The culture we live in is BIG into heroes. We love Superheroes, mutant heroes, guitar heroes, toy heroes, and Disney heroes. Heroes tend to be people (or cartoons) who do extra-ordinary feats that usually involve them putting their life on the line for someone else or a hero could just be someone we greatly admire, like a teacher or a parent, and strive to be somewhat like that person. The second definition I think it closer to what people call a hero. We all want to be a certain actor or musician and everything they do is awesome. They are our hero. And I believe this hero mentality has reached into the church (yes, even to biblically-sound churches). Here is where danger can be found. Hang on to that thought.
Now, this past May, I began a series with my youth entitled “Route 66” in which I am walking through the whole Bible one book at a time. Many of you have done this in your churches and I, like you, have enjoyed the process of looking into each book of the Bible and what God is communicating through each book. I have learned so much from each book’s main theme, outline, and historical context. The Bible is simply an incredible book and why people generally and Christians specifically don’t love to sit down and read its contents is beyond my comprehension. Yet, as I read, study, and prepare to teach through the story of God’s redemptive history, reading about all the men and women of the Bible, particularly those who were godly, one verse keeps coming back to me: 1 Corinthians 3:5-7,
“What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”
The context: in the church in Corinth, various groups had formed that were essentially groupies around a certain preacher that they liked the best (1 Cor 1:11-12). Following another man is not a huge deal except these groupies were speaking harshly against other groups and this created division in the church. The Apostle Paul responded that preachers of the true gospel of Jesus Christ are not in a popularity contest nor a beauty pageant. Rather, the church is a community of people centered on Jesus and the leaders/teachers of the church are merely servants of God who plant seeds of the gospel and water it. Again, it is fine to prefer one guy over the next, but it is not a reason to divide the church.
What I want to draw your attention to is the role of God’s servants. Yes, to minister. Yes, to preach the news about God and His salvation. Yes, at times, God uses them in a large role outside of their local ministry. But we need to be careful to remember that they are still just seed planters and water-boys/gals. They can do nothing else. They cannot make the seed of faith grow. They cannot make people have faith or grow in their faith. All they can really do is be faithful to the task God has given – cast the seed and water the ground where the seed has been cast.
Why do I bring your attention to this detail and how does it relate to heroes and my current study of the Bible with my youth? The reason I set you up like this is to say: please stop making the Bible about heroes! Maybe another way to put it: make sure you know WHO the main character of the Bible is – Who the real Hero is! Yes, Abraham is a very important character. Yes, Joseph’s story in Egypt is vital. Of course, we need Moses, Ruth, Boaz, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezra, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul. I will not deny this. But they are “only servants.” GOD IS THE CENTER of the Bible narrative. More simply: the Bible is the self-revealing of God – His perfections, His standard, and His works.
Now I know that when you and I read a book like Daniel we are tempted to see the name on the book itself and assume it is a book about Daniel. Daniel is a key component to the book of Daniel, but the book is really about God. Just look at chapter 1 of Daniel: “The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into [Nebuchadnezzar’s] hand” (v. 2), “God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials” (v. 9), and “God gave [Daniel and his 3 friends] knowledge and intelligence.” So, we note from Daniel 1 that (1) Nebuchadnezzar’s military might had nothing to do with the overthrow of Judah – God did that; (2) Daniel’s personality had nothing to do with gaining favor with his commanding officer – God gave that; and (3) Daniel and his three friends were the smartest, but that was because God gave them that intelligence.
Do you see it? God is the main character here. Not Daniel! I think Daniel would be horrified to know that we focused on him and not on God who “gave.” Where Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah fit is that they trusted God’s sovereign power and plan to the degree that they stood firmly upon His Word in not eating unclean meats, trusting then that God would take care of the results of their decision to trust Him. Get it?
I could keep going: Daniel 2 is not about Daniel faith in interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, but rather this chapter shows that God is sovereign over all kingdoms until His kingdom comes. Daniel 3 shows that God is sovereign over death and that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego trusted, again, God to sovereignly work out His plan in their obedience by not bowing to an idol. On it goes. And this is just the book of Daniel.
Genesis shows that God is the Creator of the World, the Judge of good and evil, and the Promise-Maker and Keeper. In Exodus, God is a redeemer, a deliverer, and worthy of worship. In Leviticus, God is holy. In Numbers, God is a gracious provider and wrathful against sin. In Deuteronomy, God is unique, jealous, and love.
I could keep going with God being a conqueror, incomparable, sovereign, the King of kings, provident, faithful, and good, but I think you see the point. God is the Person of the Bible. Everyone else is secondary.
Now someone out there is muddling, “but didn’t the Apostle Paul say, ‘I urge you to imitate me’ (1 Cor 4:16) and ‘follow my example’ (1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17)? And then aren’t we supposed to be like the men and women of faith in Hebrews 11?” Answer, Yes. But notice that Paul only ever called us to follow His example of following Christ. He didn’t say, “lift me up and follow me.” Rather, follow the example of following Christ. In other words, Paul is telling his readers to follow Christ. To keep their eyes fixed on God and His standards and His will. Which is also exactly what the writer of Hebrews is saying. Yes, look at the faith of these godly men and women. Admire their faith, but realize they are just an example of faith. Follow their example by keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus, “the Author and Perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2).
The point? Cherish, love, admire, and commend people’s faith in God, but keep your focus on what they were/are focused on: God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. By doing this, “the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
So now go grab your Bible and as you read/study, look for God and ask yourself: what is God revealing Himself as? Who is He in this story, and that poem, and this prophecy, and through the work in that person? And as you do this, you will take on the heart of the Apostle Paul in saying, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8).