Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE COURAGE OF FAITH”

Hebrews 11

 

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, when our nation collectively remembers the sacrifices made by those in the armed forces, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country. So, it is fitting that during such times that our country’s collective thoughts turn to acts of bravery, to displays of courage, to those times when men in the military have forfeited their lives in answer to the trumpet call, to rally to the flag, that we consider this subject of courage ourselves.

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines courage as, “The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”[1] This is a clear instance of a supposedly authoritative source being wrong.

From the time I was a little boy, from movies that I watched to books that I have read I have always known that courage is almost never displayed in the absence of fear. Quite the contrary, the admirable characteristic about courage, real courage in the face of danger and adversity, is that courage overcomes fear. I have never met a soldier or sailor who met the enemy who did not admit to fear, even those who have been highly decorated for acts of heroism and bravery at the risk of their own safety. Therefore, even so well known an expert as Webster’s Dictionary can get it wrong sometimes.

Let me amend Webster’s definition to a working definition that we will use tonight. Let us agree that courage, being synonymous with bravery, is that quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., despite fear.”

That said; let me now admit that I do not have a real sermon to deliver to you from God’s Word. Instead, I have a topic, an issue, a theme to lie before you that has been brought on by observations I have made along the way in my ministry.

What would you say about a young man who is terrified at the thought of discussing spiritual things with a pastor, but is willing to join the military and lay his life on the line in combat? What would you think about a guy who is willing to face bad guys every shift as a patrol officer, but breaks out in a cold sweat at the thought of a low-key discussion of spiritual matters? You folks remember the discussion I had with the gang-banger, who was seemingly unafraid to face guys with loaded weapons, but who could not bring himself to carry a Bible to school, so intense was his fright. I have told you the story many times.

You might be tempted to label the person who is fearless in the face of life-threatening danger courageous, if you did not also consider the complete absence of moral courage to tote a Bible or discussion spiritual matters. So, what is a soldier, if he will face shooters and IEDs in Iraq or Afghanistan, but is scared witless of a conversation with the only pastor he has ever known over a cup of coffee? Is such a man brave, or is such a man a coward? Is he courageous, or is he gutless?

I submit to you that there are two entirely different realms of conduct in which courage and cowardice can be displayed. There is that realm of existence where the challenge to be faced is a threat to physical safety and well-being, and then there is that realm of existence where the challenge to be faced has to do with spiritual safety and well-being. To be sure, these two realms can easily overlap and intersect, such as when a Christian is threatened with torture or martyrdom in an effort to coerce compromise or apostasy. However, the cowardly refusal to so much as carry a Bible to school begs the question of physical danger so much that a bully’s fear of someone’s questioning look or a sniff of laughter exposes his true nature.

Shall we grant, then, that there are some big bad boys out there who are courageous in the face of weapons fire, courageous in the face of unseen threats to life and health, but who are sadly lacking what we might refer to as moral courage? As well, are there not people who are small and frail who are quite timid in the face of physical danger, but who display incredible moral courage to stand up for what is right and to speak up for God when opportunities present themselves?

Therefore, while we must always show proper respect to someone who has displayed physical courage in defense of the helpless at great risk to their own lives, I believe I can establish the greater worth to mankind, to our nation, and to the cause of Christ, of those who rather display moral courage. These are those who display courage in the classroom, who stand up for what is right in the public square, who are willing to suffer the verbal attacks of the faceless mob.

Among those who display what I term moral courage are those who exhibit the courage of faith. I am not sure I have ever seen or read any treatment of the courage of faith by a preacher or commentator, but it is a topic that has weighed on my mind for a number of weeks now, particularly as I have contemplated the obvious terror that some display at thought of discussing spiritual matters. Oh, I am sure that many who are lacking the courage of faith conveniently conceal their fright from themselves in a ballet of self-delusion and rationalization. However, what other explanation can be advanced to explain what appears to be a complete lack of courage?

