September 2, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:55 in the audio file.
Or, The Courage That Is Not Mundane
This morning I want to remind us about some of what we have, and how we came to have it, and what we must do daily to preserve it and press on. We live in a time of abundant blessings, both spiritual and physical, and we owe them all to Christ. Christ Himself is also the fountain of many faithful Christians who have worked good works from which we benefit.
In Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises one character asks another how he went bankrupt. “Two ways,” the man replies. “Gradually and then suddenly.” Of course the “suddenly” only seemed sudden because he wasn’t paying attention to the “gradually.” Long, slow, gradual forces work both for bad and for good. We would profit more from this process if we paid more attention to our history, and in particular to those who did their daily work in the name of the Lord.
Even with minimal attention, it is hard not to be edified by considering the progress, not of Man, but of Christ’s salvation of men and His grace through them into the world for the last two millenniums (or at least since 1066). Much of that progress has come at a great cost in the midst of serious conflicts.
We don’t get to choose if we’re in a battle or not. God established an antithesis on earth, a hostile dividing line between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. We cannot get out of the fight, we do not choose whether or not to be soldiers. We can choose what type of soldiers to be.
But, who really wants to fight? We all want to win, or most of us do. Those who are Christians want Jesus to win, but we have to think about how involved we’re going to be.
We’re often a fearful people. We fear criticism or maybe worse, being pushed to the margin. We hate when others condemn us by ignoring us. We fear loss of reputation, loss of connections. We fear that others may recognize that we don’t know what we’re talking about. We fear that we might mess up. We fear that we might have to change something, suffer for something.
We need courage.
But courage doesn’t come easy. Courage is not an ornament that can be borrowed or purchased and hung on a branch. It isn’t about education; just reading a book won’t give you courage. It isn’t about money; having a lot of money can’t give you courage. It isn’t about status; some of the most panicky people are popular. It is all about heart.
To be courageous means to demonstrate conviction at the time of a decision. Courage rises from conviction. Courage is like fruit; it grows out of deep roots. We need to have our hearts filled first before we’re willing to face difficulties, let alone fight enemies.
Why aren’t there more modern day stories of Christian courage? There are so few courageous Christians because there are so few Christians with any deep, thorough, burning passions. Consider: what are you doing daily/weekly to develop your life-system beliefs, the way you believe that the world works, who is in charge of this spinning mass of problems, what you’re supposed to be doing on it? Text messaging, Facebook stalking, and World of Warcraft isn’t securing the ballast of your ship.
The roots of conviction grow out of the soil of our hearts.
The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, meaning heart, so courage is “heart-age,” the quality of having heart, having inner strength. To encourage someone is to give them heart, to put into and fill up their heart. To discourage is to take away from their heart, to drill a drainage hole in the bottom of the tank.
That means that a lack of courage is not first an external problem when faced with an enemy, it is a heart problem. This is encouraging and convicting. It means that when we are cowards, we should consider the smallness of our hearts before we worry about the size and strength of our enemy. My job, by the work of God’s Spirit in God’s Word, is to declare God’s Word so that when you arrive at the time of decision, your heart will be full and ready.
It’s so much easier not to fight. And when we sense a growing desire to pull back and sit it out, we’re in an emergency situation. So was Timothy.
It seems that Timothy was struggling by the time Paul wrote his second letter. To some extent, Timothy was having a hard time. Perhaps the central theme of the epistle is found in chapter 2, verse 1.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, (2 Timothy 2:1)
After the well-known instruction to pass the baton to other faithful men, Paul said,
Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 2:3)
Timothy was in a battle of suffering and apparently needed some crisis encouragement.
That encouragement came from his discipler, Paul. Of course Paul wrote his encouragement to Timothy from prison (1:8). In fact, on a time-line, this is the last epistle Paul ever wrote. These were his last inspired encouragements to a discouraged solider. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my beloved child:
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:1–7)
Timothy’s gift was growing cold so Paul told him “to fan into flame,” stir it up, rekindle the coals so that they would start burning hotly again. Timothy had been commissioned by Paul and other elders (1 Timothy 4:14) for the work. He had been left by Paul in Ephesus to deal with certain persons who had wandered into vain discussions. He was dealing with certain persons who fancied themselves teachers but who were without understanding either what they were saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (1 Timothy 1:3-7).
That’s an easy job. No problems there, a quick fix. No! This was difficult work in a tough context. Timothy was trying to turn the ship around and establish the church in the right direction. Paul told him to keep stoking the fire.
Then in verse 7, the second half of the sentence, Paul draws out the implications.
for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Even though it comes out of the context of Timothy’s giftedness and calling to the ministry, the “us” in verse 7 applies to all Christians, not pastors per se.
What marks us is not a spirit of fear (ESV) or “cowardice.” Deilias (δειλίας) means lack of mental or moral strength, lack of resolve, lack of courage, or timidity. God did not give us a spirit of freaking out. God did not make us a bunch of Faint-hearts as Bunyan wrote about in The Pilgrim’s Progress.
