Real-life heroes are far better, though. These men and women reach beyond themselves to do remarkable things in our world. According to the History’s Heroes website,[ii] the top ten heroes of all time (from bottom to top) are: Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Helen Keller, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Shakespeare, George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, Leonardo Da Vinci, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln. People like this inspire us to greater living. Most of them also demonstrated humility before God. When I read this list, I’m glad to find no athletic giants, popular singers, or movie stars. Apparently, people realize that while superstars like this enjoy fleeting fame, they do not really inspire us to greatness.
Paul and Barnabas are among my list of heroes in the Bible—not because of the great things they themselves did, but because of their ability to let God do great things through them, and because they could be humble about it.
Acts 14:3 (NASB) gives a picture of the attitude of the evangelists: “Therefore they spent a long time…speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands.” They understood that they could do nothing by their own strength. Rather, it was the grace of God, working in them. Yet frequently their reward was not adulation, but attempts on their lives. So they were forced to continue traveling as they preached.
At Lystra, the Lord healed a man who had been unable to walk. The people of the Greek city were so awestruck by Paul and Barnabas that they begin calling them Zeus and Hermes, and tried to sacrifice to them. Yet the preachers refused to accept the glory given to them. Verses 14-15 (NASB) say, “…When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God….’”
Unfortunately today there are lots of religious leaders who want elevation to hero status. Along with fame comes wealth, which is what many want. According to Therichest.com, evangelist Creflo Dollar has a net worth of $27 million, while Binny Hinn and Joel Osteen both have a net worth of $40 million. Even our own beloved Billy Graham is worth $27 million[iii]. Not that money is evil—but it does have a way of going to your head. Then there are the religious leaders who are into power, which often comes with wealth but often doesn’t. Some tiny churches with small-time pastors, elders, and deacons exercise extreme control by manipulating their membership with guilt and fear. So for them, it isn’t about money, but it is about elevation to god-status.
What we need today are servants who are willing to let the power of God flow through them without being corrupted by it. We need people who are less concerned with their own stardom than they are interested in keeping God on the throne and glorifying His name. During this time of year, many churches are selecting leaders and servants such as deacons, teachers, officers, and committee members. I pray that churches will select women and men who demonstrate humility before God and others.
Paul and Barnabas knew that serving God wasn’t about being honored. In fact, God showed them how much they would suffer for His name. In verses 19-23 they were stoned nearly to death by an angry mob. I wonder—if our leaders knew that suffering might be part of the deal, would they sign up so quickly to their places of honor? We need people who are willing to lead, serve, and even suffer for the cause of Christ, not people who simply want to be superstars.
Proverbs 15:33 (NIV) says, “Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor.” We need servant-leaders who still fear God, and who remember their proper place at the feet of Jesus. In The Disciplines of Life, V. Raymond Edman writes about the kind of humility we need today in church leaders:
Father, where shall I work today? And my love flowed warm and free.Then He pointed me out a tiny spot, And said, "Tend that for me."I answered quickly, "Oh, no, not that. Why, no one would ever see,No matter how well my work was done. Not that little place for me!"And the word He spoke, it was not stern, He answered me tenderly,"Ah, little one, search that heart of thine; Art thou working for them or me?Nazareth was a little place, And so was Galilee."[iv]
[i] Cinema Blend. “Upcoming Marvel Movies: Phase 2 And Phase 3 Title List And Release Dates.” Kelly West.
[iii] http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celeb/televangelists/billy-graham-net-worth/; http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celeb/televangelists/creflo-dollar-net-worth/; http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celeb/televangelists/benny-hinn-net-worth/; http://www.therichest.com/celebnetworth/celeb/joel-osteen-net-worth/. July 24, 2015.
[iv] The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Edman (Minneapolis: World Wide Publ., 1948), p. 209. http://www.sermonsearch.com/sermon-illustrations/1745/father-where-shall-i-work-today/. July 24, 2015.