Be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them; for it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.
When you think of what it takes to be a Christian, does the word “courage” ever come to mind? The first words that tend to come mind when describing what it takes to be a Christian are usually the obvious ones like faith and trust. Certainly those are important. Knowledge is important, and so is discipline and consistency. As the world continues to change (and I’m not so sure it’s for the better), the word “courage” is starting to make its way into my mind as something we are going to need in greater and greater amounts in the future. The world is becoming polarized when it comes to traditional Christian values. There are those who are trying to change what Christians have believed for centuries, trying to update it to reflect the shifting morality of contemporary times. There are some who are staunchly defending traditional Christian morality who are being silenced and cancelled. And there is the what I think is the majority who practice the faith almost in silence, at most afraid, and at the least disinterested in bringing it out into open forum.
Today’s verse comes from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Moses has led the Israelites for forty years in the desert. They are about to get to the border of the Land of Canaan. There have been some test runs into the land by spies who have fared well, a surprise to the people, who are genuinely concerned about the ability of their band of foreign people being able to subdue the land as God had promised. To add to their angst, Moses has announced to them that he won’t be entering with them. He will die just at the border and Joshua will take over. The last couple of chapters of Deuteronomy, including the chapter where our verse comes from, is Moses’ farewell speech to the people.
In Deuteronomy 31:6, he tells them to “be strong and of good courage, do not fear or be in dread of them; for it sit he Lord your God who goes with you; He will not fail or forsake you.” “Them” refers to the inhabitants of the land, whom God has promised to give into the hands of the Israelites. The children of Israel, even they number several hundred thousand by some accounts, are not a trained army. They are not very organized—after all it has taken them 40 years to travel only a few hundred miles. They are not very united either. And yet Moses tells them that God will provide what they need and that He will deliver to them the land that He promised. They just have to be strong and be of courage.
The comment someone made that was the impetus for this message, was “I believe that is taught in the Bible, but need to find the strength, courage and faith to practice its virtues.” Like many people, this person understands what we believe as Christians and believes whole-heartedly. The problem is courage, specifically in the face of “attack.”
I’m reminded of another verse in the Bible where courage came up. In Mark 15:43, we read 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.” This was indeed a courageous act. Joseph had been a member of the same council who had recommended death for Jesus. We aren’t told how he voted, whether he went along with the crowd and voted yes, or against the crowd with a no, whether he abstained or didn’t even attend. In this instance, right after the death of Jesus, he came only hours after the crucifixion and risked not only his reputation but his LIFE to ask for the body of Jesus so that he could give Him a proper burial. I personally have an affinity for Joseph because he represents so many of us when it comes to courage. On the one hand, it seems if he lacks the courage to stand up to the Council. Had he done that, it seems that the Bible would have mentioned it. Having been given some time to think and most likely having witnessed the unbelievable sight of day turning into night as the Son of God was being killed as well as the earthquake that followed, Joseph had a deep conversion. All of a sudden, he went from either condemning Christ or standing silently by while others did, to asking for His body and soon becoming a disciple in his own right.
Someone once said to me, “If no one is ever upset at your example of Christianity, you are perhaps not the most convicted or genuine of Christians.” Because when we practice our faith, it is going to inspire some people and it’s going to really upset others. At some point in our lives, we are going to have to take the unsure steps that the people of Israel took into a new land under a new leader. We are also going to have to take the unsure steps of Joseph of Arimathea who stepped into harm’s way to do what was right.
I don’t personally believe one needs to stand on a street corner and hold a sign inviting people to “honk for Jesus” or stand outside a sports venue reading the Bible on a microphone. I do believe that there are ample opportunities to witness for Christ both as an example and even doing it directly and the question is how many are we taking? What are we doing to bring Christ into the conversation? And is being “good” good enough? Aren’t we supposed to give glory to the “Godly”?
There is a movie I saw years ago called “To Save a Life.” It highlights a lot of the issues teens deal with including teenage pregnancy, drug use, alcohol, peer pressure, bigotry, and bullying. The main character converts to Christianity, but quickly discovers that becoming a Christian doesn’t make his life any easier. In one of the most heartfelt prayers I have ever heard on the big screen or anywhere else, he gets on his knees and prays to God, “to give me the strength to know what’s right.” He asks for courage to not only know what’s right but to do it. And in the movie he ends up losing some friends but he ends up saving two lives—his friend, and spiritually, his own. This kind of thing takes courage—to offer a prayer asking God to do the right thing. We call that humility and it takes courage to be humble. And it takes courage to listen to our hearts to hear what God is telling us to do, because many times it isn’t simple and it comes at a high cost.
Lord, every day I make decisions that either reflect You. Sometimes these decisions are hard, because of peer pressure, self-pressure and even genuine confusion about what is right. Give me the wisdom to know what it right and give me the strength and courage to do what it right by You. Amen.
Take courage today as you pray to God, as you listen to His voice and as you keep His word!