Featured Article from Living Water Magazine
BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS
John 17:1-3; 14:15 & 21; 16:33.
I would like to speak about courage in the Christian’s pathway. I feel I do not have enough courage myself and I have prayed to the Lord about it. I have looked through the Scriptures to find some passages that could help me to live with courage as a believer in an unbelieving world. I found these passages we have read and I would like to take Joshua as an example of a man of godly courage and look at some applications in John’s gospel taking up the teaching of Jesus Himself. We are here as believers, so we can all try to understand with the help of God’s Spirit, what it means to live a courageous life as a believer in this world.
It has often struck me that God does not remove people from the earth when they are converted and the reason that He does not, is that God has a purpose for each of us when we are saved and my first point is that we need courage to pursue that purpose here.
Now I think Joshua provides us with a very fine example of a Christian today. We can see in Joshua’s life things that we can relate to. If you look at his life as recorded for us in the Scriptures we see he was strong, he was courageous, he had faith in God but there were times when he struggled just as we do when faith may be challenged and things may seem not to go as we expect.
Now, God said to Joshua three times, where we read in Chapter 1, “Be courageous”. I would like you to picture yourself as if God was speaking to you tonight and saying, “Be courageous”. In these three exhortations God has three different thoughts that He brings to Joshua. And that is what I would like us to look at together, seeing not only Joshua but some New Testament parallels as given in John’s gospel. Now the first step is found in Joshua 1:6:
|“Be strong and courageous, for thou shalt cause this people to inherit the land which I have sworn unto their fathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6).||“These things Jesus spoke, and lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee; as thou hast given him authority over all flesh, that as to all that thou hast given him, he should give them life eternal. And this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:1-3)|
Joshua had a God-given purpose in his life and that was to bring the people of Israel into the land of Canaan. God had not promised Joshua the land of Canaan. The promise had been made many years earlier but Joshua was the one who was to lead this people into the land.
How does that speak to us today? Well, I think John 17 helps us about that. There is one specific purpose of God that is revealed through Jesus’ precious prayer in John 17. Jesus says, “… glorify thy Son… that as to all that thou hast given to him, he should give them life eternal”. So, we as believers are here and God’s purpose for us is that we should have eternal life. If you look through John’s gospel you will see constant reference by Jesus to eternal life as what He had come to do and to give. What He says to the woman at the well in John chapter 4 is one example and there are others. My concern is that we should have an understanding that Jesus desires to give us eternal life. Now, Scripture tells us what eternal life is all about. It says, “and this is the eternal life, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”. So, if we are left down here it is not merely for the purpose of testimony or witness; it is to know God and to know Jesus, the One whom God sent. As I go through the difficulties of life, the question is, ‘Am I gaining knowledge of God, am I getting to know my Lord Jesus better through what I experience?’
Well, that was the first point. God said to Joshua, ‘Be courageous’. You will take the people into the land of Canaan. That was the purpose. I am sure that Joshua was strong and energetic in the pursuit of this goal but it was a long and slow process and at times his faith and patience were severely tested.
Next, if we are to have courage in our walk as Christians we first have to look at what God’s purpose is for us down here - for each of us is called for a purpose. God has a service for each one of us to fill out and all are to be useful in God’s work here. When we read the book of Acts we see that God used a great variety of people. The work was not confined to Paul, Peter, John or the other apostles. We read of those who were scattered following the death of Stephen and who preached in the places to which they went. The Christian company in Antioch was formed as a result of such preaching. (see Acts X:x). Then again we find that Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18) came from Rome to Corinth, and Paul, who had not even been to Rome at that time, lodged with them at Corinth. Such were prepared and ready for service and serviceable in the body of Christ down here. We are all useful in some way and God will reveal to us what we may be able to do for Him. May we each be available for service!
But what I specially wanted to pass on was that the main purpose of God’s revelation in Christ is that we should have eternal life, which means that we should know God the Father, and the Son, Jesus Christ. Everything we do in life should work around that. Everything that we experience should in some way lead us back to that knowledge, so that the knowledge of Christ may increase in our life.
