There’s a curious difference between rebellion and world-changing courage. As Spurgeon wisely said, “Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right.”
It can be very difficult to discern the difference sometimes. Let me give you a couple of examples, and you’ll see what I mean.
- What about the famous picture of a crowd saluting Hitler, with one man refusing to join in… Rebellion or courage?
- What about Rosa Parks refusing to move on that bus? Rebellion? Or courage?
Rebellion and radical courage do look similar sometimes, but there’s actually a big difference from God’s point of view.
Sometimes we need to take an unpopular stand that defies social norms or even unjust laws. This requires great courage, and crucially, for those of us who choose to live under God’s authority, it must be carried out with God’s approval. This can be a very difficult call to make.
Don’t fall for the counterfeit
Some mistakenly think Jesus was a rebel, but that is because they have fallen for a cheap counterfeit of true courage. Jesus, contrary to some popular ideas, was no rebel. A survey of words connected to rebellion in the Bible will soon show you that it is an anathema to God.
God hates rebellion. We would be wise to purge it from our lives, along with all admiration of it.
Whether turning tables or refusing to capitulate to intimidation, it is the otherworldly courage of Jesus that we are seeing. Some may mistake it for rebellion, but this is a grave mistake to make.
Rebellion can win you high esteem in this world. Not so in the heavens.
Jesus may have infuriated the authorities, but He never rebelled against the laws of God. Even when it came to the Sabbath, Jesus never actually broke laws that God had made – only the nitpicking specifications of rabbinic tradition. Les Crawford’s article on the subject puts it this way:
“He decided how the Sabbath should be kept and rightly so, as He was the one who first commanded it in the giving of the Law to Moses… When an accurate understanding of how the Law should be interpreted is applied to Jesus’ actions in relation to the Law, we see that Jesus was certainly not a rebel. He did violate the scribes and Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law, but theirs was not valid. Rather, they placed an unbearable, unlawful burden on the people (Mt. 23:4). Jesus came to set people free by removing such burdens, and He did so in His fulfillment of the Law. He stated clearly that He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but rather to fulfill them (5:17). In so doing, His perfect obedience to the Law enabled His substitutionary death on the cross to pay the penalty of humanity’s breaking of the Law (Rom. 5:19). Jesus fulfilled the Jewish Law, and He was the only one capable of doing so. He was not a rebel in the sight of God, despite not conforming to some significant cultural norms.” 1
Though He defied Rabbinic rulings on Shabbat, Jesus insisted that His followers should keep other laws, even if they weren’t particularly fair. Consider the incidents involving paying taxes. In Matthew 17 we see this exchange regarding paying temple tax:
“What do you think, Simon? The kings of the earth, from whom do they collect tolls or tax? From their sons or from strangers?”
After Peter said, “From strangers,” Yeshua said to him, “Then the sons are free. But so that we do not offend them…” (Matthew 17:25-27)
Jesus seems to suggest that from heaven’s point of view they were not compelled, but in order not to offend, they should pay anyway.
Later, we see another encouragement to pay taxes, but this time to the oppressive Roman colonizers. The religious rulers were trying to get Him into trouble by making Him stand up against Rome. How does Jesus respond?
“Bring Me a denarius so I may see it.”
They brought one. And He said to them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they said to Him.
Then Yeshua said to them, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:15-17)
The coins bore the image of Caesar, and we bear the image of God. If the coins made in his image belong to Caesar, how much more do we, created in the image of God, belong to Him? He made us, and we are His. Our lives are not our own. So Jesus simultaneously demonstrates His freedom from the world’s system and points to the ultimate authority over our lives, to whom we owe obedience: God.
When to take a stand
It can be difficult to know what Jesus would do in our increasingly surreal circumstances. Would He defy authority? Would He challenge a corrupt system? At what point would He be willing to break the law and engage in civil disobedience? Would He be sending angry tweets directed at the leaders of the nation? Pushing petitions on Facebook? Or on Instagram with subversive signs?
