Certain people in history say or do something special or different and as a result they become eponyms. An eponym is a person whose name is in the dictionary because that name has a special meaning based on something significant in a person’s life.
For example, the word “doily” comes from the Doily family in seventeenth century England. They manufactured line products. “Pullman” railroad cars were named after the American industrialist, George M. Pullman who designed and manufactured them. The unit of electrical power called the “watt” was named after the Scottish engineer James Watt, and the Braille system of writing for the blind was named after its originator Louis B. Braille. “ Sandwich” comes from the Fourth Earl of Sandwich who put some meat between two pieces of bread and invented a portable meal.
Which brings us to the fascinating word “maverick,” which means a person who refuses to become devotedly attached to any party—political, religious, social—and prefers to do his or her own thinking and then act accordingly. The eponym for this word is one Samuel E. Maverick (1803-1870), a Texas politician and rancher who didn’t brand his cattle and claimed that all the unbranded cattle on the range belonged to him. If a cowboy found an unbranded calf, he called it a “maverick.” (He also probably took it home and put his own brand on it.) Mavericks are nonconformists who don’t war anybody’s “brand.” They aren’t necessarily troublemakers, except to autocratic leaders who prefer that their followers wear tags declaring their loyalty. Cookie cutter Christians are rarely mavericks.
Before we move on, let me say that mavericks and eccentrics aren’t necessarily identical. Eccentrics are known for being odd, but mavericks are known for being different. We’re repelled by odd people, or we laugh at them, but there’s something about mavericks that attracts us. Eccentric people have moved away from the norm; mavericks respect the norm but follow it in their own unique way. The eccentric defies normalcy, while the maverick opposes mindless conformity. Nobody would call Billy Sunday eccentric in his style of preaching, but rather a maverick, because he was always himself and not a caricature of himself. You didn’t laugh and point; you listened and considered what you heard.
Christians are followers of Jesus Christ, and, unlike Sam Maverick’s cows, they have been “branded” by their Master. “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,” Paul wrote in Gal. 6:17, and the Greek word translated “marks” gives us our English word “stigma,” a special mark that can bring either praise or reproach. In Paul’s day, it was common to brand slaves or criminals, and it wasn’t unusual for people to wear a special mark showing what god or goddess they worshiped. Paul’s “brands” were caused by the sufferings he had experienced for his Lord, and he wasn’t ashamed of them. He was the servant of Jesus Christ, and he wanted everybody to know it. The Jews had whipped him five times and the Romans three times, so the scars on his body bore witness to his love for Christ and his willingness to suffer for Him. To Paul, Jesus was Lord.
All of God’s children have been “marked” by the Holy Spirit by and for Jesus Christ, and there are no “unbranded” mavericks in His church. Our first loyalty is to Him, so if some leader begins to go astray and depart from the Word, we must become mavericks and declare our loyalty to Christ and His Word. When William Carey challenged his ministerial brethren to send missionaries to the heathen, an older preacher stood up and told him that God would convert the heathen in his good time so there was nothing to get excited about. But Carey was a maverick and obeyed the Lord, and thus began the modern missionary movement.
Evangelist Dwight L. Moody was another maverick, loyal to the Lord and not frightened or discouraged by what other Christians said or did. There was no Sunday School class for him to teach in the church he attended in Chicago, so he went into the streets himself and gathered the children and soon had a thousand of them in what was on of the largest Sunday Schools of that day. Mavericks like Moody don’t have time to argue with church officers or boards; there’s a job to do, and they’ve been marked to do it. During World War II, the U. S. Navy construction battalions (“The Seabees”) had as their motto: “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.” That’s the motto of God’s mavericks. A critic told D. L. Moody that he didn’t approve of Moody’s methods. “Well, I’m always ready to learn,” Moody replied, “so tell me your methods.” The man confessed that he had no evangelistic methods, so Moody said, “Then I’ll stick to my own.” Mavericks don’t theorize; they agonize and get something done.
Read Hebrews 11 and note how many mavericks are listed there—men and women of faith who followed the Lord no matter the challenge or the cost. Enoch was a maverick who anticipated and practiced Paul’s admonition: “Be not conformed to this world…” ( Rom. 12:2). Most of the people of his day were wicked and ripening for judgment, but Enoch was different and walked with God. Noah’s neighbors must have thought he was a fool, but he obeyed the Lord, condemned the world and saved his family. The citizens of Ur of the Chaldees must have laughed when Abraham and Sarah left the city and didn’t know where they were going, but who remembers the names of those people? Yet the name of Abraham is honored today by Jews, Muslims and Christians around the world.
The scribes and Pharisees wanted Jesus to conform to their religious system, but He refused. He didn’t come to destroy the law, but neither did He come to defend and perpetuate a religious system that God could not honor. He deliberately violated their Sabbath traditions as well as their rules about clean and unclean foods. He shared new insights into the old laws and new applications of the old stories, and this was too much for the religious hierarchy, so they crucified Him. The Pharisees were blind leaders of the blind, the scribes were bland leaders of the bland, but Jesus was a bold leader of the bold.
Our Lord’s own apostles didn’t always understand this truth. John told Jesus that he and the other men had seen a stranger casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and they told him to stop. Why? “He is not one of us” (Luke 9:49). He’s a maverick! It’s usually the mavericks who get the job done and are criticized for doing it. Joseph was a maverick, so very different from his brothers, but that’s what gave him his ministry. His father Jacob compared him to “a fruitful vine…whose branches climb over the wall,” and because he was fruitful and free, he was shot at (Gen. 49:22-23). Stay behind the wall and conform to others, and you will be safe, but will you be fruitful?
Many of the people in Jerusalem considered Jeremiah a traitor, working for the Babylonians, but he was not. He was simply a maverick who followed the Lord. To be sure, he went around with a yoke on his neck, but that was to call attention to the sermons he was preaching about yielding to God’s will and surrendering to Babylon. Yes, he purchased a piece of property that the Babylonian army was about to capture, but that was to bring hope to the people that God would restore their land. He stopped attending weddings and funerals, and he refused to get married. Like any preacher, Jeremiah had to demonstrate his messages in his own life before he could declare them to others.
That was also true of the prophet Ezekiel, living with the Jewish captives in Babylon. Talk about a maverick! He played soldier and dug his way through the wall of his house. He carefully rationed his food and water. There were times when he was unable to speak, and there were others times when he lay on one side and then the other. God had to raise up this maverick prophet among the Jews because they had become deaf to the Word of God, and He needed to get their attention.
© 2006 Warren W. Wiersbe
© 1989 by The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).