I am noticing that the word “courage” is being used a lot in Christian circles today.
“More than anything we need courage in this present age!”
“We are to stand courageous!”
“It takes courage to be a true Christian!”
And of course, on the flip side, more and more people are being called cowards if they do not engage in political or cultural wars quite the way that we may want them to.
It all got me thinking.
If courage is such a vital virtue of the Christian faith, then why is the word rarely used in the New Testament?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I totally agree, in principle, that courage is a vital Christian virtue. The principles of being bold, having no fear, and being strong in the Lord all have aspects of courage within them.
But the word itself just doesn’t get much press in the New Testament.
The Old Testament, of course, has the repeated refrain: Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid; do not be dismayed; for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9; cf. Deut. 31:6; 2 Sam. 10:12; 1 Chron. 28:20).
These verses find themselves on Christian calendars, coffee mugs, and t-shirts everywhere.
But all of these Old Testament verses come in the context of the conquest of the land or in physical, national war. Obviously when you are going into battle, courage…or at least the ability to overcome fear enough to move forward…is an absolute necessity.
So courage definitely has its place.
But in the New Testament, we are called to a different type of warfare. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:11).
So, at the very least, if courage is to be shown in any area of life, it is to be displayed in our daily walk of faith, standing strong in the Lord, putting on the armor of God. Truth. Righteousness. The gospel of peace. Salvation. Faith. The Word of God. Prayer.
As I was pondering all of this…and wondering if I was crazy to be somewhat skeptical of the word “courage”…I came across this quote by one of my old spiritual mentors, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
[The Gospel’s] message to us is not just to tell us to set our teeth and to be courageous. There are many who confuse faith with courage, and who would depict the Christian as the one who, in spite of everything, just decides and determines to hold his head erect, and to go forward come what may. Courage as a virtue has been highly extolled during the past years. And let us agree that there is something very noble in the picture that is drawn. It is manly…to maintain one’s poise and equanimity in spite of everything, to go on to the end unbroken and unbent–there is something truly noble and heroic in it all. But yet it is, essentially a pagan virtue that has nothing whatever to do with Christianity.
St. Paul does not call upon these people merely to be courageous. His appeal is not merely that they should hold on, and hold out, in spite of everything. As we shall see, his whole emphasis is not upon what they are to do, but upon what God has done, is doing, and is going to do for them. They are to continue, not by setting their teeth in a spirit of courageous determination, but rather by “setting their affections on things above.” Courage in its real essence, and if it is the only thing that sustains us, is really a confession of hopelessness. It is the attitude of the man who refuses to give in though all is hopeless. But the Christian is saved by hope, and lives by his hope.
A long quote…but worth considering.
Here are some of the problems that Lloyd-Jones points out with the notion of courage:
- It is generally defined by a cultural view of “manliness.” It is the tough guy. The John Wayne-Rambo type with a cross around his neck.
- It is man-centered, generally focused on what we can do to save society or our culture.
- It puts the emphasis on “heroic” acts more than on walking faithfully with Christ day-by-day.
- It conveys a sense of hopelessness, that things are so dark that all a person can do is grit his teeth, bear it out, and be courageous.
Now, most people may not have any of this in mind when they use the word “courage.”
But here’s the point…if “courage” is not the New Testament word used for our calling in this present world, then maybe we need to use different words.
Words such as…faithfulness, perseverance, endurance, being strong in the Lord.
Does it make much difference? Is this all a bunch of semantics?
Well, in my own mind, if I am told to be “courageous” then I almost immediately think of charging into a battle, speaking out in a confrontational way, or standing up in a heroic act that makes me feel stronger and look braver.
But if I am challenged to be faithful, then suddenly the picture seems to change. Now I see a longer view. Now I see a daily walking with Christ…a living with integrity…a being a faithful husband, father, and friend…a standing up when needed but also a graciousness and wisdom in every moment of every day.
Courage makes me want to muster up my strength to face an evil, darkening world that seems to be winning the day and engulfing everything in its path.
Faithfulness calls me to fix my eyes on Christ, to love God and to love others, and to face the challenges before me as they come.
Courage makes me want to fight people.
Faithfulness calls me to fight the sin that so easily entangles me.
Here is an example that comes to my mind (and I apologize in advance for referencing the story of Ravi Zacharias again). Ravi was courageous as he stood before secular audiences and boldly presented the gospel. But, unfortunately, in the later stages of his life, he was not faithful. And courage, without faithfulness, eventually backfires…and hurts people.
That’s why we need more than just “courageous Christians.”
We need faithful ones.
We need walking in wisdom, speaking the truth in love, living in purity, rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, giving thanks in all things, pursing peace, overcoming evil with good, zealous for good works, looking forward to the blessed hope of Christ’s appearing, ones.
The battle has already been won. Christ is the victor. He is going to build His church. He is going to reign on this earth. The future is already the past in the eternal, sovereign purposes of God. So I can rest in Him…not live in fear…be bold…be humble…and let the joy of the Lord be my strength.
Lord, give me the courage to live like that!