No one really knows who wrote the first biography or autobiography, but Augustine’s Confessions is probably one of the earliest examples of the genre. And while there is no way to give a quantitative answer about who has the most biographies written about them, Jesus Christ must be the forerunner. No one knows for certain how many books exist about Him, beginning with the four “authorized” accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Personally, I love reading Christian and missionary biographies. When I read stories of people like William Carey, William Wilberforce, Corrie Ten Boom, C. S. Lewis, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, they become my mentors.
If you like biography and history, you’ll love the Bible. When you pick up God’s Word, you’re opening a collection of the best biographies ever written. Almost every page gives us examples of people whose lives were good, bad, ugly, damned, saved, transformed, inspired, revolting, or world changing. Sometimes these sketches are lengthy, such as the chapters about King David or the apostle Paul. Other times, a person’s life is summed up in a one-sentence biography, such as Paul’s descriptions of his various friends in Romans 16, or the occasional summaries appearing in the Bible’s various genealogical listings.
Examples of Obedience
The Bible is filled with the tales of those who inspire us with unrelenting obedience. I love the stories of the Old Testament heroes Joseph and Daniel, because almost nothing negative is said about them in the Bible. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he replied, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9) When Daniel was tempted by the lavish lifestyle of Babylon, he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8). If they can withstand temptation, so can we.
How many life lessons about steadfast obedience we can learn from the parade of characters in the pages of Scripture!
Examples of Failure
The Bible also provides examples of failure—from Adam and Eve, to Cain, to King Saul, to Judas, to a little-known character named Demas, one of Paul’s companions. Demas is mentioned three times in Scripture. In Colossians 4:14, Paul wrote, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you.” Writing to Philemon, Paul again relayed greetings from Demas. But in the final chapter of Paul’s life as he awaited execution in Rome, he wrote: “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10). How easily that happens! Careful students of the biographical cameos of Scripture can learn lessons in advance and guard against the breakdowns of Demas and others in Scripture who are best remembered for their failures.
Examples of Perseverance
Others, of course, inspire us by their perseverance.
The eleventh chapter of Hebrews gives us a roll call of Old Testament heroes like Noah, then we read at the beginning of the next chapter: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
As we read the histories of the characters of the Bible, we’re acquainted with a great cloud of witnesses who encourage us to persevere by their examples.
So I want to encourage you to read lots of biographies, but begin with those in the Bible. God’s Word provides the greatest assembly of fascinating characters ever to be compiled within the pages of a single volume. Each story is unique. And think of this—in a broad sense the whole of Scripture—Genesis to Revelation—is the autobiography of God Himself and of our Lord Jesus Christ.
As you read about Abraham, Isaiah, Demas, David, and, most of all, Jesus, remember to thank God for including these stories in His Word. He is interested in everyone’s biography, in the story of each person’s life. That means He is interested in yours. He’s concerned with all your days and with the circumstances filling every page of your life. By learning what God said about those described in the pages of His Book and by following their lessons, you can build a legacy for others. Your story can sing His praise. Your biography can bring glory to Him who is the Author of your salvation.
David Jeremiah is the senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California, and the founder and host of the Turning Point for God broadcast ministry. For more information about Turning Point and David Jeremiah, visit www.DavidJeremiah.org
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