Authored by Mara Hodler
There’s an old story about a Roman soldier named Caius. He was one of the footmen in the ever-advancing Roman army. Caius had a sickness that he knew was terminal. He knew that there was no medicine or doctor, at least not one he could ever afford, that could reverse the course of his illness. Despite his condition, Caius continued to serve the empire as a soldier. In fact, he seemed to care little for his life and was often found in the thickest and bloodiest parts of the battle. Caius reasoned that death already had a hold on him, so he might as well bring down as many of Rome’s enemies as he could. And if he perished in the fight, it was just as well. He would be honored to die for the empire.
Caius’ commander noted the fearlessness with which Caius fought, and sought out the reason for his soldier’s valor. When he learned that Caius was terminally ill, the commander reasoned that certainly such a warrior was an asset to the empire, and he determined to seek out a cure for his soldier’s sickness. After conferring with the best doctors in the empire, a cure was found, and Caius’ health was restored.
The commander was glad to have preserved such a worthy warrior, a soldier who had often been instrumental in the legion’s victories. However, a curious thing happened. Caius, who now had the prospect of a long and healthy life, was no longer found in the thick of the fray. Now that he had something to lose, he was no longer unafraid in battle. His desire to preserve his life made him less valuable in his post.
When you think about people who have changed or impacted the world, a common thread that weaves its way throughout many of their lives is that they were not self-preserving. Jesus, the majority of His first disciples, the apostle Paul, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi, Nelson Mandela, and countless others are known for their fearless commitment to their beliefs, regardless of personal cost.
Paul said, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”1 What gave Paul’s life value in his mind was not the promise of a long and comfortable life, but fulfilling the task that God had given him.
If you’ve studied Paul’s life, you know that he really meant what he said about his life being worthless unless he used it to finish God’s work for him. He endured more hardship than I could, I’m pretty sure. The man was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, ridiculed (that was on the easy days), and finally executed. Thankfully, it’s not a physical hardship contest. If it were a contest, I’d be more than happy to pass on winning and give up bragging rights in exchange for skipping the stoning, imprisonment, etc.
What Paul was trying to impress upon his listeners was the fact that we will never know the full value of our lives, or experience the satisfaction of knowing that we were used by God to the full, if we are only out to preserve our lives. The resolve to live up to our personal calling will always come with some sacrifice or risk, but also with the reward of knowing our life counted for God.
Martin Luther and Joan of Arc felt the same way Paul did. During the course of her trial, Joan of Arc said, “One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.” When Martin Luther was standing before the Diet of Worms (1521), he also made a strong testimony of his dedication to his beliefs when he declared, “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand; I can do no other, so help me God.”
I admit that I am referencing some of the more extreme examples here. Paul, Martin Luther, and Joan of Arc each had a special calling and a God-given ability to fulfill their particular life’s work. God may not have called you or me to defy a religious system or to be a martyr, but He does call us to be courageous.
Jesus did give some indication that it was going to be challenging when He told His disciples they would have to take up their cross and follow Him.2 When He said this, I kinda think that the disciples didn’t fully “get” what He was talking about. After all, Jesus had not yet taken up His own, literal, cross. I’m sure it’s when they later reflected on what He had told them that the words had an even more powerful impact.
In that same talk, Jesus went on to say that, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”3 I think this message has a different meaning for each of us, and perhaps even a different meaning at different times in our lives. I have found that every now and then, it’s important for me to ask myself if I am seeking to hang on to my life or to give it up for Jesus’ sake.
I know this doesn’t mean that I need to do the riskiest, most painful thing I can think of doing. I simply want to make sure that I’m not holding back from what God needs me to do, whatever that may be.
1 Acts 20:24 NLT
2 Luke 9:23
3 Luke 9:24 NLT
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International