The post Prince of Peace, Sword of the Spirit, Twinkling Christmas Lights, & Worthy Disciples discusses what it means to be a “worthy” disciple of Christ. Jesus told His disciples He was sending them out as “sheep among wolves,” and that they should, thus, be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” Knowing how to be both wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove is part of being a worthy disciple.
It may seem foolishly dangerous for a shepherd to knowingly send his sheep out among wolves, but worthy disciples are not unsuspecting, blind sheep. The shepherd chose particular sheep enlightened among the flock, and He prepared His disciples before sending them out among wolves. He sent them out in hopes of saving other sheep from destruction. The disciples were Jesus’ front line soldiers–his “forlorn hope.”
What is the “Forlorn Hope”?
The forlorn hope is a band of soldiers–a brotherhood and sisterhood–an army who together fight a great battle despite high risk of casualty.
Sometimes called the enfants perdus or the “lost children,” the forlorn hope is the front line. These are soldiers in the most hazardous positions. These are most at-risk to die.
In military strategy, the forlorn hope would be organized in waves. Most in the first wave would be killed or seriously wounded. A few would survive to establish a foothold. Then the second wave would reinforce that foothold. Inch by inch, foot by foot, mile by mile, they would gain ground on the enemy. The more ground they gained, the better the chance for survival. They may lose some battles along the way, but if they persistently moved ahead and kept reinforcing the line with stronger, more skilled soldiers, they would eventually win the war.
The forlorn hope weren’t hopeless. The irony is, these were the most proactive, the ones with strongest faith. They were the ready, the fierce, the dedicated (like “the few, the proud, the bold” United States Marines). Though the term “forlorn hope” seems today to literally mean “lost hope,” in reality the phrase is idiomatic (i.e., a figurative expression like “it’s raining cats and dogs). The phrase came from the Dutch “verloren hoop,” or “lost troop.” The British botched the translation:
“Lack of hope must have been a commonplace feeling amongst the English in the 19th century as they coined a variety of literal phrases to express it – ‘not a hope in Hell’, ‘some hopes’, ‘what a hope’ etc. To that list we might expect to add ‘forlorn hope’ as, using the above rationale, its meaning is defined by the literal meaning of ‘forlorn’ and ‘hope’.
‘Forlorn hope’ now just means ‘lost hope’. That’s not how it was in the 16th century, when a forlorn hope wasn’t a world-weary feeling but a robust and gung-ho band of soldiers.
Each troop in the British Army had a hand-picked group of men, chosen for their ferocity and indifference to risk (and occasionally by using that tried and tested military method of “I want three volunteers. You, you and you.”). They were the army’s ‘attack dogs’ who risked all in reckless death or glory raids on the enemy.”
The forlorn hope weren’t careless. They were well-oiled machines who applied wise cunning to properly evaluate what they were up against and prevent unnecessary casualty:
“[S]uch soldiers were rarely suicidal or foolhardy: British troops of the forlorn hope at the 1812 Siege of Badajoz carried a large bag (5–6 feet (1.5–1.8 m) by 2 feet (0.61 m) in diameter) stuffed with hay or straw, which was thrown down into the enemy trenches to create a cushion and prevent injury as they jumped down.”
Christian evangelists, the modern disciples of Christ, are a band of brothers and sisters battling evil powers in this present world. For different spiritual battles, Christ chooses particular disciples as his forlorn hope. If and when we are chosen to be on the front line in one of Christ’s campaigns, we want to be sure we are worthy of that calling.
