Summary: Courage is critically important, because it is at the center of all the other Christian virtues. What convictions undergird and strengthen our courage?
This morning, I’d like us to consider the topic of "courage". Not merely courage in a general sense, as an admirable character quality, or as a moral virtue that we should seek to cultivate. But specifically, as an aspect of Christian faith. I’d like for us to consider what part courage plays in our daily lives as Christians. And then we’re going to look at how we can increase our courage; how we can live courageously to the glory of God, as did our teacher and lord, Jesus Christ.
First, let’s consider what we mean by "courage". It may sound strange to talk about courage being a part of our "daily" lives as followers of Christ, because we tend to equate courage with heroism - firefighters running into a burning building; soldiers preparing for battle; police arresting an armed criminal. Or we think of extreme sports like bungee jumping, or free climbing; activities that involve a great deal of risk to one’s health. In short, we think of courage as something extraordinary, something unusual; something people are called upon to exhibit only in dangerous, life-threatening situations. But most of the time, we don’t think we need it. Most of the time, we view our lives as being governed by more mundane character qualities, like honesty, and integrity, and faithfulness. We just don’t see "courage" coming into play very often. But that point of view is mistaken. Courage is not the same thing as heroism. Courage is not just for extreme situations. In fact, courage is basic to the exercise of every other virtue.
Take honesty, for example. Why do people lie? Why are we often tempted to shade the truth; to evade, to make excuses, to cover up? Why don’t we just state the truth, clearly and completely? Often, it’s because we fear the consequences. We’re afraid of what people might think. Or we’re afraid of losing something - money; our hopes for a promotion at work, our reputation, our mate’s trust and confidence, the respect of our family members, our position as a deacon at church. And so we fail to be completely honest, because we lack courage. Confession, as they say, is good for the soul, but it can be bad for the reputation.
Or take generosity - freely giving to the church, or using your financial resources to meet the needs of others who are less fortunate. Why is real generosity relatively rare, even among Christians? It’s not necessarily due to greed. Often, it’s because people are afraid of not having enough for their own needs. They fear becoming destitute and having to depend on others. "What if I lose my job? What if my 401K loses value? What if my company goes bankrupt?" And so, instead of trusting God for their future and giving generously, they hold tightly onto everything they get. They hoard, and store away, and save far above what is really necessary. They may do it under the guise of "prudence" and "responsibility," but often it’s really just fear. They lack the courage to depend completely on God for their financial well-being, and so they seek to accumulate enough money and possessions so that they don’t have to.
Virtually any character quality could be cited as an example - a lack of diligence could be due to a fear of failure. An unwillingness to bear witness to others of the gospel of Jesus Christ can result from a fear of rejection, a fear of looking foolish. A refusal to serve others with our time and talents may stem from a fear of being taken advantage of and exploited. I could go on, but you get the point. Courage is foundational to virtually every virtue. So much so that it’s really impossible to mature in Christ without it. It’s impossible to consistently live in obedience to Christ, and to have fellowship with him, and please him, as long as we’re dominated by fear instead of courage. And that’s why this topic is so important, so central to our daily lives as followers of Christ. Without courage, all of our other virtues will be weak and easily compromised. They’ll fade away at the slightest challenge. In order for us to be strong, God-honoring disciples, we must exercise courage. Courage to trust. Courage to obey. Courage to follow.
If that’s so, then it would help if God would give us some examples so that we could see what courage looks like, what it is we’re supposed to be imitating. And thankfully, he has. The greatest example of courage in the Bible is Christ going to the cross on our behalf; choosing to bear the wrath of God against sin in our place. But this morning I’ve chosen a different example, one that you may not be as familiar with.