Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Search of Spiritual Giants

One of the common ideas in the church today is that of a spiritual giant. Too often we put our trust in people rather than God. Now I am not saying we should have no heroes or people we admire. But idolizing people can be dangerous both to us and them. In Scripture we are commanded not to judge others ( James 4:11,12; 1 Timothy 5:24,25; Romans 14:4); Paul says he does not even judge himself (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). Judgment needs to be left to God, who knows the heart (Romans 2:16), and much that may seem impressive to us may end up being burnt (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). That is not to say we should not examine ourselves (Psalms 139:23,24) or correct those who have sinned (Galatians 6:1), but these should be over specific issues. Ultimate judgment rests with God (2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 14:10-12).

Often we can mistake a prominent gift or calling (or even a natural talent) for spiritual superiority (1 Corinthians 12:12-25; Romans 12:3-8). That is not to say the person with the high profile calling may not be a highly spiritual person, but we cannot assume this. I am convinced that when God judges, there will be obscure people who will be highly exalted and famous people who will prove unimportant. There will also undoubtedly be those who turn out to be exactly what they appear to be. We must not presume either way. Another thing we tend to measure people by is success, especially in terms of numbers. But Scripture says that success ultimately depends on the will of God (1 Corinthians 3:6-9; Psalms 127:1,2; Matthew 16:18). God is able to accomplish His purpose through men such as Jonah and Samson, who had obvious character weaknesses (see Jonah, Judges 13-16).

There is a real danger in too great a veneration of men. It can lead to division and contention, often over minor things and even over personalities (1 Corinthians 1:11-17; 3:1-5). We also need to be careful of trusting in men, for they will fail us (Psalms 146:3,4; Jeremiah 17:5). Ofttimes it is the errors of good men that are the problem. Augustine of Hippo was a strong defender of grace, but his views on the unquestioned unity of the organizational church laid the foundation of the Roman Catholic church. Also, celebrity can lead to pride, which can be hazardous for the person being idolized (Proverbs 16:18; Daniel 4:37; Matthew 23:12). This can lead them to their own destruction. Also, the failures of our heroes (real or perceived) can, if we have put them too high, result in rejecting them entirely (including their good points). Now there is a place in Scripture for being imitators of those in leadership as they follow Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; 4:16; Hebrews 13:7). But to put anyone on too high a pedestal is hazardous for them and us.

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