Service and Conflict Require Strength and Courage

 •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Nothing could be plainer to one conversant with Scripture than that the gospel is antagonistic to all the principles of this world, and that, carrying with it as it does the authority of God, it must call forth the resistance of Satan and of men in alienation from God. And this necessarily puts the gospel in the place of conflict, and entails suffering in this world on those who will stand with and for the truth of the gospel. Paul was “the prisoner of the Lord,” and suffered many and varied afflictions and persecutions for the sake of the gospel which he preached as an ambassador of Christ. And so has it ever been when any have stood for God and His truth in this evil world of which Satan is the prince and god.
Man has fallen under Satan’s power, and is in a state of complete alienation from God. The cross was the full witness of this. “This is the heir,” they said; “come, let us kill him and possess his inheritance” (Matt. 21:3838But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. (Matthew 21:38) JND). Man has fallen under the power of one who has usurped the place of God in this world; and so whenever God has been pleased to assert His rights in this world, or to exercise His sovereign prerogatives, man has resisted; as Stephen said, “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:5151Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. (Acts 7:51)). Pharaoh, Amalek, and the Canaanites all resisted Jehovah in the fulfillment of His purposes as to Israel. And even the Israelites forsook their own Deliverer. When He sent them prophets, they beat, and stoned, and killed them; when He sent His Son, they nailed Him to the cross. Jews and Gentiles united in putting to death Jesus, the Son of God, and the full character of man’s wickedness was thus manifested.
But it was by “the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:2323Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: (Acts 2:23)) that He was delivered; and by His death, redemption for guilty man was accomplished. In His death the foundation of eternal salvation was laid, and the ground for the display of greater and higher glories than those of the kingdom of Israel. God raised up Jesus from the dead, exalted Him to His own right hand, and sent down the Holy Spirit to gather out from Jews and Gentiles a people to His name.
This work is being accomplished through the preaching of the gospel. But it is the gospel preached in the name of the despised and rejected Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven, that so runs counter to all that is in the natural heart of man, and calls forth resistance from both man and Satan.
The instruments God uses are only poor, weak, defenseless creatures without any carnal weapons to carry on their warfare. Yet the charge was given them, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:1515And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15)).
It is easy to see that for the carrying out of this charge some unseen strength was needed. We see, for example, a few fishermen preaching the gospel, and thousands bowing to the authority of that name which they preached, while the world power sought to silence them and stop their work. Yet undismayed these poor, despised fishermen go on with their work. What was the secret? God was with them. The rulers lay their hands on them and put them in the common prison. The next morning they are found again standing in the temple and preaching to the people “all the words of this life.” God was with them, and bonds and prison bars were nothing to Him if He saw fit to exercise His power. And even though the apostles might be bound, the gospel could not be bound. It was when bound with a chain that Paul preached the gospel before kings and rulers. Even when in the lion’s mouth, he was strengthened so that by him the preaching might be fully known, and all the Gentiles hear. And he was delivered out of the mouth of the lion (2 Tim. 4:1717Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Timothy 4:17)). Here was true strength and real courage, but it was strength in the midst of utter weakness, and courage when there was no hope in human resources.
It was the power of God. The creature instruments were in communion with Him, and hence courage which nothing could daunt filled their hearts. It was all of God who wrought in them effectually for the carrying out of His purposes.
There are many instances given us in the Word of God in which we see the display of this power and courage in carrying out the will of God. But the first chapter of Joshua is important as giving us the conditions governing these things. Three times over the Lord exhorts Joshua in that chapter to “be strong and of a good courage.” There was the work to be done, the principle on which it was to be done, and the ground of strength and courage for it.
1. The work to be done was the dividing of the land among the tribes of Israel. “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” (Josh. 1:66Be 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. (Joshua 1:6)). The land to be divided was a land in which there were nations mightier than Israel — a land of “giants,” and “chariots of iron,” and cities great and “fenced up to heaven.” These nations must be overcome in order to divide the land, and for this great work strength and courage were needed.
