Growing up, the Sunday school lessons and children church services I attended often ended like this:
Because [insert Bible character] was [insert a positive attribute] in our story, we need to be [same positive attribute] because that makes God happy.
Certainly, the goal of these lessons was to inspire Biblical living. But for me, the lessons rooted moralism-without-the-Gospel in my young heart and sent the subtle message that I earn God’s favor through my works. I’m not faulting any of my teachers or curriculum, because they were likely mirroring what they heard on Sunday mornings and read in Christian literature.
In college, my view on the Bible and its stories started to change. I read through the Jesus Storybook Bible, participated in a gospel-centered student fellowship and began attending new churches (at home and at Purdue). I began to see that at the heart of the Bible is not me being told to behave a certain way. No, at the heart of the stories, people and commands is the person of Jesus. Reading the Bible and seeing Jesus everywhere freed me to live into his grace and I started to treasure His word.
And that liberty allowed me to find a companionship with the characters of the Bible versus feel condemned by their example. No longer do I read Bible stories and feel a peculiar, lurking guilt in my heart that I’m not fully following in their “footsteps” as I should. Instead, I see them as my fellow pilgrims– men and women saved through faith– whose lives point me to Jesus and show me how to concretely live out of the grace I have in him.
Shiphrah and Puah of Exodus. In their very ordinary job of delivering babies, these women had to decide if they would obey God or pharaoh. They faced great evil, and they chose to fear the Lord and spare the sons of the Hebrews slaves. Interestingly, they are among the few individuals who are named in the book of Exodus. The great and mighty pharaoh is never named, but the midwives we know and remember. These women remind me that as I go about my day-to-day routine, completing my work, God sees me, knows my name and works through me.
The Barren Woman of Isaiah. Though she is a poetic figure versus a literal one, her story defines my story. She’s a person who lacked the one thing her culture (ancient Israel) said she needed to be complete, whole, purposeful– a child. And the Lord commanded her to sing, because of the hope of Jesus. He is everything and he will make all the brokenness right when he returns. Whenever I feel deficient or “less than” because I lack something culture says I need to be complete (in college=boyfriend, now=children), I remember this woman. In Jesus, I have a enough for today and all pain, deficiencies, rejection, loneliness will be redeemed when he returns. And because of that, I can sing.
Lydia. This New Testament woman became a Christian after hearing Paul preach. She’s not talked about often but we know two important aspects of her life: She was a businesswoman and she showed hospitality. We’ve created a false notion that some people are called to businesses in the workplace and while others are called to minister through in the home. All of us have strengths and should play to those, certainly. But Lydia’s life isn’t separated into the two spheres. She is a businesswoman and she shows hospitality. She’d be a shining example in the “work-life balance” discussion as someone who doesn’t exalt one of her callings above the others.
Tychicus. This Christian is often traveling in the New Testament for the purposes of encouraging and sharing news about the early Church. As a writer and communicator, Tychicus’s work makes me question how I’m using my gifts. Am I writing to encourage others? Am I communicating news that is truthful and beneficial? Like Lydia, we don’t know much about his life. What we do know about him, however, challenges us to build up and encourage others through telling truthful stories of God and his work through his people in creation.
These five saints daily spur me to live out of the grace I have in Jesus. Are there any Bible characters who encourage you in the same way?
P.S. Make sure you click on the links in the opening paragraphs — a great article and a great video.