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By Pastor Bruce Sikes
Are you fearless? Would someone describe you as a courageous person? The reason I ask is that one of the most prominent characteristics of the Remnant is courage. Now, if you are thinking, "Well, that leaves me out because I have some real fears!", then just keep reading. When we think of a fearless individual, our minds often go directly to those highly visible and dramatic acts of courage we’ve seen in the media or read about in books. It may be the bold image of a brave soldier leading his men forward while the enemy shoots all around him, or of a heroic firefighter rushing into a building to save victims. That's what we all call courage. We are even more impressed when we see them interviewed afterwards by the media and hear them say in a very humble voice, "I was just doing my duty." It always surprises us when they say that, but you know, they are right. They were just doing their duty. Dangerous, painful, and even life threatening, but it is all just part of the job. Even so, I know many of us would be quick to say, "I could never do that!" Yet, the truth is, that is exactly what we are all called to do. Ok, maybe we all won't have to stand up and be shot at, or run into a burning building to save people, but we are all called to be no less courageous than those men.
Having said that, I’m sure quite a few people will still say they don't have the courage to enter a burning building to rescue someone. Certainly, the prospect being badly burned or severely injured is extremely fearful for them to even consider attempting a rescue. And yes, it's true, there is a very real risk of serious injury to your body or even suffering death in the process. That is the nature of trying to save lives. Still, I also know there are some who would say, "Well, if I were physically fit and had the proper equipment and support I might try it." Indeed, having those things can certainly make the job easier, but is that where courage begins? Does true courage come from having those things?
To illustrate my point, let me begin by asking you a question. Who would a nasty, ugly, hideous, evil demon fear the most? A six foot six inch tall, three hundred pound muscle-bound professional football player who could care less about Jesus and is able to literally tear someone's arms and head off, or, a ninety-five pound, grey haired, seventy-five year old wheelchair- bound little old lady who reads and believes her Bible, prays in the Holy Spirit, and knows and trusts Jesus as her Savior?
Let me answer that question with another question. As believers, we do not need to see demons nor aspire to do so, but for the sake of argument, let's say God granted those two people the ability to see them. Who do you think would turn and run away screaming like a frightened little girl? Let's just say you don't want to be standing between the exit door and the football player!
So, what does that tell us about courage? Does it have anything to do with our physical ability and strength?
True courage has nothing to do with being physically strong and healthy. It has everything to do with being spiritually strong and healthy. Before someone panics and says, "Oh, no! Now, I'm in double trouble!", I’ll ask you to be courageous and keep reading!
Courage does not come from having confidence in your own physical strength and abilities, or even your own intellect. There are many physically strong and able-bodied people in this world who lack courage, and plenty of highly educated men and women who are bound by fear.
So then, where then does real courage come from? How can you get it and keep it?
Courage comes from knowing your divine destiny. It comes from having confidence in your God. Courage is a product of our relationship with Jesus Christ, because we know "whom we have believed," and we know our future lies with Christ in heaven. When we remember and truly embrace the fact that our eternal destiny is securely in the hands of the Lord, we possess the confidence from which true courage flows.
This is what led the writer of Psalm 118 to proclaim:
"The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
Jesus reinforces this truth for us in Luke Chapter 12 when He says:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more." (Luke 12:4)
He follows that statement by strongly admonishing us to fear, to respect, and to be far more concerned about God and our eternal destiny with Him, rather than the temporary needs and desires of our current life situation. (Luke 12 & Matthew 10)
Such was the overriding concern of the Apostle Paul when he wrote these heartfelt words to the church in Philippi:
“I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)
Paul did not speak these words lightly so that we might have a nice little object lesson for Sunday school. He was baring his soul for us, revealing his innermost desire. In his words, we can see how fundamental Godly courage is to living the Christian life. Without Godly courage we cannot truly follow the Christ we profess, and without Christ we cannot truly have courage. The two go hand in hand - to be Christian is to be courageous. It is continually present in a believer’s daily life providing them with the spiritual security, the motivation, the readiness to respond to God’s every call, and the courage to confront whatever evil may be thrown against us.
Take, for example, this lesson from Acts Chapter 14:
As Paul and Barnabas traveled to various cities to share the Gospel, they often encountered opposition from the corrupted religious establishment. It is interesting to read that these religious leaders frequently partnered with people of different faiths against the disciples. Not many details are given in Scripture, but it would not surprise me if in their efforts to gain the cooperation of the diverse people groups, these highly egotistical religious leaders appealed to the public’s desire for “peace and tranquility” against the threat of “divisive” disciples. By using such tactics, they appeared to be fairly successful at getting the disciples kicked out of many communities, however, not without the disciples first leaving behind a witness!
On one such visit, Paul saw a man "who had faith to be healed" and called out to him to "stand up and walk." (Acts 14: 8-10) “The man jumped up and began to walk!” Here was a man just waiting for someone to come along who had enough Godly courage to tell him to get up and move. How often do we pass by people each day who need a word from God, a word of healing, a word of comfort, a word of encouragement, a word of salvation in Jesus' Name? Far too often, I believe.
When the people witnessed the healed man's dramatic change, they praised Paul and Barnabas as supermen, super-apostles if you will, even as "gods", and began to lavish expensive gifts on them including wreaths and bulls. The disciples vehemently refused them. Acts 14 says:
“When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them. (Acts 14: 14-18)
I don’t see very many people today offering to sacrifice animals to honor ministers of the Gospel. Nowadays, they just offer them expensive trips, luxury cars, big homes, and of course, large tax-deductable contributions. I sometimes wonder how many modern day pastors would have courage like Paul to so vehemently refuse such extravagant offerings and personal honors.