2. Obedience was the principle on which this work was to be carried on, and the condition of success. “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 or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersover thou goest. 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” (Josh. 1:7-87Only 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. 8This 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. (Joshua 1:7‑8)).
Here we can see there was no way to succeed but by obedience. Joshua was not to turn from the law to the right hand or the left. The words of the law were not to depart out of his mouth: he was to meditate upon them day and night; and the result would be a prosperous way and good success.
The importance of this cannot be overestimated. If we have to do with God, His will must be everything. It is His to command; it is ours to obey. We may say we are not under the law as Israel was, which is quite true, but we are none the less called to obey. God has indeed revealed Himself to us in grace, giving His beloved Son, and in Him all blessing; and by faith we partake of the benefits; but while the blessing is by grace and through faith, it also commands the obedience of the heart.
Paul, as an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, received grace and apostleship “for obedience of faith among all the nations” (JND Trans.), for Christ’s name; and the mystery kept secret since the world began was also “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:2626But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: (Romans 16:26)). There is indeed no other way of going on with God. Our blessing is inseparably bound up with lowly submission to His will.
Now God has made known His will to us in His Word. His will, His purposes, His counsels, are all unfolded there. And if we would know His will, and be obedient, we must attend to His Word. The Lord said to Israel: “Therefore shall ye lay up these My words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thine house, and upon thy gates” (Deut. 11:18-2018Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. 19And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 20And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: (Deuteronomy 11:18‑20)).
Such were God’s commands to Israel. And if the words of the law had such importance for Israel — if those words were to fill their hearts, and occupy their thoughts day and night, in the house and by the way, lying down and rising up — if Joshua was not to turn from the words of the law, to the right hand or to the left, but to have them in his mouth, and meditate upon them both night and day, in order to prosper and be successful — how much more ought the revelation God has given us to command the obedience of our hearts, since our whole blessing is bound up in this revelation! It is in the reception of the truth, and as the truth forms the heart and the conscience, that we receive and enjoy blessing. God’s Word is bread to the soul, as it is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:44But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)). It is thus that we grow spiritually, and learn God’s mind so that we may do His will and have communion with Him. In this way the life, ways, actions, words, motives, desires, and affections of God’s people are formed, and in a practical way become a testimony to the truth and grace of God. And God will manifest Himself with and for those who are thus practically governed by His Word.
3. The ground of strength and courage is the fact that God has commanded, and is with the one who obeys. “Have I not 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” (Josh. 1:99Have 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. (Joshua 1:9)).
The difficulties might be like mountains, the enemy might be great and powerful, but Jehovah was greater than all, and was with His obedient servant, so that he had nothing to fear. He had delivered Israel out of Egypt and brought them through the Red Sea, the wilderness, and the Jordan; and He who had done this could lead them on to victory. He could give strength and courage against which no foe could stand.
This same strength and courage we need. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might,” it is said, where it is a question of Satan’s power and wiles. And when Christianity began to decline, and Timothy was losing heart, the Apostle Paul encouraged him in these words, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God”; and again, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Timothy needed this encouragement, and we need it; and what is more, God is able to give it, and will give it to those who go on in dependent obedience to His will.
But we need to have faith in God. There is a maxim of this world which says, “Knowledge is power”; but with the believer power is rather connected with “faith.” Faith brings God in, and to His power there is no limit. Hebrews 11 gives us many examples of this faith which acted with God, and in which His power was displayed. Moses “endured, as seeing Him who is invisible.” “Through faith” they “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” In the midst of weakness faith made them strong. As Paul also said, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:1010Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)).
“Have faith in God,” Jesus said to His disciples, and then adds, “For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.” Mark 11:2323For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith. (Mark 11:23). And how could it be otherwise if there is the faith that brings God into the matter? He who created the mountains can surely remove them also if He be pleased to do so. The real question is, Are we walking with Him? Have we the knowledge of His will so that we can act with confidence? Can we bring Him into what we are doing? Are we standing with Him and for Him in the carrying out of His will and His purpose, so that we can connect His name with our service? If this be so, no difficulty can be too great. We can go forward in the name of the Lord with strength and courage of heart, and undismayed by all the power that Satan may raise up against us.
