A hill to die on?

From the relative comfort of a life lived without animosity, there are lots of principles that seem worth defending. Many a hill seems worth dying on. But there’s no denying each plot of green grass seems as gentle and lush as the last. As we ascend the hill that we once thought worth dying on, up close, it begins to look identical to every other hill. Is this really the one? Doug Wilson puts it well:

whenever we get to that elusive and ever-receding “hill to die on,” we will discover, upon our arrival there, that it only looked like a hill to die on from a distance. Up close, when the possible dying is also up close, it kind of looks like every other hill. All of a sudden it looks like a hill to stay alive on, covered over with topsoil that looks suspiciously like common ground.

The thing is, you’ve got to die somewhere. At some point or other, you’ve got to say ‘thus far and no further’.

Peter Bolt, however, asked a pertinent question in The Briefing six years ago:

I thought soldiers had to fight at the point where the battle was raging. If you don’t fight, you lose. It would be lovely to have the luxury of choosing a green hill far away, and dying there. But if the battle is raging at some other point, you have to fight on that hill, don’t you?

Could it be possible that we don’t so much choose our hill to die on but it chooses us? [1]

More than a few pastors have said to me that their ministry was beset by some particular issue or other. The usually divisive ones are such secondary issues as the gifts of the Spirit, style of music, orders of service and the like. I remember beginning my ministry and determining that I would not be the pastor who chooses one of these divisive, but secondary and essentially unimportant, hills to die on. Whilst I remain firm in that view, the issue typically runs much deeper than gifts, music or liturgy.

Rarely is the presenting issue the heart of the matter. Plenty of people minister in congregations of mixed views on all the aforementioned issues without incident. Typically the problem is people pressing their own view, or preference, to the point of divisiveness. This makes the issue less about the matter at hand and more the heart of the individual pressing the case. Nevertheless, the problem can’t be handled apart from addressing the presenting issue. Under such circumstances, choosing the hill to die on doesn’t seem to be so much of a choice at all.

Ultimately, we must die where the battle takes place. As soldiers in the cause of Christ’s truth, we battle wherever it happens to be fought when we are on the front the lines. Though the battles may be different in divergent contexts, we ultimately die on the hill on which it rages. We may cower in our bunker of ‘don’t pick on me’, or surrender on the land of ‘common ground’, but if the whole army does that we quickly lose the battle and, with similar tactics each time, the entire war. Unless we are prepared to die on some hill somewhere, we might find ourselves unprepared to die on any of them. The question before us all is, why not this one?

Jesus words seem instructive here:

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?


  1. By which I, of course, mean the Lord ordains for us