You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.
This holiday weekend we celebrate something that I think is sometimes hard for many of us to comprehend: the sacrifice of soldiers' lives for the sake of our freedom. In recent years I've heard many conflicted views on this matter. But I think it would be a mistake to see these brave men and women as merely victims. While each fallen soldier has a unique story, each soldier is a hero who willingly laid down his or her life for a greater cause.
I think part of our struggle to understand the fallen soldier comes with our difficulty in accepting sacrifice, especially when a sacrifice seems so final and appears to hold no obvious reward. The idea that anyone could give up everything - for people he doesn't even know - is hard to process. We spend so much of life trying to gain, to acquire, to win. Our country is home to the American Dream, the land of opportunity. So contemplating the fallen solider can feel uncomfortable, even confusing.
I was pondering this struggle to embrace sacrifice at church. It was the Feast of Corpus Christi and our pastor was reflecting on Christ's willingness to spill His blood for our sake. Our pastor emphasized that the only appropriate response to a sacrifice of this magnitude would be to offer our lives in return. He put it in terms of worship, saying God first bowed down to us by becoming human, and now it is our turn to bow down to Him.
So often I meditate on Christ's sacrificial love, but fail to love Him sacrificially in return. I thank Him with my words, but do little to change my life. Yet this is what God desires of us. We call our soldiers "service men / women" yet that term should describe Christians as well. Just as sacrifice is required to secure our freedom as Americans, freedom does not exist independently of sacrifice in the life of the believer. Yes, the gift of faith brings us freedom - freedom from sin, freedom to be who God made us to be and to know God more deeply. But that freedom came with the price of the Cross and our gift of freedom is to be used for service.
It may seem pointless in some ways to acquire freedom only to turn around and serve. But two thoughts come to mind here. One, is that the free person who chooses to serve knows freedom unlike any other. He has no need of taking from others because his sense of worth comes from a higher source. I've often heard from those with true servant-hearts that it is only when we give ourselves away that we truly find ourselves. The second is a truth I need to constantly remind myself of when life seems hard or unfair: this life is nothing compared to the next. Anything we "lose" here is never truly lost if our lives belong to Christ.
"So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Mt 20: 16). A friend and I have a running joke about this scripture verse. We will defer to each other in attempt to win "last place" - to secure our first place prize in heaven, of course. While our motivations here may be a bit off, I've come to think it's not a bad contest. Grow your servant's heart by striving to take last place at least once this week - even if it's as simple as being last in line at the grocery store or serving yourself last at the dinner table
Original publication date: May 26, 2008