At Work & Public Square

Honoring the Sacrifice and Calling of Military Service

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Almost every Memorial Day I am reminded of this statement:

A veteran is someone who, at one point in their life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount up to and including their life.

This reminds me of what the apostle John said in his first epistle,

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16).

As we honor the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for their battle buddies, their country, and for freedom, it might be enlightening to consider the instrumental value of the work done by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in bringing shalom to God’s kingdom on earth.

Personal Experiences in Military Service

Although I do not consider myself any kind of hero, I did serve on active duty for twenty years, six months, and seventeen days. In 2006, I retired from active duty. Since then, I have worked full-time as a civilian for the U.S. Army.

Looking back, joining the U.S. Army in 1986 was a huge answer to prayer. There were days I wondered what I was doing, but they were rare. I would not change a thing. Most days I truly sensed God’s presence. There were ministry opportunities everywhere we were assigned. I always knew that God had put me at the right place at the right time to live out my Christian faith.

However, for my first two years as a soldier, I felt a lot of guilt. I was sure that I was called to serve God in vocational ministry when I was in college. I had done all I could do to pursue ministry as a profession, but because my financial circumstances impeded my progress, that door was closed. I had to find a “secular” job. I truly felt that I was a second-class Christian.

Then in 1989, while serving my first of two unaccompanied tours in Korea, I read a life-changing book titled Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. They tore apart the myth of sacred vs. secular and taught me the intrinsic and instrumental value of everyday work.

Can Military Service Truly Be Sacred?

There are a variety of viewpoints in the body of Christ as to whether or not it is appropriate for a Christian to serve in the military because they may be forced to participate in violent acts against an enemy.

A couple of years ago, I saw the movie Hacksaw Ridge, which tells the true story of a conscientious objector during WWII. As a combat medic, he single-handedly saved an unbelievable number of lives in one horrific battle in the Pacific without carrying a rifle.

In a similar vein, about twenty-five years ago while I was at Fort Hood, I knew a brother from my church who was a civilian employee as I am now. Through much soul-searching and study with some believers who taught a pacifist approach, he decided to leave his job. I did not agree with his decision, but I respected him as a brother in Christ.

To say that all Christians need to avoid working in the military is risky. Ironically, it is because of the many sacrifices of our military that our country has remained free, which allows us to practice our religion, express our convictions, and choose our own career path.

In the book Callings: Twenty Centuries of Christian Wisdom on Vocation by William Placher, I found a quote from Martin Luther that shed some light on the issue of Christians serving in the military.

When I think of a soldier fulfilling his office by punishing the wicked, killing the wicked, and creating so much misery, it seems an un-Christian work completely contrary to Christian love. But when I think of how it protects the good and keeps and preserves wife and child, house and farm, property, and honor and peace, then I see how precious and godly this work is; and I observe that it amputates a leg or a hand, so that the whole body may not perish. For if the sword were not on guard to preserve peace, everything in the world would be ruined because of lack of peace.

Romans 13:4 also provides some support for this idea. The apostle Paul teaches that the church is to be in submission to authority.

But, you may ask, “Even the secular Roman government authorities? Even the corrupt ones we have now?”

Yes and yes.

Why?

Paul writes they are “God’s servant, for your good…He is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Paul says that authorities are God’s servants. Sometimes that means taking appropriate military action to bring order out of chaos.

Placher also reminds us of what John the Baptist said at the Jordan River:

When soldiers came to him and asked what they should do, he did not condemn their office or advise them to stop doing their work; rather, according to Luke 3 [v. 14], he approved it by saying, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Thus he praised the military profession, but at the same time he forbade its abuse.

Despite the hardships and sacrifices, I can say without reservation that I am grateful I had the opportunity to serve in our nation’s defense. Serving in the military was—and is—godly work. God is definitely present in it.

Many thanks to those who have also served in the military, the families who supported them, and others who enjoy the freedoms we have in this country because of their service.

Editor’s note: This article is an adapted excerpt from Russell’s book, Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Profession.

Read more about how all work matters to God in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

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