25 - Bold, Courageous, and Gracious [b]
Bold, Courageous, and Gracious
1 Thessalonians 2:1–2
1 Thessalonians Lesson #025
December 15, 2015
“Our Father, we are so thankful that we can come together to study your Word, to be reminded of these eternal principles, to focus upon our own spiritual life and spiritual growth, our continued relationship with You. Father, we know that we cannot do this on our own, that the spiritual life in the Church Age is an impossible life, but it can only be fulfilled and carried out if we are walking by the Spirit. It is by Your power and not our might that we are able to implement the principles of Your Word and grow spiritually. As we continue our study in 1 Thessalonians, help us to understand the principles here and to see the application and implication of what Paul is saying. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
As we go through this 1 Thessalonians series, it is not one that I’m teaching contiguously, I’m not going every week but am recording early for the benefit of times when I am either ill or out of the country. What we are reminded of from the last lesson is that Paul is getting past his introduction here in the first chapter. He is talking a little more personally to the responders. This is one of his most personal letters, and he is focused on affirming his own teaching, his own apostolic leadership towards the congregation that he left in Thessalonica.
We saw in Acts 17 that when Paul went, he started in the synagogue. His goal was to go into the synagogue to begin to teach. Acts 17:2–4 talks about the fact that he had a dialogue. Typically, in a synagogue, a visiting rabbi might be asked to teach, and so he taught, he opened the Scriptures we are told.
We understand what it means by dialogue, in the next participles, he opened the Word, and he explained what was going on there, specifically related to the Messiah. He is going back to Old Testament prophecies to show how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.
He also is reminding them of what has been accomplished by God’s grace in their life since he was there. He was in the synagogue for three weeks, but when we look at what is said in Acts 17, he was probably in Thessalonica for no more than three months. Most people say two to three months. He did an extraordinary amount of teaching in those two or three months. As a result of that, the church was planted and established even in the midst of opposition and persecution, and they began to grow.
As he is talking to them and reminding them of what was accomplished there, he talks about the fact that he himself modeled spiritual courage and boldness.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:1 “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.” — that God the Holy Spirit used it and produced spiritual growth and stability in your lives. Verse 2, “But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.”
What I want to focus on in this lesson where we stopped the last time is on spiritual courage and developing that doctrine from this lesson. This is not something I think I’ve taught before, but something that is important. We are in a spiritual battle; we are in spiritual warfare and facing the three enemies: Satan, the world, and our own sin nature.
Our volition often seems to be cowed because of the overwhelming power and influence of one or all three of our enemies. Christians always seem to fight an uphill battle spiritually because we deal especially with this enemy of the sin nature within us, which is always influencing us to go in the opposite direction.
Then we face opposition from the world as well, and that opposition from the world often is of such a nature that it gives us a basis for justification to the sin nature to not say something, to not bring up the gospel, to not take a stand for the truth of God’s Word.
Often we have two issues going on: 1) Taking a stand, and 2) how we take the stand. Most of us have problems in a lot of situations because we may not have as much confidence in our understanding of the gospel or our understanding of how to answer things. We are a little intimidated to begin with, and then a typical psychological reaction when you are in a position of intimidation is to become defensive, to become angry, to become a little bit resentful. That can come across in our attitude and our presentation of the gospel.
There is a tendency and a trap that I think we have all fallen into at times. When we are witnessing to someone and they’re in opposition or just asking some tough questions or there is some anger or resentment in their background towards Christians for whatever reason, rather than being able to just have a relaxed mental attitude based on grace orientation, what happens is we start to become defensive. We read those non-verbal signals off of the other person, and we start getting a little bit nervous or irritated and reactionary, and the next thing we know, we have two people talking who are trying to prove the other person wrong.
A conversation related to evangelism has deteriorated into an argument about who is right or who knows more about the subject. We have to learn to diffuse that and to ignore that.
The Apostle Paul was one, of course, who was exceptionally well trained and was absolutely brilliant in his understanding of the Jewish position and where they were coming from and what they would say. He was trained under one of the greatest rabbis of his generation, Gamaliel.
