The February 13, 1987, issue of The Missileer, a newspaper of the 45th Space Wing, U.S. Air Force, ran this brief and apparently true story by Colonel John W. Mansur:
The mortar rounds landed in an orphanage run by a missionary group in the small Vietnamese village. The missionaries and one or two children were killed outright and several more children were wounded, including one girl about eight years old.
People from the village sent for help to a neighboring town that had radio contact with the American forces. Finally a U.S. doctor and nurse arrived in a jeep with their medical kits. They established that the young girl was the most critically injured. Without quick action, she would die from shock and loss of blood.
A blood transfusion was imperative so a donor with a matching blood type was required. A quick test showed that neither American had the correct blood type, but several of the uninjured orphans did.
The doctor spoke some pidgin Vietnamese, and the nurse a smattering of high-school French. Using that combination together with much impromptu sign language, they tried to explain to their young, frightened audience that unless they could replace some of the girl's lost blood, she would certainly die. Then they asked if anyone would be willing to give blood to help.
Their request was met with wide-eyed silence. After several long moments, a small hand slowly and waveringly went up, dropped back down, and then went up again.
"Oh, thank you," the nurse said in French. "What is your name?"
"Hung," came the mumbled reply.
Hung was quickly laid on a pallet, his arm swabbed with alcohol, and the needle inserted in his vein. Through this ordeal Hung lay stiff and silent. After a moment, he let out a shuddering sob, quickly covering his face with his free hand.
"Is it hurting, Hung?" the doctor asked.
Hung shook his head, but after a few moments another sob escaped, and once more he tried to cover up his crying. Again the doctor asked him if the needle hurt, and again Hung shook his head.
But now his occasional sobs gave way to a steady, silent crying, his eyes screwed tightly shut, his fist in his mouth to stifle his sobs.
The medical team was concerned because the needle should not have been hurting him. Something was obviously very wrong. At this point, a Vietnamese nurse arrived. Seeing the little one's distress, she spoke to him, listened to his reply, and answered him in a soothing voice.
After a moment, the boy stopped crying, opened his eyes and looked questioningly at the Vietnamese nurse. When she nodded, a look of great relief spread over his face. Looking up, the Vietnamese nurse said quietly to the Americans, "He thought he was dying. He misunderstood you. He thought you had asked him to give all his blood so the little girl could live."
"But why would he be willing to do that?" asked the navy nurse.
The Vietnamese nurse repeated the question to the little boy, who answered simply, "She's my friend."
Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend.
The final sentence of this inspiring story is, of course, paraphrased from the Bible, from John 15:13. This scripture from the Revised Standard Version reads, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
This scripture raises many questions: When Jesus said this, was He just referring to Himself and His own sacrifice? Or was He again foretelling how His disciples and many other Christians would die? Must all true Christians literally die for their friends? What was Jesus telling His people here?
We need examine this scripture to understand in what way or ways we, as Christians at the end of this twentieth century, are to lay down our lives for our friends.
John 15:13 is not just talking about the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the context of John 14-15, Jesus is talking about the love that should exist among members of God's church. It is not just a casual suggestion or a noble idea that we can adopt if we desire! God repeats it, again through His "apostle of love," in I John 3:16:
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
"We also ought to lay down our lives"! God expects it of us!
Since the death of Jesus Christ, many true Christians have laid down their lives and have died for their friends—their fellow-members of God's church and their greatest Friends, God the Father and Jesus Christ. In John 15:14, Jesus tells us that we are His friends if we keep His commandments. It follows that, if we are His friends, we may call Him our Friend.
Space does not permit telling the stories of the many, many Christians, our brothers and sisters in Christ of earlier times, who literally laid down their lives—either in defending the truth or in concealing fellow-members from persecutors. Although we cannot go into all the details here, we will mention a few examples.
In the Old Testament, God records some of the accounts of His people who were willing to die for His way of life. In Daniel 3 is the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, three young men who were willing to suffer and die in a fiery furnace. In chapter 6, Daniel himself was willing to die in a lion's den rather than to forsake God's way.
