1T4-8 Commencement Address

Excerpt of the 1T4-8 Commencement Address, delivered at the promotion ceremony of 1T4-8, August 28, 2009 by Rev. Chip Hammond.

Both the Spartans and the Samurai exhibited a fierce pride and self-righteousness that can too easily attend all who try to live a life of self-responsibility, a life of discipline, and a life that will not simply allow evil to succeed. And therein is the danger. In the very things that 1T4-8 seeks to instill – self-responsibility, discipline, a refusal to sit back and allow evil to win – in those very things there is latent the fertile soil for arrogant pride, self-righteousness, and a sense of superiority to others. If that is the result, we’ve failed to become what the Bible defines as a Christian warrior. But how can we avoid it?

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and shod your feet with the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. (Eph 6:10-18)

It is in this passage that we find the foundation for avoiding the pitfalls of arrogance and self-righteousness that have been the hallmark of so many warrior cultures.

Paul tells us to “put on the armor of God” – not merely the armor that comes from God, but God’s own armor. Paul does not make up the concept of God’s armor. He picks it up from the prophet Isaiah. You will find it there, scattered throughout Isaiah’s long book. No piece of the armor is of our manufacture. It all comes from God. Paul does not tell us to put on “truthfulness,” that is, our being truthful (although we certainly should be), but to put on “truth,” which comes from God, for Christ Himself is the Truth (Jn 14:6).

Again, he tells us to shod our feet with the gospel of peace. The gospel is not something man invented or made up. The Apostle Peter tells us, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” 

(2 Pt 1:16). Paul tells us to take up the shield of faith, which he told us earlier in chapter 2 is not of ourselves, that is, does not spring out of the goodness of the human heart, but the very ability to exercise it is the gift of God.

The salvation which forms the helmet is not of our design or manufacture, for as the Psalmist said in Psalm 3:8, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” And of course the Sword of the Spirit is not the wisdom of man, but the Word of God.

All of it is God’s armor. But our tendency to self-righteousness is always tempting us, and so I cannot tell you how often I will hear Christian people, when they read of the Breastplate of Righteousness, interpret that to mean, “Our righteousness,” our “doing good things.” Now certainly God calls us to so do, and certainly we should. But if no other part of this armor is from us – is of our manufacture or doing – if all of it is God’s armor – his manufacture, his doing – do you think it is likely the Righteousness spoken of here is our righteousness?

So Paul said in Philippians 3:9 that he wanted to gain Christ, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” A righteousness which is not my own, but which is given to me. An “alien righteousness” as Martin Luther called it. That is the breastplate of righteousness Paul speaks of.

Our soldiers in Iraq and the police who patrol our streets wear body armor. No one in his right mind would wear body armor that he himself made. And what of our righteousness? The prophet Isaiah said, For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds (not our sins) are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Is 64:6). How well do you think you would fare going into battle wearing filthy rags as armor?

If you understand that your standing with God, your righteousness before him is not your own righteousness but Christ’s, it will deliver you from the pride that has been the pitfall of virtually every martial culture which has been self-righteous and self-justifying. It frees us to admit that we sin, and thus to keep short accounts with one another and with the Lord, because if we understand the gospel, we understand that our justification before God does not depend on the filthy rags of our own righteousness, but on the resplendent armor of His righteousness.

The motivation to fight where fighting is called for, then, arises not from fear, nor of self-justification; not from wanting to look good, nor to avoid shame. The gospel frees us to fight out of a motivation that arises from the love of God, and love of all that is good and right and just, not to earn God’s favor, but because we know that no threat or danger can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:39).

If you come to my office you will see artifacts and symbols of various warrior cultures. One of these is a set of three Japanese swords. The Samurai would carry two of these. The katana was the longer weapon and the one preferred and used. The shorter wakizashi would be used if the katana was lost in battle. The tanto was not carried, but it was kept. If a Samurai failed his lord, he was to use it to perform seppuku, ritual self-disembowelment to atone for his failure.

These three swords hang in my office. The katana reminds me that God calls me to be a warrior in a distinctly Christian sense, to fight for what is good and right and just. The wakizashi reminds me to never give up. The tanto that hangs under them is bound up tightly in the scabbard by white linen. It is never removed from the scabbard. It is a reminder that I do not have to justify myself before God. I have, and do fail my Master. But he bids this short blade to stay in the scabbard, because He has died to atone for my sin and to justify me.

The bound up tanto reminds me that I am not my own, but have been bought with a price. And by his death for me, he has set me free to serve him without the need for pride, self-righteousness or self-justification. By the grace of God, I hope that is how I will serve him. And by the grace of God I hope it is how you will too.