Where Have All the Heroes Gone?


October 14, 2007 DR. WILLIAM L. SELF Senior Pastor, Johns Creek Baptist Church

Open your Bibles to 1 Chronicles 11. We’re going to begin at the 10th verse and then I will draw your attention to several verses as we go along. David had been a Robin Hood-style outlaw, the reign of King Saul was coming to an end and the people were beginning to move to David, because they knew he was their anointed leader.

1 Chronicles 11: 10-14, 20, 26-29

10 These were the chiefs of David's mighty men — they, together with all Israel, gave his kingship strong support to extend it over the whole land, as the LORD had promised — 11 this is the list of David's mighty men:

Jashobeam, a Hacmonite, was chief of the officers he raised his spear against 300 men, whom he killed in one encounter.

12 Next to him was Eleazar son of Dodai the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men. 13 He was with David at Pas Dammim when the Philistines gathered there for battle. At a place where there was a field fiull of barley, the troops fled from the Philistines. 14 But they took their stand in the middle of the field. They defended it and struck the Philistines down, and the LORD brought about a great victory.

20 Abishai the brother of Joab Benaiah son of Jehoiada

26 The mighty men were: Asahel the brother of Joab, Elhanan son of Dodo from Bethlehem, 
27 Shammoth the Harorite, Helez the Pelonite, 28 Ira son of Ikkesh from Tekoa, Abiezer from Anathoth, 29 Sibbecai the Hushathite, Ilai the Ahohite,

Now aren’t those interesting names? When you read the Bible, I know that you just can’t wait to get to those lists to go through them. But I want you to hold them in your mind because somehow I found there something that I need and feel I should say today.

The hardest instrument in the orchestra to play — which one is it? Is it this new organ we have? Bob, is that hard to play? How do you do with it? It’s fine. Piece of cake, right? Yeah. And some of the rest of these. This big piano. Is that a hard instrument to play? No. No problem I can tell. Wonder what the hardest instrument in the orchestra to play is? I’ll tell you what I discovered early in my life. That the hardest instrument in the orchestra to play is second fiddle. Which one of you is second fiddle? It’s a hard instrument to play. The hardest instrument is second fiddle.

Charlie Guinn sent me a yearbook so I could remember who I went to school with, and as I was looking through it I saw our high school band. There I was, you know, first trombone. I enjoyed playing first trombone. In fact, I was the only trombone. But I was the senior, I played first trombone.

Then I went to Stetson University, and it wasn’t a big school, but it was a lot bigger than my high school. I said, “I’m going to go over to the band and tell them that they need to have me in the band.” So I went over and I talked to Dr. Fiesel, who was the band director. He interviewed me. I talked a great game. He said, “That’s nice, Bill, but now would you audition for me?” He assigned me third chair.

That was hard. I had never played third chair anything. I had always been first chair in everything I ever did and here I was, in effect second fiddle. Then I found out something. That’s just as important as first trombone. In fact first trombone didn’t sound good unless I did my part right. The only problem is nobody knew I was there unless I made a mistake.

Now you read the Bible, and the Bible is filled with people who seem to be first trombone, first chair players, first fiddle. The Bible is just full of the great heroes, like David, Samson, Solomon, all over the Bible you read these people and you think man, “I can’t be that way!” And those of us who preach are always parading those people in here saying, “You ought to be like this,” and it’s a hurdle that we can’t get over. But you know in between, there are some marvelous people who are more like us. The book is about the heroes. But the book, the Bible, is also about ordinary people — people like you and me — and this morning I want us to look at some non-celebrities in the Bible and realize they have a message for us, because the non-celebrities made it possible.

David had his mighty men, but David would not have been anything without the mighty men around him. Jesus needed his disciples. All of these people we read in the Bible have people around them. When I get to heaven I want to see Paul and I want to see David, but I also want to see Sibbecai. Anybody with a name like that deserves somebody to look him up, or Joshabeam, or Eleazar, or Helez or Epaphroditis. I don’t know of anybody who’s ever named a child Epaphroditis. Or Mordecai.

