It has come to the attention of certain modern parties that the cultural and historical heroes of yore frequently have a certain amount of cultural baggage attached to their resumes and that they, at times, engaged in behavior which was less than exemplary. This realization frequently leads to one of two extremes. Some seem to believe that in order to preserve the ideals of the past, the foibles of bygone notables should be expunged from the record so that we can admire them without guilt. The other extreme posits that in order to preserve the mores of the present, the notables themselves should be removed from the record so as to not allow ourselves to be offended by their potential misdeeds.
It is worth noting that the Word of God offers a different take from either of these positions.
Within the Bible we read of individuals held forth as worthy of admiration. The eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews, frequently called the Faith chapter of the Bible, or even the “Hall of Faith,” cites individual after individual who were men of faith: Enoch, Abraham, Noah, Moses, Samson, David, and more. Having detailed a few of the accomplishments of these noteworthy persons, the writer says concerning their spiritual greatness, “…of [them] the world was not worthy (Hebrews 11:38).” Clearly, the Holy Spirit thought quite highly of these heroes of the faith.
Yet, if we turn back to the pages of the Old Testament, the same Spirit saw fit to include quite a few of the misdeeds of these same men of faith. Noah got naked drunk. Abraham lied about his wife. Moses murdered an Egyptian. Samson was a drunk and a womanizer. David was an adulterer, a murderer, inventive in the worship of God, and a poor father. The list of problematic behavior could go on and on. Indeed the recognizable men of faith concerning which the Bible has nothing negative to say relative to their histories can just about be counted on the fingers of a single hand: Joseph, Jonathan and Daniel most notably. Perhaps one or two others, but not many.
Even in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit, in guiding the writing of the Gospel, makes certain to relate to us various failings of many of the leaders in the early church. Peter denied Christ three times. Thomas had doubts about the truthfulness of the other apostles concerning the resurrection. James and John wanted to call down fiery judgment on Samaritans who treated Christ rudely. Paul tortured, imprisoned and murdered Christians.
God in relating such details to us, clearly did not want us viewing these men through rose-colored glasses. He seems to have felt it important for us to realize they had weaknesses as well as strengths.
The Bible teaches us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” If we try to find a hero without faults, we are going to continually come up short as the sin of each would-be-hero is made manifest. If this holds true for those whom God holds in high regards, imagine how much truer it must be of others. We should notice the good that men do, admiring it and praising it even, yet always we must be aware of their human failings lest we imitate those as well. If we try to find a perfect role-model, we are going to be left with no role-models at all… with one exception.
The Bible says concerning Jesus, who was the Christ, He was tempted in all ways as we are, “yet was without sin (Hebrews 4:15),” and that He died for us as a “lamb without blemish (1 Peter 1:19).” Every opinion Jesus held was in harmony with the truth of God, every word that
Jesus uttered was just as it should have been, and every deed He committed was right and good. Those who put their faith in Christ will never have reason for shame for that faith (cf. Romans 9:33, 10:11). Jesus is the perfect role model, a hero for the ages if you will.
It is for this reason that the apostle Paul, well aware of his own weaknesses, advised others, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).” In and so far as any man imitates some aspect of the divine, that good is itself worthy of imitation; but always the standard must be kept that there is but one who was perfect, and He died so that we might be saved. Jesus alone is worthy of all honor and admiration. Jesus alone is worthy of absolute imitation.
We should never be surprised and horrified when others fail to achieve such lofty standards. After all, if they had been perfect, they themselves wouldn’t have needed a savior like Jesus. But all men do.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.