Now the second step is:
|“Only be strong and very courageous, that thou mayest take heed to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded thee. Turn not from it to the right or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall nor depart from thy mouth; and thou shalt meditate upon it day and night, that thou mayest take heed to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt have good success in thy ways, and then shalt thou prosper” (Joshua 1:7-8).||“If ye love me keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
Think about these words: “Only be strong and very courageous, that
thou mayest take heed to do according to all the law that Moses my
servant commanded thee. Turn not from it to the right or to the left”.
Now, having understood that the purpose of God is that we may have eternal life, I want to point out that the enjoyment of eternal life starts when we are down here. It is not something that we only look at for the future day. In the future day we shall actually be with Jesus. That hope is a certainty for every believer in Christ. But the enjoyment of the eternal life is the knowledge of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ and that starts now! So we can build on that, grow in that and have courage to do that as we walk down here. How do we get into the gain and enjoyment of it? Well, God gave Joshua a very precise instruction. He says, ‘Do not depart from all the commandments that I have given to Moses’.
God called Moses to come up Mount Sinai. He stayed there and God wrote the law for him on two tables of stone. God had to do it twice because of the unbelief and the idolatry in the heart of the people. Probably God has to write more than once what He has in mind for us because we are stubborn, idolatrous, and thinking of ourselves rather than of Him. But God never leaves us or abandons us. He has a purpose and He has a way that we may get into the gain and the enjoyment of that purpose.
So I think the parallel passage to that is the two verses I read in John. If you reason with a logical mind you may think the two verses in some way contradict themselves. Let us read them again: it says, “if ye love me, keep my commandments”. So, logically I would say if I love Jesus then I will keep His commandments. Then it says in verse 21, “He that has my commandments and keeps them, he it is that loves me”. There it seems to say, if you keep my commandments then you love me. Which one is right?
Well, it is not a question of which verse is right: both verses are right! The point that the Lord is making here is that we are not to be religious but to have a living relationship with the Man Christ Jesus. The believer in Christ is that is not tied to a collection of religious laws but is linked to a living Person - the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus brings an entire new revelation compared to what was given to Joshua. Joshua was given a book. And it was said, this is the book, follow it exactly, do whatever it says. And if you do every word, if you keep every word of it then you shall prosper. We read, “… that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest… then shalt thou have good success in thy ways” (vv.7, 8). When we come to the New Testament, Jesus says, “if ye love me, keep my commandments”. Jesus brings an entire new dimension and that dimension is love, a loving relationship with Him.
One of the great risks in the believer’s pathway is to fall into patterns and mere routines of religious observance. I live in a country where people will give a Euro every day to certain causes just so that they can say, ‘I have done my good work for this day, that is my obligation met’. That is religiousness. That is not doing the commandments of the Lord because you love Him, or loving Him so you desire to do what pleases Him; that is mere religiousness and we have to be careful not to fall into it. I have to say for myself , that my instinct is to fall into religiousness. Perhaps we sleep over the alarm and when we wake there is no time to read the Bible before we have to dash off to work. A religious person worries that this will ruin his day but the Lord is not cross about such things. He loves us and wants us to love Him and rest in His love.
We read, “if ye love me, keep my commandments”. Never separate those two principles. The commandments of the Lord are commandments of love. If you look through the New Testament you will not find many commandments. Jesus wants us to have a living relationship with Him. That is the practicality of Joshua’s teaching in New Testament terms. Joshua was able to get into the land and succeed in all that he was doing only if he kept to the word of God. We have to love the Lord Jesus and let that love govern us in all that we do and every decision that we make.
Now the Lord adds in verse 21 the words, “but he that loves me shall be loved by my Father”. That adds an entirely new level to our life. That links us to the Father, the One that the Lord Jesus came to reveal. ‘If you love Me, you will be loved by My Father’! Imagine that. And that is a certainty that is sure for every believer. We have a relationship with the Father which is based on the relationship we have with the Lord Himself. We cannot have a relationship with the Father if we do not have a relationship with the Lord Jesus. That is very important. Never forget it!
When I was at university I got caught up in a conversation where I tried to prove the existence of God to some of my mates and I utterly failed. After that I was considering and praying and crying, ‘Why had I failed?’ And God pointed out something to me and said, ‘Did you ever mention Jesus in all your proof of the existence of God?’ I was ashamed to say I had not. Our relationship with God is based on our relationship with the Lord Jesus Himself. Be sure to have a living relationship with Christ then the Father will love you and we will be conscious of His love. The verse continues, “and I will love him and will manifest myself to him”. Oh, here is a beautiful thought. Have we seen the Lord manifest Himself to us throughout our life? This verse would indicate that if we love the Lord Jesus and seek to follow Him He will manifest Himself to us; there is no question about it.
