“Taking a Bullet” for My Neighbor May 04 2019

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

Just in the last week we have seen two vivid examples of “taking a bullet” for others - literally. At the April 27 shooting at the synagogue in Poway, California, Lori Gilbert Kaye, age 60, put herself between the shooter and the synagogue’s rabbi and saved his life. The rabbi had a moving testimony about her sacrifice. On April 30, a gunman walked into a classroom at the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus and began shooting. Police and family told how Riley Howell, a 21-year old student, rushed toward the shooter trying to take him down and was shot "point blank,” but the action led to the disarming of the shooter.

It is so sad that we have to speak about these events, which have become all too common. It just reinforces what the Bible says about the depravity of the human condition, and the need for spiritual transformation. But it also reminds us that there are people out there who exhibit what Jesus called the greatest example of love:

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14)

I would like to think that I would be prepared to lay down my life for another person, but I suppose I won’t really know how I will handle that unless and until the Lord allows such an opportunity. Even Peter boldly declared to Jesus “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37), and then later denied three times that he even knew Jesus (John 18:25-27). I can relate to Peter, knowing how I have failed to speak about my faith in Jesus at times when I probably should have.

We have seen many examples of sacrificing one’s own life for the lives of others: in the military, in law enforcement, in fire departments (the 9/11 attacks come to mind), and in civilian life. There was a news story not long ago about a “good Samaritan” who stopped to help a stranded motorist on a freeway near my work, but was struck and killed by another car in the process of trying to help. Tragic though these are, they are great reminders to us of Jesus’ “greater love” example.

Taking risks to protect another person, and sacrificing one’s life in the process, would be a most honorable way to die. What makes the love of God so extraordinary is that Jesus did not sacrifice His life because we were so righteous, but because we were helpless, rebellious sinners. The depth of love represented in Romans 5:6-8 is staggering:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

What is even more interesting about this passage is its context in Romans Chapter 5: tribulation. The “for” at the beginning of verse 6 tells us that verses 6-8 are connected back to the prior thought in verses 3-5:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

By the way, the word “exult” in verse 3 is not about feeling good about going through tribulation. It is not saying that we should somehow be thinking “Yay! Another trial!” It is about acknowledging that tribulation is ultimately good for us. The word “exult” is translated from the same Greek word translated elsewhere as “boast.” An example would be I Corinthians 1:31: “so that, just as it is written, let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” This is set in contrast to boasting about our own wisdom or accomplishments. Likewise, exulting in our tribulations does not mean bragging about how great we are for going through them.

Jesus’ own life is a great example for us. When He said “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done,” (Luke 22:42) it was clear that He did not have good feelings about going to the cross. The most grievous part was that He would be separated from full communion with His Father, being made sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21). But He was ready to do the Father’s will anyway.

God says of Jesus in Hebrews 12:2 “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” In other words, our exulting in tribulation is about having confidence like Jesus did that God’s purposes will be worked out through those trials. And our motivation for acknowledging the good in our tribulations is the extraordinary love that God has demonstrated toward us.

An example would be this: if someone had sacrificed their own life to save me, I would want to make sure that person’s family knew how highly I valued that sacrifice. Grumbling and complaining about everyday difficulties diminishes the honor and privilege of receiving the gift of God’s forgiveness. This is not to minimize how difficult trials can be. But the hope that distinguishes believers in Jesus from the rest of the world is that we can see God’s ultimate purpose in our trials, just as Jesus saw through the difficulties of the cross to the ultimate purpose of His dying there.

Few people have the opportunity to be a hero by doing what Lori and Riley did. But all of us have trials and tribulations, and seeing them through the lens of Scripture is transformational in our lives. Tribulations, as hard as they may be, are part of God’s loving plan for development of our character. Jesus put it like this in John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” In other words, a seed can only fulfill its true purpose if it dies. To the world, this sounds like a paradox. But to us as believers, it is true life.

Bringing this back to our own lives, the “soil” is our home, our work, our school, our relationships, our problems, our challenges, and all our collective opportunities to love God and our neighbor. These opportunities are not as dramatic as dying for another person. They can be mundane, inconvenient, and difficult; and they won’t be acknowledged in the media. But dying to ourselves in everyday life is no less honorable than “taking a bullet” for a neighbor. May God help all of us to be an example of this principle in action.

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Steve Smith