Courage is always defined by context. This is why stories of courage inspire us more than definitions. Story is where we live.
The man who has been through war defines courage by the battlefield. The man who is part of the persecuted church defines courage by torture. And most modern American men define courage by their version of success.
Yet, broken definitions of success lead to broken definitions of failure, which in turn leads to over-exaggerated fear. This fear of failure is producing passive men–passive in pursuing marriage, passive in leading their families, passive in their careers and most certainly passive in the mission of the local church. Men think showing up (sometimes) is enough. Because of the first man’s first sin, men are risk-averse and avoid action to avoid failure.
Our culture tells us we can do anything we put our minds to and then social media shows off what everyone else in the world is doing. This dangerous cocktail has lulled men into a lethargic slumber. A moment recorded by the historian Plutarch illustrates our current situation well. After reading about the conquests of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar wept saying, “Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable.”
This deep ache groans in the heart of many men. It’s the ache of unrealized dreams, of regret and of the fear of failure. If success is promised as everything, then failure is certainly the great abyss no man dares enter. What men need is courage. Courage to act and even to fail.
If courage is our answer, then it would seem fear is our problem. The soldier, stalled on the front line while his buddies are getting slaughtered, seems to be frozen by fear. However, as John Wayne so adequately put it, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” From Nelson Mandela to Winston Churchill to Jesus, all seem to agree that courage is not the absence of fear.
In Matthew 10, Jesus tells His disciples to “have no fear” of persecutors (10:26). Jesus is not talking about the removal of fear but the re-prioritization of fear. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”(10:28). If the courageous and cowardly both experience fear, then what’s the difference?
1. Conviction-Saturated Courage
Courageous men are men of conviction. In the crippling face of fear or failure, their conviction throws them into action because they believe something must be done. In addition, godly courage flows from a conviction that Jesus and His ways are more important than the cost of action.
Cowardly men lack conviction. They sit on their hands because they believe that non-action is better than action. They don’t speak up against injustice at work because they believe their paycheck is more important than human dignity. They don’t commit to go to the hard places with Jesus because they believe their easy way is better than Jesus’ hard way.
Are you a man of conviction?
2. Cross-Centered Courage
While a conviction is necessary, all by itself it’s not true courage. A man can be an adventurous coward busting heads in bars or fighting for the wrong cause. He might have “guts,” but he’s motivated by selfish desire rather than love.
The gospel frees us to take courageous risks in life. Paul says in the context of living on mission for Jesus, “For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”(2 Cor 5:14-15).
Dudes normally think of courage in terms of war, blood and guts; William Wallace crying, “Freedom”with his final breath. This is because Jesus ultimately dealt the decisive blow in the war against Satan, sin and death with a blood splattered cross. Jesus was courageous to the point of death so that we might be courageous. Jesus’ story of courage fills up our definition of courage.
Are you a self-sacrificing man?
3. Community-Minded Courage
As long as we are at the center of our courageous acts, they are not truly courageous.
In past generations and in the Bible, we find courageous acts are geared toward the greater good of society, not the greater good of an individual’s success.
In the documentary We Stand Alone Together: Easy Company, Dick Winters recalls one of his men getting injured by a grenade and comments, “He’s behind the enemy lines on D-Day. Does he holler, ‘Help!’? No. He hollers, ‘I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I’m sorry; I goofed.’ My God, it’s beautiful when you think of a guy who is so dedicated to his company, to his buddies, that he apologized for getting hit. But that’s the kind of guy he was.”
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 2:3-4, “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.”
And Jesus tells us in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
Your courage benefits others. Jesus courageously sacrificed Himself for our benefit, and His cross motivates us to act courageously for others.
Are you a community-minded man?
Next time you’re faced with the choice to act courageously or cowardly:
Remember Your Convictions: God loves you and His ways are worth dying for.
Remember Your Cross: Jesus laid down His life for you and now calls you to lay down your life.
Remember Your Community: God has called you to a specific place, and specific people in your life need you to act courageously.
 As cited in Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey, pg.35
 See the entire documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrWZv-dXbR0
ABOUT RUSTY: Rusty McKie is the founding pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Chattanooga, TN. Sojourn is part of the Sojourn Network, which is a network of churches committed to planting more and healthier churches. Rusty received his MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to his lovely wife, Rachel, and is a father to his son, Justus. You can follow Rusty on Twitter @RustyMcKie.
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