In his address, he uttered those now famous words “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat”. He was conveying an ominous message – the next few years would bring little else but hardship, suffering and death to the British people.
A grim reality
This is not the sort of message most incoming leaders would wish to begin their tenure with. The context of Churchill’s words, however, are crucial in understanding why he said what he said. The United Kingdom had declared war on Adolf Hitler’s Germany eight months previously and things were not going well, with the Nazis advancing on all fronts.
He recognised the challenges that lay ahead. In some respects, his words were not welcome, but they were grounded in reality. Above all, Churchill was a pragmatist. He understood the cost of following the path before him.
The Greatest Realist
As I thought about these words, I was reminded of the words of another of history’s standout figures – a greater, more brilliant man than Churchill (and us all). Matthew, Mark and Luke record the realistic, but challenging, maybe even unwelcome, words of Jesus, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23).
These words are well known in the Christian community, but I fear that too many of us do not take them seriously enough. Christ’s words demonstrate that the Christian pathway requires commitment, willingness and responsibility. It is difficult and costly, and often we are not willing to pay the price.
Defeating our enemies
In His words, the Lord is challenging us to go to war with our three great enemies – self (the flesh), the world and the devil. They will only be defeated if we are willing to yield everything to God. Each enemy must be attacked head on:
Denying ourselves – defeating self
The idea in this statement is that we must disown self-regard, “leave self behind” (NEB), "give up all right to ourselves” (PHILLIPS). Morris comments: “the natural tendency . . . is to affirm oneself, to concentrate on what serves one’s own interests, to make oneself as prosperous as one can. Jesus calls on all His true followers to renounce such self-interest” (Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, Eerdmans & Apollos, 431). Christ is first, not us – we must acknowledge Him as Lord.
Taking up our crosses daily – defeating the world
This second command is not in relation to regular inconveniences (for example, a challenging few days at work or our children being difficult) or even the general sufferings experienced by all people. In the Ancient Near East, the cross was the ultimate symbol of shame and rejection. When looking at a man carrying a cross, two conclusions would be reached: the world is finished with him and he is finished with the world. The Christian must be prepared to enter into this frame of mind, to abandon all the world has to offer, and to experience its rejection by following Christ.
Following Him – defeating the devil
The devil is the foe that represents possibly the greatest challenge to a believer’s spiritual progress. His attacks come in many forms but perhaps his most successful strategy in our day is to offer the Christian a cost-free life of comfort and ease. He supplies us with all the desires of our hearts, so that we may love them more than Christ. How do we triumph? Follow Him. Commit our lives, submit our wills, determine in our hearts to obey His commands with the strength He supplies, to seek Him, to love Him.
Nothing we have considered is easy or even appealing. C. S. Lewis caught the sentiment when he wrote, “Christ says ‘Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact I will give you Myself; my own will shall become yours’” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Collins, 196-197).
Too long have we acted as if salvation was merely a golden ticket to Glory, with no heart desire to give up everything for Jesus. Too long have we treated God’s local church as a social interest group, turning up only when it suits us, and leaving the responsibilities to a handful of individuals. Too long have we chosen the easy, comfortable way, pleasing ourselves rather than God.
Paying the price
For the citizens of the United Kingdom, following Churchill was worth it. For five grim years, he led the response to the Nazi aggression, and on 8 May 1945, he, and they, emerged triumphant. They paid a heavy price, but it could not be compared with the victory that was secured.
Living for Christ in a fallen world is not easy. He never suggested it would be. The cost is high. But the cost of denying Him is so, so much higher. Well did Paul say, “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
Follow the leader
There is, however, a tremendous difference between Churchill and Christ. Churchill wasn’t offering his own blood, toil, tears and sweat. He would put all his energy into fulfilling his role as Prime Minister but he wasn’t going to the trenches; he didn’t die for his country.
The contrast with Christ could not be more stark. In the preceding verse, He told His disciples exactly what He was willing to do for them: “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day” (Luke 9:22).
He does not ask us to do what He Himself would not do. Instead, on our behalf, He went to war alone – not to the deserts of North Africa or the frozen wastelands of the Eastern Front – but to the cross of Calvary. There, through untold agonies, He secured a victory of eternal magnitude. He suffered so that we might go free. But now we are free, we must in turn be willing to suffer for Him, bearing the shame of association with a rejected King.
He is a leader worth living for, and, yes, worth dying for. Brothers and sisters, let us resolve to "come after Him, deny ourselves, and take up our crosses daily, and follow Him”. We owe Him all that and so much more.
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