Some of the greatest stories of love and heroism are true stories in times of war. In moments of intense danger and terror some rise to the occasion in tremendous acts of self-giving love inspiring others to do the same.
Captain William Swenson is one such hero who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions on September 8, 2009. He and his men were tasked with defending a group of Afghan government officials who were to meet with local village elders. The group was ambushed and came under heavy fire on three sides. Among many other things, Cpt. Swenson was recognized for running into live fire to rescue the wounded and pull out the dead. By sheer coincidence, one of the medics had a GoPro camera mounted on his helmet, capturing the whole scene on video. Cpt. Swenson was seen dragging a soldier who was shot in the neck to a helicopter when, just before leaving the man to rescue others, the captain bent over and kissed the wounded sergeant.
Stories like these impress upon us the great potential for love within all of us. These are the moments when God’s image (Gen. 1:26) is most clearly reflected in us. We are surrounded with plenty of examples of humans doing their worst but what makes the best come out in these heroes? Are they just better people than the rest of us?
I don’t think soldiers are inherently better people than civilians. Rather, it is the environment of loyalty, trust and sacrificial leadership that inspires this kind of godly behavior in their comrades. It is no surprise, then, that the Biblical authors compare being a disciple of Christ with being a soldier in the military (1 Cor. 9:7; Phil. 2:25; 2 Tim. 2:1ff).
In the military, awards are given to people who sacrifice themselves for the benefit of others. In contrast, in the business world, bonuses are given to people who sacrifice others to benefit themselves! The difference is the attitude of service and devotion in the military compared to the me-first model in the business world. People are capable of great evil or great good depending on their attitude and their environment.
When war heroes are asked why they risked so much for others their answer is always the same: “They would have done the same for me.” So, in the military there is a deep sense of trust, loyalty and cooperation.
In physical battle there are dangers that threaten our existence all around. Our spiritual lives are also a battle (1 Tim. 1:18; 1 Pet. 2:11). There must be a circle of safety and trust where we cooperate to warn one another of impending danger and to come to one another’s aid. God’s model for this environment of spiritual safety and growth is the church (Eph. 4).
For others to become what God created them to be requires a positive example. People need to see the good in others for them to see the potential for good in themselves. We have the ultimate example in Christ (1 Pet. 2:21) but we also have examples of mature Christians who are further along in their spiritual journey of discipleship (1 Tim. 3; 1 Pet. 5).
Leadership among God’s people is not a promotion or the acquisition of a title to lord one’s authority over another (Mt. 20:25-28). Leadership is all about positive, inspiring influence (Mt. 5:13). Leaders in the church lead by following Christ. Following Christ means serving others. Serving others means that we “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3-4ff) That’s what Christ did for us so that we can do the same for others.