"Courage or Fear?" (August 2004)
As long as we live on planet earth we will have to face people- some encounters will be pleasant, some won't be so pleasant. Some encounters will make us nervous, some will spark fear or dread in us. You know what I mean. When I was in school, if I had to go to the principal's office I went with fear and trembling- that was one person I did not look forward to seeing. Are there people you have dealt with, or have to deal with, that seem to put a "knot" in the pit of your stomach when you have to face them? Well, I have a word for you when you have to face these people- it's found in God's word. "So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me." (Hebrews 13:6) The word "boldly" is translated - courage; to exercise courage. So, we could read this verse as such... "So that we may courageously say, 'The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.'"
This month we are going to talk about having courage. Courage is the quality of being fearless; brave. When we have courage, we don't have fear. You can't exercise both courage and fear at the same time. The opposite of courage is coward- a coward is defined as one who lacks courage. Fear makes cowards out of us all; courage will cause us to be brave. Courage is only manifested in times when one should be fearful, when one has something to fear, when one is placed in a fearful situation. It's at those times that we have to make a choice... "Am I going to succumb to the fear and cow down? Or am I going to courageously say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear"?
I want us to look at some Biblical example of this verse put into practice. "Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come." (1 Corinthians 10:11) The first example I want to look at is Joshua. "Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper withersoever thou goest. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:6,7,9) Joshua was going into a fearful situation. He was on the brink of taking the nation of Israel into the Lord that God had promised them. Forty years earlier he stood at the same place as a spy. The Lord was ready to take the Israelites into the land then, but eight of the ten spies gave an evil report to the people. They were afraid because of the giants in the land and protested that the land "eats up it's inhabitants". (Numbers 13:27-33) Now forty years later when giving Joshua the instructions to go into the land, God addresses the very thing that kept them from inheriting the land forty years earlier. See nothing had changed there were still giants in the land, there were still walled cities, the land still ate up it's inhabitants. This is why God told Joshua three times to be courageous.... Don't let fear make you cowards.
Let's look at David as he stands before Goliath. (Pretty scary situation standing before a giant.) The army of Israel was not exhibiting any courage, they were all afraid. (1 Samuel 17) David comes to the forefront to go out and face the giant. "And David said to Saul, Let no man's heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine." (verse 32) We know the end of the story, David went out with courage and faced Goliath and killed him.
Another example I want to look at is that of the three Hebrew children who were thrown into the fiery furnace- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were also faced with a scary situation- they faced a wicked king who was threatening to have them thrown into a fiery furnace if they did not bow down before his image. We know the outcome, they faced the king with courage and would not bow so they were thrown into the furnace.
We could continue to go through the Bible and give account after account of others who exercised courage during times that should have made them afraid, but we will only talk about these three examples. In each case we see these men exhibiting courage even in fearful situations. Where did they get their courage? How were they able to stand and not cower down? We find the clue in our verse in Hebrews... "So that we may courageously say, 'The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.'" These men all shared a common denominator that I believe was what produced this "supernatural" courage in them. The common denominator was....they knew their God! This courage is based on a personal knowledge of who God is. "But the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits." (Daniel 11:39b) Let me interject something here; I know there are people who aren't even saved that have done some pretty courageous deeds so I'm not saying that Christians are the only courageous people. What I am saying is that if you are a Christian there is no reason for you to walk in fear, be a coward, be intimidated, or not exhibit courage in fearful situations. If you know your God you can face with courage what would normally make you afraid. Why? Because you know without any doubt, "The Lord is my helper" and if He is my helper I have nothing to fear or worry about. If He is my helper I know He is right beside me. (How else can you help someone unless you are there to help them?)
Let's talk a little more about the men that we are using as examples of courage. We know that Joshua knew God because he often spent time with Him in His presence. "And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door. And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle." (Numbers 33:10,11) (You can't spend time in God's presence and not get to know Him.) Because Joshua knew his God he faced the land that was before him with it's walled cities courageously. He knew he didn't have to fear because God promised to be with him. "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9) He knew that God was faithful to His word, therefore, he knew He would not leave him. He knew that, 'The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.'" So Joshua led the children of Israel into the promised land. "So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: "Go through the camp and tell the people, 'Get your supplies ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.'" (Joshua 1:10,11)
Back to David's example of courage. When he faced Goliath he was no match for this warrior who outweighed him, who was larger and taller, who was more skilled, and whose weapons were bigger. Yet on the battlefield his response to Goliath was... "David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied." (1 Samuel 17:45) "This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands." (verses 46,47) Did you hear the boldness in David's words to Goliath? He was not intimidated by him at all even though he had good reason to be- physically, Goliath had the advantage over him. How could a little shepherd boy stand in the face of a warrior giant and have such courage? How could he have such confidence that the Lord was going to deliver Goliath into his hands? He couldn't have had
if he hadn't known the Lord in a personal way. He knew his God. He knew that He was faithful. He knew that the Lord was his helper because the Lord had helped him before kill a lion and a bear so he knew He would help him kill this giant. "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (verse 37) Because David knew his God he knew that, "The Lord is my helper", therefore he was not afraid to face Goliath.
