FINDING LIFE BY LOSING LIFE
Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel shall save it.
There are certain things which are lost by being kept and saved by being used. Any talent that a man possesses is like that. If he uses it, it will develop into something still greater. If he refuses to use it he will in the end lose it. Supremely so, life is like that.
History is full of examples of men, who by throwing away their lives, gained life eternal. Late in the fourth century, there was in the East a monk called Telemachus. He had determined to leave the world and to live all alone in prayer and meditation and fasting, and so to save his soul. In his lonely life he sought nothing but contact with God. But somehow he felt there was something wrong. One day as he rose from his knees, it suddenly dawned upon him that his life was based, not on a self-less, but on a selfish love of God. It came to him that if he was to serve God he must serve men, that the desert was no place for a Christian to live, that the cities were full of sin and therefore full of need.
He determined to bid farewell to the desert and set out to the greatest city in the world, Rome, at the other side of the world. He begged his way across lands and seas. By this time Rome was officially Christian. He arrived at a time when Stilicho, the Roman general, had gained a mighty victory over the Goths. To Stilicho was granted a Roman triumph. There was this difference from the old days–now it was to the Christian churches the crowds poured and not to the heathen temples. There were the processions and the celebrations and Stilicho rode in triumph through the streets, with the young Emperor Honorius by his side.
But one thing had lingered on into Christian Rome. There was still the arena; there were still the gladiatorial games. Nowadays Christians were no longer thrown to the lions; but still those captured in war had to fight and kill each other to make a Roman holiday for the populace. Still men roared with blood lust as the gladiators fought.
Telemachus found his way to the arena. There were eighty-thousand people there. The chariot races were ending; and there was a tenseness in the crowd as the gladiators prepared to fight. Into the arena they came with their greeting. “Hail, Caesar! We who are about to die salute you!” The fight was on and Telemachus was appalled. Men for whom Christ had died were killing each other to amuse an allegedly Christian populace. He leapt the barrier. He was in between the gladiators, and for a moment they stopped. “Let the games go on,” roared the crowd. They pushed the old man aside; he was still in his hermit’s robes. Again he carne between them. The crowd began to hurl stones at him; they urged the gladiators to kill him and get him out of the way. The commander of the games gave an order; a gladiator’s sword rose and flashed; and Telemachus lay dead.
Suddenly the crowd were silent. They were suddenly shocked that a holy man should have been killed in such a way. Suddenly there was a mass realization of what this killing really was. The games ended abruptly that day–and they never began again. Telemachus, by dying, had ended them. As Gibbon said of him, “His death was more useful to mankind than his life.” By losing his life he had done more than ever he could have done by husbanding it out in lonely devotion in the desert.
God gave us life to spend and not to keep. If we live carefully, always thinking first of our own profit, ease, comfort, security, if our sole aim is to make life as long and as trouble-free as possible, if we will make no effort except for ourselves, we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we forget health and time and wealth and comfort in our desire to do something for Jesus and for the men for whom Jesus died, we are winning life all the time.
What would have happened to the world if doctors and scientists and inventors had not been prepared to risk experiments often on their own bodies? What would have happened to life if everyone had wished for nothing but to remain comfortably at home, and there had been no such person as an explorer or a pioneer? What would happen if every mother refused to take the risk of bearing a child? What would happen if all men spent all they had upon themselves?
The very essence of life is in risking life and spending life, not in saving it and hoarding it. True, it is the way of weariness, of exhaustion, of giving to the uttermost–but it is better any day to burn out than to rust out, for that is the way to happiness and the way to God.
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