Are you courageous? The chances are that you will answer: "Not always. At least, not as courageous as I want to be." But do you know what courage really is? Has it ever occurred to you that to be deeply and thoroughly converted you have to be deeply and thoroughly courageous? Indeed, not only does it take courage to become converted, but it takes even more to remain converted. Amidst moral corruption and confusion — in a world of rebellion and misery — some people think that to disobey law is to show courage. Actually, the contrary is true. It's much easier to rebel than to obey — easier to follow society, with its customs and traditions, than to stand firm for what is right in God's sight. In plain language, it takes courage to be truly Christian. Courage is the opposite of fear — it is acting against fear. U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said that all we have to fear is fear itself. But how can you stop being fearful? How can you get rid of your fears, unless you replace them with something positive, worthwhile and more powerful? A courageous person does what God wants him to do — regardless of the consequences. As a nation, we need more courage. As individuals, we need more courage. In our families, we need more courage. And as a Church, we need more courage!
The source of power
God has chosen "the foolish" and "the weak" things of the world to confound those who are mighty in their own eyes (I Cor. 1:27). But God has not called the cowards of the world to confuse and confound the mighty! People often mistake meekness for weakness. On your own you can't do much, if anything. You have no real power or wisdom. But with God's help and the power of His Spirit, you can do all things. To be among the "foolish" and "weak" of the world is no excuse for you to live in fear: "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (II Tim. 1:7). Think! If you are truly converted, the Spirit of God should bear fruit in you. The Spirit must express, through you, love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The Bible calls these virtues "the fruit of the Spirit." But do you realize that courage is at the root of each of them? It takes courage to love someone who hates you. It takes courage to express joy in times of sorrow, and to have peace of mind amidst turmoil. It takes courage to be patient or to show kindness, goodness or faithfulness, and to practice self-control. If you feel that your spiritual growth has been slow, you are probably not showing as much courage as you should in your daily Christian life. A true Christian is a soldier – a good soldier. But have you ever seen a good soldier who lacks courage? You showed a certain amount of courage when you first answered God's calling, but that was only the starting point. You were called to change your habits, your ways of thinking and living. That takes courage. You were called to turn away from sin. That takes much courage.
No faith without courage
Christ came with a message of courage and faith. He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). When God called you to repentance He asked you, through His Word, to first sit down and count the cost, just like the builder of a tower, to see if you had "sufficient to finish it" (Luke 14:28). Notice — He didn't say if you had enough to start the job, but to finish it. All along the path, you were told, you would have to face trials and problems. Both repenting of your sins and believing in the Gospel require courage. Any change in life – especially conversion — requires courage. That's why you need the power of God's Holy Spirit to live like a Christian. If you are convinced, and you should be, that Christ is coming soon to change this world and to rule over all nations, then you must be enthusiastic — filled with zeal – despite your difficulties! Ironically, many of this world's people who call themselves Christians don't believe in Christ's return. No wonder they lack courage. But you should not follow their example. You should be like Christ, who with courage faced persecutions and condemnations, while being totally innocent of any sin. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was also a man of courage. Facing death, he didn't hesitate to proclaim God's message and tell the people of their sins. He said, under God's inspiration: "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it" (Acts 7:51-53, Revised Standard Version). Would you have this type of courage to face your persecutors, to look in their eyes and proclaim the truth even though it may cost your life? Stephen did. He died for the truth — for the Gospel — for Christ's message. To believe in the Kingdom of God in a world that rejects God requires faith. But faith without courage is not faith. Just like Abraham, you must be fully convinced that God is able to do what He has promised, and you must act accordingly. Then your faith will be reckoned to you as righteousness (Rom. 4:21-22). What do you do when you have a serious problem? Do you simply pray about it and wait for the answer? Prayer alone is not enough. You must do your part. As the saying goes, after praying for a good harvest, you keep on hoping. Trusting God is waiting actively, not passively. And that takes courage! Obedience to God sets you apart from the world; it protects you. It makes your life happier and more abundant. It makes you courageous and brings you closer to Him. God loves courageous people! He has promised to never forsake you; you will never go hungry if you are truly of His flock. David wrote: "I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread. He is ever merciful, and lendeth; and his seed is blessed" (Ps. 37:25-26).
