THE COURAGEOUS DISCIPLE
So by this time in your journey through this subject, there might be some apprehension about being a disciple of Jesus. Because of the complacency of the “Christianity” with which we are often associated, the norm may now be a lethargic behavior of those who pretend to be disciples of Jesus. But one’s discovery of true discipleship is always scary. We are never what we want to be. But do not fear, one only needs a word of encouragement to lay his hand to the plow of being the type of disciple that is pleasing to the One we all seek to follow.
One of those passages that one should put on his refrigerator is Psalm 46:1-3:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth is removed and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling.
Courage is the answer to fear, for fear is the basis of a great deal of unhappiness. Fearful people never fully realize their ambitions. Fear is often the result of what we do not know. When Jesus came walking to the disciples on water, they did not know that it was Him. “Now when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear” (Mt 14:26). In response to taking ownership of his responsibility to produce, the one talent man relied on fear as an excuse. “And I was afraid and went and hid your talent in the earth” (Mt 25:25). Fear will endanger our discipleship to the point that if fear is allowed to control our behavior, then we have disqualified ourselves from eternal glory. Revelation 21:8 still states, “But the cowardly and unbeliever … will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone ….”
The answer to fear is courage. Courage is based on faith, and thus fear is a manifestation of a lack of faith. The courageous Christian has nothing to fear but God. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:28). It is not that we are fearless of things of this world. It is that those of faith have learned how to master their fears. It is the challenge of the disciple to control his fears in view of a world that would move the focus of our faith to those things that are of this world.
I. Old Testament courage.
We must look to those who have gone on before us. They are witnesses of true faith, and now they surround us in order to see how we will endure the race of life (Hb 12:1,2). In fleeing the murderous desires of King Saul, David penned the words, “Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff they comfort me” (Ps 23:4). If that is not enough, then we must be encouraged by the life and death experiences of those who truly walked by faith. Every disciple of Jesus must read through the following testimony of Old Testament men and women of faith who never had Christ in their lives. They walked by faith without knowing that Jesus Christ would eventually come into the world to give us hope of eternal life after death.
For the time would fail me to tell [of those] who through faith stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword. From weakness they were made strong, became valiant in war and turned to flight foreign armies …. And others were tortured … had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, also of bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned. They were sawn asunder. They were tempted. They were slain with the sword …. They wandered in deserts …. (See Hb 11:32-40).
Had enough? The men and women of faith before Christ stood by their faith and that which was right. They did not turn from God because of the harshness of what this world had to offer them. They were faithfuls, as William Penn wrote, “Right is right even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” And for the faithful righteous of the Old Testament, they stood their ground against all that could possibly turn one from God. And what is amazing about these people is not one person who struggled and died had any knowledge of Jesus. We often wonder today how many people would be hanging around if there were no such thing as Christianity, but only faith in God.
II. New Testament courage:
It is true that persecution is to faith as wind is to fire. It blows the little fires out, but fans the big ones on. John was right when he stated, “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).
Nero was Caesar of Rome between A.D. 54 and 68. He had a personal vendetta against those who would not submit to him as lord. He lived a life of vanity and pomp. On one occasion he decided to amuse himself, so he burned a part of Rome to make some real estate available for his own desires. He then blamed the fire on the Christians, many of whom were arrested, and subsequently suffered the vengeance of Rome for the fire. But it was during this reign of terror of Nero that Paul was arrested, and eventually beheaded. But would Paul for fear refuse to preach Jesus in Rome? Not a chance. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul encouraged his readers by saying, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s [Nero’s] household” (Ph 4:22). We have often wondered what Nero would have done if he knew that even some of his own household were baptized believers.
The exhortation of the Holy Spirit through His word is to be of good cheer in times of fear (Mt 14:27). “Watch! Stand fast in the faith. Behave like men. Be strong” (1 Co 16:13). “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ep 6:10). “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tm 1:7). “If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this name” (1 Pt 4:16). Is that enough encouragement?
Solomon wrote, “The wicked man flees when no man pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Pv 28:1). Solomon was also right when he wrote, “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the Lord will be safe” (Pv 29:25). Disciples of Jesus must at least be as strong as those who walked by faith in the Old Testament. And because we have the added advantage of Jesus, then we can conquer all fear. We are not speaking in ideals on this point. Paul is proof. He wrote from prison, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all men forsook me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me …” (2 Tm 4:16,17). And when the Lord stands by us, what will happen is what happened in Paul’s life. “And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Tm 4:17). He was not only delivered from death on more than one occasion, but his entire life was a deliverance from all peril (Read 2 Co 11:16-33). Paul knew that the poet was correct, who centuries later, wrote,
The curling waves with awful roar,
A gallant bark assailed,
And pallid fear’s distracting power,
O’er all on board prevailed;
Save one, the captain’s darling child,
Who steadfast viewed the storm.
And fearless, with composure smiled,
At danger’s threatening form.
“And fear’st thou not,” a seaman cried,
“While terrors overwhelm?”
“Why should I fear?’ the boy replied,
“My father’s at the helm.”
Maybe it should be in our lives when faced with daunting foes, as the courage of General Ferdinand Fock at the battle of Marne, who was the head of the “Iron Division.” He reported back to command, “My center is giving; my left wing is retreating; the situation is excellent; I am attacking.” When called before the Deity of Worms by the Catholic Church to withdraw his heretical beliefs against some teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, Martin Luther boldly stated:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture or by right reason, for I trust neither in popes nor in councils since they have often erred and contradicted themselves—unless I am thus convinced, I am bound by the texts of my Bible, my conscience is captive to the Word of God, I neither can nor will recant anything, since it is neither right nor safe to act against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.
One reformer in those dark days of Reformation against the tyranny of religion was denounced with the statement, “All the world is against you.” His bold reply was, “Then I am against all the world.” To such we would add:
Here we are, and here we stand,
Dear Lord please lend a hand.
We’ll walk across the stormy seas,
That thou in us might be pleased.
Someone correctly stated, “Our strength is shown in the things we stand for, our weakness in the things we fall for.” Carlyle wrote, “The courage we desire and prize is not the courage to die decently, but to live manfully.” At the end of our lives, it should be written on our tombstones that which was written on a monument in the memorials of Westminster Abbey in honor of Lord Lawrence,
He feared man so little
Because he feared God so much.