This program aired on KIUN 1400 AM in Pecos, TX on January 31, 2018.
One of the sad realities of the modern world is that the meaning of certain words has become distorted and thus diluted. Courage is one of these words. In the twisted thinking of the politically correct world, a man who decided that he is actually a woman has been touted for having the courage to publicly proclaim that he is now a she. At the same time, those whose actions demonstrate the true meaning of courage are mocked by the cultural elite. It is no wonder that so many in our world are so confused.
Courage is defined as, “the attitude or response of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it; fearless or brave, valor, pluck.” This definition reminds us of words attributed to the late actor John Wayne. He said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” We see this attribute every time a fireman goes into a burning building or a police officer responds to a 911 call. We see it in our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, who run to the sound of the guns.
Most of the time these are the images that come to mind when we think of courage, but there are many other examples of this attribute that do not necessarily entail putting oneself in harm’s way. An unwed mother who chooses to give up her baby for adoption rather than aborting it, shows courage in doing so. A single parent who works hard to provide for his or her children while also training them to be responsible citizens is another example of courage. So also, is the Christian who stands up for his or her commitment to the Lord.
In our country it has not generally been dangerous to be a Christian, but even so, being a disciple of Christ can be difficult or painful. The pressure from unbelievers and skeptics to conform to their ungodly ways is great. The open mocking of Christian faith that is becoming more common in the media and in society at large is real. These are most often the circumstances in which our courage may be tested. The scriptures certainly anticipated these circumstances and thus call us to have courage as we walk with the Lord.
One of the most powerful examples of our call to courage appears in the Old Testament. When Moses was about to die, he commissioned Joshua to lead Israel into the promised land. In Deut. 31:6-7 Moses exhorted Joshua to be strong and courageous as he led them. After Moses’ death, God spoke to Joshua and repeated this exhortation in Josh. 1:6-9. In God’s exhortation, however, we see a crucial element in the courage to which Joshua was called. God told Joshua to be strong and courageous, and to obey the law that Moses had delivered to Israel. This, ultimately, is the key to having spiritual courage.
If we give God’s word first place in our lives, we will have the courage He calls us to have. This was the case with Paul. When he was in custody in Jerusalem under accusation from the Jews, the Lord appeared to him and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must also witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11). Paul could have courage because he was doing the Lord’s will. As a result, he was able to accomplish all that the Lord commissioned him to do.
None of us may face the same dangers that Paul did, but we can still have spiritual courage if we do the Lord’s will as he did. We demonstrate our courage by living up to the high calling of Christ. Our faithful walk with the Lord defends His integrity before unbelievers. Our faithful obedience to His word shines the light of God’s truth into the darkness of sin, and accomplishes His will. It takes courage to do so, but we can do it, just as Joshua did, and just as Paul did.
Love is one of the most powerful motivations in human life. It is something that every person needs and desires. It is a subject that has dominated literature and music for hundreds of years, and movies since the inception of this medium. Love can move men and women to do things that they might not otherwise do. As a result, people sometimes try to use love as leverage to get others to do what they want. Sadly, this influence has not always been used for good purposes.
It is this fact that illustrates how skewed society’s view of love is. Much of what the world calls love is little more than feelings or desires. Thus, people glibly speak of “falling into” or “falling out of” love according to how they feel at that moment. When viewed in this manner, love is fickle and fragile. It is merely a vehicle for the fulfillment of one’s personal wants.
When we open the pages of scripture we discover that love is nothing like this. The predominant word for love in the New Testament is agape, which is the highest and noblest concept of love. It is an act of the will in which one does what is best and right for others in every circumstance of life. This is the love that God showed for mankind when He sent His one and only Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Paul described it best in Rom. 5:8, where he said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
Mankind did nothing to cause God to take this action. He took it because we needed it, and because He chose to do so, despite our indifference to His will. This is what true love is, and this is the love to which each of us should aspire. If we made this kind of love our goal, we would never ask anything of another that was not in his or her best interests before God.
In addition to this, the kind of love to which God has called us requires something else of us. On the night of His betrayal, the Lord spoke to His apostles about many important subjects. During this discourse the Lord revealed another essential aspect of biblical love. In Jn. 14:15 He said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
The scriptures do not reveal how the apostles reacted to this declaration. This omission suggests that they were not surprised by what the Lord said. Apparently, they recognized and acknowledged the connection between love and obedience. Whether they made the connection or not, however, the fact remains that the Lord required this of them, and consequently, requires it of us as well.
In simple terms, God expects us to show our love for Him by doing what He has commanded in His word. When we understand this important truth, it should change our attitude about the Christian walk. Many people want to emphasize love, while diminishing obedience. The words of our Lord show that one cannot be separated from the other. If we love God, we must obey Him. We cannot do otherwise, because to do so means we do not love Him.
If we love the Lord, we will only do that which is right and best for all in every situation, and we will not fail to obey all that the Lord has commanded in His word. If we love the Lord in this way, we will please Him, and we will be among the redeemed who are ushered into heaven at the end of time.
