The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest conflict of the Civil War. Nearly 7,800 people were killed, 27,000 were wounded, and 11,000 were captured or went missing. The North defeated the South in that 3-day battle. Had they not done so, it’s likely that today the United States would not be united. In fact, most historians regard Gettysburg as the turning point of the war.
One of the heroes to come out of that battle was Joshua Chamberlain, a professor of theology and rhetoric at Bowdoin College in Maine. On July 2, 1863, the second day of battle Col. Chamberlain defended the left flank of the Union on a hill called Little Round Top. Had he failed to hold that position, the Union line would have collapsed, the battle would have been lost, and the Confederates would have marched on Washington and overtaken the White House.
But Chamberlain and his men from the 20th Maine held firm. With great courage and tenacity, they repelled wave after wave of attack late into the afternoon. Even after his men ran out of ammunition, Chamberlain refused to retreat. Instead, he ordered that famous bayonet charge down the hill, which put the Confederates to flight and ended their plans to penetrate the Union line.
What’s not so famous, however, is a crisis that Chamberlain faced just two days before the Little Round Top incident. Chamberlain inherited 120 insurgents from the 2nd Maine. That regiment had folded because there were so many casualties in it. Naturally, the survivors assumed that when their unit ended, their term of service had ended, too. But not so, according to the military brass. They had to be re-assigned. Understandably, the men of the 2nd Maine were furious, so they dropped their muskets, and they refused to fight.
They had seen enough war. They had seen enough death. And some of them were wounded themselves. They were emotionally drained; and they just wanted to go home. But they were rounded up like cattle and marched at gunpoint over to the 20th Maine. Now, put yourself in Col. Chamberlain’s boots for a moment. You’re preparing for your next campaign just north of where you are now, when suddenly, 120 grumpy, burned-out insurrectionists are dropped into your lap. What are you going to do with them? How are you going to get them on board?
How do you motivate a group of wounded and weary soldiers to keep fighting the good fight? Chamberlain gets them on board with a speech—a stirring exhortation that is almost as powerful as the Gettysburg Address itself. After promising not to shoot the insurgents—which he had every right to do—Chamberlain talks to them with respect. In short, He reminded them that their purpose far outweighed their pain, and their prize far outweighed their price.
When it comes to Christian service, that’s a message believers need to be reminded of on a regular basis because ministry can be hard. Kingdom work is exhausting. Volunteer ministry can sometimes be discouraging, dispiriting, or disillusioning. Certainly, there are moments of great joy and celebration, but Christian service has a way of wringing us out like a wet dish rag. Paul’s burden in 2 Timothy is to light a fire under his young protégé to fight like a good soldier and keep fighting, even when the battle gets fierce. To that end, Paul tells Timothy—and he tells believers today—to press on in view of both the pain and the payoff. In short, he says fight to the finish, and receive your crown from Christ.
Paul, the old war horse, now in chains, sitting in the shadow of execution, just weeks away from martyrdom—what’s he concerned about? What’s foremost on his mind? The continued sharing of the gospel after he’s gone. It’s no time to go AWOL on the gospel, says Paul. He tells God’s people to fight well as a service to Christ (4:1-5), and finish well as a sacrifice to Christ (4:6-8). Just as he did.
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