I once read about a man who bragged about cutting off a lion's tail with his pocketknife. Sounds pretty courageous, doesn't it? Do you think you could do that? Of course, someone finally asked the man why he didn't cut the lion's head off, and he replied that someone had already done that! What initially sounded like a very courageous act really wasn't anything at all--the lion was already dead!
Today, I'd like us to focus our attention on the subject of courage--genuine courage--specifically as it relates to living the Christian life. First, we need to remember that...
GOD EXPECTS HIS PEOPLE TO BE COURAGEOUS.
That's right, bravery has always been expected! The Lord requires His people to have the heart and strength to do what is right, even when it isn't easy and even when there may be some negative consequences to deal with.
Let's briefly consider two New Testament passages that are relevant on this point. I Corinthians 16:13 exhorts - "Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong..." Isn't Paul basically saying: "Be courageous"? Indeed. Also, II Timothy 1:7 teaches - "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." We aren't to be afraid or timid; we aren't to be cowards. God doesn't want His church made up of scaredy-cats! He wants us to be strong and steadfast in mind. We are to be courageous as Christians!
Now, let us consider...
SEVEN BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF COURAGE TO MOTIVATE COURAGEOUS LIVING TODAY.
1. JOSHUA & CALEB (Numbers 13 & 14)
When the twelve spies prepared to enter the land of Canaan, Moses instructed them to "be of good courage" as they spied out the land (Num. 13:20). The land they examined was good, but ten of the spies brought back a bad report. They fearfully stated that the current inhabitants of Canaan were too big and strong to be displaced by the Israelites. They reported that the Canaanite cities were fortified and that they would not be able to go up against them successfully. The spies even went as far as saying that the Israelites were like grasshoppers in comparison with the giants of the land.
Joshua and Caleb were the only ones with confidence and courage. They reported that the land was good and that the Lord was with them, not the inhabitants of the land. There was no reason to fear! The Hebrew people wanted to stone them for their words of truth; they wanted to put them to death for their courage! But, the Lord rewarded Joshua and Caleb for their bravery (Num. 14:29,30).
2. GIDEON (Judges 7)
God did not want 32,000 Israelite soldiers going into battle against the Midianites. In spite of the fact that the Midianites were as numerous as locusts (Jud. 7:12), God knew that 32,000 soldiers were too many. The Israelites would think that they had earned the victory with that number of men. So, the Lord whittled Gideon's army down to 300 men! At first, Gideon was afraid to attack with such few men because of the massive Midianite force, but God helped him get the confidence boost he needed. God enabled Gideon to overhear two men from the enemy's army talking about a dream. These men believed that Jehovah had delivered the whole camp of Midian into the hand of the Israelites! That was all the encouragement Gideon needed. He obeyed God and successfully defeated the Midianites with his small army. What courage!
3. DAVID (I Samuel 17)
The Philistine champion, Goliath, had defied the army of Israel for forty days, taunting them to provide someone to battle with him man to man. If Goliath won, the Israelites would serve the Philistines; if an Israelite won, the Philistines would serve Israel. The Israelites were terrified of Goliath because of his immense size; no one would challenge him! David, a young man at the time, witnessed Goliath's taunting one day as he was delivering some things to his brothers who fought in Israel's army. David couldn't believe that the Israelite soldiers were allowing this "uncircumcised Philistine" to "defy the armies of the living God" (I Sam. 17:26). The young man volunteered to battle Goliath.
King Saul tried to persuade him against such an action, for no one looking at David would even dream that he had a chance of slaying the giant. Saul changed his mind, however, when David shared the following words - "Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God...The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (17:36,37). Saul provided armor for David, but David chose instead to go into battle with only his staff, sling, five smooth stones, and a great deal of courage and trust in Almighty God! David planted a stone from his sling right into Goliath's forehead and then proceeded to cut off the giant's head. David is a perfect example of courage and trust in the Lord!
4. DANIEL (Daniel 6)
During the period of Babylonian captivity, Daniel, because of his wisdom and faithfulness, was put in a position of great authority by King Darius the Mede. However, the other governors and satraps were jealous of Daniel and plotted how they could bring charges against the Israelite so they could do away with him. It was determined that they wouldn't be able to accuse Daniel of any wrongdoing, so they decided to use his religion against him. They knew that Daniel prayed regularly, so they appealed to King Darius' pride and got him to sign legislation prohibiting the petitioning of any god or man besides Darius for thirty days (Dan. 6:7). Of course, Daniel was a friend of the king, and Darius failed to consider the affect this law would have on his friend. Daniel courageously ignored the law and kept doing what he knew was right. He continued praying to God three times a day from his home with the windows open (6:10). Daniel was reported and thrown into a den of lions, but God delivered him!
