Eric Metaxas, the best-selling author of the books Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (and, previously, one of the genius writers for Veggie Tales) will be a special guest at The Porch this Tuesday.
His most recent work, 7 Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, sets out to answer the question of “What makes a man great?” by detailing the lives of seven great men: George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II, and Chuck Colson.
Since today’s young adults are fairly obsessed with personal fame and accomplishing something “great” in their lives, 7 Men is particularly relevant to the Porch crowd. So, to mark Metaxas’ visit, here are seven lessons we can learn from these seven great men:
Great men don’t seek to make their own name great. Great men become that way by living for something greater than themselves. Though some of the men in the book—most notably, the affluent ladder-climbers Washington and Wilberforce—started out seeking fame, they were included in this list of greats because of their selfless service and willingness to turn down power in order to serve the greater good. And the man who became known as “John Paul the Great” earned that moniker largely because he was so humble. (See also Matthew 23:12.)
Bad decisions don’t disqualify you. Great men have flaws. Sometimes great flaws. Washington famously owned slaves, for example, and Colson was a convicted felon and one of the men responsible for a little scandal called “Watergate.” No one is perfect, but imperfect people can still do great things. (Romans 3:23-24)
You’ve been prepared. All of these men achieved great success because their life experiences—and particularly, their hardships and mistakes—ideally prepared them for their roles. For example, Chuck Colson gave his life to Jesus after his involvement in the Watergate scandal, but then still spent time in prison for his mistakes. As a direct result, he was able to start a ministry called Prison Fellowship, which now helps inmates and their families in the U.S. and more than 100 other countries around the world. (Ephesians 2:10)
Beliefs must translate into actions. Or, as JP often says at The Porch, your actions always follow your beliefs. If you truly believe something, you will act on it. Eric Liddell, known today through the movie Chariots of Fire, chose to live out his beliefs and honor God at the expense of a sure shot at Olympic gold in 1924. Some nine decades later, no one remembers who won the gold medal in his place, but Liddell is honored for humbly living out his faith. (James 2:17)
Great men stand up against evil. There is evil in the world. Sadly, most people stand by and do nothing about it. The Holocaust is the classic example of that. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian, had the opportunity to flee to America just before World War II. But he made the choice to return to Germany and work against the Nazi regime, smuggling Jews to safety and even plotting to overthrow Hitler. He was imprisoned and later executed for his actions—a risk he willingly faced because it was the only proper response to such horrors. (James 1:27)
Change means opposition. If you are not facing opposition, you are probably not making a difference. William Wilberforce opposed slavery when the practice was widely accepted and fiercely defended by powerful people. With superhuman restraint, Jackie Robinson endured terrible discrimination and hatred when he broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, effectively becoming the first step towards racial desegregation. Want to change the world? You’ll have to go against the flow. (John 15:18)
It takes time. Contrary to our culture of instant gratification and fame, doing something truly great takes time. Wilberforce was successful at ending the slave trade and abolishing slavery itself, and it only took him 46 years. As young adults, you do have that kind of time—if you are willing to commit to something greater than your personal wants and needs. (Galatians 6:9)
What do you believe makes a man great?