Agape--Sacrificial Love

This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Forever Young:  Living and Dying for Christ (VOM). In the following short account, there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore, you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:43-48)

Mary Khoury was seventeen years old when Damour, her village in Lebanon, was raided by Muslim fanatics.  They were determined to convert everyone to Islam by force.  She and her parents were told:  "If you do not become Muslims, you will be shot."  Her parents refused, and were immediately killed.

Mary knew that Jesus had been given a similar choice:  Give up His profession of being the Son of God and the Savior of the world, or be crucified.  He chose the cross.  So she replied, "I was baptized as a Christian and His Word came to me:  'Don't deny your faith.'  I will obey Him.  Go ahead and shoot."

The Muslim who had just killed her father and mother shot her and left her for dead.

Two days later the Red Cross came into Mary's village.  They found her and her family, but Mary was the only one alive.  She was paralyzed, as the bullet had severed her spinal cord.  Her paralyzed arms were extended and bent at the elbows, much like Jesus' must have been when He was crucified.

At first, Mary was depressed, now knowing what she would do.  Then the Lord spoke to her, and she knew what she must do with her life.  "Everyone has a vocation," she said.  "I can never marry or do any physical work.  So I will offer my life to the Muslims, like the one who cut my father's throat, stabbed my mother while cursing her, and tried to kill me.  My life will be a prayer for them."

Those Muslims have no idea how blessed they are!

A moment of introspection: Ah, the seeming naturalness, the supposed appropriateness, the apparent righteousness of anger and hatred and cursing toward those who are our enemies.  The world teaches its denizens this response, akin to the Passage in Exodus (Exodus 21:23-25), in which is said:  "But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, "eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe."  It is this passage to which our Lord Jesus responded in His famous words in Matthew 5:38-39:  "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' "But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also."  Indeed, this present lesson brings together three tales, each describing an aspect of sacrificing of oneself.  Mary Khoury began our lesson, living out her life beyond intended death as a living example of Christ's words, "pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."  Sensitively to Christ's message, Mary obediently chose to obey His directive--not to deny His call on her.  The Lord supported Mary in avoiding the pitfalls of denial for Christians (cf Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9).  But Mary Khoury went a step further, and tied her baptism to obedience to Christ.  Jesus Himself chose to obey His Father, asking God to let the cup pass from Him; "nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will."

Our second exemplar, according to Leith Anderson, comes from the account of his relation, Judy Anderson, and the missionaries of whom she learned.  Judy grew up as the daughter of missionaries in Zaire. As a little girl, she went to a day-long rally celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of Christian missionaries coming to that part of Zaire. After a full day of long speeches and music, an old man came before the crowd and insisted that he be allowed to speak. He said he soon would die, and that he alone had some important information. If he did not speak, that information would go with him to his grave.

He explained that when Christian missionaries came a hundred years before, his people thought the missionaries were strange and their message unusual. The tribal leaders decided to test the missionaries by slowly poisoning them to death. Over a period of months and years, missionary children died one by one. Then the old man said, "It was as we watched how they died that we decided we wanted to live as Christians."

That story had gone untold for one hundred years. Those who died painful, strange deaths never knew why they were dying or what the impact of their lives and deaths would be. They stayed because they trusted Jesus Christ.  Sacrifice.  We often go through life, failing to recognize the impact of our Christian faith on others.  Revealed to Judy, the missionaries, likewise lived and died without recognizing the sum of their life and death--the faith of indigenous folk in Zaire. These folks were the legacy for missionary work done in Zaire, Africa.  In a sense, they demonstrated the life of those Christians who choose to obey Jesus Christ, as He said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21)  Their treasure, the new African believers, were laid up in heaven--where the heart of those missioners existed.

Thirdly, comes an account of self-sacrifice that shows the power of self-giving faith. 

In From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya, Ruth Tucker writes about Dr. Eleanor Chestnut. After arriving in China in 1893 under the American Presbyterian missions board, Dr. Chestnut built a hospital, using her own money to buy bricks and mortar. The need for her services was so great, she performed surgery in her bathroom until the building was completed.

