“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Some of the greatest stories of love and heroism are true stories in times of war. In moments of intense danger some people rise to the occasion in tremendous acts of self-giving love inspiring others to do the same.
Captain William Swenson is one such hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009. He and his men were tasked with defending a group of Afghan government officials who were scheduled to meet with local village elders. The group was ambushed and came under heavy fire on three sides. Among many other things, Cpt. Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. By sheer coincidence, one of the medics had a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet, capturing the whole scene on video. Cpt. Swenson was seen dragging a soldier who was shot in the neck to a helicopter when, just before leaving the man to rescue others, the captain bent over and kissed the wounded sergeant.
Stories like these impress upon us the great potential for love within all of us. These are the moments when God’s image (Gen. 1:26) is most clearly reflected in us. We are surrounded with plenty of examples of humans doing their worst but what makes the best come out in these heroes? Are they just better people than the rest of us?
I don’t think soldiers are inherently better people than civilians but an environment like the military that is built upon the virtues of loyalty, trust and sacrificial leadership is proven to inspire and motivate others. It is no surprise that the Biblical authors use military metaphors when describing discipleship (1 Cor. 9:7; Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:1ff).
Someone once said, "In the military awards are given to people who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others, while in the business world bonuses are given to people who sacrifice others to benefit themselves." While this may be an unfair generalization to which there are many exceptions, there are notable parallels between the attitude of people and their work environment.
When war heroes are asked why they risked so much for others their answer is almost always the same: “They would have done the same for me.” To routinely respond with such humility and confindence in others requires a deep sense of trust, loyalty and cooperation.
In the spiritual warfare we are engaged in (Eph. 6:12; 1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Pet. 2:11), there must be a similar circle of safety and trust where we cooperate to warn one another of impending danger and to come to one another’s aid. God’s model for this environment of spiritual safety and growth is the church, a kind of new covenant army (Eph. 4).
For others to become what God created them to be requires witnessing a positive example. People need to see the good in others for them to see the potential for good in themselves. We have the ultimate example in Jesus (1 Pet. 2:21) but we also have examples of mature Christians who are further along in their spiritual journey of discipleship called "shepherds" (1 Tim. 3; 1 Pet. 5). God blessed Dulles with three such men to help us grow into the people we were always meant to be (Eph. 4:11-16).
Leadership among God’s people is not a promotion or a license to boss others around (Mt. 20:25-28). Leadership is all about positive, inspiring influence (Mt. 5:13). Paradoxically, leaders in the church lead by following Christ. Following Christ means serving others. Serving others means counting others as more significant than yourself (Phil. 2:3-4ff) That’s what Christ did for us so that we can do the same for others. Let us all lead by following!