Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Be Strong and Courageous

When the Israelites were about to say goodbye to Moses before he died, and about to have a second opportunity to enter the promised land of Canaan, God and Moses spoke to them and particularly to Joshua to tell him to face the difficult road ahead with strength and courage.

Deut 31:6, "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."  Moses spoke to the Israelites, shortly before he died.

Deut 31:7, "Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, 'Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them.'"

Deut 31:23, "The LORD gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: 'Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you."

Joshua 1:6, "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them."  The LORD spoke to Joshua after Moses' death, shortly before the Israelites sent spies into Jericho.

Joshua 1:7, "Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go."  Again, the LORD encouraged Joshua.

Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."  A third time, the LORD encouraged Joshua.

Joshua 1:18, "Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death.  Only be strong and courageous!"  The Israelites agreed to follow Joshua wholeheartedly, and encouraged him to lead with strength and courage.

Seven times in only a few days, Joshua and the Israelites were told to "Be strong and courageous," by Moses, by the LORD, and by one another.  The last time the Israelites had been on the threshold of the Promised Land at Kadesh Barnea, the spies returned with a terrifying report of giants and fear seized the Israelite community so that they refused to trust God and invade.  Knowing that such disobedience resulted in a forty-year death march through the wilderness, the test for this second generation was crucial.  Would Joshua and the Israelites march in faith, in strength, and in courage into the land the LORD was giving them?  Or, would they too give into fear?  Praise God, He carried them across the Jordan, around Jericho until the walls fell, and into the land He promised with strength and courage.  They trusted God and followed Joshua's godly leadership.  Why is strength and courage necessary to step out in faith?  From these verses below are seven fears that God gives us strength and courage to conquer.

