Last month, my book club read a book called We Band Of Angels, which told the story of the American nurses taken captive in the Philippines during World War II. I don’t remember studying much about what went on there; the snippets of history we were able to cover in high school focused more on the war in Europe. A group of nurses was caught in the middle of the conflict as the Japanese advanced. They served thousands of injured soldiers in unbelievable difficult circumstances, and eventually ended up in a Japanese prison camp. They all survived, but not without a lot of pain and suffering, and life-long debilitating issues as they came through starvation, disease, and the mental and emotional impact of war.
There were two things that kept the nurses going in those appalling conditions. The first was the unified commitment to their jobs. When everything good and pleasant had been stripped away, the nurses in charge continued to bring their attention back to why they were there. When they signed up to join the armed forces, they were given a mission, in the form of written orders. They were to represent the country they served well by concentrating on the injured and dying brought into their care. Second, they never lost hope that the cavalry was coming. Every day they got out of bed, there was hopeful anticipation that this could be the day of rescue.
I can identify with that book as I read Paul’s last letter to his young mentor, Pastor Timothy (2 Timothy). Those two lessons are exactly what Paul writes as he sits in prison for the last time, awaiting execution. He knows that his rescue is on the way; he never gives up hope, because his hope is in the eternal future he quite clearly anticipates is just around the corner. While he waits, he gives Timothy the same kind of instructions those charge nurses reinforced to their team: stay faithful to the mission.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come (2 Timothy 3:1).
Paul reminds Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but [a spirit of] power and love and discipline (1:7). Several times he urges him not to be ashamed, either of the gospel itself, or of the suffering that faithfulness to the gospel will bring (1:8,12), and to remain diligently and unashamedly focused on the Word of God he has been called to preach – the scriptures inspired by God that contain the wisdom that leads to salvation (2:15;3:15-17;4:2,5) – even when men turn away from the words of life he preaches in favor of godless myths and self-centered messages (4:3-4).
Listen to how Paul describes the work of his own life, the same work Timothy is to focus on as the days grow difficult.
2 Timothy 2:10 – For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:24-26 – The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive to do his will.
When the Japanese entered and took over the camp where the American medical units had set up their field hospitals, they were amazed that when an injured Japanese soldier was brought in, they received the same care as the American soldiers. The nurses knew their role was not to fight the war, but to care for the dying and injured, regardless of who was lying on the stretcher. The same is true for us. We are in God’s family by grace alone, through no merit of ours, and we offer that salvation to everyone and all, with no judgment. Whether they receive that “care” is up to them, and God who initiates and accomplishes salvation.
2 Timothy 1:9 – Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.
What was the hope that kept Paul going? It was the anticipation of meeting the Savior he served, and none too soon!
2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Those words of hope were necessary to give young Timothy a greater vision to hold onto as he faced difficult days. Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus, Paul says (2:3). Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (3:12-13). Yet, the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom (4:18).
Do you know the purpose of your life – a purpose that you can fulfill with a spirit of power (the Holy Spirit in you) and love (for your unsaved fellowman and your brothers and sisters in Christ) and the disciple (to live a godly life in an ungodly, hostile world)?
Do you have hope – a hope for eternal things that will sustain you no matter how dark or difficult the days grow, or the depths of persecution you may have to endure?
Have you received your written orders, your mission? Is your life built on the unshakeable foundation of God’s inspired Word – the scriptures that have the power to lead to salvation and to equip you for every good work?
Purpose, hope and written orders from our Commander-in-Chief will keep us going until He sends His angel armies to rescue us. Anything less will be a casualty of the spiritual war we are fighting. At the end of the book, those nurses went home. Weary, battle-scarred, and having given everything, they crossed the finish line and fell into the arms of their family. One day, we will too.