Much of history and much of military history tends to revolve around the top brass army officers and naval commanders alongside the premiers and presidents of the day. They are usually the decision makers and what they determine affects the life of every soldier in the field.
Modern warfare, however, is a lot more complicated. Modern weapons and modern communications mean that the shape of the arena of conflict can change very rapidly. There is also a different expectation placed on soldiers in today’s world. The ability of the press to send battle footage back to the civilian world almost immediately means that the conduct of a campaign comes under more public scrutiny. Consequently, within the space of a few square miles a squad of soldiers can find themselves attacking the enemy, conducting a peacekeeping operation and distributing humanitarian aid.
An American general, Charles Krulak, talked about this in terms of a three block war and highlighted the importance of what he called the strategic corporal.
The rank of corporal is the lowest rank of non-commissioned officer, yet, Krulak acknowledged, on the ground the corporal is often making life and death decisions. The corporal is a key person in the successful conduct of modern warfare, but usually an unsung hero.
The early church was full of unsung heroes. We read about the leaders who might be considered generals in God’s Kingdom. Peter, Paul, John, James, Stephen, James the Lord’s brother, and so on. There is no doubt that these people played a pivotal role in the development of the early church. But there were a lot of other lesser known characters.
In Romans 16 Paul lists and commends people who have served with honour who are not that well known: Phoebe; Priscilla and Aquila; Mary; Andronicus and Junia; Ampliatus; Urbanus; Apelles; Tryphena and Tryphosa; Persis. If you turn to 1 Corinthians 16 you’ll find Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus.
Why did Paul commend them? In most cases simply because they worked hard. In some cases they risked their lives or just “stood the test”. They will never have tv documentaries dedicated to assessing their contribution to Western civilization. No-one will ever write a PhD on their theological genius. However, even though they might seem like a footnote in the progress of the Kingdom of God, they are in truth its foot soldiers, corporals, even.
There are loads of people in churches all over the world who are like those on the rolls of honour in Romans 16 and 1 Corinthians 16. They work hard. Serve faithfully. Lead small groups. Organise ministry. Make war against the devil. Keep peace amongst the saints. And distribute liberally the spiritual aid of encouragement and exhortation. They don’t complain. They aren’t looking for profile. They work hard at trying to balance family, church and a busy working life. Often they give when it seems they have nothing left to give. They are the kind of people the church is built on. The strategic corporals of God’s kingdom.
So celebrate them. Encourage them. Honour them. Let’s hear it for the corporals.