By William C. Sexton
When the 52 Americans came home from Iran, we as a nation and in various communities celebrated, expressing appreciation for their safe return. We have heard them referred to as “heroes.” We have heard some of those who returned relate that their captors wanted to be martyrs!
The Christian is challenged by what takes place in his nation and community, to analyze and evaluate behavior in terms of God’s will. Each child of God needs to ask, what is involved in the terms and concepts of heroes and martyrs? Is there value ascribed to such by God’s revelation? How can I act appropriately to such? Is there a danger related to behavior in regard to such?
Recognition Of Noble Character And Courageous Action
Jesus told us to fear God above every other force (Lk. 12:5-9) and to find inner strength to be faithful to God in the face of opposition! He affirmed that a person who confessed Him before others, even if in doing so he lost his life, would be honored by Him before the Father. Many times we are faced with the possibility of losing (in one way or another) by being loyal to Christ in our verbal and nonverbal behavior! Also, we often view responses to this challenge in others. What should our response and evaluation be?
Paul pointed to Stephen (Acts 22:20; 7:54-60) as a “martyr. ” He had stood by and given his consent to the “death” of that faithful disciple. His response was not noble or commendable! The “church in Pergamos” had remained loyal as they had seen one of their brothers named Antipas be a “faithful martyr” (Rev. 2:13). The Harlot (Rev. 17:6-one of the deceitful and successful enemies of God’s faithful) was “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.”
The word for “martyr” is maturon and is translated “witnesses”(Heb. 12:1). They formed a “cloud,” great number, of faithful people (mentioned in Heb. 11: 140) surrounding us. We refer to Hebrews I I as the chapter on “heroic faith.”
These many individuals from different parts of history are displayed there for us, as persons who have achieved by faith, providing us with examples to motivate us to move onward and upward!
Need For Winner-Figures
I see evidence that we all need heroic-figures to excite us and set a fire in our emotional makeup. To give us the “inner strength” to stand fast against the power greater than ourselves, believing that where others were supplied with I ‘other strength,” that we, too, will be enabled to overcome against the odds!
Nations build monuments, communities do the same to remember historical success: look in State houses at the pictures depicting events and persons important to the past achievements, etc. Christians, in like fashion, need persons to associate with in our minds who have succeeded against opposition similar or greater than those we face! Moses, Noah, Abraham and Sara, Paul and others are all there on the pages of inspiration! Let us spend some time with them and be encouraged to move with the same determination and trust they did.
What Is Indicated By The Persons And Qualities We Hold Up As Heroic?
Jesus is our model (1 Pet. 2:2l)-our pattern I But He is more than just a heroic figure, with great qualities. He is the “only begotten Son of God” (Jn. 1: 18). He must be seen as our Savior, trusted as Deity, who invites all to come and be saved by and in Him (Mt. 11:28-30; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 1:3).
Qualities of life which are sanctioned and supported by Him are what should be admired. If we do not admire those qualities, then such indicates something about us. If we do indeed admire those qualities and people who exhibit them, then such is indicative of our proper mind-set! We need to be activated by such, and then we will demonstrate our character.
If we are excited and become appreciative of Karl Marx, Jesse James, or by rock music stars, people who seem to have been successful by being immoral, or even religious leaders who aren’t really interested in Bible authority, then we are in for a lot of trouble-ultimately failure!
Influences That Heroic Figures Have On Us
Just as our heroic figures indicate where we are, they also predict where we are going! If we have our eyes fastened on Jesus, and He is the author of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2), and we are impressed with His enduring the cross, not allowing the present pressures to turn Him around, we, too, can be successful I We need to see the value of being associated with Him and others of faith in our mind often so that we can actively participate in a winning race!
If, on the other hand, we look to others who scheme, seemingly get by with evil for awhile and profit from it, then we shall gradually be molded into their likeness. And as they shall ultimately lose the battle and suffer eternal ruin, we shall come to that end, too!
Therefore, it is extremely important that we esteem the right figures! Read and understand Hebrews 12:1-2. Be activated by the instruction therein.
Having A “Martyr Complex” Is Not Beneficial
Those who returned from Iran spoke of their captors as having the idea that the U.S. government would come in and kill the religious zealots, and they would thereby become “martyrs” for Iran and Islam. Such was seen as an obsession that was not healthy and good, and the captives were determined that such not happen, if they could help it!
Let us recognize that it is worthy to be willing to die for the cause of Christ (Mt. 5:10-12; 1 Pet. 4:12-16), if indeed such is necessary to maintain our loyalty to Him. Also, there are times when Christians shall receive persecution because of their stand for the truth of the gospel and behavior required by the gospel message. When that is the case, we need to be willing to stand firmly, not giving an inch (cf. Gal. 2:4-5).
Yet, let us say something here that may not be taken so easily by some. Anyone can act so inappropriately and unacceptably toward others that they will be opposed and disliked! I’m fearful that some have developed the “persecution complex,” and they go out looking for opposition and unfavorable treatment. When they receive it, theyfeel good, patting themselves on the back, saying, “I’m being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. ” Such is as far from the truth as the east is from the west!
Recently I was in a member’s home, and we were studying with a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses. We had covered a lot of things, peculiar to their belief, and we came down to “death.” One pointed to Revelation 20:14-15, and one said, “You see, ‘death is fire,’ that’s the end!” I said, “That’s sillyl ” One jumped up saying, “Such Venom,” his eyes were sparkling. Later as I reflected on what he had said and his reaction, I recalled a statement by brother Fred Holthouser, who was converted from that group, which indicated that they delight in such persecution. I realized that I’d played into their hands.
But I believe that I see brethren, from time to time, in their writings and as they behave otherwise, justifying what they are doing because they find people opposing them and they feel good, identifying such as evidence that they are truly serving God.
I believe that it is possible for any of us to over-use that principle. If we are opposed, let us ask ourselves: “Was it really because of God’s word and His plan, or was it due to the way that I acted and conducted myself that caused them to react that way?” I pray that when people react unfavorably toward me and the message that I present, that it will be because of God’s word and not me; however, I’m not so puffed up tht I’ll claim that such is always the case.
Yes, there are heroes and martyrs, and they need to be admired by real children of God. Qualities that attract our attention and awaken admiration within us reflect our character and predict our destiny. There is a danger of developing an unhealthy condition relating to persecution, however, and using it to justify our un-Christlike behavior.
This points to the need for reflection and re-evaluation concerning heroes and martyrs. Are we sure that we are able to identify the real heroes? Are we as appreciative of the real heroes and martyrs of the faith as we should be? Is it possible that we are seeking to play the role of being a hero without actually living a heroic life? I feel that such questions are challenging and pertinent to our time. If you feel otherwise, I promise to give serious consideration to your feedback.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, pp. 710-711
December 6, 1984