The Heart of a Champion: Have Courage
Several years ago, I watched my friend, the great Indian evangelist, Kamalakar, baptizing new believers into the Christian faith. Kamalakar asked each individual four questions: Do you love Jesus? (The basic question of faith). Do you love Jesus enough to give up your name? (It is the custom in India at baptism to lay aside one’s pagan or Hindu name and take a new name drawn from the pages of the Bible.) Do you love Jesus enough to give up your family? (In India, acceptance of Jesus Christ means instant banishment from one’s Hindu, Muslim or pagan family.) And do you love Jesus enough to give up your life? (Christians in India are subjected to harassment, beatings and even death.) I wonder what would happen if our embrace of the Christian faith forced us to answer those questions and then face the possibility of such agonizing persecution.
Yet the reality is that even here in America in the years that are ahead, the cost of our commitment is going to rise. Mark it down. In the years ahead, it is going to take great courage to be a Christian in this land. That’s why this word from the lips of Jesus takes on new power in our time. Jesus said: “Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus never pulled His punches when it came to speaking to His people. He never minced His words. He always laid it on the line. He never left people in doubt about what would happen to them if they chose to follow Him. He makes it clear that He came not to make life easy, but to make people great. He calls us to stand for Him with courage, even in the face of opposition and persecution- for then He promises we shall know a happiness which this world cannot destroy. How can this be? What possible happiness could there be in experiencing opposition or persecution because of our belief? I think I know…
Those who stand with courage for Christ know the happiness of discovering that they are right.
Paul Tillich, one of this century’s most prominent theologians wrote a book called The Courage to Be. It declared that there are essentially two kinds of courage. The first, the courage to be a part of a group, and the second is the courage to stand alone. He calls this standing alone “the courage to be.” He says that it takes far greater courage to stand alone than it does to stand with the group—to hold fast to what you believe even when those about seem so ready to give up their belief. Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake can endure the hurt they are called upon to endure because they know that they are not morally wrong. In a sense, opposition or persecution is a compliment. It means that your words and your works are being taken seriously.
George Bernard Shaw was asked on one occasion what was the highest praise which could be given to an author. He replied immediately: “The highest praise is for his books to be burned, for that means that his writing is so explosive, dynamic, and powerful that it cannot be tolerated by those who will not accept the truth.” Persecution and opposition are signs that both you and your faith are genuine. Hypocrites are not persecuted, ever notice that? Therefore, to be hit with an act of persecution is testimony to the truth you proclaim and the courage with which you proclaim it.
Those who stand with courage for Christ know the happiness of seeing things the world does not yet see.
Think of a great mountain range. The highest peaks catch the light of the morning sun while the lower peaks and the valleys remain shrouded in darkness. Just so, those who possess the courage of their convictions sometimes see things the world does not yet see—and sometimes the darkness of this world hits out at these people of the light.
Some of you will remember back in the 1960’s when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was asked to approve a sedative called Thalidomide. The pharmaceutical companies got behind the promotion of this new product and they pressed hard for its approval. But there was a doctor at the F.D.A. in Washington, a woman named Frances O’Kelly, and she said, “No, I will not approve this drug until it is thoroughly tested.” She was criticized, libeled, attacked for taking that position. Now while the testing was being done, doctors in Europe, where the drug had been made available, began to report that women taking Thalidomide were giving birth to terribly deformed babies. Even in the face of those reports, America’s pharmaceutical companies continued to press for approval. But this doctor kept saying “no”. Later on she said that it was her faith that kept her standing strong in the face of withering opposition. And as a result, there is no way to calculate the thousands of babies who were born healthy and whole because of her stand. She was willing to be persecuted because she saw things that other people did not see. She is a sun-crowned personality because she stood fast to what she knew to be true, no matter the cost.
And those who stand with courage for Christ know the happiness of being one with the heroes of the faith.
Jesus said: “The world has persecuted me; and so it will persecute you.” He then identified three specific kinds of persecution. He said: “You will be reviled”—which literally means “you will be wounded in body or in heart or both.” He said: “You will be slandered”—which means literally “you will be defamed or lied about.” Then He said: “You will know the cross”—which means that “you will be called upon to endure both pain and shame.” Yet those who stand for Christ with courage, do it without hesitation, without pause, without regret. Theirs is the hard way, the way of persecution, but theirs is also the glad way because it is the right way.
