By Alex Florez
Something deep in the heart of humanity is stirred by the prospect of power, influence, and acclaim.
As Christian men in America, there are innumerable avenues to prestige and prominence. We can be leaders in our families and communities; we can lead worship or serve as deacons; we can write books, host Bible studies, or organize service projects. While all of these activities are commendable and essential to the vitality of the church, we must beware. During the course of our efforts, we often garner recognition and admiration within our spheres of influence. Even when the Spirit is moving within us and our intentions are pure to begin with, the effectiveness of our faith can often produce a worldly response: applause, admiration, and accolades.
As I read Acts 12, I wonder how I would handle the kind of popular commendation that might just as easily lead to sainthood as it does to death. In this passage, we see James executed and Peter imprisoned. Whatever influence and power these two men had accumulated up to this point was interrupted—Peter’s indefinitely, and James’s permanently. In their lives, rather than using their positions of leadership to generate wealth, they distributed all their resources to the needy members of their community. Instead of using their influence to provide for the assurance of their own personal safety, they continued preaching the gospel even though doing so meant danger or even death.
On the other hand, we witness the way King Herod handles power and acclaim. We could look at the wholesale imprisonment and execution of his enemies as evidence of his character, and we could reasonably conclude from these details alone that Herod was the bad guy in the story. Draped in royal garb, sitting on his throne of power, and addressing his people, the crowd responds by shouting that Herod bears more likeness to a divine being than to a human one. Herod is at the top of his game as a statesman and leader. I imagine him sitting there, basking in the approval and admiration of the crowd, thinking to himself, “Ah, yes. It’s good to be king; it’s good to be me!”
God’s response to Herod’s self-satisfaction is immediate death. We should not take this to mean that every selfish or arrogant thought we have in the silence of our hearts will lead to God striking us down on the spot. Rather, we ought to recognize that God honors humble faithfulness while He unapologetically disapproves of people who enthrone themselves in their own hearts.
James paid with his life and Peter with his liberty, “but the word of God spread and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). That’s exactly the legacy every follower of Jesus should desire. No matter the cost, we must give glory to God—especially at the height of our success.