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Podcast: Are You Courageous or Cowardly? (Joe Rigney)

By Koa Sinag

Podcast: Are You Courageous or Cowardly? (Joe Rigney)

This article is part of the The Crossway Podcast series.

Rethinking Courage and Cowardice

In today’s episode, Joe Rigney discusses what it really means to have Christian courage. He explores why, contrary to common misconceptions, true courage isn’t the absence of fear but rather requires it.

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Topics Addressed in This Interview:

  • What Is Christian Courage?
  • Is Courage Relevant for Christians Today?
  • The Opposite of Courage: Cowardice
  • Courageous vs. Quarrelsome
  • What Does Courage Look like for a Pastor?
  • How to Cultivate Christian Courage

01:15 – What Is Christian Courage?

Matt Tully
Joe, thank you so much for joining me again on The Crossway Podcast.

Joe Rigney
It’s great to be here.

Matt Tully
Just to start off, how would you define Christian courage, simply?

Joe Rigney
Chesterton’s always a great place to start, because he’s so memorable: “Courage is a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die.”

Matt Tully
You call that the “paradox of courage.” Unpack a little bit more of what he’s getting at when he says it like that.

Joe Rigney
Courage has this double vision element to it. There’s a division within it. On the one hand you have the danger or the threat or the thing that’s provoking fear, and then on the other hand you have this reward, this prize, this good thing that we want or that we are afraid to lose. Both of those are present. Externally, you have a danger and then you have a good thing. Internally, you have a fear and you have a desire. It’s the combination of those coming together that creates the context for courage. You don’t necessarily get courage, because you could also get cowardice out of that—I want the good thing, but the fear overpowers, and so I run away or I give up. Or, you could get courage, which is when the desire for the good overcomes the fear of the danger. You are always going to have the thing you want and the thing in the way, and courage is when your desire for the good overpowers and masters fear of loss. And that’s why Chesterton, when he gets into it, talks about how it’s in necessity because oftentimes you want to live so badly that you’re willing to come within an inch of death, because the desire to live is so strong. But if you don’t want to live enough, you’ll just be paralyzed, and then death overtakes you.

Matt Tully
So would you say there’s an element of risk inherent to courage?

Joe Rigney
Absolutely. I think of it in two forms. On the one hand there’s what we might call the risk-taking, which in my mind is more of the I’m choosing to go into risk not knowing necessarily what the risks are. This is the pioneer, this is the missionary—that sort of circumstance where there’s a risk-taking, and it takes courage. The other side though is equally important and sometimes maybe overlooked, which is what we might call fortitude. That’s when I’m not going looking for trouble, but trouble came looking for me, and now there’s a real risk—the risk is still there—of me losing something that I have, and now I need to be fortified. I need to endure hardship. That’s also courage. It’s the same underlying virtue in both.

Matt Tully
Why isn’t being courageous the same thing as not being afraid? That’s sometimes the way that we, in common parlance, will speak of the idea.

Joe Rigney
People think of courage as it means you’re not afraid. That’s not true. Actually, courage requires fear. You need fear. The guy who’s walking on the edge of a precipice but doesn’t know it because it’s foggy, and he’s just right on the edge and could die at any minute, he’s not being courageous; he’s ignorant. It’s when he becomes aware of how close he is to the edge that courage might actually be required. And so the presence of fear is the given. It’s whether or not fear masters you is where courage comes into play. One of the ways that I define courage is a sober-minded, habitual self-possession. I’m governing. It overcomes fear through that deeper desire for a greater good. It’s that steady, stable, my passions (especially the passion of fear) doesn’t master me. Instead, I master it because I have a deeper desire for a greater good. That’s what I’m clinging to, and that’s overcoming the fear that just sort of rises up. That’s the way the Bible talks about fear is that fear falls upon us. Fear rises up within us. It’s sort of a thing that almost happens to us. That’s why it’s a passion. The steadiness in the face of that is where courage comes into play.

Matt Tully
What’s the difference between mastering our fear and having courage, on the one hand, and wisdom? To take the example of the person walking along the precipice, he doesn’t know at first that he’s on this precipice. All of a sudden, the fog lifts and he sees I’m on the edge of a cliff! What’s the difference between having courage and being willing to persevere on that dangerous path and, on the other hand, having wisdom and recognizing maybe I shouldn’t be up here in the first place?

