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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Greater Love

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. ~ Jesus, John 15:12-14

More often than not the bold portion of the above quote is used in reference to someone dying for another person or cause, and usually in the line of military or civic duty. These are occasions and times for appropriate and solemn recognition of profound, personal sacrifice which should be held with respect and dignity. However, a close look at these words of Jesus, in their context, shows them to be among the most misunderstood and improperly used sayings of Jesus.

Within its context what does it mean to "lay down" one's life?  The Greek verb translated here as "lay down" is Tithemi which has a variety of meaning.  Here is how the Thayer and Smith Greek lexicon defines it:

  1. to set, put, place
    1. to place or lay
    2. to put down, lay down
      1. to bend down
      2. to lay off or aside, to wear or carry no longer
      3. to lay by, lay aside money
    3. to set on (serve) something to eat or drink
    4. to set forth, something to be explained by discourse
  2. to make
    1. to make (or set) for one's self or for one's use
  3. to set, fix establish
    1. to set forth
    2. to establish, ordain
Conspicuously absent from these definitions is "dying." Quite the contrary, to lay down one's life for a friend is an act of commitment to intentionally love that person as we are loved by Jesus. In this sense to "give" one's life is to give the substance and energy of daily living in service and love of others.

Today as Christians around the world stand on the threshold of Lent and celebrate Ash Wednesday, perhaps reading and hearing Jesus' words in this way can give us some fresh ways to think about what we are really called to lay down, or "give up" when we follow Jesus. Laying down our lives in greater love is about how we choose to live each and every day.

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