“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”
This idea is restated in the next chapter: Joshua 1:6 - “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.”
And as if we just weren’t getting it, three verses later we are told in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
The virtue I want to reference this week is courage. It is a virtue, a moral marker, a social, intellectual, and emotional trait of excellence that is held as a valuable principle for the good of humanity and life itself. Maya Angelou says that courage is perhaps the most important virtue. She said, “You can be kind and true and fair and generous and just, and even merciful, occasionally. But to be that thing time after time, you have to really have courage.”
We will face hard times in our lives, whether it's something seemingly small like a stressful day at work or a more significant event like a troubling medical diagnosis or loss of a loved one. During these times, it can be hard to find the strength and courage to put on a brave face. In the Bible, courage is also called “good cheer” as in Mark 6:50 when Jesus gave the command to the disciples who saw Him walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee, "Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid."
The Greek word translated as “courage” and “good cheer” means literally “boldness and confidence.” Biblically, courage is the opposite of fear. When God commands us to fear not, to be of good cheer, and to have courage, He is always commanding against fear, which is the opposite of courage.
But God doesn’t simply command courage with no reason behind it. In nearly every incident where God says, “fear not,” there follows a reason to have courage, and that reason is God Himself, His nature, and His perfect plans. In Genesis 15:1, God calms Abram’s fears after his battle with the kings of Sodom, by saying, “Fear not, for I am your shield.” When feeling weak and vulnerable, God tells the Israelites in Isaiah 41:14, “Fear not [for]…I am the One who helps you.”
In each case, God commands courage, not because it is particularly natural for us to be brave and confident, but because God is guiding us and protecting us, and we can have courage because we trust in God and are confident in His plans for us. Christ tells us in Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Our confidence, courage, and good cheer flow from this great and wonderful promise.
“Be of good courage,” we are told. To the inquiring mind, this statement begs the question, “So if there is good courage, can there also be bad courage, or evil courage?” I would say, yes. Good courage is doing what is right in the eyes of God. Good courage is fearlessly doing what God tells us to do without delay. An example of good courage is when David ran towards the giant, Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Bad courage is doing what our flesh wants to do without consulting God. An example of bad courage is when David had another man killed in order to take his wife (2 Samuel 11).
The word ‘courage’ is used as the basis for other words, such as encourage. The prefix ‘en’ means to ‘put into’ or ‘cause to be.’ When we encourage someone, we attempt to fill them with courage. To discourage is to remove courage. When we are discouraged, we lack courage.
Some psychologists say that courage is comprised of three elements: a noble goal, personal risk, and choice. This would be good courage when the goal is noble, when the goal is pure of heart, selfless, and beneficial to all. But some goals are not noble, they are evil and self-fulfilling, like when they are planning to kill a lot of people or start a race war. This would be evil courage.
Here is a quote from Dylann Roof’s manifesto, posted shortly before he murdered nine people in a Charleston church on June 17, 2015: I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.
This is purely evil courage, inspired by hatred, ignorance, and worldly contempt. There is no word that I have found that adequately describes this form of courage, this evil courage. We can make up something, like “malcourage or cacocourage,” and similar phrases. Maybe it is a good sign that no such word exists for this type of evil. This disregard for others is a symptom of mental instability, a sociopathy that sadly is growing more prevalent within our communities. These are children of God who have lost their way. They listen to the words of the world, and not the Word of God. They need our prayers, not our scorn.
It takes courage not to hate the person who does evil. That does not mean they deserve legal leniency. If they break the law, they need to be dealt with to protect the rest of us who wish to live civilly within our social contract, our Constitution. But we do not have to hate them or disparage them. They are imbalanced and need help.
It takes courage to be compassionate. If someone disrespects us, we have a decision to make regarding which courage to choose. Evil courage would inspire us to curse them, insult them on social media, or harm them physically or emotionally. Good courage would lead us to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and stand for righteousness, as we are instructed in Matthew 5:44-45. We have freewill and the choice is up to us.
In a real sense, courage is not just about facing our fears; it is about facing ourselves, who we are, what we believe in, why we are making the decisions we make, and our priorities. Do we have the courage to do what we believe is right in God’s eyes, and is beneficial for all children of God? Do we have the courage to learn the difference between good and evil courage?
It is not always clear what is right and what is wrong. But to curl up in a ball and stop living because we don’t want to make an error is not living at all. We will make mistakes; we need God’s guidance and lessons. To live courageously is to live in a world where all our loves, passions, and pursuits expose us to pain and loss. To live is to have a wound constantly exposed to the world – always vulnerable to suffering. Risk-free living is not living at all; it is being surrounded by fear. Courage is about living despite knowing our exposed wounds of love and passion could result in pain at any moment.
Yet we often lack the courage to reach out, and we close ourselves off from the world, from people, and relationships, anything that might be a bit scary. We self-deny not because we think it is wrong, but because we are afraid of upsetting or disappointing someone. We withdraw from relationships because we do not want to be the one to make the leap of love to forgive or apologize or reach out. Then we blame the world for being alone. Courage is about facing reality the way it is, facing ourselves the way we are, and accepting it despite the pain and risk.
Pastor Joyce Meyer said, “Courage is fear that has said its prayers and decided to go forward anyway.” It is through connecting with Spirit, moving into prayer, and releasing our fears that we develop the courage to meet life face to face. It is in the quiet that we are told by Christ what direction to go and the choice to make. It is in the Silence that we read the Word of God that is written on our hearts, and find the courage to move forward.
Billy Graham wrote, “The Christian life is not a constant high. I have my moments of deep discouragement. I have to go to God in prayer with tears in my eyes, and say, 'O God, forgive me,' or 'Help me.’” Our faith in God does not protect us from challenges, pains, and disappointments, but it does enable us to meet those difficulties with good cheer, boldness, and confidence.
It requires courage, trust, and faith to put God first. When life gets hard it takes courage to face it, deal with it, and do what is right. It is easy to put ourselves first and protect our actions and deeds with lies and subterfuge. But it takes ample good courage and integrity to put God first, admit our errors, and make amends.
It is my prayer that we recognize and apply good courage. Good courage is more than a blustery show. It is firmness of will and mind in the face of difficulty. It is the inspiration that comes from the depths of our soul and being, the courage that our heart feels because we know that God is with us.
Courage is God’s gift to all, and gives us the strength to be the peaceful, loving creation we were created to be, and that courage dwells within us always. Courage allows us to say ‘no’ to negative thoughts and the temptations of the world, and ‘yes’ to the truth of Christ that sets us free. Courage allows us to live the life God intends for us as revealed in Jeremiah 29:11. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.