A Call To Courage

Bible Book: Joshua  1 : 6-7
Subject: Courage; Commitment; Dedication

The late Clarence E. Macartney wrote a book entitled “The Greatest Words in the Bible and in Human Speech.” One chapter was entitled “The Saddest Word—Sin.” Another was “The Most Beautiful Word—Forgiveness”—and he dealt with a number of other great words. However, he left out one of the grandest and noblest words of all—the word “courage.”

The desperate world crises that our nation is facing most assuredly call for courage on the part of our leaders, as well as from all of us citizens. The issues that you and I have to deal with individually, and the often hard choices we have to make as we live from day to day in the midst of a morally and spiritually deteriorating culture, definitely call for courage on our part.

The words “courage” and “courageous” appear over 25 times in the Bible; that, in itself, suggests that the issue is important and deserves our careful attention. Indeed, the Word of God points up not simply the importance of courage; it goes so far as to emphasize…


We see its necessity highlighted in such passages as Joshua 1:6-7:

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. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.

That passage shows the absolute necessity of courage in two ways:

A. For fighting life’s battles

Courage is necessary for fighting life’s hard battles. Joshua and the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River to possess the promised land, and God said, “Joshua, it’s going to take courage to get that job done”—because God knew what they were going to face; they would be going into combat against the fierce, brutal, heathen tribes who inhabited the land of Canaan.

In like manner, every one of us has battles to fight. It’s wonderful to be a Christian, and there are blessings galore in living for Jesus—but there are also battles to fight, and sometimes those battles are intense. There are battles against the tyranny of one’s own moods—sometimes we battle against resentment, bitterness, covetousness, jealousy, depression, and the list goes on. Sometimes we battle against addictions—whether it’s alcohol, drugs, overeating, immoral behavior, or laziness, to name a few. Every day that the sun rises we have to battle temptations of various kinds—temptations to think, say, or do the wrong thing. As the old spiritual expresses it, “That’s just the way things is down here!”

And if you and I are going to take the initiative and step forward and fight those battles, it’s going to take courage.

B. For quality of life

Then, closely related to all of that, courage is also necessary in a second way: having admonished Joshua to be courageous going into the promised land, he said, in the last part of verse 7, “that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” God was not talking about financial or material prosperity; he was talking about quality of life. He was saying, “Joshua, if you hope to be the man that God intended you to be, and fulfill the purpose he has for you, you’ll have to have courage.”

The same is true for you and me. Without courage, there is no way we can know the fullness of life that God wants us to experience. An individual without courage is not a “whole” person—something profoundly important is sadly missing from his overall makeup.

Thomas Carlyle said, “The ultimate question posed by life is: Will you be a hero or a coward?” In other words, to experience life’s highest and best, courage is not just important—it is absolutely, unquestionably necessary.

But someone might be asking, “What is courage?” So, let’s look at…


A. By Word Study

One of the Hebrew words translated “courage” means “to be sharp, strong, confirmed.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that courage is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” The New Testament Greek word for courage [tharsos] can also be translated “confidence” or “boldness.”

B. By Life Example

1. Examples Past and Present

But the best way to understand the meaning of courage is to see it in action. Sometimes we see courage demonstrated on a grand scale, such as when someone rushes into a burning building, risking his own life to save a little child, or when someone tackles an armed gunman who is killing innocent people. The reports of such acts of bravery are wonderful and admirable, and they are often lead stories in newscasts—as they deserve to be.

At other times we see courage demonstrated in ways not necessarily widely heralded, but nonetheless inspiring—such as the little child with cancer, who bravely smiles as he faces painful treatment, or the handicapped individual who refuses to sit back and feel sorry for himself but instead forges ahead and insists on being involved with other people in worthwhile activities. I have often thought of these lines penned by Karl W. Baker:

“Courage is armor A blind man wears; That calloused scar Of outlived despairs; Courage is Fear That has said its prayers.”

Inspiring examples of courage abound—in history, as well as in modern times—and demonstrated in all sorts of ways: the Pilgrims sailing to our shores without any idea of what they would face; our brave military personnel who have fought to protect our freedoms, many of them dying on the battlefield, others grievously wounded; our valiant police officers and fire fighters who lay their lives on the line every single day, some of them tragically dying in the performance of their duties; and examples of a different kind—such as the university student who stands up and speaks out for Christ in a hostile classroom and before an anti-Christian professor; or the young person who resists the peer pressure to drink, or indulge in sexual immorality, even though the rest of the crowd is doing it. Someone has said, “any dead fish can drift with the current; it takes a live fish to swim against it.”

The courage of the great English missionary, C. T. Studd, is reflected in these lines that he wrote, expressing the passion of his heart: “Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell. I want to run a rescue shop Within a yard of Hell.”

2. The Greatest Example

But the greatest example of courage this world has ever known is when Jesus Christ faced the ordeal of the cross. Remember that even though he was fully God, he was also fully man—the one perfect man who ever lived, but man nevertheless, with the full range of emotions that other men experience. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that he “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”

On his final walk to Jerusalem he knew that he faced ridicule, rejection, suffering, and death. He knew that on the cross he would not only endure terrible physical suffering, but in the process would take upon himself, in one unfathomably tortuous bundle, all of the punishment that you and I deserve for all of our sins, for time and eternity. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” He knew that all of that awaited him, yet the Bible says , in Luke 9:51, that “he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

Because of his love for sinners—including you and me—he didn’t flinch, he determined to go through with it, and thus he is the world’s greatest example of courage, as well as the Savior of all who repent of their sins and commit themselves to him in faith.