He was arguably the greatest student that Gamaliel ever had. As any student of Torah, any Pharisee of the Pharisees would have known in that generation, he would have known the entire Old Testament in the Hebrew from memory backwards and forwards.
He had all of that experience behind him, plus for the last approximately 8–10 years as he had been involved in the first missionary journey and now into the second missionary journey, he had faced a number of opponents within the synagogues with their arguments. So he had the experience, plus he had the academic training, and he had a brilliant mind. He was as prepared as anyone.
The bottom line that we all need to remember is that the opposition that we incur when we are presenting the gospel to someone who is attacking us isn’t based on facts or on reason or on intellectual superiority. It is not about how much we know ultimately or how well we can articulate the gospel ultimately or how well we can present our case ultimately. We need to do the best we can, but we have a secret power and that is God the Holy Spirit.
God the Holy Spirit is going to use whatever we say in the life of the other person. It is going to produce one of two responses. It is going to produce a positive response where they want to know more and they want to listen and they find it interesting. That may be all it is — it is just curiosity and then stop at a certain point. Or it may generate a hostile reaction. It doesn’t matter how good we are; the issue is going to be a spiritual issue.
Jesus taught the truth in a gentle, humble, gracious manner, and yet it generated an incredible amount of hostility. The same with Paul. He said everything correctly, and he said it the right way. He did the right thing, and he did the right thing in the right way. Yet it still generated hostility.
If we could just get that through our heads that we can just relax because we are going to see this kind of response. Most of us think that if I can just say it right or put it out there right then it will make a difference. The fallacy there is that we are thinking that ultimately our effectiveness in witnessing is based upon our understanding of the intellectual issues, our ability to quickly turn a phrase and respond to what somebody else presents as an objection.
We tend to get all caught up in this, and we need to just take time to pray, let God the Holy Spirit calm us down, and just relax.
I think that just comes with time. I’m still learning how to do that, and different people have different personalities. Some people are a little less focused on some things or are a little less reactionary. It just depends, but the core issue is going to be a spiritual issue and a character issue.
That is what Paul brings out here when he says to the Thessalonians “… as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict,” 1 Thessalonians 2:2. That is talking about the communication of the gospel to the Thessalonians. He reminds them of all this, and the focal point is on their boldness and courage to present the gospel in the midst of conflict. That is something that comes with maturity. I think it comes with experience.
One of the things I often say with young pastors is the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher is a communication gift; it’s not a learning gift. I have run into a lot of people over the years who somehow have a mystical view of the gift of pastor-teacher or evangelist—that a pastor-teacher or evangelist can just sit down and read the Bible, and they are going to understand it.
That is an understanding and a study issue; that’s not a communication issue. The gift of pastor-teacher is a leadership gift that relates to communication. Evangelism is a communication gift.
The learning and acquisition of knowledge have to come under the general standards of going through a system of training in order to acquire knowledge. A man can go through seminary and acquire a lot of information, and some of that is going to transition to knowledge. But to get wisdom (using biblical terminology—chokmah from the Old Testament), that is getting a skill to do something. A skill comes from experience, using things.
When you get in the pulpit, you may be a good communicator and have the spiritual gift of communication, but you are not necessarily going to be a great orator. You start off, you are young and nervous; you have mastered your material and have a spiritual gift and are using it. But it still takes time and practice. We learn often by our failures and by not doing as well. The only way a pastor can really learn to teach from the pulpit is to teach from the pulpit.
And the only way a person can learn to become more effective in witnessing to people, aside from the study part of it, is they have to witness to people, especially if you don’t have the gift of evangelism. You have to work at that. Unfortunately, it is like riding a bicycle—you have to fall off a few times before you get the hang of it.
A lot of people don’t want to get the hang of it because they don’t want to fall off a few times. But in order to get the hang of it, you have to be willing to risk falling off a few times. As you take those steps of faith to trust God in the midst of evangelism, especially in hostile circumstances or situations, then we see how God provides for us and sustains us in those situations.
This is what Paul has learned and what I want to hone in on a little bit in this lesson.
Here is a map showing where Thessalonica is located. Up in the upper right, we see Philippi. As Paul came across from Troas, they landed at the port of Neapolis and then went to Philippi, which was a Roman colony. There they were rejected and abused; the Jews in the synagogues reacted to them; the Gentiles reacted to them. It was a very negative, hostile situation.
