Keeping Ranks

” 33 of Zebulun there were fifty thousand who went out to battle, expert in war with all weapons of war, stouthearted men who could keep ranks;” (1Ch 12:33 NKJ)

I’ve been thinking about this passage since I read it yesterday. How much this truth should inform our thinking about our lives as Christians! Paul uses the metaphor of a soldier in a couple of different places:

” 3 You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. 4 No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.” (2Ti 2:3-4 NKJ)

” 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Eph 6:11 NKJ)

I was illuminated to read once, I don’t remember where, that the Roman army actively discouraged heroism among its soldiers. The barbarian nations encouraged it. For them it was all about personal glory and honor, fighting well, dying and going to Valhalla. But the Romans wanted discipline. They wanted you to keep in your ranks. Sounds like the Israelite army functioned similarly. With a shield and spear, all in a row, marching in ranks, keeping discipline, the Roman army was well-nigh invincible. Wanting to be a hero was just as deadly to the success of such an army as cowardice. It didn’t matter whether you broke ranks by running or broke ranks by charging ahead of the army, the ranks were still broken, discipline would break down, the line would collapse, and then you’d be no better than a barbarian army, everyone just running around yelling and doing their own thing. The modern American military is much the same. They don’t want heroes. They want discipline and unit cohesion.

The soldier that Paul describes in Ephesians 6:14-17 is such a soldier. He’s got a sword and shield. He’s meant to fight in ranks. This is the kind of soldier Paul would be most familiar with, the legions that conquered the world.

In the church, likewise, we need to learn to be stouthearted and keep ranks. That takes humility, to be other-centered, not concerned just for my own good but for the good of the whole unit. That means we seek the good of our brother. We rejoice when he succeeds, we weep when he suffers, we seek to strengthen and heal him when he falters. It means we are not in the church to advance our own personal agenda, but the agenda of Christ, which is the establishment of His kingdom on earth, raising up disciples to Himself, and building the church.

If all I care about is myself, then I will seek personal glory in the church, seek to be the hero, to the detriment of the whole body. We are awash in these celebrity pastors building their own brand, advancing their own glory rather than the gospel of Christ. Whatever someone says, you can’t do both. Advancing the name of Christ truly is always exclusive of all personal glory, for He is the only name under heaven. He is the only savior. If I teach a person the degree and manner in which they need Christ, I must of necessity be teaching them at the same time that they don’t need me.

The one concerned with self in the church also will not courageously stand when the battle gets hot. When controversy comes, when discipline becomes necessary, when false teaching or immorality rears its ugly head, it very often comes with a cost. Family relationships may be broken. Friends may be lost. Such controversy takes a huge amount of time and energy. People will say bad things about you. And in the face of this challenge, many will not keep ranks. Many will break and run.

But God’s kingdom goes forward. Christ, by the power of the Spirit, will raise up to Himself “stout-hearted men who will keep ranks.” May God raise up such men to Himself today, who will not seek personal glory, who will not place their own safety or comfort above the good of the body as a whole, who will work to please the One who enlisted us. And brothers and sisters, let us all recommit ourselves to keeping ranks, marching together, following the orders of our general, and bringing all the glory to His holy cause.

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