Who are your heroes? Have they changed through the years? I can easily remember the days when all my heroes were John Wayne types or sports stars of some kind. Whoever our heroes are determines a great deal about who we are and what kind of people we will be. If my heroes are all people that are demanding, difficult and determined to have their way in everything, I will tend to be the same type person. I’ve noticed even in preaching my way of preaching has changed many times based on who my preaching hero was at the time. When I was really admiring someone who was a great debater and could take apart their opponents arguments with ease and leave them wondering what happened, I became much more like that in my own preaching and teaching. When my heroes were people of kindness, who took the message of Christ and shared it with love, demonstrating a broken heart when people turned away, I became much more kind and caring in my own teaching. I suspect that is true of everyone of us no matter what our work may be.
When I picture the Apostle Paul, it is more often as the one looking Peter in the eye and telling him he was acting like a hypocrite when he separated from the Gentiles and ate only with the Jews. I can almost hear him telling Barnabas, “No way will I ever take Mark with me again. He turned back the last time and that’s enough for me.” I believe he could have debated anyone on just about any topic and done well in the discussion. I can hear him saying, “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” So, my mental image of Paul is usually of a rather hard teacher who had gone through tons of trials and refused to allow them to get him down. But when I take such a view of him, I’m leaving out many parts of his life, writing and actions that paint an entirely different picture.
In the Book of Ephesians where he had taught so clearly what the church ought to be and how we are to glorify God in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, he explained that one of the best ways of doing so was to have unity in the body. He told them to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). He moved through the entire chapter explaining different ways we need to be in unity if we are to follow the Lord and the lead of His Spirit. But it’s the final verse of the chapter that summed up so much of his point. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ sake has forgiven you.” Just before this he warned about bitterness, rage, anger and brawling, slander and every form of malice getting into our hearts and causing problems.
I don’t usually picture Paul as tenderhearted. Do you? But when I see him by the power of God healing those who had all kinds of sickness and disease it shows a tender heart. When I read in 2 Corinthians about how depressed he became over how the church in Corinth had turned from the things he taught them to go into a way of law rather than grace, I see a tender heart. You can certainly see his tenderness as he dealt with Timothy his young disciple whom he poured his heart and soul into to lead him into full commitment to Christ. Look at 2 Timothy 2:23-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
True, this is Paul’s final letter and written soon before his death. I’m certain he had changed as the years had gone by. But he wanted to be sure that Timothy caught the heart of compassion, tenderness and kindness. He wrote of him in Philippians 2 that he didn’t have anyone else like Timothy who would naturally care for your situation.
Think of Jesus saying in the great Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” Why do you suppose it was the peacemakers that, of all the characteristics he mentioned in this section that he declared they would be called God’s children? Obviously, we look at a young person or a child and say of them, “I know whose child that is. They look and act just like their dad or their mom.” We see marks in them that were always obvious in their parents. When God said, if we are peacemakers in the world, others will call us God’s children it is because we look like the God whom we worship and serve when we are peacemakers in the world. I’ve read through my Bible many times, but I’ve never found a single time when God ever said, “Blessed are the troublemakers.”
When we have that tender heart of compassion it means we can feel with others in the hurts and struggles they are going through in life. Instead of looking down on one who has failed, our hearts go out to them and we reach down to lift them up and offer them another chance to be all God calls them to be. No one ever demonstrated a tender heart of compassion like Jesus. If we are to follow him and become more and more like him all the time, one way we must grow is in the tender, compassionate, loving heart that feels with people in whatever they are going through. Remember his great invitation was, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened down and I wlll give you rest.” When God’s people have that kind of heart that breaks for the hurting and lonely in the world, people will see Jesus in us and be drawn to Him. But it must begin in our hearts with whom we make the heroes of our life.