The philosopher Aristotle included courage amongst the four virtues that came to be called the ‘cardinal virtues’ - the ones upon which all the others hinged. Alongside courage, the other three cardinal virtues are prudence, justice and temperance. These were taken up into the Christian tradition together with the three great ‘theological’ virtues of faith, hope and love. It is perfectly understandable that humans should always have admired courage and yet the Biblical picture of courage seems to differ somewhat from the way Aristotle thought of it. For Aristotle, the virtues were ‘excellences’ of character and each virtue could be identified and cultivated like a skill. Each true virtue was at a mid-point between the lack of a certain quality and having it in excess. So courage is at the appropriate point on the scale between cowardice (lacking all courage) and recklessness (total disregard for consequences). For Aristotle, courage, like all other virtues, was about the correct understanding and deployment of human qualities.
In the Bible, the word ‘courage’ seems to occur most in phrases where a person ‘takes courage’. Often the story tells of people facing something that seems to be pushing them beyond their own resources and then God reminds them of the support and strength that is available. Courage seems to be much more closely linked to trust than to self-reliance. It is still courage. It is still brave. It always requires stepping out into territory that is unknown and open to risk and often doing so alone. It was shown by Abraham, Moses, Daniel, Paul and, most of all, by Jesus. It was very hard for them to do what was required, but the strength came from a trust that what was being done was right and that they would be supported.
We often forget the connection between the word ‘courage’ and the word ‘encouragement’. We all know that encouragement is good and a source of strength but perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the word originated in the idea of ‘filling with courage’. We can be filled with courage by renewing our vision of what we know to be true and right. We can be filled with courage by the knowledge of the support of others. We can be filled with courage by a belief in the reality of God’s care for us. We can be a source of courage in others.
Mark 6:50 and John 6:20 'I am Jesus. Don't be afraid'.
Luke 12.7 Jesus said: 'Don't be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows'.
Isaiah 41:13'I am the Lord your God. I am holding your hand, so don't be afraid'.
Ezra 7:28 Because the hand of the Lord was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.
Matthew 14: 26 – 7 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake. They were terrified … but Jesus immediately said to them: ‘ Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
Acts 27: 22, 25 (Paul’s words during the storm and shipwreck on the way to Rome) ‘Keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost … I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.’
1 Corinthians 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be people of courage, be strong.
How have we developed an understanding of this value during worship?