Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Back in 1990, the group Jesus Jones recorded a song called “Right Here, Right Now,” and it was reflective of a time when the world was changing. Communism was falling. The Berlin Wall was coming down. Once again, we see history being made with the inauguration of our first African-American president, and he came to this point on the shoulders of giants. J.C. Watts, Joe Lewis, Eli Whitney, Jesse Jones, Jackie Robinson, Frederick Douglas, Doug Williams, Tony Dungee and others are people have achieved milestones in African-American history.

Spiritual Giants

Spiritually, we stand on the shoulders of giants. To have an appreciation for our history, to understand those who have made our spiritual lives possible, is vital to our work as Christians. Spiritually speaking, friends and family members may have directly impacted our lives. This was true of Timothy in II Timothy 1:3 where Paul reminds the young preacher from where his faith originated. In John 1:40-41, Andrew runs to bring his brother to the Messiah. Also, in verses 43-44, Philip goes after Nathaniel. James and Jude are both physical and eventually spiritual brothers of Jesus. Perhaps a preacher or a teacher impacted our spiritual lives, men and women who have helped us develop our spiritual identities, who demonstrate faith and character we want to emulate.

We often reinforce the importance of the Restoration Movement of the early 1800s with figures such as Alex and Thomas Campbell. These emphasized the vitality of the silence of the scriptures. Before them, Barton Stone was preaching that the Bible was all that was needed and that God is not random in His salvation. Before him came John and Charles Wesley in the Reformation Movement, teaching about free will and sincere worship. Before that was John Glass who preached there was no national church and the weekly observance of the Lord’s Supper. Martin Luther preceded Glass, advocating that all believers are priests and that individuals can find salvation on their own. He believed that scripture – not the Church – is the final authority. Before Luther, John Huss opposed indulgences and encouraged the study of scripture and scripture alone.

Preceding all of these are twelve men who stand before a crowd of thousands in Acts 2. Here, Peter affirms the deity of Jesus. The apostles affirm the resurrection and preach baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Two chapters later, Peter and John claim salvation is in no name but Jesus. In Acts 5:29, facing the same prosecutors who had crucified Jesus, Peter answers them that obeying God is greater than obeying man. Stephen, in Acts 7, calls on his audience to rely on God more than their history and traditions. He states there is a difference between knowing what is right and doing what is right. Philip, in Acts 8, preaches Jesus and baptism to a governmental official from Ethiopia. Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus – what they taught and what they wrote comes from God.

I Thessalonians 2:13 records Paul and II Timothy 3:16-17 both remind the readers of these letters from whom they heard God’s word, and Paul reinforces the divine source of those teachings. Those giants upon which the early Christians relied were standing on the teachings of Jesus in their work.

Shoulders to Stand Upon

We have to be the spiritual giants for future generations, speaking where God speaks and respecting His silence. Future generations of Christians will look back on us. Who will be the heroes of faith for the next generation of Christians? It has to be us. This means we cannot take the comfortable path. Those leaders of the Reformation and the Restoration knew that. They were alienated, imprisoned, exiled, burned, and put to death. We benefit from their sacrifices, and our own paths will be difficult if we are standing for what is right.

Hebrews 11 lists several heroes of faith, and chapter 12 picks up the theme, calling upon us to run our own races with endurance. He cites Jesus as the forerunner of our faith, and we must work if we are to pave roads for those who will come after us. Think about those who have influenced you spiritually. Why would they do that? We must determine that we will continue the spiritual heritage that has been handed to us. Our commitment to one another and our commitment to Christ go hand-in-hand. We are of equal importance in His eyes, and He can provide the love, patience, and endurance that will help us be heroes of faith, examples upon whom our children and grandchildren can look to as examples of faith.

lesson by Tim Smelser