Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Pyrrhic Victory

When was the last time you had a real argument with someone? Was it with your wife? Your child? Perhaps a co-worker? Maybe a telemarketer calling during dinner or some “evolutionist” at Starbuck’s?
I don’t know about you, but when I get into an argument or conflict of some kind, I often get so caught up in “winning” that nothing else really matters. I’ve got to prove to the other person that I am right and, more importantly - that they are wrong!
And do you know what I usually end up with? A “pyrrhic victory.”

A Greek warrior/king named Pyrrhus lived from 318-272 BC. He was truly a mighty warrior whom Hannibal ranked as either the greatest or second greatest military commander the world had ever seen (behind only Alexander the Great if the second version is followed).
Pyrrhus’ political fortunes, however, were not as strong and consistent as were his military escapades. He was king of Epirus, then dethroned, then king of Epirus again. He also ascended the throne of Macedonia, was dethroned, then was king of Macedonia again.
By 281 BC, Rome had become a major “world” power and was poised to take all of the “Greek” cities in southern Italy. One of those cities recruited the renowned warrior Pyrrhus to lead their impending war with the Romans. Sensing the potential for expanding his own kingdom, Pyrrhus agreed to do so.
Pyrrhus entered Italy and defeated the Romans handily in his first battle. Likewise, in his next battle he defeated the Roman armies. However, that second battle came at a crippling cost and led to the modern phrase - “a pyrrhic victory.” You see, in response to congratulations he received after his military victory, Pyrrhus was reported to have said, "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."
Pyrrhus discovered that winning at all costs often costs way too much.

And what does Jesus say about our perceived “need” to win every argument, every dispute, and every squabble or conflict in which we find ourselves? I have studied two passages that, when taken together, give me some guidance on this. First:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)
And then:
If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. (Luke 6:29-31)

Now, I don’t think these passages tell us to roll over like a submissive puppy and take whatever the world dishes out to us or at us. Instead, they tell us to put our agenda, our pride, and our dignity aside and seek God’s honor rather than our own. Let me show you what I mean:
You see, the Greek word translated as “meek” in Matthew 5:5 was used in contexts which show a meaning much more aligned with “power under control” than with “timidity” and “weakness,” which we tend to associate with the word “meek.” The word we have translated as “meek” would have been used in the context of things such as a rudder guiding a huge ship or a bit directing a strong horse – great strength and power that is harnessed and under control.
And when we take that concept of “meekness” and overlay it on the Luke 6 passage, we see Jesus telling us how to act in conformity with the description of Himself, set forth in Philippians 2:3-11:
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross . . . to the glory of God the Father
. (NLT)

In the case of a perceived offense or threat to our pride or to our personal dignity, Jesus not only warns us not to avenge or aggressively defend our honor by retaliating or pushing the issue to the extreme, but He suggests that we should even indulge the “offender.” By freely offering our other cheek, we show that we (who should be secure in our status before God) do not value human honor. We have no “honor” of our own to maintain or lose because we value God's honor rather than our own.
So - who wins or loses an argument, conflict, etc. doesn’t really matter. What matters is – Are we glorifying God? Are we bringing Him honor?
Protecting and defending our pride and our honor may bring some apparent “victories” - but they will be pyrrhic victories. We will ultimately get to the point in our dealings with our wives, our children, our co-workers - those who may look to us for a glimpse of Jesus – where we will have to say (perhaps in hindsight), “because of that victory, I am utterly ruined.” That could very well be the epitaph describing a failed marriage or a broken relationship – “Here lies the winner of a pyrrhic victory.”
A.W. Tozer once wrote, “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless, as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto."

Are you ready for that to be your motto? Are you ready to focus on what honors God rather than on maintaining and defending your own honor? Are you ready to stop being fooled about who you are in Christ? Are you ready to forego personal “victories” in order to further His causes?
If so - You will be blessed; God will be honored; and the person with whom you have a conflict just may be drawn toward the Light. Everybody wins.

In myself – nothing,
Craig Hollingsworth

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