“Be ye therefore very courageous to keep and to do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left,” Joshua 23:6.
Courage (the word carries the meaning, ‘lay hold of strongly and firmly) is often urged upon those who are required to obey the commands of God.
The great John Bunyan captured the meaning of these words in his famous hymn.
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have a right
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin, nor foul fiend,
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
Here are some examples of the usage of the word among the many that are recorded in the Bible.
“Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land, whither ye go to possess it,” Deuteronomy 11:8.
“Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the LORD hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it,” Deuteronomy 31:6-7.
“And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee,” Deuteronomy 31:23.
“Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them,” Joshua 1:6.
Let us notice:
I. IF WE ARE TO OBEY THE LORD AND SERVE HIM, WE WILL NEED COURAGE
That is a simple and straightforward observation from the words of our text. As a person caught in flood waters must take hold upon and cling firmly to an object that can withstand the force of the torrent if he is not to be swept away to his death, even so the child of God must cling strongly to the Word “when the enemy shall come in like a flood,” Isaiah 59:19.
1. Firm and resolute holding fast to God’s truth, should ever mark the Christian. So it was with the early converts in this gospel age. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers,” Acts 2:41-42.
The word ‘stedfastly’ means ’to continually adhere to’. Surely it indicates that with their regeneration there came a resolute sticking to the teaching and doctrines of the apostles, in other words, God’s Word!
If ever that grace was needed it is needed today!
2. Courage is needed to face the many foes that have ever faced the Christian. Within a very short time of their conversion that courage was required. “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide,” Acts 4:1-3.
These converts were very soon introduced to the attitudes they faced as believers in a world of unbelief!
Things have not changed. Courage is needed today. But more about that later.
3. It is our duty to encourage one another as we face the foe. The Lord Jesus said to Peter when He revealed to him that despite his loud assertions of faithfulness, he would deny the Lord: “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren,” Luke 22:32. The word word ‘converted’ refers to Peter’s repentance for his denial, for it carries the meaning of ‘returning back to the Saviour’.
He is charged by the Lord that he should “strengthen thy brethren” when he has come back. What Peter faced, all Christians face, at least in some measure and consequently, they need the ’strengthening’ (stabilising) that a Peter can give. Peter had let go of God’s truth and for a time was swept away. He can speak unto others (he still is speaking through the Bible’s record of his sad denial) and aid them in the hour of their temptation. This Peter did and here is an example of that.
“Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen,” 1 Peter 5:7-11.
Surely that is the spirit of David’s words in Psalm 51:12-13!
“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”
Again, such encouragement is featured in Paul’s many exhortations to God’s people. “Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God,” 2 Corinthians 1:4.
“Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord,” Hebrews 12:11-14.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:1-2.
The word ‘restore’ is used in Matthew 4:21. “And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.” There it is translated, ‘mending’. No more telling explanation of the meaning of the word could be given than that of those fishermen at the business of repairing their torn nets! Let us in like manner aid those torn and bruised by the buffeting of this world!
II. THE WORDS OF OUR TEXT ARE OFTEN DIRECTED TO A MAN TAKING UP THE LEADERSHIP OF GOD’S PEOPLE
What Joshua here says had been said to him by the Lord as he was initiated in to the leadership of Israel. I have already quoted those words, spoken by the Lord, some quarter of a century earlier than the scene presented us in Joshua 23. “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them,” Joshua 1:6. The same grace is needed, generation after generation, if we are to be faithful to the Lord.
1. Every believer needs courage but I think that those placed by the Lord in positions of leadership need especially such courage. Please note that in our text Joshua is addressing ‘all Israel’. “And Joshua called for all Israel, and for their elders, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and said unto them, I am old and stricken in age,” Joshua 23:2. But we should notice that “their elders, . . . their heads, . . . . their judges, . . . . their officers” are especially mentioned.
Holding office in God’s work especially requires courage. So much depends upon the decisions such men take and the example they set. Thus Paul urges wise choosing of those to fill such offices.
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless,” 1 Timothy 3:1-10.
2. May I emphasise that the office of a ‘bishop’ – (Greek, ‘episkopos’) is synonymous with the office of a ‘presbuteros’, from which we get ‘presbyter’. This is very evident when we consider the titles Paul uses when addressing the elders (presbuteros) of Ephesus in Acts 20.
Consider: “And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church,” verse 17. Compare then his words in verse 28. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers (‘episkopos’ – bishops), to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” verse 28.
But returning to a consideration of 1 Timothy 3:1-10, please note the care that must be taken when a congregation makes a choice of men for such an office as an elder. That is because of the need of men of courage and stedfastness.
Again, may I point out that it is the choice of the people that places a man in such an office and not the appointing of such by some ecclesiastical body, as is the case in many denominations. I might also have you notice the exact wording of Paul. “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife”! That would ‘disbar’ many called ‘elders’ today in many modernistic and Bible-defying churches today for women have been appointed to that office God has decreed is to be filled ONLY by men.
Is the absence, the failings of ‘real men’ in these denominations that which has brought about such defiance of God and His Word?