These are some of the forgotten people of the Bible. They are the quiet heroes. There’s no stained-glass window dedicated to any of them. There’s no statue in the park for them. There are no churches named after them. There are no children named for them, and no clubs or societies that meet in their name, and yet the Bible says honor such people. Paul says this as he writes about Epaphroditis. He says, “Honor such people.”

There are obscure people in the Bible we think. They are not like David and Paul. They’re not like Moses and Samson. They’re obscure people and they’re all around. You know some of these people — most of these people are like you and me. They’re on the parking committee. They’re on the ushering committee. They play second fiddle, but they’re always there. They’re always faithful. They’re always helpful and they always carry the load.

When I was in college I was selected — and it was by the providence of God — to be on the Baptist Student Union Revival Team for Florida. There were four of us who went from church to church, and I saw all kinds of churches. But I noticed one thing that went through every one of these churches. Big or small, rich or poor, urban or country, churches are not filled with religious celebrities. Churches are not filled with Davids and Samsons. Churches are filled — and run, and carried — by the obscure.

People who do the work in church are good people doing God’s work, week in and week out, not the celebrity system that rises and falls. The Bible has a profound appreciation for the church. Half of the New Testament are letters to churches and when God does anything in this world, he’s going to do it through his church. So keep that in mind. The church is not a side street. It is the main street in God’s economy. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is filled with common people with uncommon commitment.

Saul’s reign had come to an end. David was beginning to gather the people. They were moving to him, and he begins to get support and all Israel is coming to him. The people of God were gathering. And then ordinary people began to do extraordinary things. They stood with David in a barley field and drove off the Egyptians. One man slipped into a cave and there was a lion. He killed the lion. Another killed an Egyptian who was over 7-feet tall. He could have played for the Atlanta Hawks. These were common people doing uncommon acts.

This week, I read the autobiography of Lou Holtz. Called, “Wins, Losses and Lessons,” Remember, he was coach at Notre Dame, North Carolina State, Arkansas, South Carolina and the New York Jets. He has a chapter called “Half-Hearted Commitment is Worse Than No Commitment At All.” Now as I read that I wept because I thought, “That’s what the church needs to hear.” Halfhearted commitment is worse than no commitment at all. Commitment is the most crucial component of any relationship. What would a marriage be if there was not wholehearted commitment? What would a business relation be if there was not wholehearted commitment? What would school be if there was not wholehearted commitment?

Then Holtz said something that I had observed too. Commitment beats talent any day and he went through all of his coaching history and he talked about talented athletes, incredibly talented athletes, who were not committed to the game or to the task. Commitments will beat talents. I think the side roads are littered with people who have great talents, but poor commitment. Commitment beats education. It beats wealth. It beats position. And you know, wealthy, educated, well-positioned people and talented people who have no commitment, who never quite made it.

Some of you may remember his days at North Carolina State. Did a good job. Then he got a call from Mr. Hess, the founder of the Hess Oil Company, who owned the New York Jets. “To make a long story short, would you come and coach the Jets?” And against the advice of everyone, he did it. And he said, “My heart wasn’t in it.” He said, “I didn’t want to live in New York. My family didn’t want to leave the safe nest they had in North Carolina, but I did it.”

He was with the Jets one year, and he said, “We had a bad year, a bad season and it wasn’t because Joe Namath’s knees were going out. We had a bad season because I did not have my heart in that coaching position.”

I know a lot of church people that way. You don’t have your heart in it. It’s sort of a half-commitment. “Jesus Christ and his sacrifice — that’s fine when we get around to paying obedience to it we will.” “Long as the church serves me I’m okay.” But a halfhearted commitment never does it. And standing around applauding over-age, religious celebrities with their threadbare religious testimonies, telling us what happened to them years ago, asking to be treated like celebrities, won’t do it. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ needs people like Joshubeam, who pushed back the enemy, Eleazer ,who fought with David in the barley field.

