Thesis:How did the worldview of the Spartans make them such fearless warriors in the battle of Thermopylae, And what can we learn from them as Christians to be fearless and fierce followers of our King?
The lens which one looks through to see the world is called a worldview. We as Christians are to have a biblical worldview and when it comes to comparing to the Spartans, they were pagan. They didn’t worship the one true God, Yahweh, and their culture wasn’t really close to biblical by any means. Though looking at what took place at Thermopylae there are some principles that sounded forth from the fierceness of the Spartans. It resides in all humans, this battle cry for freedom; this courage that is deep within the hearts of men, which allows them to do extraordinary feats. These warriors led by King Leonidas, made such an impact in history that some would even say that if it wasn’t for their historic stand at Thermopylae, there may not be democracy today. The stand that these three hundred elite Spartans took at Thermopylae against the sea of Persians which was led by Great King Xerxes was an example to the world that taking a stand for freedom is worth it, even to the death. Christians can learn many principles from the actions of the Spartans in their stand against evil for the cause of freedom.
Now looking at it from a Christian worldview these men died not knowing God. They are spending an eternity separated from God forever. It’s an absolutely horrible eternal punishment that they must forever taste death and eternal separation from God. But there was something about these men, while they lived, that stood out amongst all other cultures. Not necessarily their lifestyle because it was very immoral and godless, but it is within the principle that we can learn something. In the same way that I can learn basketball from watching Lebron James and practicing like he does I’m not picking up his lifestyle that is Lebron’s choice to live how he wants. But by observing him I am picking up the principles of the game. And when looking at the Spartans, there are many principles that can be addressed that were displayed in the lives of these men. They were men who were patriotic, mighty, and had a war mentality. They highly honored their King and swore their lives to him. They were men who lived in a culture that viewed war and death as good and glorious. Even the mothers of the Spartans would say to their sons, “Come home with your shield or come home on it.” They were men who were strong in numbers, men who believed in the power of a team. Their brothers in arms were their family, and they would go with them to death. Such powerful phalanx tactics were used very strategically that their wall of bronze shields were near impenetrable. They worked together, side-by-side, almost as if they were one. Not only were these men powerful but they were terrifying; they intimidated the Persian forces with just three hundred. It was said on a certain day of the battle where the infamous Immortals (the elite of the Persian army) were to take on the Spartans that Xerxes stood up three different times out of fear because he saw the “Immortals” being slaughtered by these ferocious men. So in a comparison of principles between our allegiance to our King Jesus Christ and the allegiance of these Spartans to their king, we have much to cover.
In the eyes of Herodotus, Thucydides, and Aeschylus, the battles of the Persian Wars are central to the development of humanity. From the Persian point of view, they were small engagements which, when they went badly, were best ignored. The Greeks view war and death as glorious, that it was what they boasted in; it is what got them excited! The glory and the honor are found in dying in battle. In the Hollywood filmed movie 300, Gerard Butler, who plays king Leonidas, says to the traitor, “May you live forever.” And it wasn’t meant for glory, but for shame. This quote may not be recorded in history books, but I think it serves well in the context of their society to see war as glorious, that death in the battlefield was an honor. In our culture today we see also a “Tomb for the Unknown Soldier” for any fallen comrade that died in battle. This carries over into Christianity; as followers of Christ, we are fighting in a war. Now this war isn’t a physical war, it is a spiritual one. This is not in comparison to Islamic Jihad, it is a warfare that 2 Corinthians says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” It also references in Ephesians 6:12 what our war is against: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We as Christians are called to be equipped for battle as that same passage continues to go on about the different pieces of the armor. Within Christian warfare it’s also about glory. Giving glory to God that is, because we are flesh and this battle is not against flesh and blood so this war is fought in the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit of God that gets the glory because He enables and equips us as His soldiers. We are soldiers who also look at death as glorious, because as the Apostle Paul said, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain . . . my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. . . .” As Gandalf says in Lord of the Rings, “Death is a path we must all take, but it does not end there . . . then you see white shores.” In our view of death, there is hope; we know that there is much gain to be in perfect communion with our Creator. The Spartan worldview is very different is this matter, for Leonidas was quoted for saying “Eat a hearty breakfast men, for tonight we dine in Hades!” They believed in Greek Mythology, and so the end of the battle was the end of their glory. But for Christians if we fight this battle to the death against the spiritual darkness, we will see great victory on this side of eternity and have reason to rejoice at the saving of many captives who were held by our enemy, the Devil.
