This is a verse admonishing the beauty and power of sacrifice. To give one’s very life for another is a superb act of love. The supreme way of acknowledging the value of another is to die in their place.
This is not just talking about the most obvious kind of death. There are many ways one dies and therefore many ways to “lay down one’s life”.
We “lay down our life” when we truly listen to a spouse rather than just jury with what we want to say. We die to our flesh when we say a kind, patient word to a friend who needs our help.
What this verse is suggesting is that giving your life for others is one of the best things you can do to live a meaningful life. The idea is a paradox in and of itself.
When we lose our life, it says elsewhere in Scripture, we find it. The last will be first. We find the greatest source of meaning in our own lives by dying to our own flesh-centered appetites in order to love others. This is the real value and extraordinary beauty of community. Meaning is something we find the more we give it away. And love is the greatest manifestation of meaning there is in this life.
When we say a kind word to that friend or listen to our spouse, we are exercising character. And that character is much more meaningful than the superficial appetites of our flesh.
We seek all sorts of avenues to live a successful, or meaningful, life. The irony is that we find it by the way we care for others. By seeing and valuing them for who they are. By dying to our own appetites and our own agenda. It might not only save a friend, but each of us as well.