Joe Rigney
I distinguish courage—and classical, Aristotle guys always did this too—one of the extremes would be a kind of recklessness.

Matt Tully
That’s courage taken too far?

Joe Rigney
Yeah. Courage untethered from wisdom. True courage always needs to be guided by wisdom. It needs to be guided by what reason says is good. And if we’re going to talk about Christian courage, it means animated by the Holy Spirit and clinging to God. But just at a base level even among common courage, there’s a difference between courage and recklessness. Recklessness is unnecessary. We talk about unnecessary risks, foolish risks. That’s what recklessness is. On the flip side, the other extreme you could fall into would be cowardice or passivity, which is normally the thing that we think of as the opposite of courage. And that’s when the fear overpowers me, and so I run away.

Matt Tully
We don’t want any risk.

Joe Rigney
We want no risk or unnecessary risk. Courage is about taking the right risks in pursuit of the real goods.

Matt Tully
That’s so good. So it’s a spectrum, and courage is right in the middle there and there are ditches on either side.

Joe Rigney
Yes.

06:35 – Is Courage Relevant for Christians Today?

Matt Tully
Why do you think the topic of Christian courage is maybe particularly relevant for Christians today? Obviously, all Christians throughout the ages have needed courage. It’s a virtue that Scripture calls us to. But do you think there’s a particular relevance for a book like this and a discussion like this for us today?

Joe Rigney
The most obvious place I think people’s minds will go is sort of the cultural moment in which unbelief, even marginalization, maybe persecution, and hostility are sort of surrounding us on all sides as Christians. And so the question is are we going to be silent, or are we going to speak? Are we going to be bold, or are we going to be cowards? And so that’s kind of an obvious place where I think this is necessary. There’s a chapter in the book on boldness in which I really draw on the book of Acts. Repeatedly it says they were filled with boldness. It was Holy Spirit generated, and it was courage and clarity about Jesus and sin. When the book of Acts talks about boldness, what are they doing? The Sanhedrin is hauling them in saying, Hey, what are you doing teaching in this name? And they say, We’re going to keep teaching in this name. And not only that, we’re not just going to bear witness to Jesus, but we’re going to call you out about your sin. That’s the place where I think sometimes why this is necessary is to get clarity about that, because I think many Christians want to say, We want to testify to Jesus and be bold! But they kind of want to soft sell the sin part, because that’s the objectionable part in our current context.

Matt Tully
Very few people object to Jesus loves you.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. It’s when you say, That’s something you can’t do. God forbids that. Sexual immorality is a sin. All of these things are sins. And when you call out the sin, and it’s specific sin. I think that’s one of the lessons from the book of Acts. It’s not just generic sin. We’re all sinners.

Matt Tully
There are a lot of sins that the prevailing culture would be happy to condemn right alongside us.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. It’s always what’s the sin in the room? What’s the sin in front of you? And so when Peter and John are taken before the Sanhedrin, it’s, You killed Jesus. You murdered the author of life. A couple of weeks ago, you did this. And so it’s not just, Hey, we’re all sinners. It’s, You did this. And that’s what makes them angry and what brings the persecution is the clarity and the boldness about that particular sin. But it’s not just about sin; it is clarity about Jesus: He’s the way out. Repent. Trust him. He sent Jesus to turn every one of us from our wickedness. That’s what boldness requires. So at one level, this present generation requires that kind of Christian boldness. But the truth is, I think it’s a more pervasive need just in the face of general anxieties. We live in an age of anxiety where lots of things awaken fear in us. It’s really common, mundane things. You think about the helicopter parenting phenomenon: Are my kids going to be okay? And so there’s fear that rises up well. You need to master the fear. What’s that called? Courage. Fortitude. For parents, to think about all of the other circumstances in the mundane things of life: What are the people at the office going to think about me if I do this or that? How am I going to orient with my family? For a pastor in a church, the thing that may require the most courage actually may not be, I’m going to testify before this sexual Sanhedrin. The sexual Pharisees of our day are going to haul me into to court to bear witness about sin. But it may actually be, In my congregation I know if I preach this Bible verse straight down the middle, I’m going to get emails. And that’s where courage is required. Paul preaches the whole counsel of God: “I didn’t shrink back from declaring the whole counsel of God.” And that language of “shrink back”—what is that? That’s cowardice, that’s fear.

