Up-front heroes are often seen as being larger than life. Overstated. That's unfortunate.
Because they are public figures, folks think of them as broad-shouldered giants who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. They are thought of as superpeople possessing endless strength, limitless vision, relentless determination, effortless skills, and matchless charisma. Their courage is legendary. Their words drip with eloquence. Their endorsements carry weight. Their presence, well, it's like a touch o' magic. It's an exaggeration, you understand, but . . .
So it goes with certain callings . . . strong-voiced, often multitalented leaders, whose names become quotable points of reference. Their opinions and their decisions stand out, almost as if they possess an inside track to pristine truth. Agree with it or not, we still need some who can take the lead and set the pace. Big shoes must be filled.
And that is certainly the way it was with Martin Luther.
You and I cannot think of the Reformation without mentioning that name. What Henry Ford was to the auto industry, what Ben Franklin was to electricity, what George Halas was to professional football, what Albert Einstein was to nuclear physics, Martin Luther was to the Protestant Reformation. What a man. What a model! What a maverick! The classic shaker and mover.
I am born to fight against innumerable monsters and devils. I must remove stumps and stones, cut away thistles and thorns, and clear the wild forest.
Vintage Luther. Prophetlike hero talk. With sweeping statements to match his gestures, the mighty monk of Wittenberg set fire to slumbering saints all across Germany as he vigorously fanned the flame, shouting, "Heresy . . . heresy!" While prelates frowned and popes condemned, the hero kept them buzzing and forever off balance. Brushfires from his abusive language, his private debates and public disputes resulted finally in Luther's excommunication. But his exit was like his entrance, alone . . . independent . . . invincible. He needed no one but God to lean on.
Or did he?
Is that true of any "hero"?
No, indeed not. Back in the shadows, hidden from public view behind the massive personality of Martin Luther, was the real hero . . . the authentic intellectual of the Reformation. Yet to this day, most Christians would be unable to state his name—let alone spell it correctly.
"Below middle size, diffident, hesitating, of frail body . . ." describes one of Philip Melanchthon's biographers. With a "stammering tongue, he carried one shoulder higher than the other."
Not enough public relations "uumph" to make a single head turn, yet it was he who exerted the most powerful influence over Luther when the spokesman carried the torch and shook it in the face of the Church.
It was he who pioneered the first Protestant edition of systematic theology. He was the genius of the educational systems of Europe . . . indeed, "the father of modern scholarship." In his generation, his knowledge of the New Testament Greek was unsurpassed by any scholar in all of Europe. How greatly Luther needed such a friend! Martin consulted Philip on difficult passages of Scripture so often, Luther's translation was really a combined effort rather than a solitary achievement.
Luther had warmth, vigor, and explosive strength; Melanchthon, however, had clarity of thought, discretion, and mildness. Luther energized his quiet friend; Melanchthon tempered his. The stump-moving, thorn-pulling Luther realized the treasure he had in his brilliant compatriot. "Master Philip," he wrote, "comes along gently and softly, sowing and watering with joy, according to the gifts which God has abundantly bestowed upon him."
What a one-two punch! It took Luther to commend the Reformation to the common people. But by his gracious moderation, his quiet love of order, his profound and indisputable scholarship, Melanchthon won for it the support of the learned.
When Luther died, it was Melanchthon, of course, who pronounced the oration over his tomb. A few short years later, the scholar's body was lowered into the same grave alongside the more famous hero of the Reformation. Appropriately, they now rest side by side in the Old Castle Church at Wittenberg. Death, not life, the equalizer.
Are you the bigger-than-life "hero" . . . the public figure folks want to see and meet and quote? If so, are you big enough to acknowledge the wind beneath your wings? Perhaps you are more like Melanchthon—in the shadows, faithfully and humbly at work, making someone else successful, providing better fuel for an ever greater fire. Be encouraged! It's for you that songs like this are written:
WIND BENEATH MY WINGS
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have the sunlight on your face.
You've been content to see me shine.
You always walked a step behind.
I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all strain.
Only a face without a name.
I never once heard you complain.
Did you ever know that you're my hero?
And everything I'd like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
But you are the wind beneath my wings.1
Hidden heroes are often seen as being smaller than life. Underrated. That's most unfortunate.
Think about Mark 10:35–45. What service can you provide today to help make someone successful?