This is especially troubling since courage is the virtue that underpins all other virtues. For example, when Jesus saved the life and retained the dignity of the woman caught in adultery [John 8:3]—a crime punishable by death under Mosaic Law—he did so in part through His internal capacity to withstand the criticism and even hatred of the Pharisees, whom he embarrassed and enraged. Without courage, Jesus’ acts of incredible grace and mercy were impossible.
Unfortunately, each generation has its preferred virtues, the ones they emphasize at the expense of others, leading to cultural, psychological and spiritual blind spots and deficiencies. Today within evangelical culture, we extol the gentle virtues often at the expense and even ignorance of the tougher virtues—none more key than courage and its fruits of fortitude, perseverance and especially strength.
Courage is the capacity that allows us to take risks, make sacrifices and to be, as Martin Luther King Jr. said regarding Christian faith, “dangerously unselfish.” Courage helps us to withstand and grow through ongoing pain, suffering, isolation and related difficulty. Righteousness requires it, and the Bible commands us to be bold and courageous more than 25 times. God takes courage and its lack very seriously.
This foundational virtue is so important that according to Jesus, some people actually walk away from faith because they don’t possess enough of courage. In Jesus’ illuminating Parable of the Sower [Mark 4:1-20], He tells us about the kind of person who receives the Good News with initial jubilation, but on account of tribulation due to the same divine revelation of God’s love and desire for His creation—they fall away. His disciples didn’t quite get was He was talking about, so they pressed Him for additional information. And Jesus’ explanation tells us something profound about the relationship between courage, faith and life everlasting.
There are people who fall away from the faith, He said, even when they experience initial joy, because they possess no staying power or rootedness in them. "But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away." (Matt. 13:21 NIV) Staying power is one of the primary benefits of courage—it may as well be a blue-collar definition. What Jesus was really saying is that some people leave their faith because they are cowards.
In the later articles, you’ll learn what drains us of courage, what grows it, and how it helps us to live larger, more faithful and more substantial lives.
The reassuring news is that each of us is born with a capacity for this fundamental virtue. The challenging news is that in many ways, the tenor of our life depends on our ability to honor and grow this virtue that underpins all other virtues for our own benefit, the benefit of others, and to God’s glory.