Many of our knee jerk reactions to the growing chaos around us don’t represent the Messiah very well at all. It’s far too easy to get riled up, full of angst (often rooted in fear, if we’re honest) and react in ways that do not serve God’s purposes. We’ve got to avoid anything that smacks of rebellion, but also misguided or impetuous bravado.
These times require sobriety, great wisdom, and patience to wait until we are sure what God would have us say and do. As Derek Prince once wisely counseled, if you’re in any doubt about whether or not it’s right, don’t do it.
Wisdom requires the patience to seek God until you have His heart on a matter.
Patience requires waiting, holding back, which in turn requires great inner strength.
When it’s time to speak or act, it will often require great courage.
Growing in radical courage
To clarify, I would say that both the examples with which we began (Rosa Parks and the man at the Hitler rally) are examples of tremendously courageous stands against evil, not rebellion. Many may mistake these acts as rebellious, but both are actually very much in line with God’s heart. Sometimes we must courageously refuse to go along with the crowd, societal expectations, and even the law, in order to represent God’s kingdom. Sometimes the stakes may be very, very high.
God repeatedly spoke these words to Joshua: “Be strong and very courageous!” This phrase (‘Chazak ve ematz!’ in Hebrew – חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ) has the sense of encouraging someone to make a concerted effort to summon their own strength. This can be a process that is started, at least, by a determined act of decision. We need to be willing to give it all we’ve got in setting our faces like flint, but we are not left on our own to face the fight. Jesus promised to be with us always, till the end of time. Indeed, the second half of God’s charge to Joshua is His reassurance that He’ll be with him. The Tree of Life Translation puts it like this:
Have I not commanded you? Chazak! Be strong! Do not be terrified or dismayed, for Adonai your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)
Reading through the chapter, whenever God says this phrase to Joshua, He backs it up with reasons to encourage Joshua in his self-strengthening efforts:
- In verse 6 God reminds Joshua of promises he can count on
- In verses 7-8 He points Joshua to the Book of the Law as a guidebook
- In verse 9 He assures Joshua of His presence
- In verse 18 God says He’ll take care of any opposition
In Acts chapter 2, the promised Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and they are immediately filled with the otherworldly courage of Jesus. The boldness of Peter and the Apostles is astonishing, compared to the trembling fugitives they had previously been. Jesus promised not to leave us alone as orphans, and His Spirit is available to us today as well. He can fill our hearts with courage and boldness to stand up and do what’s right in the face of opposition and even danger.
Encouraging yourself and others
In the English language, the word courage comes from the Latin word for heart (cor), which is why we sometimes see Jesus encouraging us to “Take heart!” in English translations. We can talk of taking heart or losing heart – either way, courage is a matter of the heart. The wonderful thing is that we can actually impart courage to others – this is what encouragement is. Discouragement can take courage away and deflate us, but encouragement adds strength to our efforts to be strong and courageous!
We can encourage ourselves in the Lord by reminding ourselves of God’s promises, His word, and His presence, just as David did (1 Samuel 30:6). We can impart courage to others through our words, and even just with our presence. Numbers 32:6-7 shows how our lack of presence and participation can be a distinct discouragement to God’s people, which equally means that just by being present and joining in, we can be an encouragement to others:
“Shall your brothers go to the war while you sit here? Why will you discourage the heart of the people of Israel from going over into the land that the Lord has given them?”
We can also encourage people by our example. When we summon the strength to be courageous, we can in turn impart strength and courage to those around us as they see us taking a stand.
“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” (Billy Graham)
Rosa Parks has gone down in history as a world changer, and rightly so. The man at the Hitler rally is admired as a great example decades down the line. Far from acting out of God-grieving rebellion, these heroes stood against evil in a manner that inspires us to this day. These examples and others like them serve as an encouragement to us – not only to take a stand, but they teach us that our acts of courage can call out courage in others too. Chazak ve ematz!