Laying Down Our Lives

Hereby know we love, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16).

“I would die for you.”

Such a line makes for a very touching moment in a romantic movie, or an inspiring one if it involved a political leader fighting a worthy cause. It would seem quite strange if used toward one who was evil or vile, an enemy, or someone we otherwise have reasons to dislike.

And yet Jesus laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16); He gave of Himself for those who did evil, who did not understand His work and purpose, and who acted against God and His purposes (Romans 5:6-11).

John is writing to exhort Christians to love one another (1 John 3:11-4:21). Cain is offered up as an example of one who hated his brother: his brother’s works were righteous, and his were not, and in jealousy Cain killed him (1 John 3:11-12; cf. Genesis 4:1-8). For this reason Christians who do what is right should not be surprised when the world which loves the wrong hates them; Christians can know they have passed out of death to life based on their love for one another (1 John 3:13-14). Those who do not love abide in death; whoever hates his brother is a murderer, not having eternal life in them, because they have no concern for the welfare of their brother (1 John 3:15). And so John points to Jesus as the means by which we know love: He laid down His life for us, and therefore we as Christians should lay down our lives for one another (1 John 3:16). He will go on to critique his fellow Christians: if a Christian has the world’s goods, and sees his or her fellow Christian going without, and yet shuts up his or her heart and compassion from them, how can they say they really love their brother (1 John 3:17)? Christian love should be in deed and truth, not with mere words (1 John 3:18).

No doubt early Christians were as convinced as Christians are today regarding love for one another. We all know we are supposed to love one another, right? But do we really and actually love one another, or do we just profess it? That is why John writes as he does in 1 John 3:11-18. Christians are inspired by the lofty ideals of love; they, no doubt, are willing to lay down their lives for one another as Jesus laid down His life for us. But in the very practical matter of seeing a brother in need, then what? It can be easy to excuse or justify why some have an abundance and others have nothing, and nothing is done to assist. That, John emphasizes, is not love; that’s hatred, of the world and Cain and the Evil One. If you are so willing to lay down your life for one another, why not start by providing something for a fellow Christian in need?

Nevertheless 1 John 3:16 proves almost as famous, and just as easily taken out of its context and proof-texted, as John 3:16. It provides a powerful message and a good reminder: as Jesus laid down His life for us and thus manifested His love toward us, we should prove willing to do the same for one another (cf. Matthew 20:25-28). But what does that mean? What did it look like for Jesus to lay down His life for others?

John makes it clear why Jesus laid down His life for His people: to be the propitiation for their sins (1 John 4:10). He loved them; He did not want them to experience hellfire; He wished to reconcile them with Himself and their God (John 13:1-3, 17:20-23, Romans 5:6-11). He suffered the evil; He suffered violence; and in suffering the evil and violence He overcame sin and death (Romans 8:1-8, Colossians 2:15). Jesus was a pure and holy sacrifice; He opened not his mouth, and proved to be the Suffering Servant in every respect (Isaiah 42:13-53:12, 1 Peter 2:18-25). His death was as much for those who crucified Him as those who were devoted to Him (Luke 23:34).

Christians following the Lord Jesus are not sinless, and yet even their sacrifices, up to and including death, have value and standing before God. Paul considered the suffering he experienced as making up for what was lacking in the afflictions of the church; his tribulations were for the glory of those who believed (Ephesians 3:13, Colossians 1:24). Thus, in some way, Christians can suffer for one another; we can imagine that within the early church some Christians suffered mightily so that others might be spared. Yet even then they did not retaliate in kind; they knew they needed to suffer as Jesus suffered if they would obtain the same victory Jesus did (Romans 8:17-18).

This image of sacrifice is so powerful that it is easily taken up and applied in other contexts never intended by the Lord Jesus. In the United States of America, as in many other nation-states, the willingness of a person to go and fight and give up their lives in conflict for the advancement of the nation-state and its ideals is highly commended. In this way a picture is painted of a person who goes down, guns blazing, to protect or defend an ideal, a nation, or a person. We may appreciate what a given nation-state provides, and even appreciate the willingness to give one’s life for the advancement of that nation-state’s purpose, but that person has not laid down their life as Jesus laid down His. Jesus did not die seeking to harm others; He died for the salvation of all mankind. Anyone who dies in combat or in a context in which violence is returned for violence is seeking the harm of others, however merited that harm may seem. One may think one’s sacrifice in war or in defense valorous; it rarely seems as valorous to those on the other side who would have been the ones killed or injured otherwise.

