Are Those Who “Sleep On Watch” Traitors To The Cause Of Christ?

Marc Smith

There is no more despicable behavior among men of war than the traitor. A great gulf lies between the valiant warrior and the traitor.

Just think of the examples we can take from famous battles of true selfless devotion and sacrifice for the sake of others. Too numerous to count have been the lives that were freely given with the full knowledge that they themselves would die so that others might enjoy some benefit of their ultimate gift. We know this is the most noble sacrifice of all because our Lord offered himself for us so that we might have eternal life. He respects this selflessness when shown in man, as well. John 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (NKJ). We too, are to display this greatest form of love and honor it highly.

Being a Texan, I always think of the Alamo and its place not just in Texas history but in the greater story of democracy for the entire American nation. There are examples of battles from wars in ancient history that had even greater importance than those that usually come so easily to our minds.

One such battle was fought at a place called the Pass of Thermopylae in Greece in 480 BC. The Persians under their King Xerxes, intended to conquer Greece which was a collection of small city states that were each independently ruled. The two greatest of these were Athens, the center of high minded philosophies, culture, trade, and the city state of Sparta, a strict military society of elite warriors, somewhat reminiscent of the feudal Japanese. The Spartans, in their early history stressed high standards like honor above all and extreme hardy physical fitness in each individual. Each of these city states was ruled by its own king but individual rights seem to have always been respected among these Greeks.

The conception of democracy is credited to these same ancient Greeks. King Xerxes of Persia controlled an expanse of territory that stretched from the Indus River to the Black Sea. He hungered to conquer the small but fiercely independent city states of Greece. According to history Xerxes wanted to get his gigantic army of two million men onto the main continent of Europe and pass down into Greece from the north. The best passage took him through the narrow pass of Thermopylae, which is only a couple of hundred yards across at its broadest. King Leonidas, king of Sparta, brought an army of under four thousand allied Greek troops, including his three hundred Spartans, to this place to take their stand against the mighty army of Persia. The Spartans were the cream of the crop of Sparta; all being men proven in battle and each with a son back home to carry on his name should he not return. They knew the fixed battle ahead would most likely end in their annihilation but they were fearless. When told that the Persian archers were so numerous that when their arrows were let fly they darkened the whole sky, a great warrior among them commented, “Then we shall fight in the shade!” When finally confronted by the massive forces of Xerxes’ army, a Persian envoy before the battle commenced, commanded them to lay down their arms and surrender, another Spartan warrior said, “Come and take them!”

According to the story this small army led by the Spartans, fought off all the massive attacks of the Persian cavalry, archers, chariots, pike men, and heavy infantry for the first several days. Infuriated, Xerxes, fearing a non-existent trap or the depletion of his supplies because his forward momentum had been stopped by the tiny Greek army began to seriously contemplate returning home and forget about taking Greece.

However, at the last moment a Greek came forward, by the name of Ephialtes, who for money betrayed his brethren by telling the Persians about an obscure trail that extended around and behind the Greek lines. The name “Ephialtes” has been a “hiss and a byword” in Greece to the present day because of his treachery. King Xerxes dispatched a huge number of his best heavy infantry to go with the traitor, Ephialtes, and the trail, indeed, brought them to a position of great superiority behind the Greek lines. When this was discovered King Leonidas ordered the majority of the Greek forces to retreat before their path was cut off by the encircling Persians so that they might live to fight the Persians another day.

However, King Leonidas intended to continue to hold the pass for as long as he could so that the others could make good their escape and to hold onto the valuable position for as long as was possible and delay the Persians. There was an ethic of the Spartans that is hard to understand today. Their devotion to victory and to honorable battle fought by warriors who were always brave in the face of danger is the main concept that has remained of their culture. It is said that there was a ceremony enacted in every home when a boy was considered old enough to go into battle. His mother would give him his shield and would say the words to him, “Either return carrying this shield or be carried dead upon it!” This was indeed a powerful mind-set of the entire society if the mothers were so devoted to the Spartan way of life.

On this day, King Leonidas ordered his three hundred Spartans to hold their positions and not retreat. On that fateful day this mighty little band withstood the gigantic and accomplished Persian army for hour after hour. Finally, Leonidas was struck down and all his faithful soldiers with him to the last man. Their delaying action allowed the Greeks to completely regroup their total forces and at the Battle of Salamis, the Persians were annihilated.

Why is this battle the Spartans fought long ago so significant to us today? By the defeat of the Persians at Salamis, Greece was not conquered and invaded. At that time Greece was the only barrier to the total conquest of all of Europe. If Greece had been destroyed, Rome would never have become a power. Without the Roman Empire, which began not too many years after this, Persia would have forever changed Europe’s nationalities, all the languages we know, cultures; all of it would be completely different. No Roman/Latin culture. No Greek philosophies and sciences. Western Civilization as we know it would never have come to be. Truly one of the most pivotal battles ever fought. But no thanks to the traitor Ephialtes!
On occasion, when preaching the gospel, I have used the example of the Spartans at Thermopylae to illustrate and symbolize Christians in their highly important spiritual warfare. The importance of our warfare is totally spiritual and the realm defended is that belonging to the Lord. The example of such great warriors seems completely appropriate because soldierly comparisons are used many times in Scripture.