But all of that brings us to ask, “How can I have the courage to meet life’s challenges, to stand tall in the face of trials, tribulations, and temptations?”

—and that, in turn, brings us to consider…


How do we obtain the courage we need for life’s big challenges, and for all of the everyday battles we have to fight? The Bible gives us the answer, and it has several parts:

A. Firm decision

First, we must firmly DECIDE to be courageous, and here’s why I say that: notice that when God told Joshua to be courageous, he wasn’t asking, he was commanding—and a command is an appeal not primarily to the emotions but to the will. So God was saying, in effect, “Joshua, make up your mind to do what I’ve told you to do, and I’ll empower you to follow through.” That’s essentially the same thing the apostle Paul wrote centuries later in Philippians 2:13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”—meaning that if you and I determine to obey God’s commands, then he will strengthen even further our resolve, and will energize us to carry it out.

B. God’s Presence

In that same connection, in order to be courageous we must always remember that if we are Christians we’re never alone, however isolated and forsaken we may feel at times. In Joshua 1:5-6, God said to Joshua, “…as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage….” That same promise is echoed to believers of all generations in Hebrews 13:5-6: “…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.”

In 2 Chronicles 32 we read of how faithful King Hezekiah of Judah, when faced with the threat of invasion and pillaging by the Assyrians, assembled his officers and gave them this stirring challenge recorded in verses 7-8:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles. And the people gained confidence from what Hezekiah the king of Judah said.

In Westminister Abbey is the tomb of Sir John Lawrence, who died in 1879, having served the British Empire with honor and distinction, often in the face of opposition and danger. On his tombstone are these words: “He feared Man so little, because he feared God so much.”

C. God’s Word

Giving proper attention to the Word of God is another essential for acquiring courage. In Joshua 1:8 God said to Joshua:

This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.

Jesus echoed that same truth when he said, in Matthew 4:4 (quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3), “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

In Colossians 2:2 (NIV) the apostle Paul explains that one of the reasons he is writing to the folks at Colosse, many of whom he has never met personally, is “that they may be encouraged in heart”—and all of God’s Word, if we read it prayerfully and thoughtfully, has a way of lifting our spirits and fortifying us for whatever we’re facing.

The record has it that on one occasion when Sir Walter Raleigh was undergoing a heart-rending crisis, having sustained a great loss, he said to his servant, “Please bring me the book.” The servant, knowing of his employer’s vast library, asked him which book he meant. To which Sir Walter replied: “At a time like this, there is but one Book.”

D. Earnest Prayer

Another of God’s conditions for acquiring the courage we need to live victoriously is not specifically mentioned in Joshua, chapter one, but it certainly is implied if you read between the lines—and it is specifically mentioned in other places in the Bible—and that is prayer. For example, the inspired author of Psalm 27:13-14 said: “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.” In Luke 18:1 Jesus said that “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”

Morris Chapman told about a rural preacher who once prayed, “Lord, give me a backbone as big as a sawlog and ribs like the sleepers under the church floor. Put iron shoes on me and galvanized britches. Give me a rhinoceros hide for skin, and hang a wagonload of determination up in the gable ends of my soul. Help me to sign a contract to fight the devil as long as I’ve got a fist and then bite him as long as I’ve got a tooth and then gum him until he dies.”

E. Other People

Sometimes God also uses other people to build courage into our lives. When he said to Joshua in Joshua 1:5, “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee,” no doubt the memory of Moses’ courageous example must have stirred Joshua’s heart to be the same kind of brave leader.

In Acts 28 we have the record of Paul’s journey to Rome. He is on a ship, in the custody of a Roman centurion. He knows that prison and eventually death await him in Rome—and that surely must have weighted heavily on him. But look at how God gives him a lift in the midst of those bleak circumstances. In Acts 28:15 we read, “And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.”

So it is with you and me, as well; we can and should be God’s instruments to encourage one another. In 1 Thessalonians Paul is telling believers at Thessalonica that in light of the fact that Jesus might return at any time, they should be ready to meet him. They shouldn’t allow themselves to be slack and slip into sin, but should be self-controlled and faithful. In light of all that is at stake, he says in 5:11 (NIV), “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” In verse 14 (NIV) he tells us to “encourage the timid.”

The inspired author of Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) said, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

In Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV) we read these words:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him 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 sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

If you’ve never done so, repent of your sins, commit yourself in faith to the crucified, risen, living Christ, and he will save you from the eternal condemnation of sin. Then as you daily reaffirm your allegiance to his Lordship, he will build into you those qualities that make for strong, noble character, including the quality of courage—courage to live triumphantly, and then to die triumphantly when you’ve run your course.


The author of Psalm 23:4 said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

One of the great astronomers of all time was Edwin Brant Frost, who died in 1935. He grew up in the Congregational Church tradition. One of his biographers said, “Both he and his wife were active in religious work.” In a lecture at the University of Chicago in 1905 he said, “The more I study and the more I learn, the more do I say to myself with each new revelation of these stupendous facts, ‘Back of it all lies God.’” His studies of the stars left him in awe of their Creator. He was stricken with total blindness in 1921, and yet so vast was his knowledge of the stars and his phenomenal memory of what he had seen, read and written, that he continued to hold a high position with the Yerkes Observatory. When he was dying, someone asked, “Doctor, are you afraid to die?” Frost smiled, shook his head, and said, “I have seen too many stars to be afraid of the night.”

If you are anchored trustfully and obediently to him who, in Revelation 22:16 spoke of himself as “the bright and morning star,” then you, too, can face the night bravely.