We Salute these Lesser Known Heroes of Faith
by Dr. Henderson Ward 3/10/2014 / Christian Living
The number of Heroes of Faith that all believers love and know so well, and that are listed in a rough chronological order in the Bible, Hebrews chapter 11, can be misleading. This is because they exclude all the Heroes of Faith in the New Testament, and from what we know some of the New Testament Heroes (some of them but not the majority) have primacy in God's kingdom. We know this to be true because the Bible shows such a primacy:
As here when Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2: 19-20) Here as we can see the Apostles are first.
Also here when Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28) Here again the Apostles are first.
As here when Jesus spoke to his disciples, "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (Matthew 19:27-28) And yet another scripture shows that the Apostles are first.
It is without argument then that ALL the Apostles are Heroes of Faith along with some of the other New Testament saints; and yet none of them are so listed.
The reason for their exclusion as Heroes of Faith is found in the same Hebrews chapter 11.
Upon a careful examination of Hebrews chapter 11 some things become extremely clear. The writer of Hebrews, (some say it was the Apostle Paul because of the book's vocabulary and style but the Bible does not say that; so the writer has to remain unknown), listed the Heroes of Faith under four divisions as follows:
Division 1: The saints prior to the flood, and they are three identified; Abel, Enoch, and Noah.
Division 2: The saints after the flood up to the time immediately before Moses, and they are five listed; Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Division 3: The saints from the time of Moses to just prior to the era of the judges; and here are listed the parents of Moses, Moses, the Israelites as a whole, and Rahab the harlot.
Division 4: The saints from the era of the judges right through to the Maccabees; and here the list lumped together groups of people and mention just a few specific names to represent this division and described the various ways faith was demonstrated either by miracles, heroic action, unbearable suffering and such like.
The writer of the Hebrews therefore when he was putting together his list of Heroes of Faith was referencing documents that were available to him up to the time of the Maccabees. The main documents available for such a research were (1) the Jewish Bible, the Tanakh (probably in the form of the Septuagint; a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC), known to us as the Old Testament of the Holy Bible and (2) sacred writings, known as the Apocrypha; which although not inspired nevertheless contains useful, historic, information.
It was unlikely that the writer of the Hebrews would have had available to him the New Testament, even in a rudimentary form since the New Testament canon was not finalised until midway in the third century. Therefore he could not have included any of the New Testament saints as Heroes of Faith.
Looking back from our perspective and seeing all the outstanding saints listed in the New Testament, most believers are very familiar with all the major players; like the 12 Apostles, Stephen, Barnabas, the Deacons, and the others whose names jump out at us. But there are others who are true Heroes of Faith and are virtually unknown. Many can be identified in the New Testament but some are outstanding and worth mentioning.
Here are but three of them:
Ananias' name does not quickly spring to mind partly because there is little written about him in the Bible. However we are introduced to him in a powerful passage of sublime scripture Acts 9: 10-18. It would seem he came from nowhere, made a quick appearance and then disappeared back into oblivion. In today's colloquialism we would say that he had his fifteen minutes of fame. But that flippant characterization would be particularly misleading for this old and gracious disciple is a true Hero of Faith.
The early Church had countless problems to deal with and one of the biggest was a fanatically religious Jew named Saul. He it was who was persecuting the Church relentlessly even to the extent of having Christians killed. During a journey north to Damascus, to continue his mischief, Jesus met him on the way and he was miraculously converted. During that encounter Saul lost his sight and it was this Ananias whom God selected to go and see Saul and help him. In spite of the apparent dangers and understandable natural fear and reluctance Ananias went on his way as instructed. This is courage personified, the heroism of a high order and a lot more.
Heroism is about setting goals and pressing ahead to reach them, it's about commitment both passionate and passive, it's about daring and defiance even in the face of death and Ananias demonstrated all these with grace and gumption. By commitment in this context we mean the acceptance of responsibility as a disciple, loyalty to God and the household of faith and steadfastness as he progressed knowing how dangerous Saul was.
We know Ananias was as committed as Stephen the first martyr because the Bible highlights his discipleship like this, "And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias" (Acts 9: 10) Unlike the situation we have today, where freedom of worship is a human right, at that time in Palestine being a disciple of Jesus Christ was extremely risky and many believers were abused, tortured or executed.
This unsung hero is the kind of person God uses for his honour and glory; saved, sanctified and ready for service. God called him in an emergency and Ananias made no excuses in spite of the horrendous potential for harm. If you think things were easy just remember the afflictions Paul himself suffered a little later, "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned" (2 Corinthians 24-25)
Ananias knew that, " all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." (2 Timothy 3:12) and he was fully prepared and willing to go the extra mile because he was fully committed to Jesus Christ. This man by any measure is surely worthy of being included in the list of Heroes of Faith.
Simeon, a name that you would have heard of but would have placed no great significance on because they are at least six men called Simeon mentioned in the Bible and about 90 references to Simeon in all. The Simeon of our interest was a devout Jew and the Bible introduced him like this, "And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him." (Luke 2:25)
Simeon deserves his inclusion on our list of Heroes of Faith because after receiving the revelation, "And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ" he steadfastly believed God, lived long and kept faithful and all the while going to the temple expecting things to happen. This strong faith enabled him to be in the right place for God to show him the Lord's Christ, "And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation," (Luke 2:27-30)
Simeon did not stop there, he went on to show that same faith that kept him looking for the promise of the Messiah was by no means exhausted, he then made a prophecy, "And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:27-30) Another fine example of a deserving soul to be included in the list of Heroes of Faith.
Onesimus is a man some believers would, in all likelihood, not have heard of but he was a believer of outstanding qualities and a most valuable member of Paul's team.
We do not have much information about Onesimus but it is clear he was Philemon's runaway slave on whose behalf Paul wrote the Epistle to Philemon. Onesimus escaped from his master Philemon and made his way to Rome where he met Paul and was converted to Christianity.
Paul used Onesimus in his ministry, it was he along with Tychicus, who took the Epistle to the church at Colossae (Colossians 4:7-9), but Onesimus probably wanted to do much more and Paul, being aware of the ill-will of the Romans, did not want to run afoul of their civil law and so sent Onesimus back to Philemon in the company of Tychicus, "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is..." (Philemon 1:10-13)
This was an astute move on Paul's part for although he did not condone slavery, he knew his adversaries would use anything against him to dilute or disrupt his ministry, but he did not want to lose Onesimus and you could sense how he felt when he wrote, "I am sending him back to you, but it's as hard as losing part of myself." (Philemon 1:12 Easy-to-Read Version)
Onesimus did return to Philemon and delivered to him the Epistle; and by that very act, if no other, justified Paul's confidence in him and demonstrated that he was truly committed to the cause of Christ and one who should be counted worthy to be included in the list of Heroes of Faith.
Here we took a quick look at three lesser known believers who were quite outstanding, and whom has earned our admiration, just as the other Heroes of Faith mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11. Perhaps it would be wise for us to look around us at present believers who are doing great things for the cause of Christ, maybe in their quiet and unassuming way, and recognise that they are very much as heroic as those more illustrious saints that have passed this way before.
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013