In about 30 AD, they killed Jesus of Nazareth. In 64, they killed Paul of Tarsus. In 258 they put Cyprian to death. In 1431, they burned Joan of Arc. In 1498 they massacred Savonarola in Florence. In 1553 they beheaded Servetus in Geneva. In 1638 they killed Anne Hutchison in Boston. In 1945 they hanged Dietrich Bonhoffer in the concentration camp at Flossenburg. In 1965, they assassinated James Reed in a place called Selma, Alabama. In 1971 thousands of Christians gave up their lives at the hands of Idi Amin in Uganda. In 1973 missionaries Evelyn Anderson and Beatrice Cosin were burned into nothingness in the Philippines. In 1975, 36 Christian ministers were slain at one time in Burundi. In 1904, six elders in Peru were hacked to death right in front of their horrified congregation. In 1990, Hussein Sudmon, the last Christian minister in Iran was hanged by the neck until he was dead.
I have mentioned but a few. There are countless thousands more in this great honor roll of the heroes of the faith. In fact—and let this roll around in your heart—more have died in the service of Christ in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen centuries added together. What a company and what a privilege to be a part of it. Their scars become stars.
And then those who stand for Christ with courage know the happiness of listening to the affirmation of their consciences.
There is no greater satisfaction in life than to be at peace with your own heart and mind. Even the pagans acknowledge this. Marcus Aurelius said: “Cleave to what is right and the whole world cannot cheat you of your conquest.” When you survey the awesome floor of human history, you see many who have stood for truth and suffered because of it—but in the end, history stands and applauds these people because their consciences were clean and clear.
Profiles in Courage is the story of eight senators who were willing to give up their careers in government for the sake of their high principles. What’s interesting is that in the book, the eight senators are not described as individuals with greater concern for the public than for themselves, not at all. In fact, the author, John F. Kennedy, wrote that they did what they did not because they loved the public more than themselves, but because their own consciences were stronger than any desire in them to stay in office. What they honored and heeded was not the cry of the crowd, but the voice of the conscience. There is no applause like the acclamation of one’s own heart. Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
And then those who stand for Christ in courage know the happiness of making a difference in our world.
If we could capture in words all of the good that has flowed out of the lives and the sufferings and the deaths of these persecuted ones—if we could see all the good that has come from them, then we would declare it to be the single greatest contribution to civilization as we know it. Their very pain publicized the truth of what they lived.
Their very suffering accentuated the strength of their convictions. Their very death declared the deathlessness of their commitment and their faith. If Jesus had not suffered and died, then there would have been no Good Friday, no Easter, no Christian faith. Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.” No light is as bright as the flame of faith in the face of those who stand for Christ with courage in the face of opposition and persecution. It’s been said ten thousand times ten thousand times that the blood of the Christ and the blood of the martyrs for Christ has always been the seed of the Church.
I keep thinking today of John Chrysostom, one of the great heroes of our faith. He lived back in the fourth century, when the cost of commitment to Christ was very high. Because he so boldly and visibly lived and spoke for Jesus Christ, and because he so openly and courageously declared that Christ, not Caesar was Lord of all, John Chrysostom was arrested and tried before the Roman emperor, Arcadius. As Arcadius pondered the punishment he should mete out to Chrysostom, he first threatened him with banishment from the land. “Sir”, replied John Chrysostom, “it is impossible for you to banish me from my home because the whole world is my Father’s house. Arcadius then threatened to strip Chrysostom of all he owned and confiscate all his possessions. Chrysostom replied: “My treasures are in heaven, where no one can break in and steal.” The emperor then said: “I will cast you into prison and lock you away from all human contact.” And Chrysostom responded: “But sir, I have a Friend who has promised never to leave me or forsake me.” Exasperated, Arcadius then angrily threatened him with death. John Chrysostom said: “Death has no terror for me. I shall spend eternity with Jesus Christ.” What could the emperor do to him or with him? Nothing. In Jesus Christ John Chrysostom could face anything confident and courageous, serene and unafraid.
Sometimes the cost of commitment to Jesus Christ can be very high. But remember, Jesus did not come to make life easy. He came to make His people great…