They left there and then made their way to Thessalonica. They are going to be faced with a lot of hostility and reaction there. So he is exactly right that he is boldly proclaiming, boldly speaking the gospel in the midst of conflict.
This is typical of Paul. Acts 19:8 says the same kind of thing. He goes into the synagogue, which was his standard operation: to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.
He always started with a congregation in a synagogue that had an Old Testament framework of understanding God is the Creator of the heavens, the earth, and the seas, and all that is in them: a God who had promised redemption. They had a framework for understanding sacrifices and the need for substitutionary payment for sin that was seen in the various sacrifices.
He’s got a frame of reference there that is biblically solid from the Torah, so he can start there and then build. They would be familiar with Messianic prophecies, and he would have a reaction point.
What was interesting was when he went to Ephesus, which is the context of Acts 19:8, he was in the synagogue for three months before it started a conflict. Whereas, when he was in Thessalonica, the conflict started after three weeks. He would speak boldly—he was not fearful, he was not cowed, he was not restrained because he may generate some reaction. He has that level of confidence.
The word that is used in 1 Thessalonians 2:2 is the word PARRESIAZOMAI, which means to speak with confidence, with boldness, with courage. Paul is definitely going to speak out and address the issues. It addresses not only the motivation behind his teaching and his attitude, but it also addresses the fact that he is not going to let any sort of fear, worry, or anxiety impact what he is doing.
He’s not going to come across as being defensive or hostile because he is not operating from a position of weakness in terms of fear. He is operating from a position of strength. As he goes forward, he makes the gospel very, very clear.
As we look back last time, we saw that sometimes this produced this kind of hostility as it did in Philippi where the people were very much against him. They beat them and threw them into prison, but God eventually released them and he went on. There is always the risk of some sort of hostility.
Let’s look at the doctrine of spiritual courage. What does the Bible teach about spiritual courage? First of all, as we do in any doctrine, we need to understand the basic vocabulary, the basic words. Vocabulary is so important. This is one reason today we see a battle that has been going on for the last two generations. The foundation for this goes back even into the 1950s, attacking language, attacking the meaning of words and interpretation.
This is very much prevalent in post-modern thinking that words really don’t have meaning. They can mean one thing to one person and mean something else to another. If that’s true, then how can any of us communicate?
How can those post-modern folks even communicate with us because they want us to interpret the words that come out of their mouth or the words they write literally, but in the process, they are saying that nobody’s words can be taken literally, and that nothing should be interpreted in the light of the intent of the author. But their words need to be interpreted in the light of what they intend to communicate. It is completely irrational and illogical.
We have to start with words and vocabulary. Here is the Greek word that we find in this particular context: PARRESIAZOMAI. It means to speak with boldness, to speak with confidence. It has the idea of expressing oneself freely without any inhibitions, speaking openly and fearlessly. It has the idea of having the courage to go forward even in the midst of opposition. The noun form is PARRESIA, which refers to the state of boldness or a state of courage or confidence.
For those of you who like language, there are some of these grammar-based websites that are putting funny little things out there. One of these I saw said, “What is a synonym for synonym?” I thought about that for a long time—I don’t think there is a synonym for synonym.
This is another synonym—THARSEO—which is used in similar contexts, and it also has the idea of being confident or courageous. In fact, this is the word that Jesus uses in John 16:33. John 16 is in the context of the upper room discourse: Christ’s instruction to His disciples the night before He goes to the Cross.
In chapter 13, they are having the Passover meal; in chapter 14, they are still in the upper room; in chapter 15, they are leaving and walking on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, and Jesus has continued to instruct them. John 17 is Jesus’ high priestly prayer when He arrives at Gethsemane.
John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” If we just think about that verse a little bit, we need to say “just what are the contrasts and comparisons that we have here?”
In the first place, “in Him”—that means when we are walking in fellowship, when we are abiding in Him, all the way through the upper room discourse, Jesus uses that phrase “in Me” to relate to those who are abiding in Him, those who are walking in fellowship, those who are trusting Him.
