Welcome to Mondays @ Soul Survival. Each week I feature a book that I consider a valuable resource. This week’s selection is Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.
We all need heroes. Even the Apostle Paul said that we were to follow him and others as they follow Christ, “Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern” (Phil. 3.17).
On the other hand he warned us, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15.33).
Who we hang out with, who we follow, who we choose as heroes, can have a profound effect on our lives. When we read the biographies of great men and women who have gone before us, we have an opportunity to see how they lived and to follow their example.
In Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, Metaxas writes about seven men who experienced struggles and faced challenges that would have crushed lesser men. These men and their stories—George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson—can encourage all of us to be strong in the face of opposition and live right in a world that has little or no standard.
What makes great men & what is the secret of their greatness?
What is biblical manhood and what makes men worthy examples? Metaxas’ book doesn’t just tell us, it shows us through the lives of these seven men. (I’ll talk about women who exemplify biblical womanhood in a future blog.)
Metaxas tells us first what it isn’t, here are several excerpts for the opening chapter:
The first false idea about manhood is the idea of being macho— of being a big shot and using strength to be domineering and to bully those who are weaker. Obviously this is not God’s idea of what a real man is. It’s someone who has not grown up emotionally, who might be a man on the outside, but who on the inside is simply an insecure and selfish boy.
The second false choice is to be emasculated— to essentially turn away from your masculinity and to pretend that there is no real difference between men and women. Your strength as a man has no purpose, so being strong isn’t even a good thing.
God’s idea of manhood is something else entirely. It has nothing to do with the two false ideas of either being macho or being emasculated. The Bible says that God made us in his image, male and female, and it celebrates masculinity and femininity. And it celebrates the differences between them. Those differences were God’s idea.
For one thing, the Bible says that men are generally stronger than women, and of course Saint Peter famously— or infamously— describes women as “the weaker sex.” But God’s idea of making men strong was so that they would use that strength to protect women and children and anyone else. There’s something heroic in that. Male strength is a gift from God, and like all gifts from God, it’s always and everywhere meant to be used to bless others. In Genesis 12:1–3, God tells Abraham that he will bless him so that Abraham can bless others. All blessings and every gift— and strength is a gift— are God’s gifts, to be used for his purposes, which means to bless others. So men are meant to use their strength to protect and bless those who are weaker. That can mean other men who need help or it can mean women and children. True strength is always strength given over to God’s purposes.
Metaxas goes on:
Jesus said that he who would lead must be the servant of all. It’s the biblical idea of servant leadership. The true leader gives himself to the people he leads. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Jesus died for those he loves. That is God’s idea of strength and leadership and blessing. It’s something to be used in the service of others.
I was looking for seven men who had all evinced one particular quality: that of surrendering themselves to a higher purpose, of giving something away that they might have kept. All of them did this in one way or another. Doing this is noble and admirable, and it takes courage and it usually takes faith. Each of the seven men in this book have that quality. Let me explain briefly what I mean for each of them. As you’ll soon see when you read about him, George Washington (1732–1799) once voluntarily gave up extraordinary power. He actually could have become a king, when being a king really meant something; but he selflessly refused the honor.
Similarly, William Wilberforce (1759–1833) gave up the chance to be prime minister of England.
He gave it up for a cause that to him was far greater than becoming the leader of the greatest empire in the world at that time. He gave up his life for the sake of African slaves, people who could give him nothing in return. But Wilberforce knew that what God had given up for him was far greater, so he did what he did for the Africans he would never meet, and for God.
This man’s conversion to the Christian faith changed everything for him. Suddenly he saw everything differently. Suddenly he realized that everything he had been given— wealth and power and influence and connections and intelligence and a gift of oratory— was a gift from God. And he realized that it was a gift to be used for others.
The choice was his, of course, but when you really know that God has given you something for others, it’s hard not to use it for others. Wilberforce knew that taking everything he had been given and using it to improve the lives of others was the very reason he had been born. And by devoting himself to this for five decades of his life, he became one of the most important human beings who ever lived. He changed the world in a way that would have been unthinkable at the time.
The 1982 movie Chariots of Fire tells the story of Eric Liddell (1902–1945) who gave up the acclaim of millions to honor God.
Then there is the brilliant and heroic German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945), who courageously defied the Nazis and surrendered his freedom and safety time and time again.
