The Source of the Godly Man’s Courage (or, “When Silence is Sin and Zeal is Golden”)
As a relatively young believer in my late twenties, I pulled a title of the shelf in a Boston bookstore. The Title read, Creative Aggression, Why Nice Guys Finish Sick. The second line really stuck in my craw. The book was graphically addressing passivity in men.
Though the work was of a secular origin, I found that page after page convicted and pierced me concerning my passivity in relationships. After a thorough reading, I set the book down, recalling the countless times I had swallowed back my convictions and played the part of a chameleon for the sake of “harmony.”
God used that little book from the Boston store to drive me back into the Word with a renewed mission. The realization that God had called me and appointed me to speak the truth in love burst on my consciousness. I could no longer escape the fact that as a child of God, the Lord had issued me the Sword of Truth. In the past, I had been too willing to abdicate that responsibility of speaking God’s truth whenever risk of offense was involved.
It’s Impossible to be a Man of God and at the same time have a Casual Relationship to God’s Truth (Joshua 1:8).
Now the divine mandate, for men especially, to speak God’s truth became undeniably clear. In passages such as Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, it was evident that the role of the believing man is that of a perpetual “truth speaker.” Sadly in countless Christian homes, this God-given mandate of speaking God’s truth is ignored and relegated to the job of the pastor.
In Christ, our spiritual manhood is restored so that we function as a prophet (teacher), a priest (intercessor), and a king (protector). This three-fold role for the man can only be fulfilled if he majors in God’s truth. For the godly man teaches, intercedes, and protects by means of divine truth.
When the truth, backed up by a godly life, is ministered, it heals, feeds, corrects, equips, preserves, builds up, and establishes the listener. The godly man understands that the spiritual state of those in his sphere depends upon his willingness to speak God’s truth. He must come to the point where he can tell himself, “I am not loving these people around me properly unless I am willing to speak God’s truth to them!”
When we examine the example of the O.T. Prophets and the example of Jesus and the Apostles, it is obvious that their truth speaking was pointed – it was not general, but filled with penetrating application for their listeners. It is at this juncture that our courage is most likely to fail. We fear being the “heavy,” a meddler, or regarded as judgmental, or “holier than thou.”
What enabled men like Elihu, Elijah, Daniel, and Phinehas to fearlessly speak the truth when they were a minority of one? The answer lies in their zeal for God’s honor and glory. They knew that all of history is but a record of the honoring and dishonoring of God, and that only those who honor God will ultimately stand (1 Sam 2:30).
The man who is willing to risk misunderstanding and rejection for the sake of the truth also knows that the proclamation of God’s truth always involves a crossroads, or turning point. God commands repentance from those who hear His truth. There must be ongoing repentance through which our affections and will are repeatedly conformed to God’s truth. The progress and spiritual well-being of ourselves and our listeners are bound up in ongoing repentance. The better we understand this, the more willing we will be to speak God’s truth without fear.
In order for a man to excel at speaking the truth, he must be accomplished at using the Sword of Truth on himself (1 Tim 4:15, 16).
Men who can wield the Sword of Truth are animated by God’s truth – they desire God’s truth in their innermost being (Ps 51:6). The godly man rejects the notion that truth for the believer need not rise above mental assent. God’s truth has no power over a person unless the truth is loved (see The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards).
Where God’s truth is loved, it will be central in our conversations (Zech 8:16; Mal 3:16; Deut 6:4-9; 11:18 19). Only when God’s truth is loved can it dominate exceptionally in our lives so as to renew us and transform us (Rom 12:1, 2). The man of God ultimately can only preach with conviction what he has first preached to his own heart. He can only call for repentance only where the truth has produced repentance in his own life.
Truth in the Inner Man Equips the Man to Speak (Ps 145).
What must be uttered from the mountain tops must begin in the heart. We could refer to this as theprinciple of the enlarged sphere. There is a logical progression in the enlargement of a man’s sphere of spiritual influence. Each step of progression is stipulated on faithfulness in the previous step: 1.) The godly man speaks truth in his own heart. He loves the truth in the inner man. He applies the truth to himself in ongoing repentance. 2.) The man of God speaks truth in his home; he faithfully fulfills his role of prophet, priest, and king. 3.) The spiritual man speaks truth in the Body of Christ. He exercises his gifts for the edification of the body. He is able to admonish his fellow believer (Rom 15:14). 4.) He speaks the truth of the Gospel with boldness to a lost and dying generation.
Power in evangelism must be built upon the principle of the enlarged sphere. For each step not only prepares a man for the next step, but reveals the man’s own relationship to the truth.
The Godly Man will not have “Conflict Avoidance” as his Controlling Motive (2 Tim 3:12).
“Jesus promised those who would follow Him only three things. . .that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless, and always in trouble” (Gregg Levoy).
How can a Christian man develop enough courage and boldness to stand upon, and speak his convictions without fear of consequences? An important part of the answer to this question deals with an inescapable reality taught in Scripture -- the godly man will be misunderstood. It is par for the course. It follows therefore that progress in our journey toward godly courage is bound up in accepting the reality that we will face misunderstanding and rejection because of the truth.
