Word of the Week
January 29, 2022
Strateia: You’re in the Army Now
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight.
1 Timothy 1:18
Any time you hang around with a group of Vietnam veterans, it is obvious that they share a bond forged in the disciplines of military life and the flames of combat. From the Civil War to the Gulf War, battle brings soldiers together. They share intense experiences that only a fellow-soldier understands.
I did not serve in the military, though my parents were in the Navy during World War II. I don’t know what it is like to be shot at. However, I do have some experience on the battlefield of the spirit. The New Testament makes it clear that followers of Jesus Christ are involved in a great conflict. In fact, the apostle Paul told his protégé Timothy to “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 1:18).
We can equip ourselves for this spiritual war by zeroing in on the Greek words that Paul uses in this set of instructions.
“Fight the good fight” contains two linked Greek words: the verb strateuō and the noun strateia. You can easily see that these words are the source for our English word strategy. We talk about strategies for expanding a business or winning at chess, but first century readers would immediately think of the Roman army. The generic word for “soldier,” after all, was stratiōtēs, and Roman troops were a familiar sight everywhere in the empire.
They were even present in the crowds who listened to John the Baptist. According to Luke 3:14, some soldiers asked John how they could respond to his message of repentance and holiness. John responded, “Don’t abuse your authority by seizing money or accusing someone falsely. Be content with your wages.”
Everyone knew about soldiers, so Paul used them more than once to illustrate truths about the Christian life. When he was arguing that it was proper for Christian leaders to receive pay, Paul reminded his readers that a soldier receives wages. He doesn’t pay his own expenses. If he held down a part-time job, he would have no time for his military duties (1 Corinthians 9:7). In another passage, the apostle reminded Timothy that a soldier doesn’t get entangled in civilian affairs. His sole responsibility is to please his superior officer (2 Timothy 2:4). What a helpful illustration of the fact that we answer to our heavenly Superior. We are obligated to please him; we cannot always please others.
Many veterans have reported that the life of a soldier consists of long periods of boredom interrupted occasionally by moments of absolute terror. The New Testament moves beyond the daily routines of life in the legions to talk about two battle fronts marked by high-intensity conflict.
First, a war is raging in the soul of individual Christians. Our inner urges aim to dominate our souls, and we will often find ourselves in combat with ourselves.
- Peter warns us to abstain from “fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). God has wired us with legitimate desires like the urge to live and love, but these drives turn into enemies when they are distorted or inflated to destroy our will to obey the Lord. They turn into an army out for our soul’s destruction.
- According to James, our internal conflicts escalate into combative relationships. What is the source of quarrels and conflict among Christians? It is the “pleasures” or desires that attack our souls (James 4:1).
Second, the believer is called to take up arms for the cause of God’s Kingdom. Satan leads a worldwide rebellion against the Monarch of the universe, and we have been recruited to fight for heaven’s rule.
- Paul uses both Greek words in 2 Corinthians 10:3-4 as he describes the military campaign against the rebellious forces who are trying to discredit his ministry.
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war [strateuō] according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare [strateia] are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.
He describes the objectives in the following verse: destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We cannot win the battle with our own resources, but we serve a mighty King with infinite resources.
- He uses both words again in his charge to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:18.
This command I entrust to you . . . that by them you may fight (strateuō] the good fight [strateia].
What are the secrets to winning warfare in the spiritual realm? Paul provides two in the next verse: keeping faith and a good conscience. We can never defeat the enemy with our own resources; we have to trust Christ constantly. In addition, we need to maintain a clear conscience so we will be in communication with our Leader.
You may not have realized you were enlisting in an army when you placed your faith in Christ, but all of us who have participated in the Great Conflict will find that we are a band of brothers and sisters. What stories we will have to tell in heaven!
Our noun, strateia, means “warfare,” and generally refers to a military campaign rather than a single skirmish. We are in this for the long haul!
The verb, strateuō, can mean “to be on military duty, to serve as a soldier” or “to engage in combat.” It can describe life in the barracks or on the battlefield.
Related words worth studying:
- Strateuma – either a large “army,” a smaller “military unit, detachment” or the individual soldiers in a unit (Matthew 22:7; Luke 23:11; Acts 23:10, 27; Revelation 9:16; 19:14, 19).
- Stratia – “army” – used of angels in Luke 2:13 and of stars in Acts 7:42.
Q – In Matthew 5:18, my King James Bible says that not a jot or tittle will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished. What is a “jot” or “tittle.”
A – A “jot” is one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, often spelled “yodh.” It is the smallest of all the letters in the alphabet, written as a single stroke that looks a little like a big apostrophe.
The “tittle” is a small hook-shaped stroke on the upper right-hand corner of some letters. It makes the difference between letters, much like the little downward line that makes a difference between P and R in English.
Christ was making the point that he was not planning to destroy even the tiniest detail of God’s Law. The rest of Matthew 5 shows that He was planning to raise the standard, not lower it.
Ask a committed pagan if they know a Bible verse and they are likely to point to “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1). It is a common weapon to attack Christians as bigots whenever we try to uphold any standard of morality. Next week we will look at the Greek word for “judge.”
©Ezra Project 2022