It’s not all about me. Many times the most important thing I can do — the most Christ-honoring thing I can do—is stay in the background and support someone else.
When you sat through American History in high school, you read several names in the chapter on the Civil War: Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and William Tecumseh Sherman. Lew Wallace was likely not among the people you studied.
Lew Wallace was a major in the Union army, and by some accounts, a fairly obscure major in the conflict. Obscure or not, Wallace did something significant.
In July 1864, Robert E. Lee devised a plan to attack the nation’s capital. Not a bad idea from a Confederate viewpoint: an attack on the capital would be a humiliating blow to the Union’s morale. It could even cause a panic and spell the defeat of Abraham Lincoln in the upcoming election. So Lee sent General Jubal Early with 14,000 troops to seize the city.
When General Grant heard the news, he immediately dispatched two brigades, but they had a good march ahead of them. They would not arrive before Jubal Early arrived.
The only thing that stood between the Confederates and Washington was General Lew Wallace and a piecemeal group of soldiers. These men were called “hundred days” men because they were recruited on the promise they only had to serve for 100 days. We’re not talking about experienced soldiers, just a ragtag group of not quite 6,000 men. But what would that be against 14,000 men?
It doesn’t sound like a fair fight—and it wasn’t. The Confederate army was three times larger than the Union, and at the end of the day, the Confederates won. They won, but it wasn’t easy. Instead of walking right over the smaller army, they had to fight — and fight hard. So much so that the Confederate soldiers, who had already been on a long march, needed a day’s rest after their hard-fought victory.
So why is General Lew Wallace (and his men) the hero in my eyes? Sure, they lost—and 1900 of them died in the process—but they delayed the march of the Confederates and gave the Union reinforcements time to get to Washington. On July 11, 1864, General Jubal Early finally arrived on the outskirts of Washington. He realized what he was now up against, turned around, and headed south. No one knows how many more lives were saved because of the valiant efforts of Wallace and his men.
It’s easy to remember the brigades that stood ready to defend Washington, but let’s not forget the ragtag group of men under Lew Wallace who gave them the support they needed.
What we do to support others is critical. As followers of Christ, our focus is to be on the kingdom of God. We are to work together toward the same end: living out and sharing the gospel. We work together as the body of Christ, and therefore, we are to do all we can to support the body of Christ. Even if someone else gets the notice. Even if no one knows the role you or I played.
“In humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
I can’t overstate how critical this is to the church’s missions and witness. This is not a matter of just being nice. It is a matter of setting ourselves aside in love for the sake of others. Too often in the church, we are consumed with fighting for the top position. We want to get noticed … or we insist on getting our way … or we want our preferences acknowledged. We can say we’re only thinking of what’s best for the church, but it’s more about getting what we want.
Meanwhile, the community around us sits by, taking note that there’s nothing different about the church. They see us fight and squabble just like every other organization.
Except we’re not an organization; we are the body of Christ. And as a part of the body of Christ, your role and mine is to lift up the Head. The moment we point to ourselves, we’re not pointing to the Head. And that’s dead wrong.
General Lew Wallace did what he could without fanfare. He stepped into a battle he knew he would lose, but he believed his actions would ultimately benefit the Union. And he was right.
May more and more followers of Christ do the same. Let’s do that which honors Christ and ultimately benefits His kingdom.
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