3. The decisions of leaders have a great bearing upon the ways of the people they lead. The terrible consequences of evil men in leadership may be seen in many places in the Bible. Here is is one example.
“For the LORD shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water, and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the LORD to anger. And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin,” 1 Kings 14:15-16.
Jeroboam was to be blamed chiefly for the tragic consequences of his actions but Israel cannot be excused, for they chose to follow him and hence, they too were punished.
How horrendous are the consequences for any people who follow the ways of a man lacking in the courage to do right in a time of trial! For Israel in the days of Jeroboam, the folly was followed by centuries of trial, trouble and misery of the worst kind!
4. We have only to consider the history of men such as David and others, to see the benefits of wise leadership. It is said of David, the forefather of our Saviour, and I have singled him out as an example. “Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong (our word ‘courage’) therefore, and shew thyself a man; And keep the charge of the LORD thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself,” 1 Kings 2:1-3.
The life of David was predominantly one of obedience to God, except for the sad incident of his sinful behaviour toward Bathsheba and its aftermath. God in His mercy granted him repentance and forgave his sin (Psalm 51). The influence of the man who feared the Lord and of which he testified so often in his Psalms, was a blessing to the people he led. How unlike Jeroboam and his ilk!
Recent history in our own nation has repeated this lesson for us many times, aye, even in current times!
III. PLEASE CONSIDER BRIEFLY WHY WE NEED COURAGE TO LIVE AS FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS
1. The extensiveness of the difficulties we face. That requires courage. It is said in Exodus 13:17, “And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.” Opposition and defiance by the enemy can turn God’s people back!
That decision by the Lord indicates what difficulties lie in the path of the believer and how that the Lord often delivers us out of such difficulties by leading us around them. But that is not alway so. The Saviour said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world,” John 16:33.
That solemn warning was repeated to the early church and through our reading of such, to us as well. “And when they had preached the gospel to that city (Derbe), and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God,” Acts 14:21-22.
The path to glory requires ‘courage’!
2. The character of the enemy we face. Behind a Goliath, a Nebuchadnezzar, a Judas, there is a great power, the cunning of the devil. He is a most formidable being!
“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand,” Ephesians 6:11-13.
Such a multiplication of frightening terms describing the enemy we face, surely indicates that we need much courage. As Israel’s courage failed in the face of Goliath’s challenges, so may ours if we are not borne up by the grace of the Lord.
“And there went out a champion out of the camp of the Philistines, named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. And he had an helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; and the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of brass. And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam; and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him. And he stood and cried unto the armies of Israel, and said unto them, Why are ye come out to set your battle in array? am not I a Philistine, and ye servants to Saul? choose you a man for you, and let him come down to me. If he be able to fight with me, and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us. And the Philistine said, I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid,” 1 Samuel 17:4-11.
We may be tempted to sneer at Israel’s fear, but their failure has been repeated many times amongst the people of God when they have been faced by much lesser foes than Goliath!
Poor John Mark is illustrative of the ‘turning back’ of many after an uncomfortable experience on the ‘battlefield’!
“Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem,” Acts 13:13. The reason for his ‘departure’ becomes clear when we read of the battle between Paul and Elymas the sorcerer in verses 8-11. That was apparently just too much John Mark, though he did return to usefulness as 2 Timothy 4:11 shows. “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.”
3. The propaganda of the enemy requires courage. It is said of the devil, that he “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour,” 1 Peter 5:8. A lion’s roar carried for some 5 miles! That indicates that it must be most terrifying to face! It is a picture of the roar of Goliath and explains the fear of the Israelites!
‘Propaganda’ has ever been a chief weapon in the armoury of the enemy. We have only to consider the lies and falsehoods of both the Nazis ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ and Japan’s ‘Tokyo Rose’ during World War II, to realise the importance of propaganda in warfare.
So it is with the powers that face the Christian. In the temptation of Christ by the devil, he claims for himself powers and abilities that he does not, in truth, possess. Likewise, it was so with the propaganda of Rabshakeh, the Syrian.
“Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in the Jews’ language, and spake, saying, Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria: Thus saith the king, Let not Hezekiah deceive you: for he shall not be able to deliver you out of his hand: neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern: until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of oil olive and of honey, that ye may live, and not die: and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuadeth you, saying, The LORD will deliver us. Hath any of the gods of the nations delivered at all his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries, that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand? But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word: for the king’s commandment was, saying, Answer him not,” 2 Kings 18:28-36.
Here are lies, blasphemies, threats, boastful assertions — all the characteristics of the bragging and crowing and threatening the Christian can expect to hear from the lips of the enemy!
In the face of such we will need courage to remain firm and strong!
4. Above all, the weakness of ourselves will require courage to face enemies much stronger and more powerful than ourselves. Our weakness forces us to cling to the Lord. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; to such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them,” Psalm 103:13-18.
Paul’s weaknesses and infirmities forced him to tenaciously cling to Christ.
“And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong,” 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.
Let us emulate the great apostle and heed the exhortation of Joshua, which was nigh to his last words before passing from this earth (24:9).
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
18th July 2023