I have several friends who are “former” Marines. I made the mistake once—and only once—to call one of them an “ex” Marine, and I quickly stood corrected. My friend told me, “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
Over the years I’ve asked my Marine friends what stood out to them in their time of service to our country. All of them basically shared the same thing: You are bonded together by the experience, training, and mission. One of them pointed out, “Marines know their safety depends on the man on his right and the man on his left.”
That got me thinking about the Church. Why isn’t the Church more like this? Your church should be a place where you are bonded together with other Christ followers by a common experience, training and mission. Your spiritual safety should depend on the person on your right and on your left. Be honest: Is that how you think about the people in your church? Do you believe that your safety and discipleship in the Christian faith depend on the people on your right and on your left? Or do you just “go to church” hoping to get something out of it, but you’re not really interested in putting anything into it?
Chuck Colson tells the story of Jason Dunham who was a young Marine corporal from upstate New York (My Final Word, 93). Dunham was posthumously awarded the highest military honor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. While in Iraq, Dunham had been leading a squad of Marines who were suddenly attacked. One of the insurgents threw a live grenade into the midst of the Marines, and Dunham immediately turned and fell on his helmet over the grenade.
Why did he do it? To save the men on his right and on his left. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Being part of a church is not like a social club; it is like a squad of Marines. We don’t come to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). We don’t show up on Sundays just to be fed but to learn how to feed ourselves and others. We don’t watch the show; we engage in bringing praise and honor to the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are not in it for ourselves but for the person on our right and on our left. We share a common experience (grace), training (for spiritual battle), and mission (to seek and to save the lost—Luke 19:10).
And we are not alone. You are not alone. Not only do you have the person on your right and on your left, you are part of a great heritage of the Christian faith. You are connected to martyrs who have given their lives to preserve the Gospel. You are bonded to warriors like William Wilberforce, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, William Tyndale, Gregory Nazianzus, Teresa of Avila, Athanasius, Mother Teresa, and many others like them who proclaimed the Gospel, stood up to kings and tyrants, served the poor and changed the world.
Church leaders: train your churches to be squads of warriors. Share with them the common experience of the gospel of grace (Acts 20:24). Train them to be soldiers who are watching out for the person on their right and on their left (2 Timothy 2:3). Be the first to set foot on the field of Christ’s mission and the last to step off, and leave no one behind (Lt. Colonel Hal Moore in We Were Soldiers).
Church members: don’t grow comfortable with pew sitting and busybody talking. You were called to so much more (2 Timothy 1:8-10). It is time for the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ to rise up and join the mission of those who have gone before us, protect those who stand beside us, and reach out to those who desperately need us (1 John 5:19). Be bonded together in the shared experience of your training and mission, and always, always protect the person on your right and on your left.
Indeed, it is time to turn the world upside down once again (Acts 17:6).