Matt Tully
So it’s not just about these big, pivotal moments in our lives. That’s where our mind often goes when it comes to a discussion about courage. But you’d want to press it into the everyday lives that we experience and in all different spheres.

Joe Rigney
Yes, exactly. One of the examples I use is one of the ways that Christianity transformed the virtue of courage. The ancient world saw the pinnacle of courage as warriors in battle.

Matt Tully
Physical courage.

Joe Rigney
Which meant it was a more masculine-specific kind of virtue.

Matt Tully
And ancients often viewed courage explicitly as a masculine virtue.

Joe Rigney
Correct. And they’re onto something. They are seeing something about the kind of context when that form of courage manifests. But the Bible uses Sarah as an example of courage. In the book of 1 Peter, she hopes in God and she “does not fear anything that is frightening.” Well, what’s the word for that? That’s courage. What form did it take? She followed Abraham. She submitted to Abraham, calling him Lord. The form her courage took was following a fallible man. That’s scary. And yet she’s doing it, and what’s the virtue? Hope in God—there’s the greater good that I’m desiring that’s overcoming the fear that rises up. We’re leaving country, kindred, and father’s house and going who knows where? You want me to follow you? What virtue does she need? She needs courage. And she’s a model for it, not just for women, but for men too.

11:49 – The Opposite of Courage: Cowardice

Matt Tully
Courage is expressed in all these different ways for all of us; not just men, not just women. You’ve kind of already hit on this a little bit, but very briefly, what’s the opposite of Christian courage? Let’s speak about cowardice.

Joe Rigney
Cowardice is when fear overcomes us and is in the driver’s seat. So, we’re steered by our passions. We think about that as maybe it’s fear of physical danger where cowardice shows up, but I think one of the main ones is loss of reputation. So cowardice and people pleasing actually in the Scriptures go hand in hand because basically there, rather than fearing God—one way to talk about courage is ordering our fears properly. I want to fear God more than I fear man. So, not all fear is bad. There is a good kind of fear. I fear God, and therefore I don’t fear the Sanhedrin.

Matt Tully
Which actually fits really well. “We must fear God rather than man.” They don’t deny that there’s fear. They actually say that fear is good, in a sense, but it has to be ordered correctly.

Joe Rigney
Yes, ordered correctly. Sometimes we talk about ordered loves, like love God most, love our families, love other people. But there are ordered fears—fearing God and pleasing God. And then the opposite of, if man-pleasing is in the driver’s seat, we’re going to be cowardly. A classic example of that is Peter in Antioch. He’s been eating with the Gentiles, and certain men from James come and say something to him, and then he and the rest of the Jews draw back, and it says, “fearing the circumcision party.” There was fear. Whatever the men from James said, it produced fear in Peter that caused him to withdraw, and so that’s cowardice, which is why then Paul has to sort of be the courageous one, doubly—both to continue to eat with the Gentiles and to confront Peter.

Matt Tully
Peter, of all people.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. To boldly stand against sort of the premiere apostle and say, Brother, you are wrong here. This is not in keeping with the truth of the gospel. It’s amazing, when you start to look at it, how frequently it shows up in the Scriptures, whether it’s Aaron and the people at the golden calf, whether it’s Israel and the wilderness generation where they’re afraid. They don’t want to enter the land and they say, There are giants there! In all of those situations, cowardice is the thing that shows up, and the Bible ties that to unbelief. The Bible says there’s an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from living God. This is unbelief and rebellion, but it looks just like I’m afraid.

Matt Tully
You say in the book, “Cowardice is a kind of rebellion.” I think we normally think of cowardice as just the lack of courage, perhaps. We just couldn’t muster enough of what we needed to do something. But you would want to position it more as intentional rebellion against God.

Joe Rigney
Right. I think the experience of cowardice can feel like I’m just afraid, and so it can look like it’s sad or—

Matt Tully
It feels very passive.

Joe Rigney
Passive. Weak. We sometimes want to coddle it and instead where the Bible will sometimes. And I think there’s a way to be patient and kind and so forth when you’re dealing with somebody in that boat, but at the root level, when that passivity or that shrinking back turns into an action, it turns into doing something.

Matt Tully
Running away.