I did not read verses 16 – 20 but they are the key to this passage because the Holy Spirit is brought in to this. That is how we are able to enjoy the eternal life, by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will help us to enter in to that living relationship with the Lord Jesus.
So, we understand the purpose that God has for us. We understand how we may enter into it. So we have nothing left but to go for it and enjoy it! It is all clear, it is presented in Scripture. Why not go and do it?
Joshua got started. When he gets to the Jordan there is an amazing miracle. He gets through it. Then he has the city of Jericho to face but God helps him and he destroys the city. Then he has another city (Ai, see Joshua 7). He rushes to overthrow it and realises that it was not the right thing to do. He moves further and further into the Land but his faith is tested and things get more difficult because the people get more stubborn and self willed.
As we move on in our Christian pathway I am afraid to say sometimes we get a little bit stubborn. We may set out full of courage but after a while we get distracted and slacken off and may get influenced by the world. This is the reality; it is not a new thing for we live in an unbelieving world, a wicked world and the devil is around. But the Lord does not forget us.
Now we come to the final message to Joshua about courage:
|Have I not commanded thee: Be strong and courageous?
Be not afraid, neither be dismayed; for Jehovah thy God is
with thee whithersoever thou goest.
|These things I have spoken to you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world (John 16:33)|
God knew Joshua would be afraid. God knew the things he would
have to face.
In the verse we read in John 16, I think that is the application in our lives. First of all, if you read that verse carefully, it says, “These things have I spoken unto you”. Remember, ‘if ye have my commandments and keep my commandments’… “These things have I spoken unto you”. This verse is for believers. This verse is for those who have heard the voice of the Lord and have had conviction about what the Lord has been telling them.
The Lord says “that in me ye might have peace”. Now, this is another point I would like to share with you. The peace that the believer enjoys is strictly and uniquely in Christ. I have had to learn that several times. This does not mean we have a peaceful life, a relaxed life and that we sail through the world. The Lord is very clear in what He says, “these things have I spoken … that in me ye might have peace”. Peace, dear believer, is found uniquely in Christ. If we are struggling through life, if we are fighting in our souls, our minds, let us turn to Christ. That is where peace comes from. The source of peace is Christ Himself.
Well, the Lord goes on to say, “In the world ye have tribulation”. You see, Jesus knows it. It is nothing new for Him. Why do we complain? Our conversations are often filled with consideration of this world and how difficult everything is. Jesus says, ‘You will have tribulations in this world’. Then He adds, “be of good courage: I have overcome the world”. I do not think any believer likes the world they live in. But Jesus has overcome the world we live in. Is that not a glorious thought? Jesus has overcome all the wickedness that is in this world. And that wickedness, we should never forget, was in our heart before we were saved. That is where we all come from. Jesus has overcome the world. Where do we find courage to walk down here? The simple and straight answer is, in Christ Jesus alone.
He has revealed to us the purpose. He says, ‘that I may give to them eternal life’. So that Jesus shows us and tells us about God so that we may know Him. Then He says, “if ye love me, keep my commandments”. He wants a relationship. He wants us to live of Him and to draw all from Him. That is what we are to feed on and that is where we take courage to live down here. The opposition of the world is relentless but in Jesus we have peace. . He says, “be of good courage: I have overcome the world”.
I trust we might understand a little bit more about the courage that the believer can have in life down here. The source is divine, it is Christ Himself. The application is divine, it is Christ Himself. We should not be or act like the world. When people do not understand us it should be no surprise. The believer has a different spirit from the world. The believer is to be characterised by the Holy Spirit whom the world “cannot receive, because it does not see him, or know him (John 14:17). There is nothing unusual about being misunderstood in this world, as being a believer in Christ.
But let us be of good courage. The word to Joshua was, “Be strong and courageous” and it is repeated three times. When things are repeated more than once in Scripture they are to be thoroughly meditated upon, taken to heart and thought about. May we be encouraged for His Name’s sake.
An address at Worthing, 29 September 2018