The Need for Christian Courage

Campus Outreach Christmas Conference | Atlanta

If God created us for his glory, which I tried to make a case that he did in the first talk, and if he created us that we might be fully and eternally happy in him, and if these two goals of God are not two but one — because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him — and if, therefore, you have the duty to make it your lifelong vocation to be as happy as you possibly could be in God, and if that is not an easy life, but a dangerous life and a hard life, and if God has appointed that that danger — that that hardness — be the very means by which those who don’t yet have their desires fulfilled in him get their desires fulfilled in him — then the last thing I need to exhort us to is that this life will require tremendous courage.

The pursuit of your joy, the way I’ve been talking about it, requires tremendous courage. There are two reasons I want to mention for why courage is such an urgent matter.

Warnings from Paul

First, when you read the Bible, especially when you read Paul and his exhortation to his young disciple Timothy, you see why courage is necessary. So here I am, Paul speaking to Timothy, and what he said was that there’s coming a day — and it’s here — in which courage is going to be absolutely essential:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3–4)

Rejected, Yet Content

What does that imply about your commitment to speak the truth today? It implies that it will often be unpopular. It implies that it will often scratch where people don’t itch. It implies that you will have to have a tremendous sense of settled contentment in God so that your ego can handle rejection.

“It takes some soul to speak gospel truth today into a relativistic, subjectivistic atmosphere.”

Many in this room are so weak-souled. You live off of other people’s approval and acceptance. You haven’t grown up enough yet to be your own person in Christ. And when you get a dirty look or eye-roll or a twisted lip or a word, you feel so crushed that you’re just going to abandon talking about hard things that might get you rejected.

I so long that you would see Christ as so glorious that his smile would be worth ten thousand frowns. I long for you to know the source and depth of courage that you’re going to need as you speak into this situation: “Having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3–4).

Scummy, Yet Happy

Often when they turn away, they say mean things, belittling things, and they are good at it. They know how to make you feel like scum. In fact, Paul called himself “the offscouring of the world” (1 Corinthians 4:13). Do you know what offscouring is? I do a lot of the dishes in our house. I know what offscouring is. It’s the stuff you don’t want to lift out of the sink to put into the garbage after you’ve scoured it off.

Do you feel like that sometimes, around people who give you certain looks and say certain things? Paul said, “That’s me.” Apostles — and how much more you and me — are the offscouring of the world. Expect it. And then, when those people come, maybe God will give you the grace to do what Peter and John did.

Acts 5:41 says, “Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” Oh, what a revolution has to happen in our hearts, and I’m praying it’s happening. Be praying that God will make it happen deep in your heart.

American Infections

There’s a second reason, besides Paul’s words to Timothy, why I think this message on courage is so crucial. It has to do with the kind of age in America in which we live. Relativism and subjectivism are the air we breathe. I’m infected. You’re infected.

‘It’s All Relative’

What I mean by relativism is that truth — what is right, what is good, what is beautiful — are all considered personal opinions. True for you, right for you, good for you, beautiful for you — but you can’t put that on anybody. You can’t commend that to anybody else as something required for them to believe or do.

So, relativism means it’s relative to you. Truth is relative to you. Goodness is relative to you. Beauty is relative to you. Right and wrong are relative to you, and yours is not necessarily mine. Anybody who presumes to stand up and say truth, or beauty, or goodness, or a right that everybody in the world should embrace, is called a what? Absolutely arrogant.

That’s the air we breathe. To speak the truth of Christ that all should bow to in our day, will get you labeled in the most horrific terms. Get you called not only blatantly arrogant but dangerous — fostering hate crimes.

‘It’s All About Me’

What I mean by subjectivism is the correlative cultural assumption that, in that milieu, me-the-subject, I-the-subject, decides the right, the wrong, the good, the beautiful, and you don’t present anything to me that I need to bow before.

I do not have to give an account for what I regard as right, and wrong, and good, and true, and beautiful. I don’t have to give an account to any objective standard outside myself. I don’t need to submit myself to anything outside myself because truth is mine. It’s inside of me. You can’t put your truth inside me. I don’t bow to your truth.

Emboldened Souls

You put those two things together, a relativism and a subjectivism, and you have American culture. Into that Jesus sends you with a gospel to which everybody must bow or perish. If you don’t move with the gospel into that with courage, you will perish.

“To reject Jesus is to reject God the Father, and to confess him as Lord of your life is to be reconciled to God.”