Notable martyrs of the New Testament include John the Baptist (Matthew 14), Stephen (Acts 7) and James (Acts 12). The apostle Paul had many close brushes with death in his years of service and dedication to God and His people. He lists some of these in II Corinthians 11. It may be that, when the Jews in Lystra stoned Paul, he actually died but God resurrected him shortly afterwards (Acts 14:19-20).
Paul writes that, before his eventual execution in Rome, he had no fear of his impending death. At least a couple of opportunities for escape presented themselves to Paul on his journey to Rome (Acts 27-28), but he declined them. He tells Timothy that he was "ready to be offered" (II Timothy 4:6, KJV), as he felt he had completed the job that God had given him to do.
We think of Paul as brave for coming so close to physical death so often and bouncing back each time to continue his part in God's Work. His bravery certainly stood out in enduring these trials, but he displays his courageous love even more vividly in Romans 9:3:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Paul felt bitter disappointment that the great majority of his fellow Jews were rejecting Christ. Not only was he willing to give his physical life for them, but he would have actually forfeited his eternal life in God's Kingdom, if necessary, to ensure the widespread conversion of the Jews. That is true courage! That is true love!
Before he received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Peter emphatically told Jesus that he would lay down his life for his Master and Friend. Yet shortly afterward, he fled from Jesus' persecutors, denying His Savior three times. After growing for many years in God's Spirit, Peter did eventually lay down his life for his Friend.
All the other original apostles, except John, died in martyrdom along with many other Christians of their era. Some of the gruesome methods of torture and execution they suffered are listed in Hebrews 11. Persecution and martyrdom continued and even intensified in the years following the death of the apostle John. Polycarp, considered the first "post-biblical" apostle, was martyred at Smyrna at the age of 86. The story of his martyrdom, if true, is both inspiring and absolutely astounding.
Whether members of God's true church or professing "Christians" in name only, thousands died in the persecutions of the first four centuries after Christ's death and resurrection. Approximately 100,000 people belonging to a group called the Paulicians, who are thought by some to have been our brethren from the church's "Pergamos era," were slaughtered by command of the Byzantine empress, Theodora.
Give Our Lives?
What about us, members of God's church in the end time? Is it or will it at some future time be necessary for us to give our physical lives for our friends—either for our fellow members of the church or our greatest Friends, God the Father and Jesus Christ?
If we are Philadelphian Christians, then the answer is simply stated in Revelation 3:8, 10:
I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. . . . Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.
God promises protection to the Philadelphia brethren—and we can be sure that this is a Rock-solid promise! However, we should be careful not to be complacent about this comforting promise. We should never assume that God considers us Philadelphians. It is likely that we have been in the Laodicean era for quite some time. We have to prove to God that we deserve to be considered Philadelphians in attitude while amidst the Laodicean era.
Although God's promise to this faithful church is sure, it applies only to those who are truly Philadelphian. Jesus identifies them as having kept God's Word, not denied His name, and kept His command to persevere. Those who fail to meet these three criteria cannot count themselves as Philadelphians and cannot claim God's promise of protection through the end-time trials and persecutions. We all need to wake up, listen to and act upon the frequent and strong warnings against Laodicean attitudes that still exist within the church today!
Devoted to Giving
There is another way we can lay down our lives for our friends, and rather than having a morbid fear of end-time persecutions, we should be concentrating on it. This "other way" is to lay our old, sinful lives down, to allow them to be crucified with Christ. This means living brand-new lives as Christians, allowing Jesus Christ to live His life through us. Galatians 2 and II Corinthians 4 cover these ideas in more detail. Just as Jesus' life is totally dedicated to loving and serving His Father and His brethren in the church, so must our new life be given and spent in loving service.
One writer wisely described true friendship as "when we totally devote our lives to giving to others." This concept is echoed in John 13:34-35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
Jesus says that we will be recognized as true Christians, not by riches, not by our eloquence in speaking, not by our ability to bring others to conversion, not by our talent to recall scripture, not by our capacity to understand and explain the fine details of prophecy—but by how much we love each other!
We should really be asking ourselves—not only "Would I give my physical life for my friends?" or "Would I sacrifice my life for God as Jesus Christ did for us?"—but rather, "Am I laying down my life for them on a daily basis?"
Greater love has no man than this!