Gospel Gazette Online
Volume 21 Number 9 September 2019
Page 8

Christian Courage

Larry Murdock

In the year A.D. 404, a Christian man named Telemachus visited Rome for the first time. While in Rome, someone persuaded him to attend a gladiator fight in the Coliseum. Telemachus was so shocked at the cruelty he was witnessing that he jumped over the rail into the arena and tried to stop the gladiators from fighting by saying, “In the name of Christ, Stop!” The Christian man stood his ground and tried to stop the contest, but the gladiators would not stop, and in the fight,  they also killed Telemachus. Do any of us have the courage of that Christian man?

Telemachus did not die in vain. The Roman witnesses to his sacrifice were moved in their consciences and put pressure on the emperor to end the bloody gladiatorial contests. In that instance, it took one man’s courage to move a nation away from wickedness. Courage ought to be found in every Christian. In fact, Jesus’ apostle Peter says that Christians should add to their faith, and the first thing to be added is “virtue.” “Virtue” in 2 Peter 1:5 means “courage.” Peter knew that it would take more than faith to help the Christian obtain Heaven. That’s right! A Christian must not only believe in the Lord, but he must live for the Lord, and that takes courage.

Jesus predicted the spiritual fight that Christians would have. In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, He predicted that some Christians would be like seed sown in rocky soil. The seed could not get deep into the soil because of the rocks, the hard places. Jesus said that this Christian was in danger of withering and dying because of the hardships of tribulation and persecution (Matthew 13:18-21). It takes a lot of root for a Christian to withstand persecutions, and courage is a part of that root.

Jesus also taught that persecutions would come because of family members. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.” (Isn’t that exactly what we think Jesus was bringing? Instead, He was bringing individual peace with God. However, there are many enemies of God in the world, and those enemies become hostile toward those who would follow Jesus Christ!) Jesus continued:

I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV)

 Finding life is the Christian’s goal. Yet, finding life means following Christ even unto death. Don’t you think it would take strong courage to withstand this kind of strain on your family relations?

The church of Jesus Christ is a fellowship of courageous souls! The church bands together to fight the good fight of faith. Christians do not war with the tools of physical warfare. Our fight is a spiritual one. Jesus’ apostle Paul said it this way: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). The Christian fight is a spiritual fight that has to do with the heart of every person. Christ wants to win your heart. By winning your heart, Jesus can influence your behavior.

In that same book of 2 Corinthians, Paul wrote:

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)

Paul described how the sinners of the world see a Christian. They see Christians as impostors, that salvation is only a dream or a fairy tale. The world treats Christians as if they are “unknown,” as if they were not there! The world does not want Christians in the marketplace. Worldly people don’t want Christians on television or radio. They don’t want nativity scenes, and they surely do not want Jesus Christ mentioned in schools. Oh, school officials would like to see love, joy, peace, patience, goodwill, honesty and integrity in their students, but the government does not want to publicly acknowledge that it is Jesus Christ who teaches us these things.

Furthermore, Paul said Christians are punished, yet not killed. Christians today are being punished because of their stand against so-called same-sex marriage and abortion (the killing of the unborn children). The people who promote these sins want to punish and demolish the opposition. Yet, Christians wield the weapon of truthful speech by preaching and teaching the Word of God on those issues. The Word of God is God’s power. Truth is appealing. If a person will not acknowledge the truth, then he will live according to a lie and will eventually leave this earth as a lost soul.

The church of Christ was neither established by cowards nor has it been preserved by cowards. Through the centuries, God’s people have been “lionhearted and bold, neither fearing the frowns nor courting the favors of the world. Severe trials and tribulations will only serve to increase our fortitude,” for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

The sufferings of the early Christians in the Roman Empire were the things that eventually broke the back of paganism. Just as Telemachus’ bravery led to the prohibition of gladiatorial events, the bravery of Christians when they died for Christ tormented the consciences of their persecutors. Just as it became hard for Saul of Tarsus to kick against the pricks, it became harder for the pagans to punish gentle Christians. In the words of Tertullian, “The more often we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow. The blood of Christians is seed.” We live in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christians and Christianity. It is the new paganism.

Christians today must be courageous and bold like New Testament Christians and those who lived in later generations. A Christian by the name of Stephan was the first Christian to die for his faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ. Stephan preached a sermon at the synagogue of freedmen in Jerusalem. He concluded that many of his listeners helped to betray and murder the Righteous One Jesus Christ. The whole synagogue was enraged, and they ground their teeth at Stephan.

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:55-60)

Stephan was by no means the last one to die for Jesus Christ. When Jesus came to the apostle John on the Isle of Patmos, He spoke some words that were to be sent to seven churches of Christ in Asia. Each one of those churches was receiving persecution. Those Christians were suffering for the name of Jesus Christ. To one of them Jesus sent these words, “I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (Revelation 2:3). To another church Jesus sent these words, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

Thousands of early Christians were threatened with suffering and death. Some of them recanted their faith in order to save their earthly lives. They lacked the courage to remain faithful even unto death. The apostle Paul, on the other hand, exemplified thousands who embraced death rather than giving up faith in Jesus Christ. Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He continued, “If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:22-24). You see, to the faithful Christian, death is not to be feared. We know that whether we live or die we are the Lord’s. “For none of us lives to himself,” Paul wrote, “and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7-9).

Is Jesus Christ your Lord? Do you have the confident courage that the Lord gives?

*Brother Bill Dillon’s article, “Courage,” Voice of Truth International, Vol. 68, p. 63, motivated writing this article, and portions of it are quoted above or adapted.

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