Christ’s “Forlorn Hope”: Wise, Yet Harmless
Disciples are to shine the light of Jesus to a lost, dying, and dark world. A world void of light. In this world, powerful wolves of darkness are leading blind sheep straight over the cliff to utter destruction. As Jesus was reviled and persecuted, so shall His Worthy Disciples be. It was Jesus’ own people who “received Him not” and crucified Him. Evil powers will oppose and destroy anyone preaching the good news of the Gospel if they perceive that message threatening to their idols, their coveted possessions, their vanity, or their pride. But the forlorn hope of Christ are fervent in spirit, and they persevere despite resistance:
“(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
The serpent is an ancient symbol of evil. The Egyptian hieroglyphic for serpent symbolized wisdom. The serpent in Genesis was the master of subtle cunning. The Worthy Disciple is to have the wisdom the serpent had. The Christian must understand cunning so not to be deceived (the Christian will be in the world but not of the world). The Worthy Disciple must possess the subtlety of the serpent; however, unlike the serpent, the Worthy Disciple does not use his wisdom for deceit.
The Worthy Disciple tempers his wisdom with a dove’s innocence. While the serpent is cunning, the dove is simple. He seeks to save, not harm. His weapons are not carnal. Carnal weapons are more than those stored in an armory. Carnal weapons include malice and manipulation in order to cause injury. The Worthy Disciple employs wise cunning to slay evil, but simple innocence to save the evildoer. The Worthy Disciple’s weapons are those in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints…”
The Apostle Paul: Wise, Yet Harmless
The Apostle Paul was a Worthy Disciple who exemplified a Christian balance of both a serpent’s wisdom and a dove’s harmlessness. He was the balance of bold and base, wise cunning and simple innocence. What made him a Worthy Disciple was Christ in him.
When Paul saw unhealthy, unholy division in the Christian church at Corinth, he had to tread carefully on how to address issues within the Corinthian church. He had to possess the wisdom to discern the causes of division, but he also had to have the innocent motive to heal, not hurt (unite, not destroy).
Many times throughout his Corinthian letters, Paul demonstrates the Worthy Disciple balance between wise serpent and harmless dove. Many are familiar with Paul saying women should keep silent in the church (1 Corin. 14:34). That seems serpent-like–of a cunning tongue designed to hurt women. However, put it in full context. It is obvious he did not mean all women to be silent in church. Just a few chapters earlier he instructs women on how to pray and prophesy in the church (1 Corin. 11).
How could women be instructed how to pray and prophesy and yet be told to keep silent? Simply put, Paul was taking issue with those who brought unholy speech into the church. Paul was talking about women who engaged in idle talk–gossip–the kind of talk that is not edifying for the soul. The kind of talk that causes confusion. He seemed to be getting tough with the Corinthians.
He wrote his letters to the Corinthians to bring the church back to its original doctrine. He said he was called to be a “skilled master builder” who laid a good foundation for others to build upon.
The Corinthians weren’t happy with Paul. They accused Paul of being like a dog who barked loudly when only at a distance. Paul says in the beginning of 2 Corinthians 10 that he was “base” when present with them, and he was “bold” when absent. As he explained, the bold confidence in his letters was to take issue with the manners of “some” of the Corinthians, not all. He did not wish his boldness misdirected at those whose conduct did not deserve it. Yet, he did not avoid addressing the “some” whose conduct had to be addressed. He wrote all by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.
As Paul shows, the balance of bold and meek enables us to control our thoughts and our deeds. When at war, the “wiles” of the devil use carnal weapons to provoke us, hoping to incite riot and cause anger, division, bitterness, and injury. The typical human reaction is to match “anger” for “anger.” Strike without understanding the situation (without wisdom) or strike with carnal weapons (without harmlessness).
Worthy Disciples know not to be “captive” to such typical human thoughts. They stop their angry, bitter, greedy, lustful, fearful thoughts before those thoughts possess the person and manifest in sin (before their cunning crosses into injurious deception designed to destroy). They bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. This change of mind is of no self-made power. It is done through the mind of Christ, as Romans 12 shows us:
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
For any called to be the Lord’s forlorn hope, God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit did not leave us without instruction on how to live as part of this army (it’s good to revisit and read often to remind ourselves):
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.
10 Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;
11 Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord;
12 Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;
13 Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.
14 Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not.
15 Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.
16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.
17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.
18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.
19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
20 Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.
21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.