Our attitude is not one of fear. That is not what God gave us. That’s not to say that we aren’t weak or that we never have struggles or heaviness. It is saying that God doesn’t define His people by fear but rather by faith.
There is a triumvirate or triad of fear contrasts. God does not make Christian scaredy-cats. He makes Christians who have a spirit of power and love and self-control.
Power means that God gives us strength. He provides and sustains our energy. We are confident and unshaken rather than flinching and falling back. We go and work and fight boldly with power.
Love means that we fight courageously for people, for God’s people, rather than against everyone. We do not have power that God means for us to use to run over other people. The strength is for the right people.
It is easy to run away from critical or even lukewarm people. They can be such a soul-suck. If we do not have God-given, Spirit-produced love we will flee. We go and work and fight with affectionate endurance.
Self-control means that we have a controlled response. We do not fly off the handle. We also do not make a practice of self-indulgence. We are not reckless and wild. We go and work and fight and do not wander away.
Remember, God has in no way given us a spirit of fear. Just the opposite. He does give us, supernaturally, power and love and self-control. God doesn’t gift us with cold hearted cowardice but with courageous compassion and commitment.
There are great demands, burdens, opposition, fatigue, responsibilities, uncertainties, noises, criticisms, and pressures. We will be tempted to shrink back, sink down, and give up.
Timothy faced heresy, unbelief, and challenges to his leadership (see 1 Timothy 4:12). But God does not give us a spirit of hesitation. He does not give us a spirit of faltering, like a just-born horse struggling to stand. We are called not to let our fight be extinguished but rather to remember that God has provided and gifted us with greater resources: power and love and self-control. Such courage has special effects.
Elijah stood alone against the 450 prophets of Baal and said to the people, “If the Lord is God follow Him, but if Baal is god, follow him.” David had the courage to stand against Goliath who was mocking his God. Daniel courageously confronted the king and when commanded to pray to the king, he continued to faithfully pray to God though it meant death. John the Baptist courageously preached against sin and lost his own head for opposing and exposing the wickedness of the King.
About 500 years ago a man named John Wycliffe said that Christ alone is the Head of the Church and no one else. John Knox demonstrated such courage that Mary, Queen of Scots said she was more afraid of the Prayers of John Knox than of an army of 10,000. When asked to recant and stop preaching John Bunyan said, “I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer…even till the moss shall grow on mine eye-brows, rather than thus to violate my faith and principles.” Jenny Geddes threw a stool at a preacher who yielded to man’s word above the Lord’s word.
Every day there are decisions to make, temptations to resist, Biblical commands to obey. Every decision we make is an opportunity for us to display courage knowing that our God is in complete control. We need to respond courageously from the conviction that comes from a life dedicated to living God’s Word. Thousands of nameless men and women are buried in Edinburgh, not because they woke up one morning wanting to be martyrs, but because they wouldn’t abide men claiming authority that wasn’t theirs.
Winston Churchill said that World War II came about “because the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous.” Tens of thousands of Allied Forces are planted in Normandy, bearing witness to the ultimate cost of courage, as well as to the resistance of tyranny.
We are called to be courageous in Christ. May we give ourselves to the Lord and His Word in such a way that future generations will walk over our graves with thanks and with sober awe of our sacrifices, not because they were unique but because they were right. You may not be called to be burned at the stake, but burned at the stove, giving up yourself to serve your family.
Unbeliever, your life serves Christ in a different way, but leads to greater accountability in your judgement for failing to honor Him and give Him thanks. No memorial on earth will ease your conscious and eternal suffering in hell.
And, Christian, your labor in and for the Lord is not in vain. Ours is an heart-filling, age-filling cause, Jesus Christ and Him crucified, buried, and risen to life.
Charles Spurgeon on the work of courageous reformers:
[I]magine that in those ages past, Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and their (friends) had said, “The world is out of order; but if we try to set it right we shall only make a great (racket), and get ourselves in disgrace. Let us go to our chambers, put on our night caps, and sleep over the bad times, and perhaps when we wake things will have grown better.
Such conduct on their part would have entailed upon us a heritage of error. Age after age would have gone down into the infernal deeps, and the pestiferous bogs of error would have swallowed all. These men loved the faith and the name of Jesus too well to see them trampled on. Note what we owe them, and let us pay to our sons the debt we owe our fathers.
We may have many mundane tasks to accomplish and conversations to have, but if we do them with full-hearts for Christ, such courage will not be mundane at all.
There is no doubt that Paul knew that Timothy was discouraged. Paul handled that by addressing Timothy as a beloved brother, and declared grace, mercy, and peace to Timothy through his blessing and through his prayers. Remember that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Trust the one in whom you have believed.
[A]t one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:8–10, ESV)