Appearances can be so deceiving. We place high esteem on people who look successful in public, admiring their financial prowess, respecting their networking savvy, or aspiring to their level of professionalism. But if you peel back the surface a little, the picture isn’t always so rosy. Even within the Church those who catapult to the forefront tend to be attractive, speak well, have dynamic personalities. It isn’t always because their theology is right, or they have a close walk with Jesus. It is often because they know how to look and play the right part. Their hearts…well, that’s a different story.
But how do you evaluate a heart? And how can you tell if what you’re seeing is the real thing? That is tricky, indeed. Jesus said you can tell what kind of people you are dealing with by evaluating their fruits (Matt 7) but even that isn’t an exact science, because how do we measure fruit? If someone leads dozens of people to Christ, if their church starts growing quickly, if their sermons start going viral on YouTube, then they must be successful, right?
The fruit we are supposed to produce is not converts (which is a completely different topic altogether), or church attenders, or church members. None of those are measures of success according to Scripture, though. Rather, the fruit of the Spirit laid out in Galatians 5 includes very intangible attributes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Somewhere else, Jesus says that the world is supposed to know who His disciples are by their love one for another. Not by the size of their church, or how many people have prayed with them, or how much comes in to the offering plate.
The world measures success by the wrong things. And the Church tends to follow that example. I’ve seen it on elder boards and at deaconess meetings. The men who are asked to lead, the men who are given respect – they are the ones whose businesses are doing well, who are financially comfortable, who live in nice houses and drive nice cars, and generally those who have a commanding presence when they enter a room. Lately, however, we’ve seen the consequence of honoring men who do not look the same on the inside as they do on the outside. I have personally been disappointed by failures among some of my dearest friends. And it has prompted me to ask the question, what does a true hero look like? Can a hero, like a rose, be known by other names and still be heroic?
Think about these examples from Scripture, and then you decide…
When you think of Isaiah, what comes to mind? Running and now growing weary? Or maybe God bringing beauty out of ashes. Does your opinion or perspective change if I share that Isaiah walked around naked, for three years, to prove a point? Or what about Hosea? He married a prostitute, who went back to prostitution, all so God could share a message with the people of Israel. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet, partly because his heart was broken by the consequences of so many ignoring his message. Even Paul, whose writings provide us with the foundation for much of our theology, had to defend his right to write the letters we now treasure. None of these men necessarily enjoyed a great deal of respect while they walked this planet. They weren’t the most impressive. We might not gravitate towards them in the narthex, or fellowship hall, or at a networking event downtown. They might not attract us, at least not at first.
Jesus, according to Scripture, was nothing to attract attention. He might have even been kind of ugly, according to man’s standards. He didn’t have much in the way of material possessions. When He died His only legacy was a rag-tag bunch of social misfits, and only a handful of them, at that. By today’s standards, He would have been a dismal failure, actually. Nobody would know His name. He wouldn’t have a book contract or tour the networks doing the talk shows; nobody would find Him that interesting.
But Jesus is certainly worth reconsidering. And I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend a long elevator ride with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or Paul rather than any of the top name Christian leaders today. No offense or disrespect to men like Louis Giglio, or Rick Warren, or Francis Chan, or even Dr. Tim Keller, but if I was going to choose between them and the Bible heroes I’ve already mentioned, I’d choose the Bible heroes! Although, I must admit that Dr. Keller would definitely be up there pretty high.
In the Body of Christ today, we need to change our metric for success. We need to move back to valuing the character qualities that Jesus valued…not earthly success or skill sets or charisma. We need to look for leaders in whom we see the fruit of the Spirit, who demonstrate maturity in dealing with conflict, who demonstrate character and integrity regardless of how their business does or how tidy their yard is…people who walk with Jesus, not just talk about Him. If we will focus on what really matters, if we measure heroes more by their character and less by their charisma, if we look for evidence of the Spirit working in and through people’s lives (which is not measured by numbers of converts), we might be surprised by what we see happen in the Body of Christ, and indeed, in our nation.