Life’s Entanglements

“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer . . . Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.”— 2 Tim. 2:4, 7

Growing up, I had a deeply ingrained mental list of all the things I wasn’t supposed to do. I was not allowed to swear or use other “questionable” words. Even though I knew swearing wasn’t allowed, I was seriously reprimanded when my mom heard me utter a bad word after missing a shot in the neighborhood basketball game. I also knew that I was not allowed to smoke. I was told, and really believed, that God would strike me with a lightning bolt if I even tried a cigarette. I had a clear understanding of curfew and knew that good grades were a priority. A strong understanding of right and wrong was a major part of my growing up years.

Most of us have a well-established list of things we would never dream of doing. We know where our moral line is, and there is little chance that we would ever cross that line. If this is true, then we should never have to worry about walking away from our faith, right? If we know the difference between right and wrong, then we should have nothing to worry about.

There is a problem with this theory, and it is one that Paul seems to recognize.

The things in life that tempt Christians the most are typically not on any list of things that are objectively wrong. Rather, problems arise when anything pulls us away from Christ.

Often, the things that distract us from Him are not immoral on their own. We pursue the next promotion with a singular focus. The travel soccer team in which our child participates demands all of our time and attention. Trips to our lake home become a priority. We can rightfully ask, “what is wrong with playing soccer or trying to earn more money?” The answer is “nothing,” unless the love for those things nudges us away from our love of Christ.

When Paul reminds us that no military leader entangles himself in civilian affairs, he seems to bring up a similar point. In this passage, notice that Paul does not speak in terms of good and evil or even right and wrong. There is nothing evil about civilian affairs, but they are not important for the military leader. There is also nothing wrong with a promotion, a vacation, or a travel soccer team. Yet, any of these things has the potential to distract us and slowly pull us away from our love of Christ.

When Christians walk away from their faith, it is rarely because they went from faithfulness to visible failure in a single day. It is almost always the result of a long, imperceptible drift that started long ago. Perhaps the standard for Christians is not a well-developed right vs. wrong list. Instead, the standard should be, first and foremost, faithfulness to our leader. Avoiding wrong things is good, but it is not the primary task of the Christian life. We have a higher standard.

Prayer for the week: Almighty God, thank You for filling our lives with good things. We are so undeserving of all you have blessed us with. Help us to see the value of the things around us in a holy and proper way so that we don’t pursue the less valuable and lose focus on the thing most valuable: our faith in Christ. Amen.

Doug Ward is the senior pastor of Mundelein Church of the Nazarene in Mundelein, Illinois, USA, and teaches at Olivet Nazarene University.

Written for Coffee Break.