If we are trusting in Him, we can have peace. That means you can have contentment, you can be relaxed, you can have a relaxed mental attitude, you don’t feel threatened or anxious or stressed out because you have to take a stand and witness to somebody.
He says “… in Me you may have peace …” That means the potential is there for every believer, but if you are not in fellowship, you won’t have it.
That is contrasted with what you have in the world. In the world outside the body of Christ, there is tribulation and opposition. The world is in a state of chaos and corruption due to sin. “In the world, you will have tribulation …” Inside there is peace and tranquility, you are calm, but outside there is all of this chaos and opposition and hostility.
“But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” This is a great passage in dealing with the concept of being an overcomer because Jesus uses a perfect tense verb here indicating that before He goes to the Cross, He has already overcome, He has already had victory over the world.
The verb for overcome is the verb NIKAO, which means to have victory. It is from the noun NIKE, which relates to the goddess of victory in the Greek pantheon. But NIKE has been anglicized to Nike, and that is where we get the brand name for the Nike athletic shoes and supplies.
It is the idea of having victory in a contest. It’s not talking about salvation; it’s talking about the fact that Jesus has been living in the world since the time of His birth, and before He goes to the Cross, He can say, “I’ve had victory over the world system.”
The pressure brought against Him by the world system, the culture in which He was, did not win the battle with Him. He has had victory, and that victory has been completed before He is arrested. Before He goes to the Cross, He has won that battle.
This is really a spiritual life issue. The words overcoming and victory are always related to spiritual life.
Most Christians believe that. A few in the free grace movement tragically don’t understand this, and they want to make “overcoming” a positional issue that every Christian has overcome. But we all know that not every Christian is a victor, not every Christian wins in the spiritual life. There are many who have become run-over by the world system.
Because Jesus overcame the world, we can overcome the world because His resources are the Word of God and the Spirit of God, and our resources are the same Word of God and the same Spirit of God. He is saying we can have courage, and that is this word THARSOS. This spiritual courage is not the kind of battlefield or moral courage that unbelievers have; this is a distinct kind of courage that comes as a result of abiding in Him.
Point 2: Now that we have looked at the basic vocabulary, let’s look at defining the term. Aristotle once said a lot of argument and disagreement can be dealt with if we would just carefully define our terms as we talk about them. Let’s try to carefully define what courage is.
It is the ability to do something even when we are afraid, even when we are in pain, or even when we are overwhelmed by emotions, such as grief or sorrow, or despite possible negative consequences. It means the ability to go ahead and do something even though it may hurt, even though it may cost us something, even though there are other circumstances where it would be much more comfortable to do something else.
Sometimes we would rather do anything than what this calls upon us to do. In spite of those negative consequences, we are going to go forward and do the right thing the right way and let the chips fall where they may. It is important to understand those things.
We have to therefore know what the right thing is. What does Scripture say we are to do? Then we have to know the right way to do it.
For the Christian, we know that we are to deal with the unbeliever in grace because for the unbeliever, we are their point of contact with the grace of God. The only way they can come within any kind of concrete way to understand God’s grace is by looking at us and watching us, which is why living according to a gracious manner and dealing with them in grace is so important.
We want to deal with them not on the basis of what they deserve but because they may be an idiot; they may be abusive or hostile to us. That doesn’t mean that we are just going to be someone that they just walk over, but we are going to respond to them in kindness and gentleness and grace even though that may be the last thing that we think they deserve.
We are going to deal with people in grace and humility because we understand that we are in a relationship with God. God has said to take the gospel to the world, and we are on that mission. It really doesn’t matter how that person responds to us in one sense, because we are doing what our Lord has commanded us to do, and we are taking the Word to an unbelieving world and expecting opposition.
Because we expect opposition, we shouldn’t be surprised. Unfortunately, in our country because there is historically so little opposition, we are surprised today that the environment is so much more hostile.
We respond in grace, humility, and kindness. We are not treating them on the basis of what they deserve but on what they don’t deserve. We don’t let anger seep in.