At least, at the horizontal cultural level, you will shrivel up and die. It takes some kind of soul today to open your mouth in a dorm room, or at a party, or at a ball game, or in a classroom, with a strong-minded atheistic professor or whatever. It takes some soul to speak gospel truth today into a relativistic, subjective atmosphere.

To be accused of pride is a hard thing, and you will be. There’s no getting around it. You may be the humblest, meekest personality around, but if you speak gospel truth with the confidence that others should believe what you are commending, you’ll be called arrogant.

When Others Hate the Truth

I’ll give you an illustration. September, a year ago, the Southern Baptists promoted prayer among the fifteen million Southern Baptists for Jewish people to believe and to be saved. This turned up in almost every editorial page in the country, and the accusation everywhere was this:

This is the most presumptuous, arrogant, audacious, non-pluralistic, non-culturally-sensitive thing for anybody to do, to take one group of religious people and call fifteen million others to pray that Jewish people should believe in their Messiah.

It was on the lead editorial page of the Minneapolis Tribune. There are hardly any Southern Baptists in Minnesota. I read this article, which called the actions and prayers of Southern Baptists arrogant, and for the first time, I got something published in the Minneapolis Tribune. I’ve written letters to the Minneapolis Tribune for twenty-five years. Never did they publish a single letter that I ever wrote.

But I said to my people the Sunday after the first editorial appeared in the Saturday paper, “I’m going to write a response to that this afternoon. They will publish a response page next Saturday. Would you pray that it would get published?”

Preaching in Print

And it did. I’ll read you a paragraph of what it said, and then I will tell you what happened. This is now printed word for word in the Tribune, which is the only newspaper in our city:

Christianity is defined by the Jewish Scriptures and the New Testament. According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel. He is the “Yes” to all God’s promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is the Messiah.

I actually gave a string of one, two, three, four, five, six texts, and they printed them all. I said, “To reject him is to reject God the Father, and to confess him as Lord of your life is to be reconciled to God: ‘No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also’ (1 John 2:23).”

This truth was not the creation of the apostles. John and Paul, they learned it from Jesus. When a non-Jewish centurion came to Jesus for the healing of his servant, Jesus was so moved by this Gentile’s faith that he said,

Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom [Jewish people] will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:10–12)

In other words, a Gentile who believes in Jesus will be at the table of inheritance with Abraham in the age to come, but a Jew that does not believe will be cast into outer darkness. I close like this:

In fact, even though it is perceived as offensive by many Jewish people, that Southern Baptist initiative which calls for prayer that Israel would believe on her Messiah, it is a profoundly loving act: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). That is why the apostles prayed, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). True Christians lay down their lives for Jewish people and will not settle for the half-love of working only for their prosperity in this life.

Even Churches Will Chide

Here’s how all the clergy downtown, all the big churches, responded. If you drive through Downtown Minneapolis, there’s the big Presbyterian church, and there’s the big Congregational church, there’s the big Catholic church. They’re all big buildings just a few blocks from where we are at Bethlehem Baptist Church. Men that I know wrote this to the Tribune:

When at Rosh Hashanah the Southern Baptist Mission Board called on Christians to pray that Jews would accept Jesus as their Messiah, the Star Tribune offered a helpful editorial [the one I disagreed with] that suggested the arrogance of such an appeal.

John Piper’s response to that editorial on October 2nd was much less helpful. His words, and possibly his intentions, were full of goodwill and warm intent, but he failed to see their effect is to widen the gulf between Christians and Jews, not narrow it.

The Reverend Piper, senior pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, claims that Southern Baptist appeal is a profoundly loving act. But genuine love does not harbor the kind of aggressive agenda that is implicit in the visions of Christianizing the world.

Love, including the agape that lies at the heart of the Christian gospel, is more respectful and less intrusive, more open and less controlling, than that. Unfortunately, arrogant is the right word to describe any attempt at proselytizing — in this case, the effort of Christians to win over their Jewish brothers and sisters. Thoughtful Christians will disassociate themselves from any such effort.

Absolutes as ‘Arrogant’

Now, that’s the campus that you’re on. That’s where you live. Any attempt to win another person to your religion has no other word ascribed to it today but arrogance, and maybe danger. Because you will foster hate crimes against the people you are trying to win by saying that they’re out of God’s will, and they might perish if they don’t believe. Then crazy people will take guns in their hands and go do crazy things, and so you are dangerous.

“Thinking is crucial. But you don’t live in a day when thinking is prized.”

