28 August 2012

True Courage

We once admired heroes.  Today we endure celebrities.  This regrettable situation is due in large part to the lack of courage.  One might define courage as that quality of the soul which enables a person to resolutely perform his duty in the face danger and difficulty.  In spite of fear and trepidation, the courageous person presses on in doing what he needs and is supposed to do.  This is what distinguishes the hero from an ordinary man.  The hero's display of courage makes him the object of admiration.  He becomes known for unusual valor, boldness or self-sacrifice.  The celebrity by contrast is just known.  He is famous for no distinguishing quality of character, but simply for God-given gifts or circumstances, such as birth, beauty, talent or riches.  These are things for which to be thankful but about which not to boast.  They testify to the goodness and glory of the Maker who gave them, not the greatness of the one who received them.
The hero deserves our respect because of his exercise of courage while the celebrity grabs our attention because of his place on the cultural stage.  The one inspires while the other simply entertains.  This generation seems to be far more interested in celebrities than heroes.  Perhaps that betrays a general lack of appreciation for truly heroic character.  It may also signify a scarcity of courage itself.  For whatever reason our generation has been robbed of heroes!  Or perhaps our attention has been so preoccupied with the celebrities on stage that we have failed to see heroes in the trenches.  Occasionally a few courageous men and women come to prominence leading and inspiring us by living for others and striving for causes greater than themselves.  But this is rare.  Why are they so few and seemingly obscure?  Is it because we are infatuated with short-lived celebrity and disinterested in praiseworthy heroism?  Or do modern people just lack courage?  Perhaps it is both.  That is why it is important to learn from the teaching of Scripture which highlights the importance of both .
Early in their training, the disciples were rebuked by Jesus for failing in this regard.  In a boat on the lake they were in the midst of a great storm, and they panicked.  These experienced fishermen gave in to fear despite Jesus' pledge to reach the other side (Mk 4:35).  Terrified, they awoke the Lord who not only rebuked the wind and calmed the sea but also said, Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith? (Mk 4:40).  He reveals the connection between faith and courage.  Simply stated it looks like this.  All those who believe are courageous.  You don't believe.  Therefore you're not courageous.  In other words, the disciples lacked courage because they lacked faith.  The former is an outgrowth of the latter.  If I believe Jesus – if I trust Him and take Him at His word – then I have no reason to be afraid.  After all, He upholds the universe and controls whatsoever takes place (Heb 1:3).  Nothing – absolutely nothing! – transpires apart from His infinite wisdom and sovereign power.  So if He is for me, who or what can possibly be against me? (Rom 8:31).  I may perform my duty without fear.  In the spirit of Stonewall Jackson I can say that until the day God calls me home, I am immortal.  If I take the Lord at His word, then I can face these evil days with a firm resolve to do my duty.  Under His blessing and by His grace, I can be a hero in my own right. 
We must be more specific about that faith which spawns godly courage.  It embraces three very important things:  God's cause, God's call and God's company.  Consider the example of Joshua.  The Lord says, Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Josh 1:9).  Joshua is to be courageous because, first, he has been enlisted in the cause of God who commanded it.  Second, he has been called to this work by God who ordained it.  Third, he is accompanied by God who is with him in it.  There we find these three elements:  God’s cause, God’s call and God’s company.  Joshua led the people into Canaan with courage because he knew the cause was just, the work was his and the presence of God was with him.  In the same way, the disciples in the boat on the sea amid the storm should have displayed godly courage.  There was no need to panic.  Like Joshua, their cause was just, their call was plain, and their Lord was with them in the boat.  Their problem was that they lacked faith.  As a result of that, according to the Lord Jesus, they lacked courage.
Perhaps now we can redefine our concept of courage in light of this discussion.  It is that quality of the soul flowing from a sincere belief in God's cause, call and company that enables a person to resolutely perform his duty in the face of danger and difficulty.  This is the nature of true courage that animates genuine heroes.  It is what we ought to admire and take note of in our collective appreciation.  Paul says, pay honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7).  To those who display courage as outlined above, we should certainly pay honor.  Specifically, as we pray for laborers to work in God's harvest, our requests should reflect and be influenced by this understanding.
Today we are in desperate need of heroes who will act like men (1Cor 16:13).  Our culture shows signs of crumbling because of hero-famine.  The solution involves Christians becoming strong and courageous.  This will happen as we believe in God's cause and His call and His company.  Remember the cause for which we labor is just, for we are commanded to seek first the kingdom of God (Mt 6:33).  Keep in mind that the call of God is plain, for in no uncertain terms He has called us to salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2Th 2:13).  Collectively we have been commissioned by Christ to make disciples (Mt 28:19) and insofar as we are able, we are to contribute time, talents and treasure accordingly.  We may courageously become all things to all people so that by all means we might save some (1Cor 9:22).  Never forget that God's gracious company is assured, for as His parting promise to His beloved people, Jesus said, Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Mt 28:20).  Take Him at His word and press on in your duty.  Be courageous and act like men.  Follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the greatest Hero the world has ever seen.