We are basically self-absorbed, and that is the orientation of our sin nature. We take things personally. Rejecting Christ isn’t necessarily rejecting us. We often think, “if you’re rejecting the gospel, you’re rejecting me.” We take it personally and get mad or upset or let other mental attitude sins become apparent in how we are handling people.
Maybe if we think that we are going to be involved in a witnessing situation, we may need to pray a lot and memorize various Scriptures, such as Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We need to pray through those promises, claim those promises, and repeat those promises as we go into these kinds of situations. Christmas and Thanksgiving are coming up, and we have to deal with unbelieving relatives and friends.
We have all been involved in circumstances and witnessing situations where we get insulted, where somebody says something that is hostile, and we have to learn to just step around it in grace and in humility.
One of the things that I have become more and more aware of over probably the last decade, even though I’m a far cry from developing skills at this, is the importance of taking a lot of time to listen to somebody say what they are going to say and listen to their objections without just jumping in and telling them the answer because I know the answer.
We know what’s right, and we want to get that out there. A lot of times what I see with a lot of Christians is they know the gospel. They have got John 3:16, John 3:36, Acts 16:31, Ephesians 2:8, 9 memorized, and what they want to do is pull out their gospel gun and starting shooting somebody with it without preparing the groundwork, doing the spade work before they plant the seed.
People are on all kind of places on that spectrum. Some have never had a seed planted; some have never had it watered. Paul uses that analogy that he planted and Apollos watered, but God gave the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). A person may take 10 minutes or 10 years or 30 years to finally trust Christ as Savior.
We can’t be impatient or in a hurry to give them the gospel because people don’t necessarily understand why they need the gospel because they don’t understand sin. It may take some time to help people understand what sin is.
There is such a distortion, even in the Christian community, about what sin is, not to mention the reaction that comes out of the unbelieving community. They think of sin only in some judgmental way.
Sadly, they probably run across some fighting fundy legalist who has been bashing them over the head that they are going to Hell for all their sin. They haven’t properly been grace oriented or understood the issue and have been very judgmental in the whole approach.
Sometimes we have to really stop and think and ask people questions to make sure we understand where they are coming from and what their thinking is and what kind of understanding they have about Christianity already. We just ask questions.
One of the things I’ve read lately that has impressed me about this is this book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. She was reared in a nominal Roman Catholic home and drifted very quickly to a far left radical political persuasion, Marxist, lesbianism. She got her doctorate and was hired to teach at Syracuse University. She had an agenda to convert everyone to her radical, feminist, Marxist ways. She was in the process of writing a book to expose and debunk the Christian right, and she wrote an article in the Syracuse paper.
All the letters from those who loved what she said went in one box, and the letters that hated what she said went in another box. But a pastor wrote her a letter and just asked her questions. They weren’t gotcha questions; they weren’t questions that were designed to put her down.
They were thoughtful questions asking her to further explain what it was that she believed and where she got the information to support what she said. It was done in kindness and grace, and she couldn’t figure out what to do with that letter, whether to throw it in the hostile pile or in the pile that liked her. She would throw it in the trash and then take it out of the trash.
Finally, she called the pastor, and to make a long story short, the pastor and his wife invited her over for dinner. She didn’t know what to expect. She has got a butch haircut and all this other stuff. She goes, and they never mention the gospel. They weren’t in a hurry to shoot her with the gospel.
They wanted to get to know her, and this went on for months. They developed a friendship and discovered they had a lot of mutual intellectual interests together. Some things they agreed on, and some things they didn’t agree on. Their debates and discussions were always agreeable.
Over time, her defenses went down, and she would ask this pastor some questions. One thing she knew was that she needed to read her Bible in order to attack the Christian right because that was their marching orders. So she began to read the Bible. She would ask him questions, and he would say she needed to read this or that. He let her sort of take the initiative.
It took about two years, and then she trusted Christ as Savior. She has gone from the far left to not necessarily the far right, but from being anti-family, anti-children, anti-marriage person, she is now married to a pastor.
She was too old to have children by the time they got married, so they have adopted and fostered a number of children. She has homeschooled them all, so she has gone from being a feminist, Marxist, liberal to being a free-market capitalist, who is a believer and homeschooling her children.
There are some things that we might quibble with in terms of her theology because she was saved in a Presbyterian Reformed background, but what is remarkable is the way that she handled herself in the midst of crowds.
