We live in a world that celebrates, honors and rewards its best, brightest and most beautiful. They are our heroes. Whether real or illusionary, these are the men and women whose images we lift up as icons in a world of mediocrity. We study their fame and achievements with hopes and dreams of accomplishing greatness ourselves or at least emulating a portion of theirs in our search for success. Many of us, if not most, long to leave something behind as a lasting memorial to our brief appearance here on Earth. But is that our calling as Christians?
Who is your hero? Is it a business or financial giant like Rupert Murdock, Peter F. Drucker, George Soros, Ted Turner or Donald Trump? Maybe it’s someone from the sciences like Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan or Jonas Salk. You might hold someone from the legal profession as your hero -- say a Johnny Cochran or an F. Lee Bailey. Maybe yours is a sports figure like Michael Jordan, Sammy Sosa or Tiger Woods or a musician like John Lennon, Elvis Presley or Garth Brooks. Some have heroes who stand in pulpits, like Robert Schuller, Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, Jessie Jackson, or the late Dr. Martin Luther King. For others it’s a certain movie star that fits the bill like John Wayne, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks. Even radio talk show hosts are heroes today – men like Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Don Imus or Sean Hannity to name but a few. Many will say that God has blessed these men with fame, fortune, honor and celebrity in order to bless us with their talent, knowledge, wisdom and expertise. They will tell you that God has gifted them as chosen individuals set apart to reveal God’s own greatness to the world. But, they would be wrong.
Who are God’s chosen? Are they the brilliant, wealthy, famous, educated, acclaimed, influential, powerful or beautiful? Let’s consider what the Bible has to say about who God’s chosen really are and why.
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
To some this may come as quite a shock. Even those who call themselves Christians might be startled by the implication of these verses -- especially those of the post-modern Church who regularly celebrate and honor talented and respected “men of faith” with their psychology-based, musically-driven church growth programs, techniques and strategies. That’s why we have big projection screens in so many of our church sanctuaries these days -- to artfully present larger-than-life images of modern day idols demonstrating their talents before congregations as part of the “worship experience”. It is a common fallacy in today’s Christian community to employ human talent to accommodate men rather than utilizing spiritual gifts to serve God. To this day many Christians still do not know the difference. However, if God built churches with human talent there would be no need for spiritual gifts and conversion experiences.
“And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
You see – it would be not only self-defeating and demeaning for God to use “great men” to reveal Himself to the world -- it would be contradictory. No man is great before God because “all have sinned…” and those who seek to be viewed as “great”, though forgiven, not only spoil themselves and their testimony but the testimonies of those who exalt them. I believe God’s message and miracles come, for the most part, through humble men and women the world finds difficult to revere and honor in worldly ways. And I believe that is by design. Even the Apostle Paul – a man honored early in life as a Pharisee’s Pharisee, with a powerful reputation, birthright and tremendous knowledge of Jewish tradition considered it all worthless after his conversion. After having been educated, honored and destined for greatness by his peers he essentially became a fool in their eyes for the sake of the gospel. On top of it all, the Lord gave him a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him humble in his miracle-filled service to God.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness...” (2 Corinthians 12: 7-9a)
We have a tendency to look at first century Christians as great men of their time. However, most New Testament saints only became great after they passed on from the humiliation, rejection, suffering and temptation of this world. The reality is, most were reviled by the civilized world during their ministries, not honored, awarded, acclaimed, respected, revered or decorated for their “reasonable service”. Those who were erroneously praised along the way by well-meaning believers vehemently refused such acclaim out of reverence for Christ. My, what a contrast to today’s “great men of faith” who allow themselves to be treated like Hollywood celebrities before the omnipresent eyes of a Suffering Servant who washed the feet of men and hung on a cross for their sins.
Therein lies the strength of weakness and the weakness of strength. Those who use their own strength to seek greatness will suffer loss because of it. Those who become weak before God are made strong in Christ and by faith move mountains.
“…Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9b-10)
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