If you will turn to Hebrews chapter 11, there are a few verses that reasonably show what we would call the courage of faith:

Notice Hebrews 11.8: “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” No one is saying that Abraham was the only man who ever left home with an uncertain destination. However, the Bible does point out that what Abraham did he did by faith, and our own reason suggests that such a move in the face of danger and uncertainty displayed courage. I think this is an example of the courage of faith.

Look at verse 17: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son.” Though Abraham was not concerned for his own safety, there is no doubt that he feared for the life of his son Isaac. Only the courage of his faith could overcome his undeniable fear for his son’s safety.

Verse 23: “By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment.” This verse clearly attests to the courage of the faith of Moses’ parents.

Verse 27: “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.” What overcame his fear of the wrath of Pharaoh? The courage of his faith.

Did not David’s faith show itself as courage when he faced Goliath? Did not Daniel’s faith show itself as courage when he stood up to Nebuchadnezzar and told him the truth, when he stood up to Belshazzar and told him the truth, and when he held fast and unwavering in the lion’s den? As well, what about the courage of those three Hebrew’s faith in the fiery furnace?

Then there was Paul, and Peter, and James, and John in the New Testament, along with Stephen. Down through history there are so many thousands whose names we will not learn this side of heaven, whose courage of faith greatly glorified God and exalted the Savior. There was Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Tyndale, John Bunyan, John Knox, and Obadiah Holmes, whose story you can read under the picture of his beating in Boston in September 5, 1651, when he was given thirty lashes with a three-corded whip, the executioner applying all his strength, for being a Baptist. Those men displayed the courage of faith.

Faith is not always displayed by courage, though it is frequently displayed by courage. Sometimes it is displayed by the moral courage to stand up for what is right, to withstand the facial expressions, the taunts, and the disapproval of those who are enemies of the gospel. At other times it is displayed by the physical courage to stand up to threats of torture, imprisonment, or even martyrdom.

We must not presume that only the saints display the courage of faith, for we have good evidence that not only do some who are lost have a kind of genuine faith, but that they display what can only be the courage of their faith. However, before I show you the courage of faith in the life of someone who is not a child of God, I want to contrast the courage of faith with a complete absence of such courage, because of the complete absence of faith, in the lives of two people you are very familiar with.

Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. You are familiar with the Biblical account of the Fall in Genesis chapter three. Have you considered their motivation for hiding in the bushes and attempting to conceal themselves from discovery? When God asked him where he was, Adam responded in Genesis 3.10, by saying, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Therefore, you see, Adam’s motive for hiding, and presumably Eve’s as well, was fear. However, it must have been fear in the absence of any courage, because courage enables a person to do the right thing even when he is afraid.

On the other hand, there is the example of Abram, in Genesis chapter 12. Though there is no direct comment in scripture indicating Abram was fearful, I think it goes without saying that a long journey for an old man to a place he has never been before, facing an uncertain future, would require courage. Since Hebrews 11.8-10 declares to us that his journey as well as his sojourn there was accomplished by faith, it is easy to see the evidence of the courage of faith. Keep in mind that Abram was a lost man at this time in his life. From Genesis 15.6, Romans chapter 4, and Galatians 3.6, we know he did not come to saving faith for at least ten years. Thus, Abraham’s journey, his compliance with what he knew to be God’s will for his life, was prompted by the courage his faith displayed to go where God wanted him to go, and to do what God wanted him to do, before he was justified in the sight of God!

This brings me to the lost among us. Is it not amazing that the lost are comfortable in their damnation, while at the same time they are fearful of delivery and salvation? This is the deception of sin and delusion of the devil to believe a lie. That said, it is undeniably true that when a sinner comes under the sound of the gospel and is given enough faith by God to begin seeking the Lord while He may be found, real courage is required to overcome the fear that exists, to negotiate the formidable issues that each lost person has to deal with in order to simply come to Christ.

So, why is it the sinner will not seek the answers to the questions that plague him? Why will he not ask the questions that must be both asked and answered before he will come to Christ? No courage. It requires courage to do scary things. It requires bravery to overcome terrors. And it is the courage that results from God-given faith that makes it possible for a sinner to forge ahead to the finish, to actually close with Christ.



[1] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 464.



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