Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Boldness and Courage
Do you ever find yourself in a public place and want to speak to another person, but your fear gets in the way? Have you ever wanted to speak to a friend about the Lord Jesus but your boldness melted in light of the task? Have you wanted to take a stand for truth and righteousness on the job, but you were afraid you would get into trouble with the management or even lose your job? We all need boldness to live for the Lord Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving and ridiculing world. Boldness is the fearless and daring courage to carry out the work God calls us to do.[i] Various words are used to render the three main Greek words.
Each Greek word shares a common cluster of meanings and is translated in the NIV and the NASB in a number of ways: confidence, courage, openness, boldness, and outspoken frankness. The rendering used depends on the sense of the passage and the translators judgment of what best expresses the meaning of the original.[ii]
Most of us have read Christs unambiguous words: Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9). Our Lord plainly says that we must confess Him and never deny Him before others. This has a lot to do with whether we are ashamed or embarrassed to be identified with our Lord. Jesus declared, Whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:38; cf. Luke 9:26). Paul repeats this principle at 2 Timothy 2:12, where he says, If we deny Him, He also will deny us. We must remember that the cowardly will have their part in the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8)! How vital it is that we have courage in our living for Jesus!
The apostles and early believers were very much aware of this principle of courage in standing with Christ. The authorities sternly warned Peter and John not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:18). Their command was unequivocal. The meaning was plain. But the apostles boldly replied, Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (vv. 19-20). They remembered Christs parting command, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned (Mark 16:15-16). They wanted to obey their Lords words and also wanted to bless those who were lost in sinand this could only be done if they opened their mouth and proclaimed Jesus.
What were they to do? They went to the other disciples and explained their experience before the authorities, then they prayed to the Lord: And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence (v. 29). They prayed for boldness in their speaking! Did God answer? Indeed, He did. When they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness (v. 31). God gave them the boldness to proclaim His word publicly!
Jesus foreknew that His followers would need to stand firm in the midst of persecution. He warned them, Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). He went on to show them the extent of suffering they must endure for His sake: Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved (vv. 21-22). Knowing that some of His disciples may fear, the Lord reassured them, Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (v. 28). This natural fear could be overcome with the boldness that God would give.
We must face the world with a courage that God gives. The Hebrew writer gives us this strong assurance: He Himself [God] has said, I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, so that we confidently say, The Lord is My Helper, I will not be afraid, what will man do to me? (13:5-6). We are able to confidently say that God is with us and will help us, thus it doesnt really matter what others will say or do against us. The most powerful people on the face of the earth are those who have no fear of death.[iii]
Paul the apostle knew that he needed courage to speak, thus he encouraged other believers to petition God for him: Pray on my behalf, that utterance maybe given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains [he was a prisoner at this time]; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:19-20). If the Spirit-filled, strong apostle needed boldness, we also need courage to speak for Jesus and live for Him in the midst of a wicked, threatening world.
Peter knew that believing women living with unsaved husbands may tend to be fearful of submitting to them and recognizing the husbands rightful headship (1 Peter 3:1-6), so she urges them to submit like Sarah in the Old Testament period so they could be her children, if you do what is right, without being frightened by any fear (v. 6). They were to do right in subjecting themselves to the husbands rightful headship and authority and not be frightened about any fear that might arise.
God will be with us when we need Him near in the midst of persecution. When Paul stood before the authorities and expected to suffer execution in Rome, he stated that even his fellow-associates left him. He wrote that they all deserted me (2 Timothy 4:16). But the apostle was consoled with this thought: But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished (v. 17). William Gurnall wrote, We fear men so much, because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When mans terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God.[iv]
I heard the account of courage for Christ that we seldom see in our own society. In a foreign country where Christian persecution was rampant, courageous men and women gathered together for study of the Bible. All at once, government officials broke into the assembly of startled worshipers. The persecutors bargained with the captured people, offering them freedom if they would desecrate the Bible by spitting on it. After several did this shameful act, one young brave girl slowly approached the sacred volume that had been spat upon, knelt and cleaned it with her clothes, and tenderly kissed the book that she loved, knowing that it would mean her certain death. Would you and I have the courage to publicly identify with God in similar circumstances?
[i] The Power for True Success: How to Build Character in Your Life (Oak Brook, Illinois: Institute in Basic Life Principles, 2001), p. 43.
[ii] Richards, Expository Dictionary, p. 137.