You can YouTube some of her videos and just watch how she handles herself in the midst of a hostile audience, and that’s fascinating. What we see in looking at her is the importance of this dialogue that took place and not being afraid to ask questions and just to go through that process.
There are a couple of other books I’ve got and have read bits and pieces of both of them. One is by Os Guinness, who has written a number of books. He is one of the late Francis Schaeffer’s sons-in-law. He has a book that just come out in July 2015 that I haven’t had time to get into yet called Fool’s Talk. That’s the focus of this book—how to talk to unbelievers.
The unbelievers aren’t the fools. I think he takes that from the fact that Paul talks about the focus on Christ is foolish to the Greek, but he was a fool for Christ’s sake. It is to help believers come to understand how they can cultivate this ability to dialogue with unbelievers.
Another book is called Conversational Evangelism by Norm Geisler and his son David, who has had a campus ministry for about 25 years or so and has really developed the ability to ask questions and develop conversations with unbelievers that don’t end up becoming head-butting contests.
One thing we need to remember is that as we are presenting the gospel, it is not only giving the right information but also doing it the right way. It is the old adage that you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
The problem is that a lot of us come out of a background where the people who talked about how you say what you say were not at all concerned about what you said. We all know that it is important what you say, but it is important how you say it. Paul exhibits this and is very clear to present the case the right way.
It takes courage to engage unbelievers; it takes courage to engage the world. One example we have just seen in Houston is the stick-to-itiveness, the endurance, the perseverance of the pastors who took a stand against this Houston equal rights ordinance. That was spearheaded to a large degree by Dave Welch, who exhibited this kind of courage and, in fact, started the Houston Area Pastors Council, the Texas Pastor Council, US Pastor Council—he’s trying to expand this. Houston is ground zero for this pastoral organization and involvement. They lost a lot of battles over the last 18 months until they won the war.
That just shows the importance of continuing to trust God, continuing to persevere, and continuing to deal with the unbelieving/non-Christian community with grace and kindness. I’ve seen how Dave handled himself in a number of situations, how other pastors did as well in confronting the mayor and city council members and talking through the issues here in trying to reach an agreement leading up to this.
The other side just didn’t want to go along with it and kept doing all kinds of things to circumvent and told public lies. We have to have the courage of our convictions to get out into the marketplace and to take a stand for the truth of God’s Word.
Courage means the ability to do things even when we would rather be doing a thousand other things. We want to do the right thing and do it the right way.
Point 3: There are different types of courage. We talk about physical or battle courage. We all can think of numerous examples of men and women whose valor has been recognized on the field of battle with bronze stars and silver stars, Distinguished Service medals, Medals of Honor.
That battle courage is something that just kicked in as a result of their training. They didn’t stop and think about it; they were trained well, and in the heat of battle, they did the right thing. They stood up even when it might cost them their life.
A lot of people may have battle courage, but that is a lot different from moral courage. A lot of literature talks about the difference between battle courage and moral courage. Moral courage is the strength of our convictions in areas related to ethical or moral challenges.
We have a lot of people who can function that way in terms of battle courage, but then they don’t have the strength of morality to handle it in that kind of a battle.
An example of physical courage was seen just recently in the situation that occurred with that shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon about a month or so ago. There was one student, a guy by the name of Chris Mintz, who was a 30-year old Army veteran and had military training. On that particular day, it was also his son’s birthday.
When he heard the gunfire, his training kicked in and he ran to the sounds of the gunfire and put his life on the line to save his fellow students. He was shot seven times in the process, but he survived. That’s a great example of physical courage.
In moral courage, you have people where it takes longer perhaps, but they are much more aware of the dangers to their life. A great example of this was Oskar Schindler, who was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Jews during the Second World War.
He was not a Christian, so it is not spiritual courage, but he was a German industrialist, and he was a member of the Nazi party. He is credited with saving the lives of over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust because he employed them in his factories and, as such, he got them designated as being necessary, and therefore they survived.
A man here in Houston, Leon Cooper, who just recently passed away, started a company in the early 1970s called the Houston Pecan Company. It’s still in operation now—his daughter runs it.
