I love this bible verse. So much so that I asked a friend to cross stitch it for me and it hangs in my kitchen.
On the surface this verse looks really straightforward - it's asking us to die for the people we love. We could probably extend that to the causes we believe in, like our country or fighting injustice. Like Christ. He died for us. Simple, right?
But I think this verse is so much more than that very literal interpretation.
You see, in my super cushy life, I don't have much chance of dying, either for a cause or a person. Because of my lack of exposure to death, and sacrifice in general, it's super easy to believe that I'd really die for another. (This is the part where I start singing "Ride" by 21 Pilots: "a bullet for them, a bullet for you, a bullet for everybody in this room. But I don't see many bullets coming through...metaphorically I'm the man, but literally I don't know what I'd do." It's a great song. Go YouTube it.)
Because for most of us our lives are unlikely to be demanded of us, we feel we can hear this verse and walk away in smug self righteousness. "I'd totally die for my neighbor. Go me!" End of story, right? Not only is that probably untrue, but it's incredibly shortsighted. There is so much more demanded of us in this verse. You see, we are conflating the words life and death. The story of our lives is not summed up by how we die! (Imagine the obituaries that would make! Lol!) If we understand that our lives are more than just how we die, why do we treat this verse so narrowly?!
For me, this verse can be boiled down to 2 things:
1) Live for others.
2) Risk yourself.
Lay down your life for your friends to me means "live your life for others, not for yourself." This kind of self sacrificial living is a much greater demand than simply becoming a martyr for a cause, or a human shield. It expects us to live for others EVERY SINGLE DAY instead of just one moment of extreme conflict. Now, don't get me wrong, standing up to injustice when your life is on the line doesn't sound easy. But this verse challenges us to live each and every single day of our existence in a certain way. That takes diligence and practice and perseverance. (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.." I want this one in my kitchen, too. It was in my kitchen growing up.) We live our lives for others by valuing the welfare of the people around us (and in this global world, that means EVERYBODY) more than we value our own. That doesn't mean self abuse. It means making choices that allow others to shine, even if we do not. It means not getting our way all the time, and not whining about it or calling attention to it.
Ok, so we live our lives for others. But nuts and bolts, what does that MEAN? Well, here comes #2. We risk ourselves. And for us in our soft beds and comfortable lives that may sound weird. What is risky about the way we live? And I say, exactly! So what holds us back from doing the right thing - letting your husband pick the movie on movie night; re-prioritizing when you are busy up to here and someone comes to you in need; spending your money wisely so you have enough to give to others with greater need than you; approaching a homeless person and trying to help; asking someone on the side of the road if they need a ride or a jump or a cell phone; sticking up for a cashier or waitress getting abused by another customer; confronting that friend who is saying something racist; publicly admitting you are a Christian... What in the world stops us? Fear and Pride.
We are afraid of so many things in our world that shouldn't be scary. But the biggest one? Looking (or sounding) stupid. And where does that utterly irrational fear come from? PRIDE. We don't want to lose our standing in social circles by doing something daring. Uncomfortable. Unpopular. Nonconformist. RIGHT.
Well, my friends, I challenge you to risk yourself to live for others today. Go out there in the world that is lacking in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, and put yourself out there. Try something small to get you started. My favorite one to suggest is saying "God bless you" instead of just "Bless you" to people. It's subtle, but a start. Get your mind thinking about the ACTUAL consequences of doing a particular thing - is there really going to be a backlash? What is it? Is it more important to avoid those negative consequences and allow the situation to continue as is, or is there more value in acting? Get in the habit of making a quick pro/con list in your head when you see a situation. And then act.
A side note/disclaimer: I do not have any kind of degree in theology. My thoughts are my own and may or may not be absolutely correct. I also am super duper flawed. I do not practice what I preach. As Paul said (Romans 7:15;18-19 NIV) "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do... For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing." So please, don't look at me and my stupid messed up sinful self and use it as a reason to hate Christians for being duplicitous and hypocritical. I freely admit that I am no better than you or anyone else. I struggle all the same as you. However, I am trying to listen to the Word and figure out what that means for me, in my slice of existence for my speck on the globe at this moment in history. Those are the thoughts I have shared here.