From Hamburger Hill to Calvary
The Battle of Hamburger Hill was a battle of the Vietnam War that was fought by the United States and South Vietnam against North Vietnamese forces from May 10–20, 1969. Although the heavily fortified Hill 937 was of little strategic value, U.S. command ordered its capture by a frontal assault. The hill was finally taken at the cost of 72 Americans killed and 372 wounded. Losses on the North Vietnamese side are estimated at more than 630 dead.
What makes this battle so significant is that the hill was of little strategic value, which was proven by the fact that it was abandoned by the US forces two weeks later. But more significant is the fact that the fall-out from this battle back home forced the Nixon administration to order the end of major tactical ground operations in Vietnam. So in a sense the hill and the battle were won while at the same time losing the war!
In the same way, we as Christians individually and collectively in our local churches, sometimes engage in spiritual battles that are of little strategic (over-all) importance. In the process we expend enormous amounts of time and energy and incur severe losses of all kinds for hollow victories that make no difference in the light of eternity. We may even win a particular battle and yet, lose the war. One example of this could be winning an argument with someone who differs from us yet, losing the person for the Lord. We become so fixated at winning the argument, that we forget that our objective is not to win the argument, but to win the soul. We easily forget that Jesus did not die for arguments, but for souls.
The Pharisees were very good at the minutia of the Law and would win those battles every time, yet they lost sight of the more important things like “justice, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23). Indeed they could win every doctrinal and theological battle, but lost their own souls and those of their followers. Allow me some liberty as I apply Matthew 16:26: “What is a man profited if he gain all doctrine and theology and lose his own soul?”
Doctrine and theology are important. There are times when we must stand for truth and defend it vigorously, even at the cost of our very lives. But to try and correct the fool who does not want to know truth is a waste of time (Proverbs 23:9). Paul warns about endless arguments over words (1Timothy 6:4). To tweak the theology or behavior of an unbeliever is pointless, unless he comes to Christ first. And to correct someone who is wise in his own eyes is futile (Proverbs 26:12).
It is vital that we choose our battles, or put in another way, choose which hill we are willing to die on. Dying for something that in the end is not important is a waste of a life. If one is going to give one’s life for something, surely one needs to make sure that it is for the right reasons and the right cause. And if you are going to expend resources, surely you should make sure that they are being spent in the best way possible. Jesus said: “do not… cast your pearls before swine…” (Matthew 7:6).
Daily the enemy of the church wins victories as we are drawn into divisions and strife over non-essentials, while not engaging the serious issues in our own lives and our churches. Jesus called it swallowing camels while straining out gnats (Matthew 23:23-24). We will argue and divide over doctrinal nuances with such venom and hatred. That shows that our focus on doctrinal niceties is simply a cover for the real issue – our carnality (1Corinthians 3:3). It is frankly no good winning every doctrinal argument, even if you are right, but in the process your spirit is more that of the devil than that of Christ. You are fighting the wrong battles – the real battle is within your own soul!
Yet we are amazingly inept at seeing the forest for the trees, and choosing the right battles. As we fight the wrong battles, we not only waste time and resources, and possibly our lives, but we are distracted from the real issues. This is one of the oldest tactics in war. Even in the sword fight the attacker will lunge at a part of the opponent’s body to draw his attention away from where the fatal blow will strike. Leading up to the Normandy landings on D-Day, the Allies staged a number of elaborate diversions to draw Hitler’s forces away from where the actual landing would take place.
Daily we are deceived by the enemy’s diversionary tactics to get us to focus on something other than the main and strategic goals. As in war, we need to ask the question all the time: Does this contribute to the over-all plan of God for my life and ministry, or is it a diversion and distraction? Many times the diversion looks important, but it is not – it is all part of the devil’s strategy. One diversion I frequently fall for is entering a debate with someone who is not really interested in the truth, but simply wants to argue. These debates consume a lot of time and energy and seem to be important as we feel we are “defending the faith”. But we must ask the question whether the other person is really interested in the truth or is simply being used by the enemy to distract us from the real task at hand. (And yes, the devil frequently uses other Christians in this way.) It is not easy to know the difference, but we must get better at not tilting at windmills if we are going to win gloriously in the end. The fact is that every skirmish and every maneuver takes resources from the main front which plays into the hands of the enemy.
I vex my soul daily over Christian leaders who choose the hill of Calvinism, or Arminianism, or some view on the Rapture, or a specific Bible translation, or any of a thousand other issues, as the hill on which they make their stand. For many it becomes their last stand where they, like Custer and his brave men, eventually die in defeat.
It is absolutely vital therefore that we have a clear view of what the objectives are and having those in mind, we gear our lives and our churches towards those objectives and those alone. So what are our objectives? I thought much about this because it is crucial that we get this right otherwise we will be fighting the wrong battles and taking the wrong hills, only to abandon them again for the next unimportant one. Here is my understanding of the objectives of the church:
- To seek and save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).
- Keep those that have been entrusted to us (John 17:11,12).
- To bring believers to maturity into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:12-16).
It is essential therefore that each of us determine whether every endeavor, every project, every dollar spent, and every hour consumed works towards those objectives lest we find ourselves attacking or defending hills that make no contribution towards ultimate victory, but rather could cost us the war.
Throughout the life of the Lord Jesus, the devil sought to divert and distract Him from His goal – Calvary. The temptations in the wilderness, the adulation of the crowds, the good intentions of His disciples, the opposition of the religious community, and even the great needs around Him, all worked to divert Him from His objective.
In Nazareth (Luke 4:28-30), the mob thrust Him out onto the hill in order to throw Him off and kill Him. But Jesus understood that this was not the hill on which He would shed His blood and that dying here would play into the hands of the enemy whose strategy was to prevent Him from reaching the objective. Jesus recognized that the objective was for Him to die an atoning death on the hill called Calvary and not to die a martyr’s death at the wrong time on the wrong hill. He therefore quietly excused Himself and disappeared. It seems that our perverted sense of chauvinism forces us to never “run away” but always to stand and to fight. Yet Jesus knew when to fight and when to just walk away. Oh, that we might learn such discretion and wisdom!
It is with the ultimate, strategic goal in mind that He set His face as flint towards Jerusalem (Isaiah 50:7; Luke 9:51) knowing that for this cause He was born and for this cause He had come into the world (John 18:37). He was not distracted or diverted for one moment. His entire life, every decision, every action, and every reaction was focused on the one objective – the cross.
At the judgment the question will not be how many battle scars you have or how many hills you defended or won. There will be only one question: Did you do His will? His will is absolutely in line with His objectives of saving, keeping and conforming.
May it be said of us, as of Him:
“Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come– In the volume of the book it is written of Me– To do Your will, O God.” (Hebrews 10:5-7).
 Tilting at windmills comes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote in which Don Quixote wanted to attack a group of “giants” until his loyal servant Sancho Panza pointed out that they were not giants but windmills.
 These are summed up in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19,20.