Let me ask you a question. Who has influenced you the most in your Christian walk? I daresay that it was some committed Christian, who got up every Sunday morning, and taught your Sunday School class. It was some dear woman, who may have looked like Church Lady, but she cared enough to call you when you weren’t there.

Years ago, I was having dinner with Kirby Godsey, the former president of Mercer University, good friend. He had three minutes to speak to the Georgia Baptist Convention. He looked up at me and he said, “Bill, what should I say?” I said, “Kirby, you’re smarter than all of us put together, but don’t go in there and try to outsmart us. Go in there and tell them about the lady who came to your house when you were 9 years old and led you to Jesus.” I didn’t know if there’d been one at all, but most of us have had those people in our lives.

Kirby’s eyes brightened. When the convention met a few days later, he came to the platform and told about the lady who came to his house and led him to Jesus. That’s what moves the church — not the celebrities, not the Davids, but the people like that who do their task, and this is a call for you to understand that. Not to be a spectator waiting for next year’s religious celebrity to come, but to understand that it’s uncommon commitment by ordinary people, extraordinary commitment by ordinary people, that causes God’s work to get done.

This extraordinary commitment by ordinary people also is matched by extraordinary generosity by ordinary people. I’ve had four churches and we’ve had more building programs than I wish to mention. We were in Florida. We had had a stewardship campaign and Dan, the man who was in charge of all that in our church, was the richest man in the county, and everybody else was just people. And the way the thing was organized, he was the only one who saw the pledge cards. No one else did.

Dan, the businessman, had made some hard decisions in his life, but I saw him after church after pledge day and he stood there with tears down his cheeks and I said, “Dan, what’s wrong?” He said, “I’ve just looked at the pledge cards,” and I thought “Oh no!” He said, “As I went through those cards,” he said, “I can’t tell you who, what,” but he said, “I didn’t see money. I saw a new car. I saw a vacation. I saw a new house. I saw all kinds of things on those pledge cards. I know these people. I’ve lived with them,” and he said, “I saw uncommon commitment there.”

That’s what does it. Oh, we celebrate those who have great means who help us. I encourage you to keep on, but I also celebrate ordinary people, like you and me, on a salary and say, “I’ll never be able to give a jillion dollars, but by the grace of God I’ll sign this pledge card,” and we’ll do what God’s called us to do, and with yours, and yours, and yours, and yours together means that all the second fiddles in the church come together and make a mighty, mighty crescendo of dedication.

This is here because of that. Our programs for children are because of that. Mission work beyond our borders are because of that. And it happens, not because some secret person writes a big check. That helps, but it happens because John and Mary, Eleazer and Epaphroditis — they write those checks weekly. Uncommon commitments.

We were building the church downtown, Wieuca Road Baptist Church, just struggling to get the money together, and we couldn’t quite get it together, and so Sunday night he said, “Go in there and preach another stewardship sermon, Bill.” Just as we were going in, one of the deacons came to me and he said, “Here’s my pledge card.” Well, you don’t take the pledge card and say, “Hey, is that all?” or anything like that. I just put it into my pocket and went in, and I preached as hard as I’ve ever preached in my life. The church was full and I just preached and preached and preached.

Service was over and I went home. I was so discouraged because I could just tell they weren’t hearing me. We needed a certain amount of money. I’m not sure the exact amount. That’s been a million years ago now. We needed about $100,000 to finish it up. Taking my coat off, getting ready to put on my pajamas, taking things out of my pocket, and I found his pledge card. Well, it wasn’t in an envelope. It was for the exact amount I’d been preaching for. God had already answered the prayer before I got out there and asked the people.

Now, you can go anywhere you want to with it. We needed $100,000. I was preaching for it, not knowing I had it in my pocket already. Somehow I think we ought to spiritualize on that one step. Take God at his word. He said he’d take care of your needs. He wants you to grow as a steward. Everybody here, every member of this church, every one of us, will be a hero giving uncommon service from ordinary people, giving extraordinary generosity from ordinary people. That’s what causes the church of Jesus Christ to do its task.

(Taken from an audio recording with minor editorial revisions.)