“No one has greater love than this: to lay down his life for his friends.”-John 15:13
As is always the case, the Olympics have brought with them high drama. One major story this year for team USA has been gymnast Simon Biles and her decision to pull out of the women’s team competition and most of her individual events. She didn’t feel mentally ready to compete, and safety concerns alone warranted such a choice. Without knowledge of the specifics we can grant that she likely chose wisely.
Many have favorably compared Biles’ decision to pull out with Kerri Strug’s performance while injured on the vault back in 1996 (remember how she landed an epic vault on one foot?). In fact, one commentator has opined that Strug was forced to do the vault by her coaches against her will and how such a thing should never be. In contrast, some argue that Biles put herself first and should be applauded for it. (For what it’s worth, Strug herself has encouraged Biles in her decision).
This conversation has brought to light an interesting shift in our culture’s take on the Kerri Strug moment. In our highly individualistic and therapeutic environment, Strug’s vault increasingly does not compute. Why would she risk injury for something as antiquated as national pride? The consensus seems to be she should have put herself—her physical and emotional well being—first.
Every Olympian risks their well being to compete at the highest levels, but I think Strug’s vault is a powerful illustration of something we’re losing as a culture: the value of personal sacrifice for a cause greater than self. I cannot speak as to whether or not she was forced to do the vault while injured, but one way or another she chose to do it and did so for the sake of Team USA and her country. Because she put the many above herself, her vault wascourageous and heroic.
Strug’s vault is an iconic example of courage and bravery motivating someone to risk their well being for a greater cause. In John 15:13 Jesus himself defines love in terms of sacrifice. While sacrifice is not all that love is, sacrifice is a necessary component of love. In verse 12 Jesus commands us to love one another as he loved us—this means with sacrificial love.
In the church we must insist on holding sacrificial love high. The bride of Christ is the greater cause, and we are called by Jesus to sacrificially serve each other for her greater good. This calling runs directly contrary to our cultural focus on individualism.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Biles’ decision was probably the right one. I would argue that she put her team first and therefore her decision is another form of sacrifice for a greater cause. For me it’s not a question of Strug vs. Biles. Rather, it’s a question of self vs. the greater good. When it’s our turn to sacrifice, don’t discount the fact that true love is seen in sacrifice for the sake of others. It’s what Jesus has done for us, and examples of it are increasingly rare.