5. ESTHER (Esther 4)
Although King Cyrus permitted the Jews in exile to return to their homeland in 536 B.C., many choose to stay in the territory of the Persians. In approximately 480 B.C., Esther, a Jew, became queen of Persia because of her beauty, but the king did not know she was a Jew. She learned from her cousin Mordecai that there was a plot to exterminate the Jewish people in Persia and consequently used her position as queen to get the king to overthrow the wicked plot. Well Stephen, what does courage have to do with that story? Allow me to explain. In that culture, the king only spoke to those whom he invited before his throne to speak to; it was against the law to enter into his presence otherwise. This was even true for the queen (Est. 4:16)! If a person entered into his presence without being invited, they would be put to death unless the king extended his golden scepter to them. Esther courageously risked her life in order to save her people. Her efforts were successful.
6. PETER & JOHN (Acts 4 & 5)
In the first century, those who preached the gospel were often threatened with persecution. In Acts 4:3, Peter & John are arrested for teaching about Jesus and the resurrection from the dead. They were severely threatened by the Jewish religious leaders to stop speaking and teaching about Jesus. They showed great courage and conviction by continuing to do what they knew was right. Listen to their responses - "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19,20); "...We ought to obey God rather than men" (5:29).
7. PAUL (Acts 20)
Listen to Paul's words describing his determination to go to Jerusalem to preach the gospel even though he knows he will be persecuted - "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (20:22-24). Was Paul courageous? Indeed he was. All he was concerned about was serving God to the best of his ability. If he died in so doing, he didn't mind; if he was arrested, that was okay. He was going to do what he knew was right; he was going to do what he knew he had to do, regardless of the consequences. What an example for Christians today!
All seven of these examples clearly show godly men and women of courage. There are other Bible examples of courage that we could consider, but at this time I want to stress the common element that each of these individuals had in common. These people of courage trusted in God! It's still true today, friends. When a person really trusts in God, tell me, what is there to be afraid of? We need to learn this lesson today! We need to be courageous, and it all starts with trusting the Lord. If we genuinely trust God, then we will be able to demonstrate courage in our lives.
GOD'S PEOPLE TODAY MUST DEMONSTRATE COURAGE BY SEEKING FIRST HIS KINGDOM.
Matthew 6:33 reads - "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." It takes courage to really put God first in one's life; courage that many are sorely lacking.
GOD'S PEOPLE TODAY MUST DEMONSTRATE COURAGE BY FAITHFULLY FOLLOWING CHRIST.
Jesus said in Matthew 10:22 - "And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved." Do you think Peter & John were well liked by the Jewish religious leaders? No, they were most certainly hated. But, that didn't stop them! Dear listeners, I hope you realize that if you're living courageously and faithfully for God, you're going to make some enemies; there are going to be people who hate you. Don't be surprised! They hated Jesus for His righteousness and condemnation of sin; they will hate you for the same reasons! Accept it and be brave.
GOD'S PEOPLE TODAY MUST DEMONSTRATE COURAGE BY ENDURING PERSECUTION.
Paul told Timothy, in rather absolute terms, that "all who desire to live godly will suffer persecution" (II Tim. 3:12). Those who hate you for your Christianity will persecute you--it's a guarantee. If we're not being persecuted in some aspect, then we're not living a godly life! We're just pretending to be godly but really we're cowards--afraid to rebuke sin, afraid to declare the truth, and afraid to proclaim God's standard of righteousness. Be honest with yourself: Are you a cowardly compromiser or a courageous Christian? The Lord knows who we really are.
One practical way to overcome being a coward is to frequently reflect upon Matthew 10:28 - "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Ultimately, there is no one that we should fear except God! We shouldn't be afraid to say the right things. We shouldn't be afraid to do the right things. We shouldn't be afraid! God will take care of His faithful ones.
Let us close with some thoughts from David. Psalm 31:24 - "Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD." Do you really trust the Lord? Are you a man or woman of courage? What do your actions show? Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.