The next example we had was that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. None of us can doubt that they knew their God. Listen to what they said to the king when he threatened to throw them into the furnace. "Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king." (Daniel 3:16,17) How can you have the courage to stand before someone who holds your life in their hands and say, "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand." There is only one way that you would have the courage to say that, and that's if you knew that person and that they would/could really do it. This kind of confidence in God comes only one way...by knowing Him personally. They didn't fear the king, they didn't fear the furnace, they didn't fear death. Why? Because they knew, "The Lord is my helper". Why should they fear the king, why should they fear anything that he chose to do to them...the Lord was their helper; He would be with them even if they did go into the fiery furnace. Just to prove a point, their confidence in God was not misplaced. As we read on in the text we discover just how right they were in their bold confession before the king about their God. "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God." (verses 24,25) How could they have been so right about God unless they really did know Him in such a personal way.
When you know someone on a personal level, you have no trouble putting your trust in what
they say. (You have no trouble putting your trust in them.) You know that they will be faithful to their word. When we know God in a personal, intimate way it produces faith in us to believe His promises to us. That's why we can boldly (courageously) say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear." This is why those that we have used as an example could stand against all odds, could stand in the midst of danger, and could stand in the face of death with courage and unwavering bravery.
There is one more example that I want us to look at. "And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid." (Matthew 14:24-27) "Be of good cheer." The word cheer in this verse means- courage. "Be of good courage." Jesus came walking to His disciples on the water and they thought it was a ghost so they cried out in fear. Jesus told them, "Don't be afraid (don't act like cowards) it is Me; have some courage." Why were these disciples so fearful? Where was their courage? Sure it was pretty scary to see a "person" or "ghost" walking on the water, but they acted like cowards.
Let me take go down a "rabbit trail" for a moment and change the subject. When they saw this "ghost" they were afraid. Why? They were afraid for their lives- they thought they were going to die. They didn't want to die. God has put the desire to live in all of us and there is nothing wrong with that, but if we aren't careful self-preservation will make cowards out of us too. If David had thought more of self-preservation than defending God's honor, he would have "tucked tail" and ran away like a coward instead of standing bravely against Goliath. Same is true with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were more concerned with remaining true to their God than they were with the preservation of their own lives. They could have taken the cowards way out and bowed down before the golden idol and saved their lives but they bravely stood in the face of death and refused to bow. Joshua was more concerned with obeying God than he was about what might happen to him when he went to take possession of the land. "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." (Matthew 16:25) The Book of Revelation tells about those who did not try to preserve their lives when faced with making the choice for Jesus or to deny Him. They stood in courage and would not reject Him. Had they loved their lives (been more concerned with self-preservation) they would have denied Christ instead of becoming overcomers. Courage will make you an overcomer. "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death." (Revelation 12:11) They would not deny Him even if it meant death because they knew Him personally. Therefore, they knew there was nothing to fear because He was with them (being their helper) and He was worth whatever it cost them.
Back to the subject at hand. If knowing the Lord personally gives us courage to stand in fearful situations, why did the disciples lack courage? I submit to you that is was because...they really didn't know Him. If they had really known Him, why didn't they recognize Him when He was walking toward them? Why did He have to tell them that it was Him? "It is I." They really didn't know it was Him, they thought it was a spirit. Did they really know Him? "Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?" (John 14:9a) "The disciples just sat there in awe. "Who is this?" they asked themselves. "Even the wind and waves obey him!" (Matthew 8:27- NLT) This brings me to my last point. It's possible to be a disciple of Jesus and only know about Him. You can know facts and figures about Him, know what the preacher says about Him, know what you have been taught and even what you have seen, and still not really know Him. You can still not know who He really is and what He can do. You can still not know that He really is your Helper and that you don't have to fear because your Helper is with you always, never leaving you to face fearful situations alone. When you know Him, in a way that gives you trust and confidence in Him, then you can stand with courage even when you should be trembling, even when you have those knots in your stomach, even when you are facing the giants, or the fiery furnace, or uncharted territory. When you know that He truly is your helper, then you can courageously say, "I will not fear what man or anything else can do to me."