“Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25, NIV2)
The Romans in Jesus’ days had an ingenious strategy for confronting their enemies. It is called the Phalanx Formation, or “Phalanx” for short. Soldiers would stand side by side in ranks, and each man’s shield served to protect not just himself, but his neighbor as well. If one soldier fell due to injuries, one would take his place. When the soldiers began to tire, they were replaced by those standing in the middle, thus giving them some time of reprieve. Unity was essential, and as long as they stood as one, they were impenetrable against any enemy on foot.
The soldier had to literally resist the urge of panic, for as long as they were willing to die in combat, success would be guaranteed, and survival was the natural consequence. If a soldier decided to run away from his Phalanx, however, in order to save his own life, not only would he be easy prey for the enemy, but the Phalanx would grow weaker, for the poor example of that soldier who ran away would encourage others to follow suit. After all, it’s pretty scary to be in the middle of an active battlefield!
There was one rule. Soldiers were not to engage the enemy at any cost. In holding on to their shields with all of their might, they’re only job was to let their shields do the work. Only when they saw an opportunity to disable the enemy would they be allowed to use their swords. One quick strike, generally in the stomach area, would do the trick. Again, unity was the most important element in the strategy.
The same is true for us, the followers of Christ. If we cling to our lives, and especially if we want to be in charge of our own lives, we are heading for disaster. Unity would never be our goal, and we would tend to weaken our fellow believers! Remember, those soldiers who ran away from the Phalanx in order to save their own lives were the very ones that were easily slaughtered! They were the ones that indirectly encouraged disunity and potentially led to the destruction of their phalanx.
It’s not for nothing that Jesus prayed ardently the following prayer: “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11, NIV2) Without unity we are easy prey! Our priorities become skewed and we start to think only about ourselves, which can lead to our own destruction, especially when calamity appears out of nowhere. Where would we run to? To ourselves?
What should be uniting us the most? Shouldn’t it be what Jesus urged us to do on many occasions: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35, NIV2)
Again, if unity is not our goal, we will weaken the fellowship of believers. We tend to think solely of our own welfare, but love is the answer to all things. Imagine the difference we would make in this world if we genuinely loved like Jesus showed us to do. Hunger would be eradicated (This is only possible if we all joined the cause to help the ones dying of hunger), hope would be revived, and our churches would become too small to accommodate the millions of people who would be knocking on our doors, wanting what we have: an undying love for humanity with a hope that far surpasses any calamity.
I know we live in a scary world, but it doesn’t have to be scary to us. We can make a difference, if we are united in our pursuit.
“Can you scratch my back please?”
“I sure can, but not until those barbarians retreat. I have my Phalanx to protect.”
(To access the entire “The Question About Love” devotional series, please click here.)