By the way, did you notice what the disciples said? They told the people to “…turn from these worthless things to the living God.” Wow, that was very insensitive and disrespectful to these people’s unique and diverse religious and cultural belief systems, wasn’t it? Shouldn’t the disciples have spent time more developing interfaith partnerships and building bridges toward understanding? That certainly didn’t sound like very seeker-friendly language to me. If only Paul had a copy of the Purpose Driven Church, then things might have turned out better for him. Gee, how did they manage to do church back then? Alright, I’ll cease provoking our modern, new and improved, kinder and gentler religious attitudes for now, although, it’s good to shake up our contemporary church mindsets and see how they compare with the mindsets of the disciples and prophets in the Bible. Otherwise, we may deceive ourselves into believing we Christians in the Twenty-First century have somehow spiritually evolved, becoming higher, mightier, and more holy than those men and women of God that went before us. We are not. The nature of man has not changed. Beware of those who say it has.
Now, let’s witness the courage of a man of God called Paul, as the Acts Chapter 14 narrative continues:
“Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (Acts 14:19-20)
Can you picture this? Paul is preaching and ministering to people in the Name of Jesus when he finds himself being unjustly persecuted by people purporting to follow the same God he does. Then he finds himself being not only kicked out, but brutally beaten to a pulp and left for dead. So what does he do? He picks himself up off the ground and goes right back into the city where they tried to kill him! What? Is he crazy? It doesn’t make any sense!
No, he wasn’t crazy. He had Godly courage. “What can mortal man do to him?”
The next day, he and Barnabas left for the city of Derbe. You see, Paul was not being a hero. He was just a believer doing his job. He was being obedient to God and the work he was given.
Courage is not situational nor is it an occasional thing. It saturates the lifestyle of a believer. People with Godly courage are people of action, not just reaction. We are motivated to intercede on Christ’s behalf. Our desire to serve and be used by God to help others overrides any fears we may have. We are doers of the Word and not hearers only.
So, with that in mind, where do we find ourselves when we are confronted by the world and challenged to publicly speak the truth about God, about Church, about our faith in Jesus? What are the risks involved? Are they the potential for emotional injury, feeling awkward or uncomfortable, or worry about what your social peers would think about you if you dared to mention the name of Jesus publically? Where does our courage lie when the church is threatened by deception, secularism, manipulation and false teaching? Where do we find ourselves when we are suddenly presented with an opportunity to witness, an opportunity to tell a non-believer about Jesus?
One of the biggest fears we have is change. We ask ourselves, “What happens if I start speaking up?” 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” God so loved us that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins, and in doing so, He conquered death and fear for us! Still, many believers are waiting for God to tell them to do something.
James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
By maintaining a lifestyle of Godly courage, we negate any fears we may have of committing this sin. One more crutch removed from our stumbling walk of faith! We now have the courage to not only stand for our faith but to boldly walk forward on the path God has laid down for us. We can do this even when we do not know where God leading us or what He will ask us to do for Him. Why? Because it doesn’t matter. Godly courage keeps us moving us forward because “We know whom we have believed” and we are looking forward with excitement to what He has in store for us in heaven!
With this we can be certain of one thing - there are no cowardly Christian lions among the Remnant of God. On the contrary, we are the spiritual heirs of the Lion of Judah. We need not fear. Revelation 5:5 says, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…!”
Godly Courage is part of our spiritual makeup as the Remnant of God. There is even one description of the Remnant in the Bible that calls them Lions!
“The remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the LORD, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for man or linger for mankind. The remnant of Jacob will be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep, which mauls and mangles as it goes, and no one can rescue. Your hand will be lifted up in triumph over your enemies, and all your foes will be destroyed.” (Micah 5:7-9)
That’s certainly some colorful and provocative language Micah uses, but it was intended to give encouragement and hope to the people of God who were being oppressed and feeling powerless to do anything against the evil which surrounded them. They believed themselves to be like helpless sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Micah proclaimed God would give them the strength and the courage of a Lion to confront, or, as he so dramatically says, “maul and mangle” evil from without and within.
The apostle Paul echoes this authority given to believers and even explains what and how we are to “maul, mangle” or “demolish” as he puts it, using our Lion-like qualities. He writes:
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
Within the Church, we are called to demolish, to confront, to intercede through Spirit-filled prayer, along with the Godly words and actions as they are needed against the “arguments “which twist and pervert the word of God, including every pretension of religion, be it in worship, prayer times, fellowship, or ministries. We are to do the same outside of the church by standing with the courage of a Lion against the philosophies and false religions which are leading people down the wide path to hell. At the same time, we are to share with the gentleness of sheep the Gospel of Salvation with the lost.
God has made us sheep with the strength and courage of Lions! Only the Lord could come up with a combination like that! Praise God!
To finish, let’s return to our earlier examples of courage and ask, what is less risky, rescuing someone from a burning building, or rescuing a person from spending an eternity in the burning fires of Hell? Which takes more courage?
The truth is, courage is courage. The same amount of courage required to rescue someone from a burning building is the same amount of courage required to share the Gospel with someone. But don't worry. The good news is that it’s not about you and what you have or don't have. It’s about God and what He has already given you.
“Take courage!”Jesus says, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
For Christ and His Remnant,