Living the Gospel

The desire for heroes seems to be deeply and perhaps universally human. As far back as we can find literature, we find literary heroes. The ancient Greeks certainly loved them and produced them memorably and in staggering quantity: Perseus, Heracles, Achilles, Jason, Odysseus, Socrates and many more besides. It says something about the power and importance of heroes that thousands of years later most of you could tell me more about these “heroes” than about many of our America presidents from the past 100 years. We like heroes, and so even when we cannot find them, we tend to make them.

This is certainly true in scripture. Give us a narrative, any narrative, and we look for heroes - and so inevitably we look in scripture too. This isn’t bad in and of itself, but it does sometimes cause us to see them where we shouldn’t. For example, Samson’s strength tempts us to see him as a hero like Heracles, but as with Heracles there is much in Samson that we would do better not to emulate. Similarly, though Jonah was a prophet, God’s instrument to warn Nineveh, we are left with grave doubts as to what kind of example he is. In the New Testament we find similar difficulty. The disciples seem like good candidates at first glance, but their portrayal (even according to their own accounts) seems far from heroic. Even Paul, who becomes a model apostle, starts his life fervently opposed to Christ.

While this might disappoint us on some level, I think we ought to be encouraged. The universal testimony of scripture is that God is relentlessly committed to working through normal, fully human beings: people, in other words, like us. Like us, most of them have their heroic moments and  low moments. And the wonderful and exciting news is that God’s purposes are accomplished through them anyway. The Bible does not give us an anthology of heroes, rather a single story of a heroic God accomplishing his work through ordinary people. And that is a story in which we all can participate.

Consider again the work of the apostle Paul. Paul without question is a model apostle and was used powerfully by God. And yet here too we should be careful not to allow him to overshadow all the others through whom God was working. Consider that while we often consider Paul an early “church planter,” many churches existed before Paul even arrives. Paul writes the letter to the Roman church before he even travels to Rome. There is already a church there, and Paul did not plant it. The same goes for many other cities. Even where Paul founds a local church, he is usually not the first one to proclaim the gospel. So if Paul is not planting all of these churches, who is?

The answer, as it happens, is normal people. Paul traveled fast, but the gospel traveled faster still, carried by regular people, by merchants, by servants, by people visiting family and often by people fleeing persecution. Paul’s role was significant, both when he was present and as an overseer/encourager after he left. But Paul was quick to acknowledge that ultimately, it was God, working through all kinds of people, who made the church grow (1 Cor. 3.5-7). Paul did great things in service to the kingdom, but so too did the countless people who quietly lived godly and respectable lives, sharing the gospel with their friends and neighbors (1 Thes. 4.11).

We still have our Christian heroes today, men and women who have a huge impact in service of the kingdom. But as always, God will continue to do most of his work through regular people, people who faithfully love their neighbors and give the gospel a good reputation by their hard work and good lives. Our church goals over the past few years, from the High 5, to dining monthly with friends who don’t know Jesus, to Neighboring 12:31 are all designed to help us be and become that kind of people. God is still working, and our prayer is that he will work through us to reach our friends and neighbors.