For Christians the cross of Calvary always stands before them, the way forward to find life indeed. It is a path that will involve personal hardship, suffering, and for some, even death for the cause of Christ. Yet the cross of Christ was not an instrument used to harm others; it was the means by which God worked to reconcile the world to Himself in Jesus, the terrible criminal as well as the “good, upstanding” citizen. If called upon, the Christian ought to willingly lay down his or her life for the brethren, as Jesus did; such a calling does not justify harming others in the process. May we love one another as Jesus has loved us, loving in deed and in truth, and thus obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Making Mention of the Name

Now know I that YHWH saveth his anointed / he wilt answer him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses / but we will make mention of the name of YHWH our God.
They are bowed down and fallen / but we are risen, and stand upright.
Save, YHWH / let the King answer us when we call (Psalm 20:6-9).

How could Israel be saved?

The land which YHWH gave to Israel was a good and prosperous land, yet one that just so happened to lie right in the middle of the ancient world and its empires. Wars had been fought between Egypt and Mesopotamian powers for hundreds of years before the Israelites entered the land; wars have been fought over that land ever since. During times when Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon were experiencing internal decline or turmoil, Israel and its neighboring nation-states could assert independence and expand their territories; when these larger powers were strong enough to exert their force, these smaller nation-states were in danger of losing everything.

These larger nations all trusted in their military forces; at the time, the best battlefield technology involved horses and chariots. If Israel trusted in their horses and chariots they would not last very long! Israel’s salvation and continued integrity in the land would have to be grounded on something else. David writes so Israel would continually remember in whom they should put their trust: not in horses and chariots, but in making mention of the name of YHWH their God (Psalm 20:7).

Egyptian-Chariot

In the first half of Psalm 20 David blesses the people, asking YHWH to hear them in their times of trouble, to accept their offerings, and to give them what they desire (Psalm 20:1-5). David then turns to the ultimate hope of Israel: YHWH will save “His Anointed” (Psalm 20:6). Israel must trust in YHWH, not horses and chariots; those who trust in their military will be bowed down and fallen, but YHWH will make His people stand upright and rise (Psalm 20:7-8). David ends by asking YHWH to save and to let the King answer when they call to Him (Psalm 20:9).

David’s exhortation and warning was appropriate for Israel during the time of the kings. The Israelites did not obtain the land through their strength alone but through the power of YHWH; they could only preserve their hold upon it through the same means. In the historical chronicles of Kings and Chronicles we see kings who trusted in YHWH and prospered; we also see when kings turned away from YHWH, trusted in their own military might or in their treaties with foreign powers, and were humiliated. Ultimately, Israel thought she could stand against Assyria by the power of its own strength and its alliances with others; Assyria conquered and exiled Israel from its land (2 Kings 17:1-23). A few generations later Judah trusted in its military strength and its alliance with Egypt against the Babylonian forces; the Babylonians conquered and exiled Judah from its land (2 Kings 25:1-21). They did not trust in YHWH; YHWH gave them over to what they trusted; they were lost.

After the Exile the Israelites would put their hope in YHWH that He would send His Anointed One who would provide them victory; Jesus of Nazareth was the Anointed One, the Messiah, whom YHWH would save in the resurrection and through whom YHWH would save all mankind (Romans 5:6-11, 1 Corinthians 15:20-58). All people can now call upon YHWH, praying to the Father in the name of Jesus the Son (John 15:16).

Christians today also do well to heed the message of Psalm 20:6-9. Many in the world continue to trust in “horses and chariots,” military might and the power of the political process. It’s tempting for each generation to do so, but David is correct: ultimately all who trust in the ways of this world will be destroyed by those ways and will become bowed down and fallen. Nations rise and fall. Laws are enacted and struck down. Popular opinion may be for you one moment but then against you the next. If we put our trust in these worldly forces we will be consumed by them. The only way we can stand is by making mention of the name of God in Christ, putting our trust in Him and in His Word, for they will endure forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).

Deliverance will not come from a military, a legislature, or an executive; deliverance comes from God in Christ. May we put our trust in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry