint, and Socrates' answer seems the more admirable when, in answer to his wife's reproach, he said that it was better to die innocent than for his own wrongdoing. Furthermore, the consolation which Christ offered (Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, Matt. 5:10) appears very different from the words of the psalm. Peter also said the same thing: Anyone who suffers for Christ's name has all the more reason for joy and thankfulness (1 Peter 4:14).
But I answer that although the best comfort for our sorrow is that its cause is connected with Christ, yet the faithful do not complain to God in vain or wrongly when they say that they are suffering unjustly for his sake. For in this way, they want him to come forward with more vigor as their defender, since it is right that he himself take care of his own glory, when the impious insult and deal cruelly with his worshipers. . . .
It is also right to remind ourselves that the faithful have not been so pure of all stain that God would be unjust in exacting punishment for their sins. But, by his incomparable indulgence, he does bury our sins and subject us to unjust persecution, so that we may glory in bearing the cross of Christ and may therefore be sharers and companions of his blessed resurrection.
This doctrine we must take for our own use. First, we must be ready, after the example of the fathers, to bear calmly any suffering by which our loyalty to the confession of our faith is validated. Secondly, in the deepest shadows of death we must constantly call on the name of God, and we must stand fast in fear of him.
Paul (Rom. 8:23) goes further and asserts that this passage does not merely offer us an example, but describes the perpetual situation of the church. Therefore we are assigned, by God's decree, the perpetual warfare of bearing the cross. At times God spares our weakness by allowing a truce, or a relaxation [of the warfare]. But although swords are not always drawn against us we must, because we are members of Christ, be always ready to share his cross. Let us not then be terrified by the bitterness of the cross, and let us keep this picture of the persecuted church always before us. So long as we are adopted by God in Christ, we are destined for slaughter. If we are to prevent the wearisome weight of the cross or our fear of it from turning us away from our faith, we must keep this thought continually in our hearts. The cup which God pours for us we must drink; no man can be a Christian who does not offer himself in sacrifice to God.
Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. . . . For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. Heb. 12:4,6.
The apostle goes further and reminds us once again that, even while the wicked persecute us in Christ's name, our warfare is with sin. Christ himself was free from this struggle, because he was clean and unspotted by any sin. In this respect we are unlike him, for sin dwells in us at all times; and our afflictions serve to overcome and rout it.
In the first place, we know that all the evils in the world come from sin; and so came in the beginning death itself. But this is not what concerns the apostle. His point is that the persecutions we suffer are useful to us, because they are medicine for destroying sin. For in this way, God keeps us under the yoke of his discipline, so that our flesh may not play loose with sin. At times he checks our hot blood; at other times he punishes our misdeeds in order that we may afterwards become more careful. Therefore, whether he sets out to heal our vices, or to prevent us from doing evil, as the apostle says, he is training us for the struggle against sin. And when we suffer for his gospel, the Son of God himself honors us with his favor, and does not count our sufferings as punishment of sin. Still we must acknowledge the validity of what the apostle says: When we act against the ungodly in defense of the cause of Christ, we at the same time battle against sin which is the enemy within us. Thus the grace of God is double; he converts the remedy he uses for curing us from our vices into a means of defending his gospel.
Let us remember that the apostle is speaking to people who had thrown away their possessions and suffered many indignities; and had done all that willingly and with joy. And yet, he charges them with indolence because, exhausted while the battle was still in progress, they had not kept up the strenuous march to the end. It is not for us to ask the Lord to discharge us from his army, no matter what fighting we have done. For Christ will have no discharged soldiers, except those who have overcome death itself. . . .
For whom the Lord loveth. The reasoning of this verse seems rather shaky. The Lord afflicts the elect and the reprobate without distinction, and his scourges are evidence of his wrath more often than of his love. So says Scripture, and experience confirms it. And yet, with regard to the believers, it is not surprising that the apostle refers only to the benefit they derive from the troubles they experience. When God punishes the reprobate he shows himself as a severe and wrathful judge; with his elect, he has no other purpose except to promote their salvation; and this is a demonstration of his Fatherly love. Moreover, since the ungodly do not know that they are governed by God's hand, they think that most of their troubles happen by chance. The ungodly are like a wrongheaded young man, who leaves his father's house and wanders far away; when he all but perishes from hunger and cold and other evils, he admits that he has met the just punishment of his stupidity; by his sufferings he sees the value of being docile and obedient, but he does not understand that his troubles are the chastisement of his father. So also the ungodly, having alienated themselves from God and his household, do not understand that they are still within the reach of God's hand. Therefore, let us keep in mind that we cannot taste the love of God in our afflictions, unless we are persuaded that they are rods with which our Father chastises us for our sins. Nothing like this occurs to the reprobate, who have the mentality of fugitives from God. This is why it is proper that judgment should begin at the house of God.
Wherefore, even though God's hand falls upon those in his house and those outside, it falls upon the former to show his peculiar care for them. The true solution of our problem is as follows: anyone who knows and is persuaded that he is castigated by God must promptly go on to consider that God afflicts him because he loves him. Since the godly know that God intervenes in their punishment, they have a sure pledge of his good will towards them; for if he did not love them, he would not care about their salvation. Hence the apostle concludes that God offers himself as a Father to all those who endure correction. Those who would rather kick like wild horses, or harden themselves and fight back, are a different sort. In short then, the apostle teaches us that, when God corrects us, he does so only as our Father, provided we yield and obey.
This material is supplied by the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College