Aside from Jesus Christ himself, the Apostle Paul is undoubtedly the most prominent person in Christian history. Through his missionary activities, his letters to the churches, and his influence on other New Testament authors like Luke and Peter, Paul’s impact on the church, and indeed the world, are hard to conceive much less articulate. He is, in the best sense of the word, a hero to all who call Jesus their Savior, Lord, and King.
Given Paul’s extraordinary stature, evident even in his lifetime, what do you suppose was his self-perception? Although several texts address this question well, 2 Corinthians 4:7-11 takes us near to Paul’s heart. He wrote, “7 But we have this treasure [the gospel of the glory of Christ] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”
Paul is indeed a Christian hero, but he is a broken hero. He is a flawed man who was transformed by the grace of Christ, and used by the power of Christ to spread the gospel throughout the earth. Paul’s astounding influence is not attributable to his charisma or intelligence or strategies, but to his Savior, Lord, and King. Indeed, Jesus repeatedly led him to the brink of death so that his resurrection life would be displayed through the obvious weaknesses of a man.
Like Paul, every hero in Christian history is a broken hero. From Ignatius to Hudson Taylor, from Mary the mother of Jesus to Amy Carmichael, every notable, Christian person held the gospel of the glory of Christ in the clay jar of their life. Many popular biographies rightfully exalt the commendable traits and accomplishments of such people, but they sadly mask or underplay their weaknesses and failures. It is important that we see both sides of our heroes lest we make too much of them and too little of Jesus, idols of them and thereby demote Jesus.