  1. Fear of Man - Naturally, we are tempted to be afraid of the people and obstacles that stand against us, especially as we seek to obey God.  Strength and courage are necessary to hold fast to belief that God will do as He has promised, and stay with us through all difficulties.  Today, those of us in Christ know that we have been freed from condemnation and have been made right with God.  Because of our faith, we cling to God's presence and can victoriously claim with Paul, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom 8:31).
  2. Fear of Panic - Fear spreads quickly.  Desertion is often a capital offense during times of war because one man running in fear can cause an army to crumble as others quickly take to flight.  Moses had seen fear spread before when most of the spies (except Joshua and Caleb) told the Israelites a frightful tale of the impenetrable enemy.  The whole army was overcome with fear and they refused to obey God and attack.  The author of Hebrews wrote to a church tempted to let fear spread.  He wrote to convince the the people to a strong and courageous faith in God.  "Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus...let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together," (Heb 10:19, 24-25).  If we have been graced with saving faith in God, we must have courage and strength to follow God together.
  3. Fear of Isolation - Most of the commands (6 of 7) were to Joshua, because a strong and courageous leader dispels the spread of fear.  The people themselves even asked Joshua to be strong and courageous, because they were wise enough to know that if his courage and strength failed, theirs likely would too.  Leading can be scary, because one feels vulnerable, out in front, and the weight of responsibility can be quite heavy.  Yet, Christian leaders are truly those who follow Christ first.  Our Leader has already bled, died, and risen from the dead, giving us the hope of eternal resurrection, so we can labor and lead without fear and with strength and courage.  We can labor like Paul to lead the world to Jesus, "He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me." (Col 1:28-29)
  4. Fear of Doubt - The Israelites were poised on the east side of the Jordan to enter the land God had promised to them, to their fathers, and to their forefathers - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Canaan stood before them within reach.  Yet, it was filled with inhabitants with strong militaries, seasoned warriors, walled cities, wild animals, and numerous obstacles.  What if God would not, could not, or did not deliver on His promise?  Satan loves to spread this kind of fear, the fear of doubting God and His promises.  Thus, he whispered with a hiss to Eve, "Did God really say?" (Gen 3:1), and to tempt Jesus to doubt whether He truly was God's Son Satan said, "If you are the Son of God," (Matt 4:3).  Strength and courage are necessary to combat doubt.  We know from Scripture that God has kept every promise ever made, "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ," (2 Cor 1:20).  We stand in faith on those promises, holding the shield against Satan's fiery arrows of doubt, and know that "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet," (Rom 16:20).
  5. Fear of Wrath - Joshua was told to be strong and courageous to be zealous to obey God's law and thus to lead successfully.  Indeed one of the most explicit jobs of the Israelite king was to keep a copy of the law, read the law, and obey the law to lead by example (Deut 17:18-19).  Disobedience to the covenant requirements in the Old Testament was a sure way to kindle God's wrath.  A whole generation of Israelites had died in the desert for refusing to obey, for worshipping an idol, for complaining against God and violating His laws.  But, for those of us who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death," (Rom 8:1-2).  If Satan cannot convince us to doubt God's strength to keep His promises, he'd love to convince us to doubt His love and grace to forgive us in Christ.  To such accusations, with strength and courage we say no, and live under the banner of forgiven by grace.  Guilt and fear of judgment no longer govern our choices.  Instead, we are free to obey God from the right motives of gratitude and joy.  We need strength and courage to trust that we are forgiven and free.
  6. Fear of Failure - The LORD personally encouraged Joshua four times, finally telling him not to be discouraged.  With Moses dead, certainly there were many fears that could've kept him from starting the invasion, like those mentioned above.  But, what about two weeks into the fighting, or two months, or two years?  Would Joshua get discouraged after the sin of Achan or facing setbacks?  To fight the fear of ultimate failure, or the fear that he would not finish well, Joshua needed strength and courage from God to make it all the way home.  As Christians, the journey home to heaven is long and there are many pitfalls.  I do not believe a true Christian can lose his salvation any more than God could lose one of His Christians, but I do think that there are necessary warnings and encouragements that God uses to keep His true children faithful to the end of the journey.  True Christians persevere to the end.  That fear of failure can be debilitating, and ultimately, if we fear failure more than we trust God, then we may not be true believers.  However, praise God He carries us home.  We combat the fear of failure with an enduring faith from God, and the encouragement He gives daily.  Like Paul, we say, "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus...our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ," (Phil 3:14,20).
  7. Fear of Disunity - At first, Joshua may have wondered whether the Israelites would follow him at all, but they did.  However, would they continue to follow him when difficulties arose.  Maybe he would press on, but would there be anyone still following?  Not only does the fear of isolation and failure plague Christians, leaders especially, but the fear of disunity is a real and present danger.  This fear is particularly pressing, because like panic, we cannot control the responses of others.  Moreover, for Joshua, the Israelites had proven in the past their unwillingness to face difficulty with courage, and their willingness to complain.  Strength and courage are vital to combat such fear.  Men and women need a strong and courageous leader who is willing to trudge through the difficult road of human relationships.  Thinking about those who had sinned against him, Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"  That appeared to be rather generous, but not wanting to be a fool, Peter likely figured there was a point in which one simply gave up on a relationship.  But, Jesus responded, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times," (Matt 18:21-22).  Strength and courage is necessary to labor lovingly with people through the difficulties of broken marriages, financial ruin, rebellious children, terminal illness, damaging gossip, and false teaching.  Much wisdom and strength and courage should be prayed for when seeking to faithfully lead in the church.  One key sign of a true believe is his committed love to his fellow Christians, "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other.  Anyone who does not love remains in death," (1 John 3:14).  Love is hard, but it is vital.  Without love, we are nothing and we have not truly known God's love in Christ.  So, all Christians ought to pray for strength and courage to love well and fight the fear of disunity.

Whether it's the fear of man, and those outside the body of Christ, or the fear of panic spreading through the body, or the fear of being isolated as a leader, or the fear of doubt that God won't come through on His promise, or the fear that God will still condemn, or the fear of failing and not finishing well, or the fear of disunity, to live and to lead well as a follower of Christ, we need to be strong and courageous.  Praise God, He gave us Jesus Christ, who with strength and courage followed His Father perfectly through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Be strengthened and be encouraged because of who Jesus is as the perfect God-Man and Savior of the world, what He has done for us by dying in our place for our sins, and the way He has made for us to be right with God and to live forever with Him.

"Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Heb 12:1-3)

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