The apostle Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians talks about the spiritual warfare we are to fight: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (6:13-17). This kind of language was easily understood by the hearers of his time. There is little doubt that the tradition of the Roman soldiers was built upon that of such great and admirable soldiers as the Spartans, who were said to be of the ultimate warrior type. Paul said, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (2 Cor. 16:13). This seems a very soldierly bit of encouragement. There are a number of times in Scripture that Paul refers to fellow Christians as soldiers (Epaphroditus in Phil. 2:25; Timothy in 2 Tim. 2:3, 4; and Archippus in Phile. 2). Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:3, “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” In fact, there are quite a few other references to aspects of war, soldiering, watchmen and the like that we are to imitate in a spiritual manner.

The Bible also teaches us about the dangers of traitors. Of course, there is Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ. He is one figure we can all understand and first comes to mind. However, it seems that failure of the soldier to be vigilant is as despicable and traitorous as being a turncoat. Read Ezekiel 33:29. In this passage the failure of the soldier on watch to warn his brethren brought down total condemnation and death upon himself. The application which is also given in this passage which is directed to the spiritual watchman, the prophet who is on watch against evil brings down spiritual condemnation upon himself. “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity,but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezek. 33:8).

Some will undoubtedly wonder how this can apply to Christians, and gospel preachers in particular, in our time. They might say that this instruction is only for the prophet of old. But these fail to take into account the fact that Paul refers to this very principle when he talked to the Ephesian  elders at Miletus. “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:26-27). This is a direct reference to the principle of Ezekiel 33. That makes this a principle that gospel preachers today must practice! He makes his point even more plainly by saying the following in verse 31, “Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” Here the apostle Paul shows his role as the one on watch whose duty it was to warn. He commands the Ephesian elders to also “watch” and reminds them to follow his example during the three years he was with them, because he did “not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”

It is certainly probable that they took his commands and warning seriously because we read in the second chapter of the Book of Revelation that though many years had passed, they still heeded Paul’s warnings. Revelation 2:2-3: “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars, and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.” Though they were in trouble spiritually because they had left their “first love” and were commanded to repent and “do the first works,” the Lord also tells them in verse 6, “But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” They were known by the Lord to hate the false doctrine and deeds of these followers of Nicolaus. They had clearly opposed this movement or doctrine of error and won the approval of the Lord in this matter by so doing.

Are there traitors to the Lord’s church and to the doctrine of Jesus Christ in our time? There is no doubt in my mind and in the minds of many faithful brethren today that there are, indeed, traitors; those who are on watch but will not stand up and warn those they have the responsibility to warn. The statement here is not meant to be inflammatory in nature but it only takes a cursory view of the direction churches are taking at this time to realize this is true.

One of the main ways some are traitors to the cause of Christ is that they will not take a position, thereby committing themselves to either truth or error. We can only guess at their reasons for this. They would appear unspiritual in nature and the conclusion must be that they fear a change in the status quo. If they “rock the boat,” their incomes may be endangered and their popularity might wane and so not be in demand to hold gospel meetings or for other like events. Also, it seems there is a great reluctance to appear “negative” in any way to the membership which also “rocks the boat.” They do not want to be the one to cause the “party to be over.”

It may be that another reason the Romans 14 error is being promoted to the extent that we can clearly see is that these, catering to the whims of an evil generation, hope to curry favor with the liberal minded intellectual elite of various congregations. Actually, these are quite numerous in our well educated age. Gaining favor with these is done primarily for reasons listed in the previous paragraph, but also so that they “might belong” to this savvy bunch of post-modernist thinkers who are so “high-minded and enlightened” they cannot appreciate the purity of the gospel as it is written in the New Testament and these only are capable of seeing the world in shades of gray. From their lofty view, no one can make judgments of others and no one can determine what is right or wrong. Among such, the word “no” is rarely heard except when it comes to upholding the hands of the sound preachers and elders in the congregations they attend. Rather, these find it easy to be hateful and “negative” to those who remind them of what the word of God truly reveals.

Thinking there are traitors among us is a serious matter. In the parable of the tares, Matthew 13:25 we read, “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” Those who slept in this passage, clearly, were not supposed to be sleeping no matter what the reason!

These outstanding Scriptural examples are quite sufficient to make a strong application that needs to be clear in our time:

    1. We must identify those who are “traitors.”
    2. We must appeal to them to repent.
    3. If they will not repent and join the faithful in upholding the truth, then their guilt and sin requires the faithful to do their duty.

Further, this duty is to “warn the wicked from his way.” Our duty is no less than what the elders at Ephesus did as they identified false apostles and those who promoted false doctrine.

Paul said: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6). And finally he said in verse 9, “As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.” There is no room for equivocation on these matters and no room for traitors to the cause of Christ who are only motivated by the flesh. The danger to those faithful to the word of God is that it is possible that taking such a stand will bring us home upon our shields.

The one principle upon which we must stand is not difficult to know. It might be difficult to accomplish. Those not strong in the faith cannot achieve it, Those who love the Lord, must do it as honorable soldiers of Christ: 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

The East Florence Contender, Florence, Alabama
Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 21  p8  November 2, 2000