What is courage? Simply put, it means “having guts”. A courageous person is not afraid. A brave person is without fear. In the New Testament, “courage” and “boldness” are from the Greek word tharreo.
Courage in Christ, however, is not impulsive, rash or impetuous. The boldness Peter showed as a disciple of Jesus was impulsive and impetuous—he tried to stop Jesus from facing the cross (Matt 16:22); he cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant who was in the group sent to arrest Jesus (Jn 18:10). Yet when faced with life-threatening situations, Peter was cowardly and afraid. To save his own neck, he denied Jesus three times before a maid and a stranger.
It was after his dialogue with the resurrected Christ that Peter’s faith was restored and he returned to his first love for the Lord. He took courage and was no longer afraid—he preached boldly to thousands in Jerusalem at the temple gate called Beautiful. Even though he was thrown into jail, he preached the word of the Lord again once released (Acts 4:30).
Jesus told His followers to count the cost of being His disciples: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23; 14:28–30) Being a disciple of Jesus cannot be an impulsive act.
Jesus warned His disciples that they would face many difficulties and even persecution when they preached the gospel: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” He also told them not to be afraid (Matt 10:16–26). “You may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33)
Whenever the Church was persecuted, whether in its early era or later, Christians have shown fortitude and faced death unflinchingly. One of the reasons lies in the Christian view of death. For when Christ vanquished death, He not only broke the power of sin; He also gave new meaning to death—to die is to be with Christ, which is far better (Phil 1:23). Confident that being at home with Jesus was much preferred, Paul could face death with courage (2 Cor 5: 6–7).
It is this conviction that gave the New Testament Church the courage to face extreme difficulties, persecution and even death. The foundation for such boldness and equanimity is in Christ’s promises—this is great courage.
Jesus also pointed out what truly great courage is: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matt 5:43–45)
Paul added: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12: 20–21)
This is what true and great courage is. People of such courage are what the world of today needs. Let us encourage one another to achieve the high aim of being truly courageous by starting small and remembering Christ’s call: “Do not be afraid.”
Bishop Dr Chong Chin Chung was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2016. He served as President of the Chinese Annual Conference from 2008 to 2016.
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