November 11th 2015 1 comment so far
It’s Veterans’ Day. Veterans will eat free all over town, hear “thank you for your service” from strangers, and get special discounts at the mall, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. Those who have served in the US military will appreciate these gestures and will kindly respond to the sentiments expressed. It will be a day of good feelings all around.
Mind you, this hoopla will be uncomfortable for those who served during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. For them, cold indifference is a welcome contrast to what they experienced on their homecoming or on the streets (during Vietnam in particular). So if your “thank you for your service” causes a gray-haired vet to wince before responding, please be understanding.
And please do not refer to any of us—except those who earned the Medal of Honor—as heroes. We are veterans; we just served. A true hero transcends service and sacrifice into a realm of selflessness that approaches the standard for human love (John 15:13). Heroes are not people who do courageous things—they are people who do courageous, sacrificial, or difficult things for others with no thought of self. As we will note, courage and sacrifice are developed before they are exercised. Heroism involves a process.
Compare that with the current concept of “hero.” The term has been so overused and misapplied as to be almost meaningless. For the record: heroes don’t wear masks or tights, they don’t have super powers, or issue press releases or hold press conferences, or employ agents, and they are not self-selected or designated by popular vote. And with each passing day in our self-absorbed world, true heroes get harder and harder to find. That being the case, I think it fitting to explore the meaning of heroism—what makes for a hero.
The logical first question is “Are heroes born or are they made?” The technical answer (I am a teacher at heart) is “heroes are neither born nor made; they were designated by God in eternity past and then are revealed through His providential circumstances in time.” Some heroes God reveals to the entire world (like those immortalized in the Word of God) or to an entire nation (Medal of Honor winners or 9/11 first responders). Most heroes are revealed only to a select group: those who need to know that a hero is in their midst. Heroes only revealed to a select include the majority of military heroes, all of the “daily heroes” (fathers, mothers, coaches, care givers, and teachers) and all “situational heroes” (police, fire, first responders, and “good Samaritans”). The wider audience is not privy to their exploits.
The logical follow-on question is, “Is the level of heroism directly proportional to the size of the audience?” No. In God’s way of doing things, heroes are revealed for the benefit of the audience, not in recognition of the significance of their heroism or performance. The most heroic among us likely will be those whose heroism was only revealed to a small audience.
“What is the criteria God applies to designate heroes?” God’s standard is faithfulness. God designates those who through their lives reflect His characteristic of faithfulness (Exodus 34:6) as the true heroes among us. The Bible tells us that God is not impressed by performance or accomplishment. He is impressed by faithfulness, so much so that He rewards it eternally and may designate some humans as heroes in time. We need only look at the perfect Hero of all time, Jesus Christ, to see the areas of faithfulness that God views as significant: faithfulness in personal tasks, faithfulness to our mission, and faithfulness in our relationships.
Personal task: means faithfulness in the day to day, mundane, and routine. Jesus as a young man had the power and ability to instantly turn a block of wood into a finished chair, yoke, or whatever was required in Joseph’s carpentry shop. Instead, He faithfully worked a chisel, shaping things one chip at a time. And He always produced a quality finished product (Luke 2:52). Throughout His life, Jesus was perfectly faithful in His personal tasks.
Mission: relates to the direction of our lives; specifically to the goal or purpose. Jesus was totally faithful to His impossibly painful and difficult mission: the cross. He dreaded His mission to the point of asking for it to be taken away. Yet in the end, “not My will, but Yours be done…” (Luke 22:42).
Relationships: speaks of faithfulness to the people God places in our lives. Jesus demonstrated the absolute faithfulness standard: agape love—doing what is best for others regardless the cost to you personally. In Jesus’ case, the people in His life were all of mankind, and He faithfully paid the penalty for what we did. He has gained the ultimate in acclaim as the ultimate, perfect hero (Philippians 2:5-11).
Heroes are revealed when God chooses to publicly identify those demonstrating faithfulness in all three areas. He uses circumstances not to make, but to reveal heroes, and the revelation often requires that the hero demonstrate an unfettered willingness to “lay down his life for his friends” (John 10:18; 15:13). Such is often the case for military and situational heroes.
How does this hero talk relate to us as Christians? We are called to be “daily” heroes (fathers, mothers, coaches, care givers, teachers, employees or employers, etc.). In these roles we have mundane daily tasks, a mission to represent Jesus Christ, and the requirement to “lay down our lives for our friends.” Laying down one’s life is not only demonstrated through the ultimate sacrifice. We lay down our lives when we set aside comfort, or time, or concern, or any other personal prerogative for the sake and benefit of another. A mother sacrificing sleep to care for an ailing child is a common example.
Being a recognized hero is not our call. We are to develop and demonstrate faithfulness in our lives, practice and teach it to our children and others, and challenge all to follow suit. Not for the possibility of acclaim in time, but for the happiest of recognition: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
One final word about heroes: you will not detect any “swagger” in a true hero. Heroes do not swagger. They are, as Jesus told us, just happy they had the opportunity to serve.
Written by Roy Williamson
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