One operation involved the amputation of a common laborer's leg. Complications arose, and skin grafts were needed. A few days later, another doctor asked Chestnut why she was limping. "Oh, it's nothing," was her terse reply.

Finally, a nurse revealed that the skin graft for the patient, a coolie, came from Dr. Chestnut's own leg, taken with only local anesthetic.

During the Boxer Rebellion of 1905, Dr. Chestnut and four other missionaries were killed by a mob that stormed the hospital.

Mary, missionaries to Zaire, and Dr. Eleanor Chestnut bring together the heart of Christ in eloquent and puissant fashion.  Self-sacrifice is a notably Christian virtue.  In it is expressed what others have described, in saying "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." (Jim Elliot) It is a chosen act, not an enforced act; as Mahatma Ghandi was noted to have remarked, "The mice which helplessly find themselves between the cats' teeth acquire no merit from their enforced sacrifice."  Did Mary Khoury, or the missionaries of long ago, or Dr. Chestnut live a life in preparation for self-sacrifice?  No-one knows for sure, but Signey Howard was saying that perhaps if one willingly accepts the possibility of self-sacrifice, "One-half of knowing what you want, is knowing what you must give up before you get it."  Perhaps in these three instances, they wondered whether such altruistic sacrifice might await them in the future.  Our Lord Jesus knew that self-sacrifice lay before Him:  "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep." (John 10:15, 17-18)

Many believers would not see themselves in the way of having to choose the path of self-sacrifice.  Many of a certain age group have been described as the "Me" Generation, but the self-absorbed quality of contemporary life could be described as in this excerpt from Wikipedia:

The "Me" generation, also called Generation W, is a term referring to the baby boomer generation in the United States and the self-involved qualities that some people associate with it. The 1970s were dubbed the "Me decade" by writer Tom Wolfe; Christopher Lasch was another writer who commented on the rise of a culture of narcissism among the younger generation of that era. The phrase caught on with the general public, at a time when "self-realization" and "self-fulfillment" were becoming cultural aspirations to which young people supposedly ascribed higher importance than social responsibility.

A life of abnegation, of self-sacrifice and investment in others is not about taking, and getting rich.  Ralph Waldo Emerson reacted more circumspectly to this life purpose, as he remarked, "In this world, it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich."  Self-sacrifice is a feature of the love that Jesus has for us, and we might do well to have toward others.  That’s called Agape love.  To love others with Agape love, implies that we are to love others, whether they are fellow believers (John 13:34) or bitter enemies (Matthew 5:44). Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example of sacrifice for the sake of others, even for those who may care nothing at all for us. Agape love as modeled by Christ is not based on a feeling; rather, it is a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own.

Agape love does not come naturally to us. Because of our fallen nature, we are incapable of producing such a love. If we are to love as God loves, that love--that agape--can only come from its Source. This is the love that "has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us" when we became His children (Romans 5:5; cf. Galatians 5:22). This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1 John 3:16). Because of God’s love toward us, we are able to love one another.

Three examples--becoming a prayer for one’s enemies, laboring unto death for the sake of the Gospel (hoping for the reward of changed lives, but not seeing it), and literally giving of one’s body for the sake of another.  Each of these were indicators of Agape love--that love which our Savior exemplified for us.  Sacrificing of oneself for others is a noble cause, a truly righteous principle, a tried-and-true motivation for action toward and interaction with others.  Our Lord does not ask us to be Mary Khoury, the missionaries in Zaire, or Dr. Eleanor Chestnut--He asks us to be us.  Through Agape love, He offers us a deeper plane of service, a more-intense tier of usefulness for the Kingdom, perhaps a more passionate means of glorifying God.  This life is not about us, per se, but about God, and His will, His love.  He sacrificed of Himself to share the Christ with all, that by and through Him, the world would be saved from sin.  Christ sacrificed of Himself to achieve the salvation for those He came to save.  That is Agape Love.  May we consider that “next step” in our walk, and give ourselves to others in agape love.  Psalm 27:1 - The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

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