Joe Rigney
I’m running away, or I’m not going to do what God calls me to do, or I’m going to withdraw from fellowship. At that point, this is rebellion. This is, I’m not believing God, trusting God. I’m more afraid of them than I am of him. And that’s a problem. I value their approval more than I value his approval*. That’s a problem. That’s rebellion. And so you see that consistently throughout the Scriptures as the fountain of cowardice.

15:30 – Courageous vs. Quarrelsome

Matt Tully
Let’s apply that to this broader cultural issue of our need for boldness today. We are conservative Christians who love the Bible, who want to affirm what Scripture affirms honestly and clearly. We do face a lot of pressures in our culture today on all number of fronts. But how do we know the line as we look at our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? So often we get into these arguments about how you’re not essentially being courageous, but you’re being cowardly in terms of how you’re engaging on this issue or that issue. How do we know the line between when it’s cowardice and when it’s someone trying to exercise wisdom in what they’re willing to engage in and how they’re willing to engage on these issues? How do we discern those lines?

Joe Rigney
So I think that there’s an element of proportionality that has to be considered. Whatever the thing that we’re afraid to talk about, how big of a deal is it? We’re not willing to call out direct, high-end rebellion against God. We’re not willing to identify it as sin because we know that it won’t go well. It’ll provoke a reaction. If that’s the case, that’s just cowardice. It can hide behind a, Well, I’m just trying to be wise.

Matt Tully
Is there a category of the strategic retreat, where you’re not running away and you actually still want to be in the fight, but you are strategically retreating in order to fight another day kind of thing?

Joe Rigney
That’s certainly an element. The question is, Are you actually going to fight another day? You just keep retreating, and this is just retreating. This isn’t like strategic retreating, this isn’t repositioning, this isn’t taking the high ground in order to get a better shot. And again, I think when we look in the Scriptures, we see examples of this sort of thing.

Matt Tully
To take that analogy further, we see examples of apostles leaving town, fleeing a town where they’re being persecuted in order, presumably, to continue to preach elsewhere.

Joe Rigney
That’s right. There are places of where wisdom says, Hey, it’s time to get out. Walk away. There’s a story in the book of Acts where Paul goes to Jerusalem, and the mob comes up and then he goes out and addresses them, and he is sort of giving his testimony. And they’re hushed into silence. They’re quiet. They’re ap listening with rapt attention to what he’s saying about how I was a persecutor, Jesus knocked me off my horse and saved me. He can save you too. That’s all the subtext. You get to the end of that and he has to say, And then God said I will send you away to the Gentiles. And the text says that up until that moment they had listened. But the minute he said that, it was, “Away with such a man from the earth! He does not deserve to live!” It’s the mob again. I think had Paul not said that thing at the end, he would’ve not faithfully preached, because that was the sin in the room.

Matt Tully
It was this ethnic superiority they had.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. This hostility of the Gentiles, that’s why they’re mobbed is they think he brought a gentile into the temple. They think he hates Moses, they think he’s preferential—all this sort of stuff. If he doesn’t touch the third rail, if he doesn’t preach to the sin in the room, he’s not faithfully preaching. And so I think part of the calibration of when is this just wisdom and when is this cowardice has to do with are you trying to avoid preaching to the sin in the room? Because that’s where boldness and courage is required. And that can be true of the wider culture, but it’s also true of your congregation as a pastor.

Matt Tully
Every congregation and every community, whatever size we’re at, is going to have different third rails, to put it that way.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. That’s exactly right.

Matt Tully
And so would you say it is a little contextually determined where those are?

Joe Rigney
That’s right. And I think one of the optical illusions is you build a congregation preaching about other people’s sins. You gather a group of people and you rail on the sins over there—meaning, out in the culture or that church across town—and everybody amens you. Calibration: if you only get amens in your congregation and you never get any ouches, if people never go, That stung, then I think you’re probably trying to avoid certain things in your congregation, and you’re probably playing up things that aren’t actually present.

Matt Tully
All of this makes me think there’s so much wisdom necessary in determining where to be willing to fight, to stand up, and where to decide that this focus is actually not helpful right now for these people in front of me right now.

Joe Rigney
Yes.

