Laying Down Our Life

And David lamented with this lamentation
over Saul and over Jonathan his son..:
“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!…
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
the bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
and the sword of Saul did not return empty.
Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,
and in their death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.”

(2 Samuel 1:17,19,22-23)

Samuel records five attempts by Saul to kill David. In fact, until David fled from Israel, Saul ‘sought him every day’ (1 Samuel 23:14, cf. 27:4). Yet David honoured Saul as ‘the Lord’s anointed’ and refused to respond with hatred. And here, at Saul’s death, we see his passionate words of affirmation for Saul’s valour in fighting for his country. The truth is, Saul was the one who took courage to defend Israel from its enemies. The kingdom of Israel began to be established through his efforts. David knew that. (And David not only honours Saul’s courage, he voices love for the man he’d known and experienced good times with.)

We set aside time in November to remember people who have died for our country (a tradition shared by many countries). It is an awesome thing to be willing to give one’s life for a higher good. Such a precious thing! To be able to live in civil peace, working and playing and praying in freedom. At times this peace and freedom are threatened. And it is through people’s willingness to fight that these goods are secured. We honour with gratitude and respect all who have served and currently serve in this great cause.

The willingness to lay down one’s life for the common good is actually something that is asked of everyone. The Lord said,

He who does not take his cross and follow after Me
is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it,
and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

(Matthew 10:38-39)

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself,
and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

(Luke 9:23)

What is it to ‘take up our cross daily’? Daily! I think the Lord was referring to an inner kind of warfare here. And an inner kind of laying down our lives.

Our life is our love. We live to experience the pleasantness, pleasure, interest, energy, accomplishment and realisation of what we love. Without this we would simply cease to exist. The challenging thing is, we are multi-level beings with an array of loves, those more noble and more mundane. This means that we need to choose how to respond to the different loves that come to our attention. Yes, it would bring sensory pleasure right now to eat something delicious. Yes, it would be fun to bring a smile to a crowd by making a wry comment, even though it is at another’s expense. It would bring satisfaction to complete a tough job that needs doing, despite the fact that it will take time and less-thanpleasurable steps. Making the best choice – the one most useful and in the common interest – often requires denying ourselves delights that are more immediate, short-term, or harmful. But as there is life in these delights, in resisting them we are taking up our cross and experiencing a certain death.

The good of human society depends on our willingness to engage in this inner warfare against the enemies of the greater good, the good of our closer human neighbours and our own eternal good. We need to take up our cross daily. In fact, hourly! This is a private kind of military service. Few others observe it or reward it with praise. But if we wish to love the Lord and follow the Lord, this is what we must do! As we gratefully remember our veterans past and present, let us remember with honour all who serve in this work!

This is My commandment,
that you love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this,
than to lay down one's life for his friends.

John 15:12-13