“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”1
“…Always carrying in the body the putting to death of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh. So then death works in us, but life in you.”2
Something I’ve been thinking about lately is life, in the spiritual sense the term is used in scripture (I wrote about life and the law it a little bit here). I think life is such a huge and important thing, but something we don’t really understand or possess naturally. I lately had the realization that there is no life without love. But what is love, and what does it look like to love God and love others? That’s what I hope to look at a little bit here. I pray the spirit of God takes these inadequate words and uses them to do what only he can – reveal truth to the soul.
Jesus and the first apostles had much to say about love, and many of their statements lead me to believe that in their eyes, love is the greatest and highest thing. Jesus said the greatest love any man can have is to “lay down his life for his friends.”3 If that’s true, then understanding what it means to lay down your life should help us understand what love is.
In each of the several scriptures that mention laying down your life, the word “life” is a translation of the Greek word psuche, which is also frequently translated “soul.” Psuche refers to the part of us that isn’t physical – our thoughts, emotions, opinions, will, desires, etc. To lay these things down literally means to set them aside, to neglect them. Therefore, the greatest love is to set aside and neglect your own rights, feelings, opinions and desires, no matter how justified or strong they are, in order to benefit your “friend.” Love is always self-sacrificing, but to set aside your very soul in favor of another is the greatest love.
Jesus didn’t want believers to become Christians, but disciples; those who exactly follow their master’s teachings and way of life. According to Jesus himself, to be his disciple you must do 3 things: deny yourself (lay down your life), take up your cross (endure hardship and opposition), and follow him (his example, his way).4 In John 13, Jesus knows his time on earth is coming to an end and he has only one more chance to make a statement to his disciples before he is crucified. Here’s what he does: “Jesus…arose from supper, and laid aside his outer garments. He took a towel, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then he poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”5
Notice that Jesus first “laid aside” his outer garments. Lay aside and lay down are the exact same in Greek. This is symbolic of laying down one’s life. After Peter protested that Jesus was too good to wash his feet, Jesus said: “You call me, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ You say so correctly, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Most certainly I tell you, a servant is not greater than his lord, neither one who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”6 If Jesus wasn’t above washing the feet of impure men, we absolutely aren’t either. Jesus knew that in a few hours, Peter was going to deny him and Judas was going to betray him, but that’s wasn’t the point.
Jesus said he came so that we may have LIFE in greater abundance (not necessarily an “abundant life” as men think of it).7 This life is the spirit of God active and powerful within us, but many of us seem to remain without much experience of this. I believe one reason is that we have pursued life by knowledge and scripture, but what this life demands is love. The cross we are to carry is the often painful laying down of our life that is the core of love – repaying good for evil, blessing when we are cursed, forgiving from the heart, showing unconditional kindness and mercy. In fact, Jesus’ sole commandment to his followers is that we love one-another like he loved us – without condition or ego.8 In other words, that we lay down our lives. When Jesus was on earth, though he had access to unmatched spiritual and natural authority on earth and in heaven, he didn’t assume the role of a God, superior to men. Instead, he humbled himself and became a servant of men. He took the lowest place, and helped elevate others. He had no home, and all but a few rejected him in the end. He often withdrew alone, and he shunned fame and notoriety. If you want the divine life Christ came to give, you first have to lay down yours. That’s love.
I pray this was edifying and challenging, and God willing I’ll have a part 2 of sorts posted soon. As always, there is more, and deeper avenues to these things, seek them out! God bless you.
- 1 John 3:16 WEB (R)):
- 2 Corinthians 4:10-12 WEB (R))
- John 15:13
- Matthew 16:24
- John 13:3-5 WEB (R))
- John 13:13-17 WEB (R))
- John 10:10
- John 15:12