Matt Tully
What’s the difference between being courageously bold, especially when it comes to maybe some of these cultural issues that we are all confronted with, and being quarrelsome? How do you draw the line between those two things? Scripture explicitly tells us not to be quarrelsome, to live peaceably with unbelievers around us.

Joe Rigney
Quarrelsomeness isn’t the same as fighting. Courage means you may have to fight, but you’re always fighting for some good. You’re not just fighting for fighting’s sake. So I think when quarrelsome comes into play, it’s just that I like to fight just to fight, and there’s no possibility of peace. In other words, if you’re fighting and then someone extends the olive branch and says, Oh, I think you have a good point, and then you just find another thing to fight about, you’re just trying to fight.

Matt Tully
Does this suggest there’s a certain way to fight courageously? Is there a certain appropriate way to fight that has a certain kind of end in sight versus another way to fight that doesn’t have that end?

Joe Rigney
When I think about it, I come back to the clarity piece. If you’re fighting and the main thing you’re after is I want to persuade or I want to make clear. And those aren’t always the same, because you might fail at persuasion. Paul did not persuade that mob that day. Sometimes Peter gets up and says, You sinned and you killed Jesus and you get Pentecost. And then Paul gets up and he preaches to the same town—he’s in Jerusalem—and he preaches the same sort of thing, and he gets a mob. Both of them were successful. Both of them accomplished. They were clear about what God says and who Jesus is. That was what was successful. The response is not in their hands. Someone would say, Paul, stop being quarrelsome. And he would say, All I did was say what was true. So to the degree that the hostility is driven simply by I was clear about the truth and they didn’t like it, I don’t think you’re being quarrelsome. It’s when you’re clear about the truth, and then they want to come your way, and you find something else to fight about. Or, I think the other piece of quarrelsomeness has to do with proportionality. When quarrelsomeness is condemned in the pastoral epistles, it’s frequently that they’re wandering away into silly myths, or they’re arguing about stupid stuff. It’s inconsequential. They’re wanting to get into the tall grass about silly stuff. They don’t have their eye on the ball. So that sense of proportionality is are these big things? Are these major issues? Are these high-handed violations of God’s fundamental law? If that’s what we’re talking about, I think we need courage. If we have the same intensity about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or some sort of other interesting thing you could debate but it garners the same intensity, you’re out of proportion.

Matt Tully
Is there a way to defend the important truths in a quarrelsome way? Is there a way to say true things that matter and that are important but do it in a way that is quarrelsome?

Joe Rigney
I think that has to do with whether or not if you were successful in persuading that would be good news to you. In other words, is it I want to constantly be in the fighting seat?

Matt Tully
I think that’s the nuance here is that we don’t want to judge whether or not we’re being quarrelsome simply by the results, which we can’t control. Unbelievers will reject the truth unless God works in their hearts. At the same time, if no one is ever responding in any kind of positive way, is that maybe a sign to us that maybe I actually am being quarrelsome in how I’m going about discussing this?

Joe Rigney
Yeah, I think so. But I think there’s a manner of peace in it, and it has to do with the way quarrelsome might be connected to sober mindedness. A quarrelsome person is the sort of person that if you know what button to push you can get the reaction. Whereas the bold person, in terms of Christian courage, is in control of their boldness. They know what they’re doing. They’re not simply in a panic or anger in search of a trigger.

Matt Tully
They’re not emotionally sucked into this vortex.

Joe Rigney
Right. That’s the interesting thing is whether you’re talking about fear, where you’d want to run away and avoid conflict at all costs, or recklessness, conflict at all costs, in both cases it’s the passions that are governing. You’re being steered by either fear on the one hand or maybe anger or frustration or something. And in both cases it’s the overcoming of those passions by a superior delight in who God is that is the thing that sets the table and that keeps you steady.

Matt Tully
A common trope in many movies, we’ll say, especially war movies, is that of this group of people, maybe a platoon, they’re together, they’re under fire, and they’re afraid. You can see they’re being demoralized and the courage is completely seeping out of this team. And then you have this one figure, usually the leader, who gives some impassioned speech and stands up and then is ready to charge the enemy lines. He gives this model of courage. And through that example, others have courage. And that kind of speaks to the dynamic where courage is contagious. You talk about that a little bit in the book. Why do you think it is that we are so, as humans, moved by seeing the courage of others?

