The backbone of any military service is its non-commissioned officers. These men and women make sure the officers’ orders are followed, and that the mission is successfully completed. They are different from the rest of the enlisted ranks because they are typically more career-oriented and more devoted to the business of soldiering. In past conflicts American NCOs have often used their initiative and expertise to lead our troops when officers were unavailable or incapacitated. This has been and continues to be a significant advantage when our armed forces go into battle.
In ancient times there was a class of soldiers in the Roman legions who perfectly fit this model. They were the centurions. A Roman legion generally consisted of 6,000 men who were led by a general whose name would be written in the chronicles of the legion’s victories. The centurions, however, commanded 100 men and were the glue that held the legions together.
When we open the pages of the New Testament, centurions are mentioned several times. In each case they are portrayed as honorable men. They were conscientious in the fulfillment of their duties, and are never depicted as being abusive or unscrupulous. In the one certain instance in which Jesus dealt with a centurion, the man treated the Lord with utmost respect. This incident is recorded in Mt. 8:5-13 and in Lk. 7:1-10, and the Lord marveled at the faith of this Roman soldier. When the Lord breathed His last breath on the cross, the centurion who was in charge of the execution exclaimed that Jesus must have been the Son of God (Mk. 15:39). This certainly suggests that he was far more honest than many of the Jews.
The most important centurion of whom we read in the New Testament was Cornelius. In Acts 10 we learn that he was a devout man whose prayers had risen as a memorial before God (Acts 10:4). Although he was accustomed to commanding others, this centurion followed every command the angel of God gave him. Then, when Peter came and preached the gospel to him and his household, this centurion obeyed the command to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:48).
The centurions of the New Testament are an example that we would do well to follow as believers. We should be diligent in our service to the Lord, just as they were to the Roman legion. We should be dependable and reliable in our service, just as they were. We should be willing to do whatever our commander, Jesus, requires of us, just as they were to their superior officers. And, we should be respectful and humble before the Lord, just as the centurion was in Mt. 8 and Lk. 7.
A common malady in many organizations is that too many within the organization want to be the boss, and too few are willing to be the workers. We sometimes refer to this condition as, “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”. The centurions of whom we read in the New Testament were chiefs in one important sense, but they were also Indians in another, equally important, sense. These men knew how to balance their responsibilities both as leaders and as servants. So, also, must we.
No matter what our role is in the church, we are all slaves of the one and only Son of God. Even those who are vested with the responsibility of leadership in the church, must also themselves serve the King of kings. The church only grows when each member does his or her part in accordance with God’s word (Eph. 4:11-16). Therefore, let’s make it our goal to become centurions for the Lord, and to give Him the kind of honorable service that He alone deserves.