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Real men die

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”

TombUnknown

Photo by Stacy Fischer

The inscription on the tomb of the unknown soldier in Arlington Cemetery remains a fitting tribute to true manhood: Giving up your life, not for personal recognition, but in the service of others. Even when no one knows what you have done but you and the One who weighs the motives of your heart.

I grew up hearing the stories of heroism on the field of battle. To me, these soldiers were paragons of manhood. As a young boy, I especially loved the movie Sergeant York. I don’t know how many times I replayed in my mind the scene where Alvin York went alone up the hill toward enemy machine gun nests that had been picking off his fellow soldiers. He did it not for the thrill of battle, or dreams of glory and fame, but on behalf of the men who fought alongside him. If you’re not familiar with the story, York eventually captured 132 German soldiers — single handedly.

The humble and godly York initially turned down the Warner Brothers biopic offer, but later agreed so he could use the money to benefit others. With the movie royalties and speaking engagements, he built a Bible school and a high school on his old homeplace in Pall Mall, Tennessee.

Alvin York believed God’s favor on the battlefield paved the way for him to have the platform to help people and change lives. His considered his greatest lifetime achievement not his achievements as the most-decorated soldier of World War I, but building the schools and giving himself to improve the lives of others.

Real men die

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23

In contrast to his fellow soldiers who gave their lives on the battlefield, York lived a full 76 years. But if you know the back story, his life was one of daily dying to self. After giving his life to Christ in 1915, York did a 180, turning from his past of violent drunken outbursts to a deep conviction not to harm others. Although he signed up for the service, he did so as a conscientious objector. When his appeal was denied, the expert marksman reluctantly accepted the role of training soldiers how to shoot.

Soon afterward he had to find a way to serve his country on the battlefield without violating his conscience. And when his commanding officer was killed, he assumed the leadership of his platoon, storming the hill alone, killing 28 German soldiers and capturing 32 machine guns that had been picking off his fellow soldiers. All the time York was shooting, he was yelling for the Germans to surrender, hoping to save as many lives as possible, even of those who were trying to kill him.

In a way, Alvin York didn’t have to worry about dying as he charged that hill because he had already committed his life to dying to self in the service of others.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:13

Alvin York’s life belonged to the Lord Jesus Christ, who had provided the ultimate example of manhood on another hill. His very purpose in coming from heaven to earth was “to seek and to save.” Denying Himself to the very end, He offed himself a willing sacrifice on the hill called Golgotha (the place of the skull).

If anyone occupying human flesh ever had a right to glory and fame, Jesus Christ did. Yet he willingly gave it all up for us, offering to exchange his life for the death that all of us eventually face as men. In doing so, He gives us the maxim for masculinity: Real men die to self. Real men serve others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.   – Philippians 2:5-8

In the 45 years since I first saw Sergeant York, the heroic visions of my childhood have never materialized in my own life. I haven’t had the opportunity to storm an enemy hill, capture countless prisoners, or save a platoon. I haven’t even been able to build a school or missionary training center.

But I’ve learned that the real heroism as a man isn’t in the big feats. It comes in putting away my selfish desires on behalf of my wife and children, serving others by sharing the word of life and seeking to better the lives of those around me. I’ve also found that these little decision to die daily to self are so much harder than the ready-for-the-moment courage of my childhood fantasies. Amazing how it can be so easy to storm a machine gun nest in my mind, yet so hard in real life to give my undivided attention to Ellie and the kids.

Real men die. Our decisions to deny self may be unknown to anyone but ourselves, but they are known to God, who looks at the heart. He is the same God who accepted Christ’s sacrifice for us, conquering death for all and leaving an empty tomb.

He is risen.

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2 Comments

  1. Dave's Gravatar Dave
    April 18, 2014    

    Hey Scott
    I have read about Sgt York also. Your post also reminded me of John the Baptist. He said that he must become less so Jesus can become more. Enjoy your post. Happy Easter. Christ has risen!

    • Scott Williams's Gravatar Scott Williams
      April 23, 2014    

      Great addition, Dave. This is one of my favorite passages, particularly as it applies to dying to self and living for Christ.

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