Joe Rigney
God has made us to be imitative creatures. We naturally mirror that which is around us. It takes effort not to do that, which is why cowardice is contagious and courage is contagious. Both of them seep into us. In the scriptures in Deuteronomy when God’s giving laws for warfare, he says, “If there are any men among you who are faint-hearted and fearful, send them home lest they cause the hearts of their brethren to melt like theirs.” And so it was like, we don’t want the cowards in the group because they will demoralize., or the word discourage. You’ll be discouraged by the guy who’s afraid, and so get him out of there because that’s a threat to the ability of this army to do what they need to do. Conversely, courage is contagious. It spreads. Seeing courage spreads it. That’s the guy who stands up and gives the Braveheart speech or whatever and leads everybody into battle. What is that called? Encourage. In English we have these discourage/encourage parallels.

Matt Tully
We’ve sort of watered those words down maybe to some extent where they don’t carry the courage component to them as much.

Joe Rigney
That’s right. So we think we discourage simply means I’m sad, and encourage means I’m just trying to give you a little boost. But it’s actually fortification or weakening, melting. On the encourage side, the language of taking heart is another way to say it. When Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble. Take heart, for I have overcome the world,” what take heart means is to be courageous. It’s a variation on the Old Testament concept. You see this in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and in David’s life. Be strong and courageous. Be very strong and courageous. This repetition over and over and over again of that. Notice it is strength. It takes a strength of mind, a fortified mind to overcome, because passions are really powerful. Mine are powerful internally, and when I see yours. Your passions are very powerful to me. They can start to steer me. I can get sucked in, and it takes a kind of strength. Where does the strength come from? It comes from that desire for the greater good.

27:06 – What Does Courage Look like for a Pastor?

Matt Tully
A lot of pastors listen to The Crossway Podcast, so I wonder if you could speak to them a little bit here. What might it look like for them to embrace Christian courage in their own ministries, people, and churches, especially in light of what we’ve just talked about, how courage is contagious? Pastors occupy a uniquely powerful, influential role in the life of the church. They are looked to as leaders and examples. What might this look like for a pastor?

Joe Rigney
I think for a pastor, the first step is a pastor needs to be able to have enough self-awareness of his own passions, reactions, impulses, and so forth.

Matt Tully
His own natural predispositions of things. Speak to that a little bit too. How does our own personality sometimes inform or influence how we tend to respond to things? I know some people who don’t seem to ever be afraid of anything. If anything, they are constantly ready for a fight, whereas others might be more timid by nature.

Joe Rigney
If it’s just timidity, it’d be a problem, just like if it was just a brashness and I’m always looking to pick a fight. But if we’re talking about a tendency towards being more bold and a tendency towards being more maybe conciliatory, I think both of those could be strengths. That’s why plurality of eldership is a really valuable thing, because you can help calibrate each other. And then you have to know your context. So calibrating what kind of person you are, but then also who do you have an eye on? Pastors need to realize, and this is how you check, you’re looking out at your congregation and you’re going to preach. You have certain people or types of people in mind.

Matt Tully
This is true of you, you would say.

Joe Rigney
This is true of everybody.

Matt Tully
You’re a pastor.

Joe Rigney
I’m a pastor, and everybody has people in mind, and a good pastor is trying to think, How will that person hear this? Because I want to be clear. I don’t want to confuse. I want to be clear. But the danger of that is that it can easily slide into a kind of people pleasing. I want to make sure that they hear it and they accept it, and therefore I’ll water things down or cut the corners or whatever in order to earn a hearing. That is how we would justify it. And so paying attention to the things that you won’t touch. Learning to notice when you start to self-censor—I don’t want to say this thing that’s in the Bible because I know it’s going to cause a problem. That’s a really dangerous thing. And then the flip side of that is it can actually be to your advantage to say the thing clear down the middle, because courage is contagious. If you only have your eye on certain people who you’re afraid are going to react, the people that you don’t have an eye on are the people who need your encouragement. They need to hear you say out loud because they’re trying to raise kids in this crazy culture, and they need to hear you say, Manhood and womanhood: they’re different and they’re both good. And if you’re always trying to thread that needle and not want to touch that because it might be controversial and some people in your congregation might not like it, then there’s people who are going to be languishing and melting.