I just inadvertently found myself there about four years ago. Jim Myers and I were going over there to get some Texas pecans to take over to Israel to give as gifts to the guides and other people we worked with over there. We walked in, and I had no idea the owner was Jewish. I just needed pecans and wanted to get good grade Texas pecans.
We saw this old guy (about 90 at the time) scooting around with his walker. I was talking to his daughter, and I thought she may be Jewish. I told her we were going to Israel, and her eyes lit up, and I told her what we wanted the pecans for.
Jim is over by the wall, and there are these newspaper clippings that are framed, and I saw Jim reading these clippings. He turned around and asked Toby, the daughter, if the articles were about her dad. They were articles written in the Houston Post in the late 1980s, when the movie Schindler’s List came out. Spielberg came to Houston, and Leon Cooper was highlighted in the newspaper because he wasn’t one of these 1,200, but he was also saved by Oskar Schindler. Here is a Gentile honored by the Jews as the “Righteous Among the Nations” because he was willing to put his life on the line to save the lives of Jews.
That is an example of moral courage, but that is different from Corrie ten Boom. I want to make this distinction clear. Corrie was a believer, and she and her family were hiding and saving Jews during World War II. That story is told in The Hiding Place. If you have never seen the film, see the film and read the book. Jeannette Clift George, who played Corrie ten Boom in the film that came out in the early 1970s, is the founder of the Christian theater group here in Houston called the AD Players. They always do some very fine work over there.
Corrie’s sister died in Ravensbruck and her father died in prison. They had spiritual courage because they were acting in the power of God on the basis of the Word of God to defend the Jewish people.
That’s why I want to make this distinction between physical or battle courage and moral courage. Somebody who has physical or battle courage may not have moral courage. There are a lot of people who have moral courage because they have the strength of their convictions and are willing to do that.
I just came back from Preston City, and we had the 200th anniversary of Preston City Bible Church. It takes physical courage to cut through 18 inches of ice and get baptized in the icy water—that is real strength of your convictions. That may be spiritual courage too because it is related to obeying the Scripture.
Moral and spiritual courage may look the same, but the difference is whether the person is a believer and operating on obedience to the Word and the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Fourth point: Courage is often related to confidence. In physical courage, we have confidence in our training. We have confidence in our physical strength, our physical skill to face a physical threat.
In moral courage, we have confidence in the rightness or the correctness of our position and the rightness of our action.
In spiritual courage, we have confidence in God and His ability to sustain us in times of adversity, hostility, suffering, or persecution.
In Proverbs 28:1, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” The wicked have a complete lack of courage. The boldness of the righteous relates to physical courage, spiritual courage, and a recognition that the battle is the Lord’s.
Hebrews 10:33, “Partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations …” He is writing to a Jewish audience, Jewish believers who are probably from the priesthood but face a lot of hostility, adversity, and opposition.
Hebrews 10:33–34, “… and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.” Their personal sense of their eternal destiny gave them courage and strength in the midst of hostility.
Point 5: In spiritual courage, our confidence is in God, so we can act courageously in fulfilling God’s mission for us under the power of God the Holy Spirit. We are walking by the Spirit.
It doesn’t involve the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, but we have passages like Psalm 138:3 where the psalmist says, “In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.”
Even in the Old Testament without the Holy Spirit, God emboldened believers to do the right thing the right way. This spiritual courage is also in our passage 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
Sixth point: What is the action plan? How do we become spiritually courageous? First of all, we have to be in fellowship; we have to be in right relationship with the Lord, which means we need to keep short accounts and confession of sin. When we are walking by the Spirit, God the Holy Spirit can strengthen and empower us to do the right thing the right way in grace orientation and humility.
Point 7: Spiritual courage is always grounded in our relationship with God—our faith is directed towards Him, so there has to be a sense that God and His provision is more real to us than the opposition, the rejection, the hostility, the adversity, the persecution, maybe even the loss of life that we might face.
You can only have that kind of occupation with Christ or occupation with the Lord when we spend a lot of time with Him. We build to that, so that as we grow and mature, as we go through that process of facing opposition and hostility in small ways along the way, it strengthens our spiritual muscles so that we are prepared to face the large challenges.
