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  • Writer's pictureAdam O'Neill

Biblical Manhood: What is our weapon?

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Biblical Manhood: What is our weapon?

Each arrow that pierced his skin was like the pain of a thousand bee stings. Tied to a stake in the middle of a field Saint Sebastian faced an army of Roman soldiers, instructed by the emperor to shoot him until he died. Sebastian, a soldier himself in the Roman guard, was accused of proselytizing his fellow soldiers for Christ. A crime the emperor Diocletian found especially detestable. Diocletian’s reign was marked as the last great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire, and one of its bloodiest. Yet there were many who stood up for what they believed in, despite the great risk. My task in the first article on masculinity addressed what men should expect of themselves. I suggested by raising the expectations we have of ourselves we find ourselves, as Teddy Roosevelt so poignantly described, “in the arena”. Now, two great questions are presented by the Colosseum of life: who is our enemy, and what is our weapon? It is the latter I attempt to describe in this article. In the first article, I discussed William Wilberforce, the abolitionist and exuberant Methodist of the 1700s who used pen, ink, and voice to change the world. Now we meet the Soldier-Martyr Sebastian who carried a sword and shield for the Emperor, for Diocletian, but also for the true King of Kings. For this he paid the ultimate price. What I find most moving of all is Wilberforce and Sebastian carried the same weapon.

Though lies do damage, only truth persists.

Sebastian’s most enduring weapon was not one of steel but rather the Truth. In Ephesians 6, Paul describes the armor we dress with as Christians. Our sword? The Word of God, or Truth with a capital T. Those things that last beyond our years, long after we have faced death, are the words we speak. Though lies do damage, only truth persists. Brought before Diocletian, Sebastian is reported in The Golden Legend (a collection of stories attributed to the saints) to have said, “Always I have worshipped Jesus Christ for thy health and for the state of Rome, and I think for to pray and demand help of the idols of stone is a great folly.” The truth of the persecution of his brothers and sisters because they refused to worship idols was worth standing for. Tied to the stake Sebastian’s oppressors thought they had stripped him of his weapons, no one would allow a condemned criminal to carry their sword, yet what human hands could not take away and what arrows could not pierce was the truth for which he stood. George Washington said, “Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.” Indeed, in this situation, there was incredible pain. Much to the disappointment of Diocletian, Sebastian survived his attempted execution and though his body was filled with arrows he was found by Irene of Rome, her own husband a Roman soldier and eventual Martyr, who nursed him back to health. It would have been well within reason for Sebastian to recuse himself of public life, yet, with Truth as his weapon and a fire in his chest, he returned to the emperor.

...what human hands could not take away and what arrows could not pierce was the truth for which he stood.

I imagine the shock of Diocletian as Sebastian boldly approaches him. Here was this man who represented his opposition, was bold enough to speak against him but fragile enough to be killed by arrows, or so he thought, “Art thou not Sebastian whom we commanded to be shot to death?” Yes, this was the same man who was ordered to be executed, yet, God sets our days and there was one more thing Sebastian was ordained to say, “…our Lord hath rendered to me life to the end that I should tell you that evilly and cruelly ye do persecutions unto Christian men.” Diocletian was enraged. He commanded his guards to club Sebastian to death. There as he is beaten, he prays, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, lay not this sin to their charge,” and he breathed his last.

Truth cries out to be proclaimed by one, not necessarily strong enough, but willing enough to take it up as a banner.

Though Diocletian’s persecution of Christians was marked as the empire's bloodiest, it failed in its attempt to blot out its influence. Just twenty years after Diocletian’s death, Christianity had become the prevailing faith under the rule of Constantine. In part because men and women, armed with Truth, took a stand even to the point of death. You are armed with the same weapon held by Wilberforce and Sebastian both. Before you each day are set hundreds of opportunities to proclaim the truth. In small ways and large we face our enemy. His mission is to spread falsehood, ours is to pick up the sword of Truth and proclaim it. Though we may never find ourselves confronting a bloodthirsty emperor or tied to a stake for taking a stand we are witness to a world filled with falsehood and there are plenty of risks to pointing out injustice. Truth cries out to be proclaimed by one, not necessarily strong enough, but willing enough to take it up as a banner. What that passion is for you matters less to me than knowing you pursue it wholeheartedly. 

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