Matt Tully
You are actually maybe discouraging those people.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. And I think there are a lot of Christians like that. And I think some of the sorting that we sometimes see among evangelicals is people trying to gravitate towards what’s going to encourage them. Now, that can get out of control too. But I think as a pastor, sometimes we can think too much on how are unbelievers going to react? That’s an important question, but you can’t control that. And so trying to control that I think is a fool’s errand at the end of the day. Instead, first responsibility is to encourage your saints. Help them to know what God thinks and how to live, and they need to hear you do it clearly.

Matt Tully
And probably where you might feel a little trepidation about some topic, they’re feeling all the more in their own lives. And so you can speak into that and encourage them in those weak spots.

Joe Rigney
Exactly. And I can think of numerous examples where I went into the pulpit knowing, I think if I say this there may be some people who react negatively.

Matt Tully
Can you give a concrete example of a topic or a verse in Scripture that you felt a little bit of that twinge of fear of I’m going to be preaching this this Sunday, and I don’t know if I want to touch that.

Joe Rigney
An example would be at one point I was going to preach on how elders govern the church. I wanted to use the word rule—how elders rule the church.

Matt Tully
That is the Scriptural word.

Joe Rigney
The Bible word is “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor” (2 Tim. 5:17). The word rule is in the Bible. And so I was like, I’m going to put that in there. But every time I tried, I kept kind of felt this little nudge that said, Say ‘lead’ instead. I’ve tried to cultivate a self-awareness of, Why do I want to do that? And it’s not that it’s just fear. Interrogate that. Is it wisdom? Is wisdom trying to tell you something? Or, is it that you know people aren’t going to like the word rule because it’s going to have connotations they’re not going to like? Therefore, you’re trying to avoid something. Why am I trying to avoid it? It’s a Bible word. Maybe instead I should try to help them love the Bible word. So that’s where I went with that. Once I was aware of trying to shy away, it communicated that I think, at the very least, some people might not like this.

Matt Tully
Maybe for legitimate reasons.

Joe Rigney
Yeah. Look at all of the pastors who have ruled their churches and driven them into the ground in a domineering, abusive way. And so they’ve got connotations to that word. And so I want to be mindful of that, but I also don’t want to just shy away from it, because that’s cowardice, not courage.

32:16 – How to Cultivate Christian Courage

Matt Tully
Maybe as the last question, my guess is that there are some people listening right now who would, if they were being honest, say that they feel pretty intimidated oftentimes by the broader culture that we live in, or maybe just by things in their own lives. In the situations that they face they often feel afraid. They want to have courage, but they just feel like they struggle with that and that’s a constant challenge. Practically speaking, what advice would you offer to them for actually cultivating Christian courage in our own lives? I think all of us probably assume it’s not like a one and done thing. It’s not going to be a quick fix, but what would it look like to start cultivating that?

Joe Rigney
Again, the book of Acts is really helpful to me in this. When you look at what happened after Peter and John go to stand before the Sanhedrin and they get told Don’t preach in this name anymore, what do they do? They come out and they gather with God’s people. They gather up their friends and they lift their voices together and they pray. And what do they ask? They say, God, you made the heavens and the earth. The Gentiles are raging. They quote Psalm 2 and say, The kings of the earth are gathered together, and they gather together against your holy servant, Jesus. And they killed him. And they did exactly what your hand had predestined. So there’s a confidence in the sovereignty of God that was there. They looked to that sovereignty—God’s hand in God’s plan—and they said, We don’t choose the times we live; God does. Take courage from that. And then they said, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness.

Matt Tully
Literally praying for courage.

Joe Rigney
Literally praying for courage. Obviously, there’s a place for individual prayer for boldness, but this is a corporate act. This is together. And so you’re getting the double boost of the Holy Spirit’s help, but also looking around at the others in the room going, We’re all in on this. We’re together. It’s a Braveheart type speech, but instead of being in our own strength, it’s an acknowledgement that apart from God’s help, it ain’t gonna happen. It’s not just Peter standing up in front and saying, Hey everybody! Let’s go be bold! Instead, it’s, God, we need your help to be bold! Stretch out your hand to heal, stretch out your hand to do great works! And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered was shaken. God said, I’m in. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

Matt Tully
So good. Joe, thank you so much for taking the time today to help us understand this important Christian virtue that we all need right now.

Joe Rigney
Thanks for having me.


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