In the battle against their enemies, the Spartans, stood side-by-side; on their own they were weak, but together with their phalanx tactics they wielded incredible power and force. Using their shields they protected each man to their left and right. But with this great defense it also allowed for a great offense to use their spear when open for a strike. They used their equipment and skills necessary for battle, but it would all be useless without the men beside them. That’s why it took three-hundred rather than all three-hundred attacking at different times. They were in sync with one another and that battle will not be forgotten because of the success of that tactic. When it comes to the Christian life, we stand beside our brothers and we fight. Many perceive that the battle for us as Christians isn’t that important, but the reason why is because they don’t see it. It is by faith that we walk, not by sight, and our battles consists of what is spiritual, not physical. Because when what is spiritual is taken care of, it affects that which is physical. As brothers fighting this spiritual battle, the Bible mentions in many passages the importance of unity and even gives powerful examples of what happens when men are unified. Within the New Testament there is a passage in the book written to the Ephesians. In the 4th chapter it mentions the Unity of the body of Christ, and that is exactly how we function, like a body. In verses 1-3 Paul says, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. . . .” Then later he goes on to talk about God’s purpose for unity in verses 12 and 13, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In the kingdom of God, unity is so important, its purposes are for maturity, for growth, and to carry out the work that God has called us to do. Jesus said to His disciples once that the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another. Love and unity are displayed in how we work together. Will we take the same principle as the Spartans and go to the point of laying down even our own lives for our brothers or will we just worry about ourselves. Leonidas died with his men that day, he laid down his life for his country, and he did it with honor. The king went to the death with them because he loved them. Christ Jesus laid down his life for us but didn’t stay dead. He rose again and set for us an example to follow. Let’s take heed to the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 3:16 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
In battle, we have seen aspects of it, such as the glory and honor in it, and the unity and love of the brothers that these battles are fought with, but there is yet another principle that goes much deeper than those. It is the allegiance of a man. In the heart of man we pledge ourselves to something whether it is to God, to our families, our wives, our business, or our country. Whatever the object is it holds our affections. The Puritans understood a principle and that was this, “If I have your heart, I can make you do anything.” It was the affections of the Spartans that made them fearless. When asked what made them so courageous it was reported that it was their love for their country. The principle from Scripture proves true. Perfect love casts out fear! They loved their country with their whole being. They were free men, and they lived for their way of life. They sacrificed their lives to protect it. They believed in Sparta, they believed in freedom and their allegiance proved true at the battle of Thermopylae. An example of this in the Bible would be David’s mighty men. They followed David and fought by his side through the fourteen years of running from King Saul and afterword when David was crowned King. At one time in their service to David, the soldiers overheard Davids desire, “Oh, that I could have a drink from the well of Bethlehem!” They were not commanded to go and get water from the well, but out of love for their king they went after what he desired. As Christians we should be sold out to Christ, but too often we come across men, who show no signs of this allegiance. Rather their hearts are held captive by temporal things and even the Spartans mocked the men who were potters, sculptures, or blacksmiths. Rather they viewed the glory and honor to be in warfare, and not in working in business to live a quiet and peaceful life. But when it comes to Christianity, we look at those men who are wasting their lives and our plea to them is to wake up and experience this joy filled life, by giving up all to follow him. We see that God’s desire is that we live for His glory. We plea with them, because it is worth it to live and to die for the King of kings.
In retrospect, the principles we can learn from the Spartan worldview are very valuable. They did fight for temporal glory, but we fight and press on because of the prize that awaits us in glory, which is, our eternal glorious inheritance, Christ Jesus. The battle is glorious because the King we follow is not taking us to our death, but into His eternal life. The Spartans fought and died next to their brothers. The brotherhood we join we can’t live without, because with them we can conquer anything, under the headship of Jesus Christ. Leonidas lead his men into battle and died by their side. We are following the King who died for us all and rose again. Our allegiance is to the King who raises the dead and gives life to all men. All glory goes to Him, because He is fully deserving of it. He is the Creator, and He deserves the glory, our allegiance, and our lives.