Wartime, Self-Sacrifice and the Christian Life

Whenever a nation gets involved in a major wartime effort, the civilian population left at home tends to have to make plenty of sacrifices as well. Sure, they normally do not have to risk their very lives, as do those on the front lines, but they are expected to put up with hardships, sacrifice and plenty of inconveniences for the sake of winning the war.

We certainly saw this happening during the Second World War. The British, the Americans and others had to do with various restrictions on freedom and lifestyle in order to ensure that the troops were able to properly do their job. Various kinds of rationing took place, and many folks had to make do with less than ideal circumstances for as long as necessary.

But it was all worth it of course, because the war was far too important, and stopping the Nazis and liberating Europe was a national priority, as was taking on the Japanese. So wartime restrictions, rationing and hardships were put up with gladly, because something far more important than mere inconvenience was at stake.

ww ii 1One article on this wartime rationing begins this way:

During World War II, a key aspect of almost every country’s wartime strategy focused heavily on limiting domestic consumption. One method governments employed to enforce control was to forcibly reduce their citizens’ consumption through the implementation of rationing, a tactic that allowed governments to equally apportion a certain amount of a particular resource to many people, rather than allowing a free-for-all atmosphere when resources were limited. An Economic Intelligence Service of the League of Nations publication from 1942 details the importance of rationing during wartime, stating, “the control of consumption is a necessary condition…[for] the effective mobilization of resources for war purposes.” Governments who effectively employed rationing programs domestically were better able to manage resources for their war efforts abroad. Rationing became a key part of war efforts on both sides of World War II.

The article examines two nations: Great Britain, and Nazi-occupied Austria. It concludes:

Controlling consumption was fundamental to successful war efforts during World War II. It was understood that citizens had to make significant sacrifices domestically to help their soldiers abroad. In Great Britain, the British population accepted these sacrifices during wartime, however unhappily. On the other hand, in Nazi-occupied Austria, Austrians voiced malcontent with the rationing policy implemented by the Nazis during the war. In both cases, public opinion was largely negative, but they differ in their respective government’s handling of public response to policy. The British government?specifically the Labour Party?dealt with little significant controversy toward rationing policy during the war. As a result, they fell into a state of complacency, allowing rationing policy to continue in the postwar period, and thereby losing their prominence in government to the Conservative Party, who considered public opinion. Conversely, the Germans, who tried to consider Austrian opinion, maintained their authoritarian rule and gave up trying to appease the Austrians?the German war effort took precedence over Austrian satisfaction. Evidently, a complex balance exists between maintaining a successful wartime effort through consumption control and maintaining the happiness of a nation’s people.

I deal with this issue not just out of historical interest alone, but to make an important spiritual point. The Christian life is a life of warfare, of battle, and of fighting. It is also a life of hardship, surrender and self-sacrifice. At least it is supposed to be.

I have written often the issue of warfare and the Christian life. See here for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/03/18/fighting-the-good-fight/

And I have often written about the sacrifices a believer is called to make for his Lord. But here let me offer some spiritual parallels to what we found happening in the countries reduced to rationing during the last great war. The parallels are not perfect of course because in the Christian’s life, it is a voluntary rationing and self-sacrifice, not one forced upon us by government.

But otherwise we have some real similarities. In both cases, an urgent end requires discipline, self-denial and sobriety in order to achieve a good outcome. In both cases the cause is much greater than the individual, and any sacrifices we can make for the greater good are vital.

In the Christian life we war against the world, the flesh and the devil. The spiritual battle is constant and to the max. If we hope to properly present Christ and extend his Kingdom and strike blows against the satanic empire, that will require real effort from us, and real self-sacrifice.

If we just keep living a self-indulgent, me-first lifestyle, we will achieve nothing of worth for the Kingdom. In fact we will end up aiding and abetting the enemy. The New Testament makes much of this type of thinking. For example Paul put it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as he mixes his metaphors:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Or consider his words as found in 2 Timothy 2:1-5:

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

Self-discipline and self-denial are essential parts of the Christian life if we want to see Christ glorified, the world reached, and enemy strongholds pulled down. It will not happen any other way. Like Paul, we make sacrifices for our Lord because he made the greatest sacrifice for us. We can do no less.

As C. T. Studd once said, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him.” Or as the Welsh preacher J. D. Jones said, “All the calls of the gospel are calls to hardship, to sacrifice, to battle. Christ would have no man follow him under the delusion that he was going to have an easy time of it.”

F. B. Meyer put it this way:

It is urgently needful that the Christian people of our charge should come to understand that they are not a company of invalids, to be wheeled about, or fed by hand, cosseted, nursed, and comforted, the minister being the head-physician and nurse – but a garrison in an enemy’s country, every soul of which should have some post of duty, at which he should be prepared to make any sacrifice rather than quit it.

Let me conclude with the words of Leonard Ravenhill on this issue. He said,

When a nation calls its prime men to battle, homes are broken, weeping sweethearts say their good-byes, businesses are closed, college careers are wrecked, factories are refitted for wartime production, and rationing and discomforts are accepted – all for war. Can we do less for the greatest fight that this world has ever known outside of the cross – this end-time siege on sanity, morality and spirituality?


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