“… Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! …” (Matthew 14:27) The Bible contains many stories of courage. Some, such as the account of the young David fighting the giant Goliath, come quickly to mind. But there are dozens more examples throughout the pages of Scripture where individuals stepped forward and fought against huge odds or difficult situations – often alone and without the support of others. There are lessons we should not miss in these stories; here are three that we should take to heart:
Courage Is Commanded
“Take courage” is not just a biblical suggestion; it is a biblical command. We may be well aware of the many inspiring Old Testament verses such as “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6) and the multiple times God commanded his leaders such as Joshua to be courageous (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9, etc.), but we don’t always notice examples in the New Testament that apply directly to us.
If we look carefully, we find Jesus not only commanded courage of his disciples when they feared: “… Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage!” (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50), but we also find him reminding his servants to have courage relative to the work he gave them to do: “The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11).
The apostle Paul clearly obeyed that command (Philippians 1:20, etc.) and passed the command along to the Christians he taught: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). There is no question that courage is commanded of the followers of Christ as much as it was of God’s servants in Old Testament times.
Courage Is Contagious
It helps us to understand the importance of courage when we realize that there is not a single instance among the dozens of accounts of physical and spiritual bravery found in the Bible where one person’s courage did not have an emboldening effect on others.
Again, we may be more familiar with Old Testament examples such as Saul’s son Jonathan demonstrating courage that inspired his armor bearer to join him in fighting heavy odds (1 Samuel 14:1-13). Numerous examples in the Hebrew Scriptures show people being inspired by a courageous action, even if only after someone else was successful. Such was the case with the disheartened Israelites after David slew Goliath (1 Samuel 17:52).
But there are also fascinating examples of the contagious nature of courage in the New Testament. Take the case of Joseph of Arimathea who bravely asked Pilate for the body of Jesus in order to give him a proper burial. The Gospel of Mark tells us that “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus” (Mark 15:43 ESV). This was no small act of bravery, as Jesus had just been executed as a rebel instigating sedition against the Roman Empire – and Joseph was no natural hero. John’s Gospel tells us: “… Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away” (John 19:38).
But Joseph’s act of courage had immediate ripple effects. John’s Gospel also tells us that “He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds [to embalm the body of Jesus]” (John 19:39). When Joseph “took courage,” he inspired Nicodemus – who had been too afraid of the Jews to talk with Jesus except under the cover of darkness – to likewise act with courage.
Courage is not just for heroes. Biblical examples like these show courage always has an effect – even when others are afraid to act until they see the success of someone who does demonstrate courageous behavior.
Courage Is Confirming
Not only is courage contagious when it is demonstrated, but acting courageously – even if we do not feel courageous – confirms our faith to God, to others and even to ourselves. God commands us to live courageously so he is obviously well pleased when we do so.
But acts of courage can have an effect on others that we may not even guess at the time. The Book of Acts tells us specifically that the Jewish priestly authorities questioned the apostles Peter and John in a threatening manner regarding their teaching, but: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). It was the courage of the two apostles, not their learning or eloquence, that was a witness to the Jewish priests and religious leaders. It is doubtless not a coincidence that shortly after that we are told: “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Acting with courage even helps confirm our own dedication to God and his calling. We need faith to have courage and courage to express our faith. The apostle Paul showed this when he wrote: “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” (Philippians 1:20).
So the words of Christ and the disciples he taught show the unending need for courage in our personal lives and in doing the work we are given to do. Courage is needed to withstand evil and wrongdoing – to resist what is wrong in our own lives and in society, especially if we feel we are alone in carrying on the fight. But courage is contagious, and our actions invariably will inspire others.
Finally, courageous living demonstrates our faith in right and proper ways. Put simply, we need to take courage because courage is faith in action. Courage and our beliefs work hand in hand. We should never forget that the effect of courage on Christianity can be considerable, and the effect of Christianity on courage can be enormous. Take courage!