And here let us observe that diligence of heart is needful; and I may add as of equal importance, prayerful dependence. “Meditating day and night,” and “praying always,” is what the warriors of Christ are called to. Joshua was to meditate on the words of the law day and night, and the Ephesian saints were to pray always with all prayer and supplication for all saints. Paul says to Timothy, “Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:1515Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. (1 Timothy 4:15)). Oh, if we were more diligent as to the Word of God and prayer, how different our state would be! What fervency of heart in all our service; what devotedness to Christ and His people, there would be; and how much greater blessing would be enjoyed!
How much we lack this diligence of heart! How many moments every hour, and hours every day, are wasted-time that might be given up to prayer and meditation on God’s blessed Word, in which we should find the Holy Spirit refreshing our souls, and filling them with that which flows down from the heart of Christ in glory. Hours spent in foolish talk and idle gossip, grieving the Spirit, blighting spiritual growth, and drying up the springs of divine love in the soul, might be spent in holy, edifying conversation about Christ and His things. “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the LORD and that thought upon His name.” Mal. 3:1616Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. (Malachi 3:16). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another.” Col. 3:1616Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16). In this we need diligence of heart so that the Lord may be honored, and our blessing and the blessing of others secured.
I may add also that strength and courage are needed more in a day of decline than when all is going well. There is the enemy to contend with, and instead of having the support of our brethren, we may meet with that which chills the heart and fills it with sorrow. Here the heart is tested, and God only can sustain.
There is not only conflict with a common enemy, but there is the state of the saints to be borne as a burden on the heart. Will you bear this burden? Will you cleave to the saints in the power of divine love when they turn away from you as all in Asia did from Paul? Will you seek to serve them when you are misunderstood, misrepresented, or even maligned, as Paul said to the Corinthian saints, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved”? (2 Cor. 12:1515And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved. (2 Corinthians 12:15)). The state of the saints with whom we have to do will often be the means of testing the state of our own hearts. It is easy to love my brethren when they love me and heap their favors upon me. But do I love them just the same when they turn against me or forsake me? Do I still cling to them when they have given me up? Do I intercede for them night and day when perhaps they are only speaking evil of me? The real question is, Have I got the heart of Christ about the saints? And do I see Christ’s glory bound up in them? Then I shall act toward them according to His heart, and seek His glory in connection with their state, regardless of personal rights or present advantage. Paul could appeal to God as his witness, how he longed after all the Philippian saints in the bowels of Jesus Christ. It was wholehearted devotion to the saints for the sake of Christ, and as having the heart of Christ about them. And this too we need to have; but it requires strength and courage to persevere in it, and the more so if the saints are in a low and carnal state. And we need to be continually cast on God who alone can give strength amid weakness, and lead us on to victory. Diligent seeking of God’s face, and patient waiting on Him for His will, His help, and His guidance, are indispensable. Why have we no strength? Why is there decline among us? why breaking of ranks, and scattering of the saints? Is it not because we have not lived close to Christ, and gone on in humble dependence on God? And God’s Christ, God’s truth, and God’s people have not had their rightful place in our affections. We have seen one growing careless, and another going wrong, and we have perhaps talked about them, and criticized them when we ought to have been on our faces interceding for them.
But will we now lay to heart our own state and that of our brethren? Will we own our slackness of soul our guilty carelessness — and with diligence of heart seek God’s face, and walk with Him? Then we might expect His blessing and the enjoyment of His favor which is better than life (Psa. 63:33Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. (Psalm 63:3)). There is no time for loitering, no time for idle gossip, no time for pampering the flesh and feeding it with the vanities of this world. “Wherefore He saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:14-1614Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. 15See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 16Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:14‑16)).
The blessed Lord give the writer and the reader strength and courage in this evil world to live for Himself and for His own; serving Him and them in lowly grace until we are taken out of the scene of conflict and service to rest in the eternal brightness of His own presence, and in the joy of His unchanging love.