The Scriptures make it clear that all those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). Jesus prepared His followers for persecution by imbuing them with the fact that they should expect the same mistreatment that He experienced (Jn 15:18-16:4). (Though we live in a land that protects the rights of believers, obedient Christians who stand in the truth will frequently experience rejection, ostracism, and discrimination. Our perspective amidst mistreatment must embrace the following truth. It is an inestimable privilege to have the antipathy meant for Christ fall upon us – John 7:7; Acts 5:41; Col 1:24).
The fear of man brings a snare (Prov 29:25).
The fear of God and the fear of man have always been, not only incompatible, but inversely proportional to one another. The greater fear of God a man has, the less he will fear men. When by God’s grace a man answers the call of true discipleship, his fear of man will be overtaken and ultimately consumed by the fear of God.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus faced “wanna be” followers who remained in bondage to the fear of man. John 12:42, 43 provides an authoritative record of these double minded individuals.“Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”
Some might be quick to excuse the desire for human approval as simply a natural tendency in men that is not a serious sin. Jesus places this illicit craving under the spotlight in John 5:44. In this passage He warns that the fear of man is so serious, it can keep a person from living to the glory of God. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another, and do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?”
Again, lest we excuse this sin, let us remember that Jesus reserved one of His “Woes” for the sin of man-pleasing. “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
Jesus puts this issue into sharp relief – if we live for the praise and approval of men, we are not living for the glory of God.
APPLICATION: We must repent of our “addiction” to the approval of men. We must admit to God that we have placed the praise of men above the approval of our Heavenly Father. We need to confess that our narcissistic desire to be liked by all has often stolen our courage to speak the truth in love.
The Greater our Ambition to Please Christ, the more Courage we will have (2 Cor 5:9).
The ambition to please our Lord is filled with the eschatological hope of favorably greeting Him at His imminent return. Courage is a byproduct of living to please Christ. When Christ’s approval towers over all other sources of approval, courage becomes second nature.
Those who live to please Christ have the judgment seat of Christ etched on their consciousness (2 Cor 5:9, 10). In essence, living to please Christ is a measure of our fear of God.
Those who live for Christ’s approval are continually weighing the glory to come against temporal losses (2 Cor 4:17, 18). As a consequence, their value system is constantly adjusted to heaven’s standard.
This fact alone enables us to see how impotent our fellow creatures are when they attempt to rightly appraise us (1 Cor 4:3, 4). Spurgeon hit the bull’s eye when he said, “Compared to what my heavenly Father thinks of me, the opinions of men are like so many chirping sparrows.”
APPLICATION: The one we strive most to please will necessarily be our primary evaluator. In other words, the one we seek to please will always wind up evaluating our efforts at pleasing them. In effect, we are somewhat suspended upon their approval or disapproval of us.
God has an incredibly liberating solution to this problem. Not only are we to make sure that all we do is in done in love (1 Cor 16:14), but we are to do all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Paul argues that our pleasing of men must spring from the goal not of seeking our own profit, but from the motive of seeking the other person’s eternal welfare (1 Cor 10:32, 33). This perspective places all of our relationships under the eye of Christ’s scrutiny. The point is we are most free and obedient when our actions are “as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:22-24).
The more we regard Christ to be our “Source Person,” the more Courage we will have.
The more our hope and expectations are consolidated in Christ, the more we will be delivered from the fear and worship of the creature. The love and approval of men is incredibly fickle. Christ alone loves us with immutable love. Frequently the love shown by our fellows seldom rises above self interest. Most commonly, the love of the creature is not a supernatural love that is mediated by Christ. Instead it is a natural love that goes no higher than the perceived virtue of its object. Our fellow creatures cannot answer our deepest needs.
Fellow sinners do not carry our worth, security, and dignity. When we mistakenly assume they do, our courage dries up. Christ alone is our “Source Person.” He alone deserves to be regarded as the unfailing channel of every resource we need. By union with Him, we have a status before God of favor, righteousness, security, and sonship (1 Cor 1:30).
Our Lord is a jealous lover, when we attribute too much ability to the creature to serve as a source to us, God may allow us to experience deep disappointment. At times the Lord even orchestrates our disillusionment that we might understand that He alone is Source. We can all recall times in which the nurture, praise, and resources heaped upon us by a fellow creature proved in the end to flow from mercenary motives.
APPLICATION: Paul asserts that Christ is the believer’s life (Gal 2:20; Col 3:4). To the degree that we cast our entire lot in with Christ so that He is regarded as the entire support of the soul we will have courage. If our persons are propped up upon corruptible, mutable supports, we will lack courage. When our well being is leveraged upon the creature, we shy away from taking the risk of boldly declaring the truth of God’s Word.
Courage is the result of habitual dependency upon the Lord. The less dependent I am upon the creature, the more courage I will have to speak the truth to my fellow man. (EXAMPLE: Daniel was ostensibly dependent upon Belshazzar for employment and political freedom. Yet due to Daniel’s conviction that God was the sole, sovereign source of his care, provision, and protection, the prophet was not afraid to rebuke the monarch to his face (Dan 5:22, 23).
