Pastors need to be courageous. Many of Paul’s exhortations to Timothy highlight this truth. Timothy, though sincere, gifted, and discipled by the most eminent of apostles, apparently lacked courage in some areas (2 Timothy 1:7), and was perhaps even guilty of over-correcting and being too harsh with the way he instructed those who were not in step with the truth (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Throughout the same letter Paul exhorts Timothy to not be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord (1:8), to correct opponents (2:24-25), to avoid religious hypocrites (3:6), and to preach the Word all the time—regardless of a presence or lack of popularity (4:3).
These exhortations are not just for Timothy; they are for those of us who desire to serve Christ in pastoral ministry. Courage is not optional. In fact, if we find that we are characteristically cowardly in the face of opposition and confrontation, it may mean we should reconsider our future as Jay Adams suggests, “If you do not develop such pastoral courage after a reasonable length of time, perhaps you should question your calling” (Shepherding God’s Flock, 230). That does not mean that a qualified pastor may struggle with courage like Timothy did; but if we do not find growth in this area and we find we are constantly ignoring situations that require confrontation, it may mean that we should look for another line of work. Upholding truth, preaching Christ, counseling sinners, fighting off wolves, and protecting the flock all require courage.
It is encouraging to learn, then, that courage is often the fruit of personal holiness and integrity. It is not a matter of mustering up courage by sheer will-power. Countering this fleshly approach may be what led to Paul’s admonition in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Will-power courage usually leads to fighting and angry outbursts. Ironically, underneath a rough, confrontational nature usually lies cowardice. It is easy to mask fear with ferocity. On the other hand, Proverbs 28:1 reads, “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” It is those who are ethically and morally righteous that find the inner strength to stand for truth and consistently do what is right. Why is this? Let me suggest three reasons.
(1) The righteous keep a good conscience. One who is regularly violating their conscience will feel the condemnation of God and therefore be unable to sense God’s presence and power in their life. The righteous, however, keep a clear conscience and are able to boldly approach God for strength because they are confident in their relationship with him. 1 John 3:22 makes this promise: “And whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
(2) The righteous have a sharp sense of right and wrong. Righteous living leads to a constant sharpening of our spiritual senses. The truth is not like a knife in this way—the more we use it, the sharper it gets. When we practice what we know to be true, we grow in our ability to discern right from wrong (Hebrews 5:13). Conversely, those who do not act on the truth will blunt their spiritual senses and dull their ability to accurately distinguish between right and wrong (Hebrews 5:11-12). It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be courageous for what is right when we do not know what is right.
(3) The righteous live in the fear the Lord. Proverbs 3:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is to turn away from evil.” The righteous demonstrate their fear of the Lord by walking diligently in his ways and turning from sin. Since they fear the Lord, they do not need to fear man. “Do not fear those who who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Commenting on Proverbs 28:1, Bruce Waltke writes,
[T]he inward security of each person who loves God and serves the community is explicitly likened to that of a young lion, the king of beasts (19:12; 30:30), which mauls its attackers and has no reason to fear…Paradoxically, because the wicked do not fear God, they live in fear of people, but because the righteous fear God (1:7), they do not fear people…the loyalty of the righteous to God and community, fortified by Scripture, confirms them and enables them to face all kinds of distress in faith (Proverbs 15-31, 406)
Courage, then, is to be sought as the natural outcome of a holy and obedient life; a life marked by consistent integrity and irreproachable conduct. If we want to carry out our pastoral responsibilities with courageous and powerful leadership, the first step would be to start pulling out logs and crucifying flesh.