Must I Give My Life?

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Does the command of Jesus to love one another mean that I have to give up my life?

I’ve been involved in debating that issue over the last couple of weeks on the Compuserve Religion Forum.. It seems to me that the issue is not very debatable, that it’s clear that a faith that was founded by someone who gave up everything, including his life, and underwent the greatest possible humiliation in doing so, would regard giving up one’s life as the highest ideal.

But is it a command? Is it something we’re expected to do? Is it a sin if I don’t?

First let me make some distinctions. I don’t think Jesus is telling his disciples they need to run into every burning building. Nor is he telling his disciples they need to abandon all wisdom. Sometimes no life can be saved, and the risk is not appropriate. Sometimes you will just die without accomplishing anything. But when the you get to that final case, the one where you are quite certain your life will be lost, but you can save someone else, Jesus is giving you an example.

I’m not saying that Jesus expected us to be perfect. He knew we weren’t. Paul said that he had not attained (Philippians 3:12-16). The author of Hebrews said we should go forward toward perfection (Hebrews 6:1). That doesn’t mean we’re always going to live up to it. But it does mean that providing excuses for doing less is not an option. We need to hope and pray that we can live in that manner. Probably you, like me, are not 100% certain of what you would do. Unless you’ve faced that situation, I’m not sure you can be. But the example has been given, the ideal portrayed.

Most particularly, I think, this applies to situations in which one is faced with the necessity of compromising with evil in order to save one’s own life. The standard scenario for discussing this is the holocaust. To put it simply, most of Poland’s Jews died; most of Denmark’s were saved. Why? Because in Denmark people stood up to the Nazis as a nation, together. Each person contributed what little they could. In Poland, there were many, many individuals who made an effort, but for the most part, people chose to save their own lives.

Their position is easy to understand. Each one might have felt that they would only lose their lives if they took action. But each action in standing up to evil can help generate actions by others. Good can grow and multiply, just like evil.

Thank God for those who do stand up, who live up to the ideal.

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