When I was growing up in New Jersey, if someone talked about a “hero,” more often than not they were referring to a sandwich, aka “submarine” or “torpedo.” But sometimes I think a sign should appear in the window of someone’s deli that reads: “A real hero is not a sandwich.” Because what our world needs isn’t more sandwiches, but more people whose lives are worth emulating and honoring. Bona fide heroes.
Who comes to mind when you think about a hero?
These days, “heroes” come in all shapes and sizes. We make heroes of movie and TV stars, even though their achievements – besides being extraordinarily attractive (usually) – mostly consist of being paid lots of money for skills at pretending to be people they’re not, who exist only in fantasy worlds. These same folks keep gossip tabloids in business.
We might choose heroes from athletes renowned for being able to run fast, jump high, tackle hard, throw a ball through a hoop, hit a different kind of ball over a wall, or drive race cars fast around an oval for three or four hours. Even though we know very little about them personally, such as how they act when they’re not competing in their sport, many of us still accord these folks with hero status.
Some of us find heroes among politicians, singers and musicians, best-selling authors, even folks whose videos go viral and become Internet sensations. But just because people become famous for being famous, does that make them genuine heroes?
This might be one reason “superheroes” have become huge box-office draws – film characters captured from the pages of comic books. We’ve got Superman, Ant Man, Wonder Woman, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Batman, Spiderman, Thor, and many other make-believe personalities with “super powers.” Sadly, since they’re all figments of someone’s imagination.
More than 2,400 years ago, Greek philosopher Plato offered a perspective on heroes that still resonates today: True heroes, he said, are not the rich and famous, but people characterized by humility, wisdom, and a heart for serving others.
I think Plato had it right. Aren’t we all drawn to individuals who possess humility, manifest wisdom, and display readiness to serve others when needed? In my lifetime, I’ve been fortunate to encounter a handful of people who fit this description. The most interesting thing about them, though, was common disinterest in being anyone’s hero. They were just going through life, seeking to become the kind of men and women they believed God wanted them to be.
Many of these were committed followers of Jesus, persons whose lives were transformed through their relationship with Him. The Scriptures speak a lot about this. For instance, Proverbs 11:2 declares, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 15:33 gives a similar view: “The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
The Bible presents us with a collection of individuals we might regard as heroes – Noah, Moses, Samson, David the Goliath killer, apostles Peter and Paul. But when we look at each one closely, we find they all possessed proverbial feet of clay, flawed people whom God used in spite of their shortcomings.
So in our search for heroes, we needn’t look for perfection. If we do, we’ll discover there are no heroes to be found. The folks who have impressed me most through the years have recognized their imperfections. This awareness increased their reliance upon Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
The apostle Paul, for instance, never forgot his past sins and acknowledged his weaknesses. But those didn’t stop him from pursuing his God-given calling with zeal. He wrote, “…there was given me a thorn in the flesh…. Three times I pleased with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me…. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Underscoring his dependence upon Christ for living out his faith, regardless of his circumstances, Paul also wrote, “I can do everything through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).
Ultimately, only Jesus Himself is deserving of being called a hero, having shown us not only how to live – but also how to die. And how to experience new life through His Spirit. If we desire to make a lasting difference through our lives, an eternal difference, we should cultivate the same reliance that Paul did. Because, as Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).