He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
I am a word nerd. So the fact that life warranted a footnote while find and lose did not caused me to wonder what was going on with those verbs.
The verb used for find can also mean seek out, discover, find by examination or scrutiny, and obtain. Essentially, the verb communicates a prolonged search for a thing. It can mean that one simply happens upon a thing — “Hey, look! I have a soul!” — but I suspect that the almost compulsive search is more likely what was meant. In context, Jesus is talking about discipleship and how anyone who loves anyone more than they love Christ is not worthy of Him. With that as the backdrop, I think that the compulsive hunting for one’s soul is more likely what Jesus had in mind. It is a theory, but there is textual support for it.
The word rendered lost or lose in English can also mean destroy, render useless, kill, put out of the way entirely, and, yes, lose. I think that there were two ways that the verb was meant — one for each time it was used.
Last, that pesky life thing. The Greek word used is psyche, a term that is probably familiar to most English-speaking folks. The concordance gives meanings as various as mind, heart, breath, and life. It might best be understood, I think, as the person in totality.
Armed with those meanings, I think the verse might be rendered:
He who has made a careful search for his self will destroy it, and he who has put aside entirely his self for My sake will obtain it.
The application is, to my mind, pretty clear. If I want to “be myself,” as so many advertising campaigns and motivational claptrap would have me, then I will ultimately destroy that self. If, on the other hand, I put aside the notion of “self” in favor of following Christ, He will redeem that self and give it back to me, holy and fit for His use. Not only will I get to “be myself,” but it will be a self sanctified and sanctioned by my Savior. The trick of it, as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity is that I cannot come to Christ just looking for myself. I have to come looking for Him. The verse, as I read it, tells me that I must myself aside entirely. Get my self out of the way for the sake of Christ. I must seek Him. And, as promised elsewhere, as I seek Him and His righteousness, then all the other things will be added to me. As I put aside my self in pursuit of Christ and His holiness, I will receive my self back on terms that allow me to keep it.
Let me put my self aside today and seek Christ and His glory and holiness. Let me lose my life and gain Christ. Let the rest fall where it may.