The Trap of Biblical Celebrity

"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

 1 Peter 5:1-4

Celebrity culture is everywhere. Movie stars, pop icons, athletes and poets alike are held up for all to remember and adore. As Christians it can be tempting to think that, within the Church, we can be free of this - but thats not always the case. And I'm not even talking about our weird obsession with worship bands (who spend all their time singing about how great God is) and preachers (who spend all their time talking about God).

No what I'm thinking of is the way in which we read the Bible - specifically the people scripture highlights.

We nearly idolize the great names of the Bible - characters who are larger than life and who enjoy a great deal of celebrity as a result. But not only do we under emphasize the trials, failures, and sometimes brutal deaths these people faced we also tend to think of our lives as having the same celebrity as them if we too live like they did. We want to be Daniel, not for the lions den, but for the recognition and fame from our culture. We desire to be significant and public characters in God's story. But for the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout history their faith was practiced and tested in small communities that no one ever wrote about. 

Wouldn’t it be great, we think though, to have the Wisdom of Solomon or the Creativity and Masculinity combination of King David? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be Daniel, Gideon, or even Samuel? How great would it be to hold the staff and lead the nation like Moses? And, quietly in some dark part of our hearts, we think how great it would be to be remembered and revered like them too.

Scripture highlights people of significance for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious reason is that there is an over-arching theme and narrative present in scripture that each person and story contributes to. For each of these titular characters there an interaction with this story, and specifically with God, that informs our picture of who God is and what he is doing though history. Scripture also mentions these people because they are great test-cases and examples of the life with God which include pitfalls and perils, tragedy and triumph. These stories inform, challenge, inspire, and grow us thousands of years later because these are complex and unique people worth emulating.

But the complexity of these people tends to get glossed over. Yes, Moses did the Charlton Heston thing before the dead sea, but he also committed murder, doubted God, and ultimately was denied entrance into the promise land because of his decisions. In fact no familiar face from the long line up of Biblical legends is without their share of decisions and actions that demonstrate their profound humanity that goes hand-in-hand with their unique celebrity. To be remembered in Scripture is to be remembered honestly and wholly - warts and all.

Not only that but these people, who are recorded so prominently in the pages, are at the forefront of a much larger picture. God is, as any reader can tell, the central character of the Bible (which is why movie and tv adaptations of Bible stories tend to fail after trying to figure out work arounds for the “God Character”).

But God’s people, Israel, and his Church are the second most ubiquitous characters seen in the Scripture. And the reality is that these groups represent a vast number of individuals who do not get profile pages or Instagram feeds. These people live out their faith in quiet anonymity. 

An overwhelming percent of the people I respect and admire in faith and character will be forgotten in 1-2 generations. No books will be written about them, no movies made, and not even a footnote in a history book will indicate that they ever existed. For most of us this will be true. 

But our significance is not found in page views, likes, front page articles, nightly news stories, or 4th grade textbooks. The pages of history matter little to the people it records. But the significance found in God alone never fades away.

There are people in my life that I admire for their simple and quiet faith lives of integrity, grace, humility, character, generosity, and love. To their immediate surroundings their impact is huge. They are my heroes, my mentors, my celebrities. But they will probably never know how much they mean to me and the people they have impacted. And while everyone likes to know the impact they have on others - these people haven't lived the lives they have for my recognition. Rather they have shunned celebrity in this life in favor of a recognition from their Heavenly Father. 

It is right that we strive for the same power of conviction, faithful action, and uncontainable pursuit of God that we see so singularity in our favorite Bible characters. These men and women stand as examples worthy of emulation. But always keep this in mind: God will decide how to use your story for His glory.

As believers we shouldn’t desire to be like David because he was a recognized and remembered as a warrior poet. Let us instead try to emulate his heart that God so famously captured. It is his heart-full pursuit of God that lead him to such great deeds. And it was David's heart that God put on display to highlight God's glory. You are already a celebrity for an audience of one - and your life could be no more significant than it is when you are seen and recognized by Him when he says  “well done good and faithful servant.”

Your Friend in the Wilderness,

--Corey Wilson