The book of Hebrews makes a compelling case for the superiority of Christ over all who came before Him. Our Lord is superior to the angels. He is superior to Moses, and His covenant is superior to the covenant of Moses. The Lord is our high priest and His priesthood is superior to the priesthood of Aaron. As a result, the writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers to give even more attention to Christ than they had given to the Law of Moses.
In Heb. 11 the writer gave a summary of some of the worthy people of ancient times who demonstrated their faith in God by their obedience to His will, and by the many mighty deeds they performed. The reason for this reminder was to exhort his readers to persevere in their own walk of faith. In Heb. 12:1-2 he said, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Two aspects of this statement catch our attention. First, the writer warns us that we must be wary of “the sin that so easily entangles us”. In other words, we must not become lackadaisical about sin. Paul warned that if we think we are standing we should take heed that we do not fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Just as God warned Cain, sin is crouching at the door and we must master it, or it will surely entangle us.
Second, we must keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. This is the secret to successfully running the race that has been set before us. If our focus is on Jesus Christ, we will not lose sight of the goal. If our focus is on Jesus Christ, we will not be distracted or deterred from our race. If our focus is on Jesus Christ, we will not become entangled in sin and we will lay aside every encumbrance that could hinder our progress toward our home in heaven.
Focus is a fragile thing, as is evident in many aspects of life. For example, a slight error in focus can make a shooter miss the bulls-eye. A photographer whose camera is out of focus will not get a clear picture. A driver who allows his focus to stray from the road ahead risks death or injury in a traffic accident. As a result, we correctly stress the importance of maintaining proper focus in these and other areas of life.
Without diminishing the importance of focus in these areas, we need to pay heed to the exhortation of the inspired writer of Hebrews. There is nothing more important than the eternal destiny of our souls. Therefore, there is nothing more important than keeping our focus on Jesus Christ, who is the author and perfecter of our faith. He endured the cross, despising its shame, to give us the opportunity to live in His Father’s house forever. If we focus our attention on Him and on His word, that sacrifice will not have been in vain.
We are like gladiators in the arena. We are on the field of competition and the prize is our souls. We face a determined enemy whose sole goal is to turn our focus away from the Lord. He entices us with sin in all its forms, but if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, we will not be distracted by it. If we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ, we will not be deterred in the race that has been set before us.
All around us the faithful cloud of witnesses who persevered in their own faith are cheering us on to the goal. If we keep our focus on Jesus Christ, and on His word, nothing will keep us from winning the crown of life.
Whenever we encounter a particularly self-centered person we may comment that he is only looking out for #1. By this we mean that his primary focus is only on his own needs and desires. In some cases, this kind of self-interest may be limited to a specific circumstance. For example, a person might point a finger of accusation at another to deflect suspicion from himself, even if he was involved in the questionable activity. In such a case, the self-centered person cares more about his own welfare than about what is right or true. In its most extreme manifestation, this attitude may pervade every aspect of a person’s life. This kind of person cares only about his own welfare, no matter what the situation may be.
This “me-first” attitude has always been present in society, going back perhaps as far as Cain and Abel. It has not, however, been as widespread as it appears to be today. In the last fifty years people have become far more self-centered and self-absorbed than in any previous generation. While there are still many in society who genuinely care about the needs of others, the majority seem to be concerned only about themselves and their own welfare.
This attitude is so pervasive that it has even crept into the church. Many might balk at this conclusion, but it is undoubtedly true. To be certain, this self-centeredness is generally expressed in subtle ways, but it is there nonetheless. In previous generations, a visitor could expect to be warmly greeted when he arrived at the assembly, and to receive an invitation to join a family for a meal afterward. Today, most of us are so focused on our personal plans that we do not even think about extending such hospitality. We’re too busy looking out for #1 to even think about anyone else’s needs, much less to act on them. We are so self-absorbed that we often fail to extend such courtesies even to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is not how it was in the early church, and it certainly is not what the Lord expects of us. Shortly after the church was established, Luke records that believers cared for one another by sharing with anyone who might have need (Acts 2:44-45). Those who had no needs were cognizant of those who did and gave of themselves to help meet those needs. Their generosity and mutual care for one another puts us to shame today.
When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he commanded them to look out for one another. In Phil. 2:3-4 he said, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” In other words, as disciples of Christ we should be looking out for #2.
Doing so does not mean that we must neglect our own needs. Rather, it underscores the fact that we are not loners on the road to eternal life. We are part of a family, the family of God, and we share responsibility for each other’s welfare on this journey. The beauty of God’s plan is that if each of His children is looking out for #2, then no one’s needs will ever be neglected.
The Lord Himself is our example. In Phil. 2:5-11 Paul reminded the Philippians that Christ put their welfare above His own by going to the cross to redeem them from sin. For this reason, God has exalted His name above all others. In light of this truth, we should spend more time looking out for #2. Doing so will give us a better perspective of the journey to eternal life, and it will please and honor the Lord who died for us.