Cultivating Virtue by Loving Jesus: Courage
After considering the best course of action and seeking the good for all individuals, courage steels the will to follow through. After all, a man who can devise the right course of action, but is to afraid to follow through is not wise. A man who knows that he must replace his neighbor’s damaged property, but is afraid to admit that he backed into their fence, is not just. Each of the virtues hangs on the others. The wise and just man is also courageous. Courage is simply the willingness to do or say what needs to be done or said. It is an ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down.
In this life, you will get hit, and I don’t just mean physically. Because of the sin of our first father Adam, we live in a world filled with sin and its effects. You will suffer. Things like sickness, aches, and pains are a result Adam’s first sin. You will also suffer because of sin or stupidity, whether yours or someone else’s. People can lie about you and say things that aren’t true, and you have to suffer the consequences, even though you truly didn’t do it You can get hurt because you were rebellious or just being silly. You might get hit in the face with a dodgeball or even an iceball. It may have been an accident, or possibly on purpose. You may suffer because you are following Jesus and trying to be like Him, and Scripture promises you will suffer for being like Jesus. Do you still want to be like Him?
Courage can show up in a lot of different places, but it needs an opportunity. No one shows courage when he walks through a field of butterflies. But you will face situations that need toughness to keep going. You will have math problems, that even though you’ve spent an hour trying to solve it, you still can’t find the answer. You will be sitting in class and not understand something — you look around and no one else looks confused so you think you’re the only one (you’re not). You feel frustrated and its a sickening feeling that you don’t understand something you think you should. You are reading something that you have to describe the next day and you don’t understand it at all. Everyone else can do it but you. You may be asked a question and have no idea how to answer, and you feel terrible. The school play is coming up. Some of you will forget your lines and feel embarrassed and like you want to sink right through the stage and disappear. You might say something dumb. You might do something wrong and need to confess it. You get home at night and you think about how terrible the day was, and you don’t want to get out of bed the next morning. Your mom dies. Your spouse is sick. In any of these situations, what keeps you going? Courage. Toughness.
Courage is shown in its most extreme form by being willing to die for the good and just. Think of soldiers willing to lay down their lives for a just cause. They are courageous because even fear cannot keep them from what is good. Do you also see why justice is important? Dying for evil reasons is not courageous or virtuous. While soldiers and others who lay down their lives for the sake of justice are courageous, those who are willing to die for Jesus and the gospel are even more courageous. Soldiers die for what they see, but martyrs die for faith.
How do you become more courageous? Just like the other virtues, courage only comes from the cross of Jesus Christ. You cannot be willing to suffer for the truth or experience shame and move on until you have died to yourself and been raised to life with Christ. This means believing the gospel and all of its promises. We have sinned against a holy God, and we are far worse than we could possibly imagine. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, made us alive together with Christ. He has forgiven all of our sins so that we don’t carry its guilt, shame, or bondage anymore. We cannot lose anything of eternal value. When you realize this and believe God, you will be able to show courage in these different situations. If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you are willing to lose your life for the sake of the gospel, you will save it. This is what courage is, from the small things all the way to the big things.
Courage brings more courage, so look at these painful situations as an opportunity to practice. You are running the drill right now, but you are getting ready for the game. The stakes will get higher and the situations more difficult. Are you preparing? When you struggle with a math problem, do as much as you can do, but then next time, try to go a little further. Like those in running club, you start with shorter distances, and then work up to running longer and for more time. Courage brings more courage. If you lack the courage for the “big situations”, ask yourself, how can I show courage right now? What evil am I tolerating because I am afraid?
And when you feel like you have blown it and messed up, or you are hurt and don’t want to keep going, or don’t want to start another day tomorrow, remember this truth expressed by the Heidelberg catechism: “I am not my own, but I, with body and soul, belong to my faithful savior Jesus Christ who has fully satisfied for all my sins and delivered me from all the power of the devil, and so preserves me that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. Yes, and that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.”
This is the foundation for courage. You are not your own. You belong to Jesus. So go and fight in His power. Get up. Dust yourself off. Trust in Jesus.
When the Greek soldiers came back from the Trojan war, it seems like they spent the rest of their days telling stories and listening to songs about the courage of heroes in battle. When believers get to heaven, I think they will sing songs about this life and the one true hero of the story who showed courage to the point of death, Jesus, and how, in Him, they were able to show courage because of Him. Not one detail of your story is wasted. It is all for Him.