Long ago, Moses gave the people of God an important admonishment before he was taken from them. As they prepared to enter the promised land without Moses, he told them, “Be strong and …
Long ago, Moses gave the people of God an important admonishment before he was taken from them. As they prepared to enter the promised land without Moses, he told them, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). Moses said this because the people of Israel were going to have to contend with nations who were, by all appearances, far stronger than they were.
Given that Israel was going to have to fight for the promised land, we find it natural that they would need to have courage. Courage has always been a necessary and choice virtue among warriors. Indeed, personal courage is still enshrined as one of the seven core Army values in the modern U.S. Army. The Army defines it simply as “facing fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral).” When we think of courage, we often think of firemen, soldiers, and in this part of the country, police officers. Sadly, “Christian” is probably not the first word that comes to mind when folks think of courage.
I personally find this to be tragic, as courage is a Christian virtue. In fact, it is impossible to follow and please Christ without it. Those of us living in America and Europe need to be reminded of this from time to time because comfort and ease are to courage as the wet blanket is to the fire. The children of God only conquer when they have courage. We see this courage in Paul when he got up and reentered Lystra after being stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). Truly, we see it in all the apostles as they went about proclaiming the good news of the Lord’s kingdom and calling on people everywhere to repent and follow Christ.
Further, their example was followed by generations of Christians. One of the church’s first recorded martyrs was just a frail slave girl named Blandina. Because she was not a Roman citizen, she was not allowed to be beheaded but was instead subject to torture if she did not renounce her faith in Christ. The Roman soldiers wore themselves out trying to get her to deny Christ. She was made to watch the torture of her fellow Christians and ultimately put in a net to be tossed by a bull before a cheering crowd. Yet, she did not deny her Lord.
We may find another great example of Christian mettle in Lilias Trotter, an unsung heroine of the faith. She was born to wealth and had great artistic talent. However, Jesus told her to go and bear witness of him in Muslim Algeria. As a result of her poor health, the mission board would not sponsor her. Rather than giving up, Trotter and two other single ladies funded their own mission to Algeria without knowing one word of Arabic, one person in Algeria or one thing about formal mission work. This is the kind of courage expected of those who profess Christ as Lord.
Why do I bring all this up? It is because we live in a time of such moral cowardice. The children of those who faced sword, fire, freezing, slavery and every thinkable hardship to see people everywhere free in Christ need to rediscover the courage of their fathers and mothers in the faith. One simply doesn’t get to follow Jesus into the promised land without courage. People talk a great deal about courage today without understanding what it means. It takes no courage whatsoever for the church to agree with the world because agreeing with the world does not entail facing fear, danger or adversity (physical or moral).
When the world applauds us for some “courageous” departure from the word of God, we should fall on our faces in repentance. Whenever the world is admiring our “brave” stance in agreeing with it, we ought to feel like George Bailey shaking old man Potter’s hand or the apostle Peter after the rooster crowed, for we haven’t shown courage but cowardice. Worldly politicians, CEOs, philanthropists and religious leaders do not care about following Christ or freedom from sin. They take the path of least resistance. That is not the path to glory but the path to hell.
Christians belong to a kingdom that is not of this world, and our king has not called us to be at peace with the world but to overcome it. Let no one be deceived: Of all those not written in the Lamb’s book of life, the “cowardly” top the list (Revelation 21:8). There will be no cowards in heaven. Therefore, let us not seek the praise or approval of the Lord’s enemies but the praise and approval of the Lord himself. The Lord calls those who follow him to courage, and all who really believe that he goes with them will take courage and fight for this fallen world.
(Shane Legler is the pastor of Garland Community Church of God.)