Jackie Robinson (1919–1972) was given the opportunity to do something historic when he was chosen to be the man who broke the so-called color barrier in professional baseball. But in order to do this, he had to surrender something very few men would have the strength to surrender: he would have to give up the right to fight back against some of the most vicious insults against his race that anyone has ever heard.
Karol Wojtyla— whom we know as Pope John Paul II (1920–2005)— surrendered his whole life to God in what many would think of as the most typical way: he became a priest and decided to serve God. He became a bishop, an archbishop, a cardinal, and finally, in 1978, the pope. But he was not an ambitious man. He wasn’t in it for the power. He gave up his right to himself. He even gave up his right to dignity. When he grew old, he went before the whole world as a picture of a man weakened by Parkinson’s disease, but who nonetheless courageously continued to appear before the world, even in that weakened state. As a result, he showed in his own life what he professed with his words, that a human being is sacred in God’s eyes. Even in our weakened state, and especially in our weakened state, we are children of God. He was a picture of courage and of heroic consistency, a man who practiced what he preached.
The one man in this book I had the privilege to know personally was Chuck Colson (1931–2012). In the beginning of his life, Chuck was a man who was not exactly headed for inclusion in a book like this one. He was tremendously ambitious, but he seemed to seek power for its own sake, or for his own sake. Eventually he amassed a tremendous amount of it, as special counsel to the president of the United States, Richard Nixon. This was a heady thing for a man not yet forty, and what he did with that power was his great undoing. But when, in the scandal of Watergate, that power was finally stripped from him, Chuck Colson found the real reason for his life and for life in general. And when his role in Watergate threatened to send him to prison, he didn’t blink. His faith was so strong that he knew the only thing to do was to trust God so completely that it would look crazy to the rest of the world. And it did look crazy. But he didn’t care about what anyone thought— except God. He was playing to the proverbial audience of One and he refused a plea bargain that would have made his life much easier during that time. Then he voluntarily pled guilty when he didn’t have to— and went to prison as a result. But he knew that when you give everything to God, only then are you truly free. His is a true picture of greatness for all of us.
You can talk about right and wrong and good and bad all day long, but ultimately people need to see it. Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to behave and how not to behave. We need heroes and role models.
Now, my own personal greatest role model is Jesus. And you may have noticed that he didn’t just talk. Of course he said a lot of extraordinary things, but he also lived with his disciples for three years. They saw him eat and sleep and perform miracles. They saw him live life and suffer and die. They saw him interact with all kinds of people, including themselves. He lived among them. That’s the main way that he communicated himself to the men who would communicate him to the world. That’s how he made disciples— who would make disciples, who would make disciples. So from the gospel stories of Jesus’ life, you get the idea that seeing a person’s life is at least as important as getting a list of lessons from that person. Yes, sermons are important, but seeing the actual life of the guy who gives the sermon might be even more powerful. And you get the idea that how you live affects others. It teaches them how to live.
When I first read this book, I bought a copy for all the young men in my life and anyone else I could think of. But it’s not just a good book for men. I personally found every story compelling. Now, as graduation time rolls around, I’m ready to buy more copies. And I’m looking forward to my next Metaxas book, Seven Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness!
Quotations taken from:
Metaxas, Eric (2013-04-30). Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Previously featured books:
Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day by Glynnis Whitwer. Read about it here.
Because He Loves Me: How Christ Transforms Our Daily Life by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Read about it here.
Gift-Wrapped by God: Secret Answers to the Question “Why Wait?” by Linda Dillow and Lorraine Pintus. Read about it here.
The Heart of Anger: Practical Help for the Prevention and Cure of Anger in Children by Lou Priolo. Read about it here.
Sweethearts for a Lifetime: Making the Most of Your Marriage by Wayne and Carol Mack. Read about it here.
If I’m a Christian, Why Am I Depressed?: Finding Meaning and Hope in the Dark Valley One Man’s Journey by Robert B. Somerville. Read about it here.
Intimate Issues: Twenty-One Questions Christian Women Ask About Sex by Linda Dillow & Lorraine Pintus. Read about it here.
For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn. Read about it here.
Gospel Treason: Betraying the Gospel With Hidden Idols by Brad Bigney. Read about it here.
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