Men of courage
The prophets of old were men of courage. When God told Joshua to begin the battle to enter the promised land, He commanded, "Be strong and of a good courage" (Josh. 1:6). . The apostles were also men of courage, particularly after they received God's Holy Spirit. It wasn't easy for them to preach the Gospel amid continuous threats and persecutions. They had to choose between obeying God and obeying man — between entering the large gate and the narrow one. They were told by the authorities, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us" (Acts 5:28, RSV) . The answer Peter and the other apostles gave was one of faith and courage: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (verse 29). Do you realize that someday you may have to give the same answer to those who persecute you? Hebrews 11 is generally known as the faith chapter. And talk about faith it does. All of the people mentioned therein lived by faith, but that required much courage. They didn't simply pray for God's help; they acted and fought as true Christians should. How about King David? What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of him? His sins, perhaps? Or the psalms he wrote? The wives he had? Do you ever think of him as a man of courage? Look at the attitude he had when the other Israelites were frightened in the presence of Goliath the giant. David said to King Saul, "Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine" (I Sam. 17:32). Where did David get his assurance? He was but a young man. He did not have Goliath's strength or armature. But he had courage. He told the king, "Thy servant kept his father's sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him" (verses 34-35). And David added, "Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God" (verse 36). Think of it! David, with no other weapon than a sling, was able to face the giant, who was heavily armed with a sword, a spear and a shield'. Where did he get his strength? From God. He likewise got his courage from God. He told the Philistine: "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand" (verses 45-46). There is a Goliath in everyone's life! Yours could be in the form of sickness or poverty or various other trials and sufferings. It doesn't really matter. The fighting is always of God, provided your courage and attitude are similar to David's. When your eyes and your mind are set on God — when you put your trust in Him — you can have all the courage you need, whatever your problems. He will do your fighting for you.
As in the days of Noah
Noah was a man of integrity, righteous before God. He lived in a world of corruption and sin, just as we do today. And he undoubtedly was a man of courage. Do you think it was easy for him to stand up against the crowd and do what God told him to do? It took him many years to build the ark, while the people around mocked him. They didn't cease to ridicule him. They thought it was utterly foolish to expect a flood when there wasn't even a sign of one in sight. It took courage for Noah to accomplish his job and to patiently wait for the fulfillment of God's promise. Have you ever wondered why Christ compared Noah's time to ours, stating that the present world would have a similar fate? He told His disciples: "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage; until the day that Noe entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away" (Matt. 24:36-39). And Christ added, "So shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (verse 39). We are living today in a world just as corrupted as Noah's was. People deny God, break His laws, defy His authority, eat what they ought not and contract marriages that are unlawful before Him. God tested Noah's patience, just as He's testing ours today. How tragic that, during this testing period, some of God's people are losing courage and deserting the ship! You had better realize that NOW is the time God is testing your faith, patience and courage — as a member of God's Church you are being judged now (I Pet. 4: 17). In the days of Noah, he was the only righteous human being on earth. Likewise, today, the Church must be spotless, pure and righteous before God. Noah persevered to the end. He did not weaken. We, too, must persevere to the end and not weaken. Whatever the danger, whatever the persecution, we must serve God, being fully convinced that He will always deliver us. However, just like the three Hebrews thrown in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3:17-18), we must also prove that we will not serve other gods or worship "the golden image" – even if God chooses not to deliver us. That shows real courage!
The apostle Paul's life was one of courage, faith and perseverance. It took tremendous courage for him to turn away from what he had previously believed was right. The change, in his case, was very difficult. When God struck him on the road to Damascus, the first question Paul asked was, "What wilt thou have me to do? (Acts 9:6). This eagerness to know and follow God's will led Paul to conversion. Paul was not afraid to change. He didn't worry what his friends would say about him if he turned from his former religion and began to worship the true God. Moreover, when God showed him the right way, Paul never departed from it. He labored more than the other disciples, working harder and suffering more than any of them. His writings make up a large part of the New Testament. Do you know what Paul's writings reflect most? Faith? Yes, undoubtedly. Love? That's for sure. Obedience? Of course. But above all things, courage! Paul tells you to always rejoice, and be grateful whatever the circumstances (I Thess. 5:16, 18). That takes courage. Paul ran the race of life and won. So must you. But remember: It takes courage to win! What was Paul's secret? He reveals it throughout his epistles. The Bible never states that a true Christian will live without problems or difficulties. On the contrary, it warns us that we will be tested and proved. But just like the apostle Paul, we must withstand affliction in every way without being crushed (II Cor. 4:8, RSV). Is this the case as far as you are concerned? Can you say, like Paul, that you are "perplexed, but not driven to despair"? Do you feel forsaken when facing persecution? Or can you say, like him, that you are "struck down, but not destroyed" (verse 9, RSV)? If so, nothing can shake you. But it takes courage to have this attitude — and to be totally converted! Paul further wrote: "We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (II Cor. 6:8-10, RSV). If you are a true Christian, this is the way you must think and live. Nothing should separate you from God — no difficulty, no trouble, no persecution, not anything or anyone. God loves you and will always protect you. He will watch over you. He will lead you to victory, if you will only yield to Him and trust Him — courageously. Therefore, "Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (I Cor. 16:13-14, RSV). What a tremendous warning and encouragement!