By Ross Engel –
Being strong and not putting to good use one’s strength, is a waste. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God commands Joshua and His people, be strong AND courageous! But what’s the difference between strength and courage? And how are they related?
Strength without courage is not really strength at all. It is weakness. And it can turn into cowardice.
Strength, encompasses far more than just raw physical strength or aptitude. But consider these examples of strength. If I am strong enough to pull a 400 lb. deadlift from the floor of the gym, but unwilling to pick up my own children out of the fear of potentially hurting myself, then my strength is a sham. I’m not strong, but rather, fragile and a bit of a wimp as well. If I am healthy and strong and have an aptitude for something, but am afraid of putting that strength and knowledge to good use, then my health and knowledge and strength is merely for show. Or as Jack Donovan writes in his book, The Way of Men, “Strength must be exercised and demonstrated to be of any worth. When men will not or cannot exercise their strength or put it to use, strength is decorative and worthless.” He compares this to the powerful car, with the big engine that just sits in the garage collecting dust, it is just a “pretty hunk of metal.”
I recently finished reading The Way of Men. In this book Donovan explores what it means to be masculine and what it means to be a man. And while this is a fascinating read for men to consider (you do have to get past some pretty “earthy” language), there are also some pretty clear applications for the church and her leaders as well. Especially in the realm of strength and courage.
Being strong and being healthy is pretty easy to observe. It is a straightforward concept. Either you are strong and healthy or you are not. Of course there are degrees of strength and health, I would argue that everyone and every organization, local congregations included, has room to grow in both strength and health. One shouldn’t ever just get to a place where they sit back and say to themselves, “well, I’m strong enough and healthy enough, I’m gonna take it easy now and just admire how strong and healthy I’ve become, and make sure that I don’t do anything to risk what I’ve got.”
There is a word for that. Cowardice.
You see, to be strong and knowledgeable and healthy and then to do everything in your power to make sure that you don’t put that strength to good use, is to be milquetoast. A namby-pamby. It is to be the lion from the Wizard of Oz. A lion, born with power and strength, who cowardly hides behind young Dorothy, expecting her, the weaker one to take the risk, fight the fight, and do the work.
If strength is the ability to move or to stand or to be healthy or knowledgeable, than courage is strength in action. Courage puts our strength to work! But courage is tough. Courage means risk. And the greater the risk, the more courage it takes. If there is a risk for failure or worse when exercising one’s strength, then that risk requires courage. Donovan writes, “Acts without meaningful consequences require little courage.”
I’d like to add my own twist to that phrase because we all know that just because something has a meaningful consequence or a lasting result, doesn’t always mean that the action was a good one. When the action is meaningful and the cause that calls for action is one of great value, then we must hear the command “be strong and courageous,” and do it!
And there is no greater cause, nothing of greater value, than the proclamation of Christ crucified, for you!
So often the church only hears the first part of God’s command: “Be Strong.” They don’t read any further. We hear the command, “be strong,” and seek to do just that. Rightly we do everything in our power to be faithful and to do what God has given us to do. We seek to grow and deliver God’s Word to His people. Congregations strive to expand and see increase. Churches strive to be in a good financial position (or at least be able to make ends meet). Churches work to be “stronger.” And that strength is admirable and it can be good. But it is downright shameful when strength comes and the courageous application of that strength doesn’t follow. The church can’t just be a primping and posing “gym rat bro,” sitting back and admiring its newfound strength, hoping that others might notice, but unwilling to put strength into courageous action, for fear of what might happen. The church is not to be a timid place; it is God’s embassy in a hostile land, and we have been given the charge, “be strong and courageous! “
God’s command is both a call to stand fast and a call to move. To be courageous as a church means to put the strength of the Gospel to use. We are to put the strength that the church has, as the bride of Christ – wielding the Word of God, into action for the proclamation of the Gospel. To use the healthiness and strength of a congregation to reach the lost and to seek those who are hurting and blinded in this dark and dying world. The treasures of God’s Word and the Sacraments are not just to be locked strongly away within the walls of a fortress, but are to be courageously brought forth into a dying world, so desperately in need of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Be Strong! Be Courageous! Be the Church! And know that not even the gates of hell, can withstand the strength and courage of God’s people. For our God promises that He will not leave us or forsake us and that wherever we go, He will be with us!