There will come laws, perhaps in this country, that are in terms of hate crimes but worded in such a way that any gospel proclamation that requires another person to believe your religion is not allowed in public anymore. We’re just not that far away from that. When that comes, which we don’t need to speculate about, as it will come, then the stakes will be higher than they are now.

But they are plenty high now — aren’t they? You know they are because you’ve tried on campus. So, confidence in what you say is what arrogance is today. What you’re required to do from others is that you be uncertain about what you say and that you don’t commend it to anybody else as something they have to believe in order to be saved. Everybody just do your own thing, and if people want to believe what the Bible says, they can do that. I can believe what I believe, but don’t try to win me to your view. That’s arrogant.

Christ Says, ‘Do Not Fear’

So, courage is absolutely essential. Let’s go to Matthew 10:24–31, which is all about fearlessness and courage.

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:24–31)

Three times he says this claim, which is the point of the text. Matthew 10:26: “So have no fear of them.” Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body.” Matthew 10:31: “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Jesus Christ is speaking this to you this morning, so that when you go into the campuses, into the hotels, into the families that you have to go into, you are fearless to speak the gospel. That’s what he wants.

Arguments Survive

When the message ends, all the emotion is gone, all the high is gone — arguments will not be gone. This is why thinking is so important. Feeling is crucial. Thinking is crucial. You don’t live in a day when thinking is prized.

I long for you to prize it, because then you can read a text like this, and you will think over it, even when all the hype of a conference is gone, and you will dwell on it. Think on it and pray over it. The arguments of the Almighty King Jesus will come to you with tremendous, liberating power.

When all the good feelings of the music are over, and you’re alone in your room. Your roommate is about to come home. He’s going to be drunk again. You want to say something. Arguments from Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit will be what you need.

Courageous We Stand

So, let’s first see what the courage is for then look at the five arguments that Jesus gives as to why it is necessary. What is the courage for? Matthew 10:27: “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.” So, the point of this verse is: Open your mouth.

I tell you things when the disciples get together in the garden, now you go tell them in the villages. You get together in a Bible study, and you have a great encounter with the word of God, now go back to the dorms, now go to the mall, now go to the peoples of the earth. You declare on the housetops what I’ve told you, and don’t be afraid. That’s the main point. It’s all about not being afraid to speak.

God can work miracles there. You would know that if you knew my history. Read the chapter on shame in Future Grace, where I tell my story of how I could not speak in front of a group all through junior and senior high schools. Never once. I took Cs in classes where I could have gotten As because I wouldn’t give oral book reports. Never took a class office because you have to make a speech.

God works miracles, young people. If you want to sell yourself out to him, he will do wonders. Let’s look at the arguments. Five incentives, five motivations, five reasons for why you should have courage.

1. You belong to Jesus.

Look at the so or therefore in the beginning of Matthew 10:26: “So [therefore] have no fear of them.” Where does the so or therefore come from? The preceding verse: “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household” (Matthew 10:25). Therefore, have no fear.

Does that logic make any sense to you? If they called Jesus the devil, they are going to call you worse things. Therefore, have no fear. What does the therefore mean? It means, if they call you something like they call Jesus, it’s a badge that you belong to him. Isn’t that more valuable than the badge that you’re accepted by the world? Yes, it is — if Jesus means anything to you.

And so, if they called him Beelzebul, they’re going to call you things like that. Therefore, have no fear of them. Therefore. The therefore means you’re with Jesus. You get the same thing that he got. It’s a sign of closeness, of intimacy, and being united to him. And his smile is upon you. What could be more precious than the smile of the King of the universe?

2. God will vindicate you.

The for near the beginning of Matthew 10:26 tips you off that an argument is coming. Look at Matthew 10:26: “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”

What does that mean? Now, why is that an argument for not being afraid? Don’t be afraid because the hidden will be seen, the covered will be revealed. How does that help me? Answer: what that means is, what you speak, what you learn from Jesus in secret, is one day going to be publicly vindicated in the universe.

“What could be more precious than the smile of the King of the universe?”

All the lid will come off. All the obscurity will be taken away. Someday, all the people that have mocked you most, and seem to be ten times smarter than you, are going to see it placarded before the screen of the universe, with Jesus giving his blood-signed signature under it, and they will bow before it whether they want to or not.

You will have spoken it earlier, and at that moment you will be vindicated. When the truth is vindicated, and it will be, at the end of the age, over against millions of naysayers, you will be vindicated. Take heart that what people say about you now is quite irrelevant, because eternity will set things straight.