Ephesians 3:12, “In whom [Christ] we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” It is directly related to our growth and maturation in faith.
Point 8: Courage is needed in every area of application of doctrine but especially in those areas involving people. We are so sensitive to rejection and hostility that when we witness or teach or encourage others or give, we are vulnerable.
When we bring up subjects that need to be addressed in family situations or with close friends or at work, especially where someone might take offense or react, we sometimes step around it or avoid it or not face it head on.
When we get in any situation where the issue is doctrine, we know that God the Holy Spirit will strengthen us. But we also know that we live in the devil’s world, and we may experience some pushback to one degree or another.
2 Corinthians 10:1, 2, “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—who in presence am lowly among you, but being absent am bold toward you. But I beg you that when I am present I may not be bold with that confidence by which I intend to be bold against some, who think of us as if we walked according to the flesh.”
There he talks about different kinds of boldness, and that boldness is mixed with humility directed towards the change in the life of those to whom he is ministering.
Point 9: In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul reminds them of the spiritual courage he had to speak boldly and to face the physical consequences of torture and imprisonment when he was in Philippi. This is exhibited in different other settings.
2 Corinthians 11 is a fascinating chapter. It is one I have read through many, many times simply because at one time in my first church, I had never gone through the kind of personal assaults that I went through in that congregation. It was a very divided congregation. About half the congregation wanted to know the Word, and the other half didn’t. That generated some incredible hostility.
Listen to what Paul says here where he is dealing with these false teachers. As he deals with those false teachers, he is giving his own credentials and relates some of his own experience.
2 Corinthians 11:23, “Are they ministers of Christ [the false teachers]?—I speak as a fool—I am more [meaning, look at the evidence]: in labors more abundant [I work harder than anyone else], in stripes above measure [I’ve been whipped, flagellated more than anyone else], in prisons more frequently [I get imprisoned for the gospel], in deaths often [the possibility of imminent death].”
Verse 24, “From the Jews, five times I received forty stripes minus one.” The reason is according to the Jewish law, you weren’t supposed to give more than 40 stripes, so they would always subtract one just in case they missed counted so they wouldn’t give 40 stripes or more.
Verses 25–28, “Three times I was beaten with rods [one of those was in Philippi]; once I was stoned [in Damascus]; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often [accosted on the highway], in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness [had to camp out a lot and who knew what might attack you in the wilderness], perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren, in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often [not fasting for religious reason but fasting because you don’t have any money or food], in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.”
It took courage to go be a Christian, to do what God said to do and just to go through the daily activities of his Christian mission.
Paul was not necessarily exceptionally courageous as a human being. Some people might say that Paul was a tough guy because he sounds that way; he just had great courage. But that’s not necessarily true.
1 Corinthians 2:3, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” He is speaking from the fact that he has reacted, and he is in situations where his sin nature is influencing him towards fear, worry, and anxiety.
2 Corinthians 7:5, “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears.” Paul’s not some super human without a sin nature. He is just as tempted to let things slide and maybe not address it right now as the next person. But he had the spiritual courage to always do what he was supposed to do.
The solution is to walk by the Spirit and trust in the Lord. Hebrews 13:6, “… The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:11, “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Just a couple of other verses you might want to look up. Deuteronomy 31:6, “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.”
In commissioning Joshua in Joshua 1:9, the Lord said, “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.”
Psalm 27:14, “Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” That means relax and let the Lord handle the situation.
Psalm 31:24, “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”
Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to be reminded of the fact that You strengthen us, You encourage us, You embolden us, and that the key issue is our own spiritual life, that we learn your Word, we prepare, we trust in You, and we walk by the Spirit. Then we can do whatever we need to do no matter what the consequence because we know that the worst that can be done is just to hurt the body, but we have eternal life with You, and so we should fear no threat, and we should trust in You.
Father, we may come to a time in this life in this country where we are attacked and assaulted for our Christianity, where we are thrown in jail, where we are physically abused and persecuted, and we need to develop now the ability to be bold, to have courage, and to trust in You. We pray that we might do that. In Christ’s name. Amen.”