The More Reverence we have for God Entrusting us with His Word, the Greater our Courage will be to Speak it (Jer 23:28, 29).
God has made us His ambassadors. Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Cor 5:11). The Apostle Paul saw his role as a proclaimer of the Word of God to be a sacred trust that carried massive accountability. What is striking about Paul’s testimony in Acts 20 is that his faithfulness was joined to the fact that he was never mute when God required him to speak the Word.“Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:26, 27).
Man’s need is beyond human agency. As redeemed men, we carry in our hearts and hands the divine solution to man’s ruinous problem. We are armed with the living and abiding Word of God (Heb 4:12).
Paul solemnly charged Timothy in the presence of God to “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim 4:1, 2).
Timothy was to see his task of proclaiming the Word as nothing less than the very means of insuring the salvation of his listeners (1 Tim 4:16). Paul repeatedly warned Timothy against the error of allowing timidity and neglect to interfere with his sacred charge of teaching, preaching, and exhorting.
APPLICATION: As Christian men we have been entrusted by God with His almighty, living, sword of truth. We’ve seen from Paul’s letters to Timothy that this sword of truth must not be allowed to remain unused like a stainless steel blade stuck in a rusty scabbard. Those in our sphere; family, neighbors, co-workers, friends, are in need of hearing the Word of truth from us. As with Timothy’s congregation, God has strategically placed us in a position to speak the truth to those around us. The means God intends to use in their salvation and sanctification is tied to our faithfulness in speaking the Word with courage.
When considering how God had entrusted him with the Gospel, Paul saw himself as a debtor to both Jews and Greeks (Rom 1:14). This same principle of obligation applies to us. The Lord has called us to skillfully and courageously use the “sword” issued to us in order to encourage, reprove, exhort, instruct, equip and admonish. It will take courage to swing the sword in each of these arcs and orbs of application, but God expects nothing less from us as Christian men.
The more highly we Esteem our Justification in Christ, the more Courage we will have to speak the Word.
Salvation involves “moral trust” in God. Saving faith involves the consent to cast the whole welfare of the soul upon Christ that He might be our hiding place, Protector, and Deliverer.
To the degree that we make it a habit to look to Christ for our status, security, favor, and acceptance, our penchant for self-righteousness will be mortified. By these daily, fresh acts of faith toward our Savior, we affirm that all of our eligibility before God for blessing is carried by Christ. All “future grace,” and every future installment of divine blessing and kindness have all been secured for us by our Savior’s Person and work.
Like the Publican who saw his only hope to be God’s mercy, the man who treasures his justification in Christ will define himself primarily as an object of divine compassion. This mindset has a powerful impact upon our work and service.
APPLICATION: Since our lower natures always tend to pull us in the direction of legal working and performance, we need a daily diet of the Gospel to remind us that our status, favor, acceptance, and security are all carried by Christ. Our labor, our fruit-bearing, and even our integrity must be to the glory of Christ, not ourselves. He must have all the credit, for we are His workmanship (Eph 2:10).
When we drift away from overflowing gratitude for our justification in Christ, we will slide imperceptibly onto the foundation of our own performance. If we keep moving in that direction, we will find ourselves burning incense to our own achievements. A legal motive will raise its specter, deepening our craving for the approbation of men. When beholden to men for the praise of our works, we will lack courage. When utterly beholden to Christ who carries our justification, we will be liberated unto the exercise of courage for the good of our neighbor.
The Clear Conscience of the Man who Abides in Christ will show itself in Courage (Acts 24:15, 16).
We cannot make a penetrating application of God’s Word to those around us unless we ourselves welcome examination by God’s Word. Courage in speaking the Word is dependent upon a clear conscience before God and men (Acts 24:15, 16). Even one sin or lust “banging around” in the conscience is enough to dull the edge of our courage. Timothy’s success in proclaiming the Word with courage depended upon his maintaining a clear conscience (1 Tim 1:5, 19; 3:9).
God’s answer to our fear and weakness is found in the mandate to abide in Christ. “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
In order for us to exercise courage, the blood of the Son of God must be the loudest voice in our conscience. In order for God’s justice at the cross to be believed and reckoned so as to silence the Accuser, we must habitually be mortifying sin by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:12-14).
APPLICATION: The same man who turned coward when questioned by a servant girl preached the Pentecost sermon less than two months later. The Apostle Peter’s radical move from fear to courage, according to the book of Acts, was the result of two factors. First, he had been with Jesus. “Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John, and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were marveling, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Second, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers and elders of the people. . .’” (Acts 4:8).
In the final analysis, God is the source of our courage. We are to allow our hearts to take courage(Ps 27:14; 31:24). The ability to act in courage is a function of waiting on the Lord. Faith’s object is the goodness of the Lord and the confident expectation that He will preserve the faithful, and empower them to bear witness to the truth (Jn 15:26, 27).
Those around us need our courage in speaking the Word of God. It was a penitent King David who prayed, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will be converted to Thee” (Ps 51:11, 12).
The next generation is depending upon our courage. They are waiting for our faithfulness. They will not put their confidence in God unless they see the faith of their fathers and hear from their dads the joy of God, the works of God, and commands of God (Ps 78:3-8).