Some time ago, I read a quote by A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian Missionary Alliance. He said, “God is preparing his heroes; and when the opportunity comes, he can fit them into their places in a moment, and the world will wonder where they came from.” Something stirred in my heart when I read this, and I began to think about all of the people over the years that I have seen brought off the bench, so to speak, and put into the game.
Early last month, I read an interesting story involving Navy’s fourth-string quarterback. He didn’t dress for the game, but was in the bleachers watching his team play when he saw one of the managers running up the stairs of the bleachers in his direction. The regular quarterback had been injured during the game, and the third-string quarterback was out with an injury as well. The coaches knew if the second string quarterback (who was then playing) also got injured, the team would be in trouble. So they came and got Malcolm Perry out of the bleachers and sent him to the locker room to suit up. As it turned out, Perry, a freshman, went in as quarterback late in the third quarter, and not only gained thirty yards on seven carries, but also led his team on a ninety-yard touchdown drive.
Similarly, you may remember the story about John F. Kennedy’s heroism during WWII when the PT boat he was commanding collided with a Japanese destroyer. Kennedy demonstrated great courage and leadership as he guided his men to safety and to an eventual rescue. Because of his efforts, Kennedy received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, and because of injuries sustained during the ordeal, also received a Purple Heart. Later, Kennedy was asked for an explanation as to how he had become a war hero. Kennedy’s response? “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.”
Hearing these stories reminded me a bit of Simpson’s quote about heroes in waiting—about those whom God is preparing to step on to the stage of life and carry out noble exploits. What are the traits of some of these heroes? Many of these are sitting in our churches and have yet to discover what God has in store for them. When they have realized their calling and fulfilled it, they may acknowledge that what they did was, in Kennedy’s terminology, involuntary.
I think Jeremiah, unsuspecting as he was, would have related to “involuntary.” When God called him to a prophetic ministry, Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth” (Jer 1:6). Jeremiah didn’t see himself on the playing field, and the assignment he was given was not something he had volunteered for; he was called. Jeremiah was like one of the heroes that Simpson spoke of. God “apprehended” him and strategically gave him a divine assignment him at an opportune time. Gideon is another example of someone, unsuspecting and reluctant and he was, that God brought out of the bleachers and put in the game.
We could discuss dozens of biblical characters that God seemingly brought out of nowhere and gave them a purpose and a platform, but what I’m concerned about today is not the ones who have been used historically, but the ones that are yet to be identified—the ones who are yet to hear and heed the call. In writing of this, I am not dismissing or diminishing the necessity of preparation, training, and faithfulness, but I am drawing attention to the fact that God often calls not only the unsuspecting, but sometimes he calls those others would not consider to be qualified. Let me share the tale of two leaders.
Imagine a hypothetical situation in which a very troubled church needs some outside assistance. There are two possible candidates who can be sent in to help this very distressed church. The first candidate has a great heart and has been faithful, but is young and challenged in various areas. His health is not the best, and he has been known to be intimidated, fearful, and anxious. The second individual is highly educated, polished, and finessed. He is eloquent, popular, and has a very impressive résumé. Which one should go to help the church? The reality here is that what I just described is historical, not hypothetical. This exact scenario is played out in 1 Corinthians 16:10-12 as Paul discussed the possibility of sendingTimothy and Apollos to Corinth.
And if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do. Therefore let no one despise him. But send him on his journey in peace, that he may come to me; for I am waiting for him with the brethren. Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time.
Let’s unpack this just a bit. Corinth was a very troubled congregation. A review Paul’s first letter reveals that these believers were carnal and split into cliques, condoned blatant sexual immorality, were suing each other in court, and were even getting drunk during communion services. In short, they were a mess.
We know about Timothy and some of the challenges he faced. Paul described his stomach problems and encouraged him not to let others despise him due to his youthfulness (1 Tim 4:12). He also felt it necessary to remind young Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel or yield to fear (2 Tim 1:6-8). When Paul was telling the Corinthians that Timothy might be headed there way, it appears he even tried to protect his protégé a bit by saying things like “let no one despise him” and “send him on his journey in peace.” Paul seems to have been trying to safeguard some of Timothy’s vulnerabilities.
Apollos, on the other hand, was an Alexandrian Jew who was “an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24). Alexandria had the greatest library in the ancient world, and it was here that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. Alexandria was a renowned educational center, so anyone educated there would have been highly respected. Further, Apollos was such a good teacher that many preferred him to Paul (1 Cor 3:4-5). If all of this is not enough, Apollos’ name is associated with the Greek god, Apollo.
If someone were objectively evaluating Timothy and Apollos on talent, skill, and potential on a scale of one-to-ten, Timothy might have received a four or five, while Apollos likely would have received a ten. And yet who figures most prominently in Scripture? Timothy does. I’m not saying that Apollos was not a good minister or that he didn’t make a positive contribution. I believe he did. But in this particular situation, there are two key words that speak volumes—the words unwilling and convenient. Let’s revisit 1 Corinthians 12.
Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to come to you with the brethren, but he was quite unwilling to come at this time; however, he will come when he has a convenient time.
Though Apollos was probably considered to be more impressive and talented than Timothy, his usefulness (at least to Paul) was limited because he did not have the same willing, yielded heart that Timothy possessed. Also, he was resolved that he would only go to Corinth when it was convenient for him. I think Timothy had a very different perspective of ministry. Timothy was willing to serve in any way possible, and not just when it was convenient. Timothy seems to have been a stronger team player than Apollos, even though he may have still been working through certain growth and development issues in his life.
Timothy was definitely one of those ultimate heroes that God brought on to the scene, and used mightily. He was Paul’s spiritual son, his trusted assistant, is listed as the co-author of six New Testament books (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon), and is the recipient of two letters by the Apostle Paul. What was he doing before God moved him into a larger playing field? Before joining Paul’s team, Acts 16:2 says that Timothy “was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.” Timothy had a good reputation, and was likely well spoken of because he demonstrated in those local churches the same kind of willingness and servant’s heart he exhibited later when working with Paul.
I agree with Simpson’s insight, that God is preparing his heroes—he’s always done that. May there be a great host of Jeremiahs, Gideons, and Timothys to serve his purposes in the last day, and not just men, but women as well. Let’s pray, as Jesus encouraged, that laborers will continue to be raised up to work in the harvest that is before us.