3. Not even death can harm you.

Argument number three: “Fear not. You can only be killed.” Isn’t that amazing? See that in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” And so my paraphrase is, “Fear not. You can only be killed.”

What you should fear is the loss of your soul. When you turn away and are ashamed of Jesus — what did he say about that? “Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).

Your soul is at stake when getting the approval of men, but to lose your body — what does that do? You know the worst that people can do to you, when they kill you, is dispatch you to paradise. Is that a big deal? To dispatch your everlasting personhood to paradise? Make my day!

Spirit-Driven Gutsiness

This is the work of the Holy Spirit. My saying this is not going to make this happen unless the Holy Spirit is doing this. Because we know from the book of Acts — Act 1:8 and Acts 4:31 — that the work of the Holy Spirit in the church in the Book of Acts was to give fullness:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)

If it’s going to happen, if you’re going to have that kind of gutsy guilt — and I say gutsy guilt because you’re all guilty, and the only reason you’re not going to perish is because of Christ, who died for you — and therefore in all your imperfections and sins you are ready to face the people that say, if you were really a Christian, you would be better than you are.

I know I’m not a good person, but I’ve got a good Savior who’s got a great valuable death for me. I’m commending him and not commending me. I know I let you down. He’ll never let you down. Believe the gospel. Don’t believe me. Believe Jesus. When they threaten you, you can say, “Make my day,” because all they can do is dispatch you to paradise.

Prayerfully Supporting Pastors

It may break your parents’ hearts. There are parents in this room whose hearts have been broken like that. But I’ll tell you, I’m a parent, and I have five kids, and only one is breaking my heart. I would lose tomorrow all four kids in a car accident if Abraham would believe.

“God rules the world such that nothing befalls his children but what is appointed by his gracious hand.”

And I hope he listens to this tape. You’re going to pray for me at the end in about five minutes, and I’m just going to tell you what I want you to pray for. Pray for my son. When I watch these guys out here making music — that’s what my son is doing for the devil.

He’s twenty-one, and he’s good. I look at these guys, and all I see is Abraham. I say, “You could do that, son. You can do it. You’d be just like that. You’d be good. Do it for Jesus.” Would you please pray that? If I ever come back, I’ll tell you what happens.

I think God is going to get him, but it’s going to take a miracle because he knows my theology in and out. He sat under my preaching for twenty years. So, Abraham, if you’re listening to this tape, I love you, and don’t take offense that I made a spectacle of you here. I think he knows that I do this sort of thing. They’re not secrets, that my son is on my heart.

4. God always stays near you.

Fourth reason to be courageous. Matthew 10:30: “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Why does that encourage you to be courageous? Do you know what that means? God is not far away when you’re suffering. Emotional suffering or rejection or physical suffering or torture or whatever. He’s not far away. He’s close enough to separate your hairs and to count them and to give them all numbers.

That’s the point of that little analogy. The hairs of your head are all numbered. Who can number your hairs? No human can number your hairs, and to try, they would have to get close. I don’t know how they would do it, label each one. Maybe dye them one at a time. Then when they were all dyed, count them up. Maybe you could do them with a computer.

I don’t know, but it implies real close, careful, intimate attention, and that’s the point. Your father is not far away when you’re suffering. He loves you. He’s close.

He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
      I will not fear;
what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)

Oh, what great promises we have about the intimacy and closeness of the Lord.

5. God governs your life with loving hands.

Matthew 10:31: “You are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29: “Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Do you know what that means? It means, nothing befalls you apart from your merciful Father’s will.

Believe in the sovereignty of God, young people. Believe — as many theological problems and mysteries as you may see in it — that God rules the world such that nothing befalls his children but what is appointed by his gracious hand. Sometimes tough, sometimes tender, but always love, always love, always love towards his children.

Henry Martyn, the great missionary to Persia who died when he was thirty-two years old, said, “I am immortal until my work for Jesus is done.” That’s true. Some of you will die this year, and some of you will live until you’re ninety. You will live exactly as long as God wants you to live. Some of you he will want home earlier, and some of you he will want on the earth longer.

If birds in the darkest, untouched jungle of the Amazon don’t fall out of a tree when they’re dead without the Father appointing the fall, nothing happens to you apart from the Father’s appointment. That’s the point of Matthew 10:29 and Matthew 10:31. So, don’t yield to the spirit of the age and be wimps. Be courageous.