Elements of Effective Exposition: Courage

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If an expositor of God’s Word wants to be effective in his work, he must be a man of conviction who preaches the Word of God with clarity. Furthermore, the biblical expositor must be a man of courage.

The virtue of courage is often misapplied and misrepresented in our culture today. The media and culture often present those who stand for ungodliness and wickedness as courageous although such evil draws out the applause of the world. Lately, it seems that any public stand for perversity is considered courageous by our increasingly rebellious nation, whether it is a man pretending to be a woman or a woman pretending to be a cat. All of this confusion leads to a significant question: What is courage according to the Bible?

psm3124Our English term courage is derived from a Latin term that means heart, and the Bible often pictures courage in terms of the heart. For example, in 1 Samuel 17:32 David reassures the Israelites that they need not fear but can be courageous because David will go and fight Goliath on behalf of Israel. He says to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail on account of him [Goliath].” The picture of the heart failing is the picture of losing one’s courage and collapsing in the face of fear. In Isaiah’s oracle against Babylon, he explains how the judgment of God cannot be withstood by even the most courageous sinner. Isaiah 13:7 says, “Therefore all hands will fall limp, and every man’s heart will melt.” The melting of the heart depicts the inner-fear at the prospect of judgment, while the limp hands picture the utter loss of strength in the face of sheer dread. Courage completely has gone out, leaving all those under God’s wrath terrified and weak, unable to stand or bear His indignation. These images help explain the true meaning of courage. Courage is the opposite of the heart melting or failing; it contrasts with limp hands that are weak and ineffective. To be courageous is to be strong of heart. To be courageous is to have one’s hands strengthened for battle. Courage might be defined biblically as strength in the face of adversity.

Examples of such courage abound in the Scriptures. In 1 Samuel 14 Jonathan and his armor-bearer rout the Philistines because of their great courage despite impossible odds. Hezekiah acted courageously against the armies of Sennacherib, king of Assyria, in 2 Chronicles 32:7, instructing the people not to fear but to be strong and courageous. When the Apostle Paul’s life was in danger in a deadly storm in Acts 27:22, he encouraged the men around him to be courageous and not fear for their lives, and God brought them safely to shore through the storm. One of the most memorable passages of all that speaks of courage is Joshua 1:9, where the Lord tells Joshua to be strong and courageous as he leads Israel into battle to obtain the Promised Land. Godly men and women have faced great adversity throughout history, and their shining moments of faith have been mixed with undaunted courage despite the odds against them.

open-air-preachingLike these godly people who have come before us, men who exposit the Scriptures must possess great strength in the face of adversity. We must be men of courage. The reasons for this are clear in Scripture. 2 Timothy 4:3-4 reminds the preacher of the Word that difficult days will come because people will not want to hear sound doctrine. They will instead want to be entertained. They will want to hear stories. They will want to hear those who make them feel good about themselves. They will reject the truth about sin, wrath, judgment, and hell. Men who bring such messages will be castigated as unloving, intolerant, bigoted, and narrow-minded. Such men will face scorn and rejection by those who have rejected Christ. Preachers often identify with our Lord and the Psalmist in Psalm 69:9 – “The reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me” (cf. Romans 15:3). We know that in difficult times the only way to endure is to have great courage. We must have strength in the face of adversity when that adversity comes because of our stand for the truth of God’s Word. It is precisely in those times when the Word of God is “out of season” that our courage is put to the test, and it is precisely in such times when we most need to be men of courage. It is easy to float along with the currents of the culture. It is even possible to dress them up in biblical attire to make us feel better about compromise. But the faithful expositor wants nothing to do with such folly. He is a man of courage, and he stands on the truth of God’s Word even when the entire world, and, as with Martin Luther, even the entire visible church, stands against him.

The expositor thus evidences courage in his preaching by expounding the full counsel of God. He does not harp on the difficult doctrines or passages, but he does not avoid them either. He preaches everything God has revealed as God has said it, whether it is offensive to cultural sensibilities or not. Inevitably, every expositor will come to a passage he knows could create adversity in the church where he ministers. But the expositor is committed to true exposition of the text, so he must deal even with the difficult and contentious passages. He must deal with them courageously, preaching what the Word says and allowing God to work out the response to and the results of his preaching. Such courage enables the man of God to preach with conviction and clarity; it is truly the backbone of all biblical preaching.

2cor56Where can an expositor find such courage in the face of adversity? It is likely that many readers are facing such adversity even now, dealing with church members who are opposed to certain biblical doctrines or who wish the pastor would make his preaching more culturally “relevant” or culturally “acceptable.” Where can such a preacher find strength to deal with such adversity in a godly and faithful way? We find courage in the same place the faithful men of old found courage: in the promises of God. While the world looks for courage in self-esteem, inherent abilities, or perceived strength, the man of God looks for courage outside of himself. He looks to a faithful God who always fulfills His Word and who always uses His Word to accomplish His ends.

The Apostle Paul was a great illustration of courage during his missionary journeys. In 1 Thessalonians 2:2 he recounts how he suffered and was persecuted in Philippi, but then he and his companions came to Thessalonica. Would their courage wane because of their sufferings and setbacks? To the contrary, Paul writes that “we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition.” Strength in the face of adversity! The opposition was great. The suffering was intense. But the promise of God was unfailing. The Word of God would go forth powerfully and save those God had appointed to eternal life. Paul says as much in a few verses later, writing, “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13). The promise of God that His Word would do its work was fulfilled. Paul’s courage was grounded in God’s promise, and ours must be as well.

Courageous expository preaching opens up the Word of God for the people of God. Through such courageous exposition, the Word of God does its work in those who believe. Strength in the face of adversity is a non-negotiable for the man who would preach the Word of God, for he must preach the whole counsel of God in the midst of a world that is intolerant of truth.

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