A Profile in Christian Courage
John F. Kennedy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his book, Profiles in Courage, in 1956. He selected eight United States Senators to exemplify the virtue of courage, which, according to Ernest Hemingway, is “grace under pressure.”
The New Testament contains several examples of courageous Christians who were pressure-treated by their experiences, and they brilliantly endured what they faced with grace — God’s grace.
Other than our Lord’s, we know more about Paul’s Christian courage than any of his contemporaries. Several events in his life illustrate Paul’s bravery, but one of the most instructive is the message of his final recorded letter to Timothy.
“The time of my departure is come…” he writes in 2 Timothy (4:6). Paul knew the end was near. Although the apostle’s execution was imminent, his words to Timothy were composed with undaunted resolve to keep the faith, encouraging Timothy to do the same.
Timothy was encouraged, instructed, warned, and summoned by his mentor and friend. But Paul’s farewell admonition did not gloss over the Christian servant’s future.
The Life of Hardship
Paul warned Timothy that his faith and ministry would be challenged by antagonism. Paul’s personal condition was an indication of what may happen to others. The persecuted apostle used the word “suffer” six times, noting that he was in bonds and treated as a criminal (2 Tim. 1:8, 12; 2:3, 9; 3:12; 4:5). He reminded Timothy of the experience in Asia (2 Tim. 1:15), and he warned him about Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim. 4:14).
Paul’s message was this: Faithful service to Christ will bring antagonism — even persecution. But be strong, and keep the faith (2 Tim. 2:1; cf. 4:7).
Paul’s encouragement was not blind idealism. It was a tested way of thinking and living, coming from one who knew that genuine understanding and appreciation for God’s grace is all that is needed to face antagonists and hostilities (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; 2 Tim. 4:22).
The beloved apostle also warned Timothy that he would meet obstacles. As a Christian cuts a straight course with the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15), he will engage those who have strayed from the truth and who have destroyed the faith of others.
Paul speaks from experience; Hymenaeus and Philetus had been a gangrene in the body of Christ. The realistic message for Timothy was this: there will be obstacles, like false teachers, but keep the faith, and preach the truth (2 Tim. 2:14, 25).
Jesus Christ, Our Solid Rock
Again, Timothy was encouraged by Paul. Distractions would come, since the world is focused on self and not God (cf. 2 Tim. 3:4). Some individuals will distract God’s people. From such reprobates, all manner of persecution and spiritual destruction can come.
Paul knew, from his own life, that the stabilizing factor in a world of distractions is the Lord. So the message to Timothy was this: You have been listening to the Lord all your life — continue to heed the saving message of his Word. Through his Word, he will make you “competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17, ESV).
The Discouragement of Rejection
Paul knew that faithful Christians would also face discouragements. There will be many who do not want to hear the faithful Word. There will be others who want to do you harm. Some, with whom you have worked, will abandon the faith. You may stand alone at times.
Timothy was informed that there would be discouragement, but the message was this: I, Paul, your friend and father in the faith, know about the kind of discouragements you may face. But no matter what, keep and preach the faith (2 Tim. 4:8).
Paul, an Encourager to the End
In Paul’s farewell address to Timothy, he encourages us as well — both by example and instruction. We need encouragement, for we may face antagonism, obstacles, distractions, and discouragement. We can meet antagonism with grace, obstacles with truth, distractions with focus, and discouragement with conviction.
The Lord will deliver us into his eternal kingdom; he will give the crown of righteousness to all who have loved his appearing. The message is this: Keep, live, and preach the faith.
For the courageous Christian, there will be no eternal regrets. He may never be listed as one of the world’s bravest, but his name is written in the book of life.