Ordinary heroism

Quick: think of a favorite movie or novel. Who’s the main character? What challenges does that character face? Does he or she triumph in the end?

Whatever the specifics of the story, I’m guessing the plot has a heroic element to it. It doesn’t have to be a superhero movie. What matters is that the protagonist must find the strength to battle through the obstacles and win the prize, whether it’s saving the world or being reunited with a loved one.

We like our hero stories. They inspire us to believe that anything is possible, if we can just find the internal or external resources we need, like courage, determination, and a magical ninja sidekick.

I suspect a lot of people become ministers and missionaries hoping to live their own hero stories. Through their ministry of preaching and evangelism, hundreds — perhaps even thousands! — will believe, will be saved from the powers of darkness.

And sometimes, that happens.

But for the most part, we have to settle for the ordinary heroism of just showing up, doing what we know is right, and leaving the results to God.

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Paul is in Ephesus. In Luke’s story, he’s at the pinnacle of his evangelistic career. He visited briefly before, getting a reasonably warm reception in the synagogue, laying the groundwork for his return. As a missionary, he’s a seasoned veteran who’s faced every challenge imaginable. No one is better suited to the task of going into the most prominent city in the province of Asia and reaching the Jews with the gospel.

And at first, things go well: “He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8, NRSV). It’s as if Luke wants us to know that Paul can be every bit as convincing as Apollos. Paul gets a three-month audience in the synagogue, which, timewise, is far better than anything he experienced in his earlier tours of duty.

But then, things go sour: “When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). For all his dedication and experience, for all his boldness and persuasiveness, Paul runs into a wall of resistance: people reject the message and slander the Way of Jesus. Paul is forced to leave, taking the believers with him, to find another place to continue his ministry of preaching.

Hardly the heroic tale we might wish to hear.

He finds a new venue: the lecture hall of Tyrannus. Tyrannus may have been the teacher / philosopher who regularly held forth in that hall, or else the person who owned it and rented it out to Paul. “Tyrannus” is probably a nickname meaning “tyrant” — which could easily apply to either a teacher or a landlord! Whichever is the case, Paul has the daily use of the place for two full years, suggesting that Tyrannus (possibly a believer?) cut him a deal.

It might sound like a comedown from the original plan. But then Luke tells us that as a result of Paul’s ministry, “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). That’s not to say they all became believers. But the gospel spread far and wide. And note specifically that it’s not just the Gentiles who heard the message; it was all the Jews of Asia as well. Paul may have lost his pulpit in the Ephesian synagogue, but God and the gospel would not be denied.

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We may or may not be called to the kind of heroism celebrated in movies. We may have the privilege of overcoming the odds to save lives and souls, whether it’s evangelizing the masses or finally getting that stubborn family member to see gospel sense.

But the outcome is always up to God. We can have our plans and strategies. We can pray and prepare. At the end of the day, however, God is the one who writes the story. What seems like a sure thing may backfire. What seems like a failure can be turned to glorious success.

Our heroism is the heroism of faith. Show up. Do the right thing. Then wait upon God.

One thought on “Ordinary heroism

  1. Shalom: excellent essay. I am not “sure” the majority of ministers, priests. rabbis go into the ministry to evangelize and to be missionaries etc. Or is their motives 1. money 2 push an ideological concept. 3. compromise their morality with others. 4 An Ego trip when they are behind the pulpit. At my advanced age. I have seen much corruption. B”H

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