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"Courage: The Choice Needed to Take the Next Step"

August 5/18 Acts 20:17-25


Welcome back to our series on “Paul’s Powerful Progressive Plan” - where have we been over the past half dozen weeks? We’ve seen a variety of CHOICES - to move forward; to see differently; to experience peace; to choose what matters most; and to discover joy. (If you missed any of those, check them out on our church website under ‘Media | Audio Messages’.)

               Today though we’re looking at how Paul approaches COURAGE - the choice needed to take the next step. Even when that step is unpleasant, or risky, or even physically sacrificial. Think about the courage Paul must have needed to do what he did in the course of carrying out his apostleship. Consider Paul’s brief recap in a moment of absolute candidness in 2Cor 11:23b-27: “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

               WHOA! What a list! Do we have any volunteers? If you’d like to sign up for ‘apostleship’, please see the Information Booth at the back after the service today!

               Even just ONE of those hardships would have been enough to discourage most people. How did the Apostle Paul find the sheer gumption to keep going, putting his very life at risk again and again?

               Courage comes in all sorts of forms. Courage under fire may be the type that automatically comes to mind. About a month ago, Larry Rose wrote an article for CTVNews which included this excerpt.

“On a blistering day in 1943, Sheridan “Sherry” Atkinson, a young Canadian infantry lieutenant, stormed ashore on a beach in southeastern Sicily. The next day, Signalman Al Stapleton jumped off a landing craft, plunged into six feet of water and scrambled his way to shore on the same beach. It was the start of Operation Husky, the Allies’ first attack on Fortress Europe in the Second World War. July 10 [marked] Husky’s 75th anniversary.Almost 3,000 ships and landing craft took part in what was the largest amphibious operation in history to that time. Twenty thousand Canadians from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Army Tank Brigade—including Lieut. Atkinson and Signalman Stapleton—made up part of General Bernard Montgomery’s fabled Eighth Army in the attack...The young officer said that on the way in to the beach he could hear the whoosh of 15-inch shells from the bombardment ship HMS Roberts passing overhead. Some soldiers said the shock wave effect was so powerful it was as if their shirts were being ripped from their backs. On shore, opposition by defending Italian soldiers was light, but Mr. Atkinson recalls that a young officer was killed by a sniper right on the beach...By August 17, the Canadians, British and Americans had cleared the Axis forces out of Sicily. By then, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had been toppled from power, the Mediterranean Sea lanes were opened, and the way was clear for the invasion of mainland Italy.”

             That was 75 years ago – part of the price of freedom. What makes this personal for me is my own father was part of that Sicily landing, at the young age of 22! What must it have been like to have been part of that? What fear? What mixed emotions coursing through your system? What courage to hop out into the enemy’s line of fire?

             Yet there are other significant battles still today that call for courage. BBC News reported this past week (July 30) a 22-year-old female student, Marie Laguerre, was returning home in Paris when a man started harassing her, making obscene and degrading comments and "noises with sexual connotations". When she told him to shut up, he threw an ashtray at her, narrowly missing her, then struck her – which was captured by a cafe’s video cam and subsequently went viral. Marie said what she was thinking just before she was forcibly struck: “I know he's going to hit me.I could have run off but there was no question of that.I wasn't going to look down and certainly wasn't going to apologise.” Now THAT’S courage!

             Ms Laguerre went home but quickly decided to go back to the cafe to take witness statements and complain to the police. She wrote on Facebook that fighting back against such aggression was hard, but all women were affected by it and it was time to say stop. "I can't keep quiet and we mustn't stay silent.”

             A chart on the same BBC page showing sexual harassment / violence stats reported by French women is sobering. Nearly 60% report inappropriate behaviour; over 40%, touching without consent; about 30%, pornographic SMS or email; and about 12%, rape. This too is a fiendish battle worthy of courage.

             One last example would be that of terminal illness. When you receive the news that your time is limited and there’s nothing more medical science can do for you, how do you feel then? How do you react? I admired Yvonne because when she received the news a few months ago that the brain tumour was back and she was palliative, she did not become bitter or gloomy or self-pitying, but kept on wanting to worship and show love to others as she always had. And a big ‘thank you’ to you our church family for supporting us so well through these past few months, and in particular to all those volunteers who came alongside to help her have constant companionship, care, and encouragement in her final weeks.

             But - this too is a battle that requires courage! One that’s going on in our hospitals and nursing homes every day – a battle that’s not very high profile in the news. And that we will all one day face.

             So, back to the Apostle Paul and God’s Word. How did the Lord help Paul stay courageous? We find there are at least four key things Paul discloses.

1) COVERING - the Lord Jesus has your back (Acts 18:9-10)

2) COMPELLING by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22-23)

3) COMMISSIONED to testify to God's grace (Acts 20:24).

4) CONVINCED of the supreme value & authority of Christ (Acts 21:13)

1) COVERING - The Lord Jesus Has Your Back (Acts 18:9-10)

In Acts 18, Paul is in Corinth and has been encountering discouraging opposition. His second missionary journey began with a sharp disagreement with Barnabas. Things started well enough in Philippi but then he and Silas were dragged before the authorities, stripped, severely flogged and thrown into a dungeon. In Thessalonica their preaching sparked a riot. At Athens he was sneered at. Now in Corinth the Jews he’d begun preaching to became abusive (18:6). But then, when things must have looked a little bleak, Jesus spoke to Paul. Acts 18:9f “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’”

               Jesus wants His servant the apostle to know that he’s COVERED - Jesus has “got his back”. Consider what the Lord says: “Do not be afraid” – fear undermines courage. “Keep on speaking” - how? “For I AM WITH YOU...” Jesus has it under control, He has many on His side in town, He won’t let Paul’s enemies attack or harm him.

               Jesus gives us, the rest of His followers, the same encouraging promise right in the Great Commission: Mt 28:20 “...And surely I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, to the very end of the age.” What more could you ask for?

               Along the same lines, I always appreciated Moses’ charge to Joshua, which Yvonne had inscribed inside my wedding ring: Deut 31:8 “The LORD himself goes before you and WILL BE WITH YOU; he will never leave you nor forsake you.DO NOT BE AFRAID; do not be DISCOURAGED.” Dis-what? Dis-COURAGE-d.

               For reflection: If a sense of Christ’s presence is key to being encouraged, how are you doing at cultivating that? When you get up in the morning, do you take time to centre yourself as being “in Christ”, God’s precious son or daughter by faith – or do you plunge headlong into the day’s activities, almost frantically trying to prove yourself, as if you have to earn your worth by the work you achieve? It is good to begin by being still and knowing He is God. If you’re conscious of Jesus’ WITH-ness, you’ll be a better WITness.

2) COMPELLING by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:22-23)

Paul continued in Corinth for a year and a half. Later, after stopping at home base in Syrian Antioch, he began his third missionary journey. In Ephesus God did great healing miracles through Paul, alongside his teaching. Lives were changed, and the Way began to make inroads amongst those who had previously practised magic and idolatry. A silversmith and other craftsmen employed in the ‘business’ side of idolatry began a riot, which could have been disastrous for Paul. He traveled through Macedonia, and was set to return to home base in Syria when he learned the Jews had made a plot against him. On the return journey he summoned the leaders of the church at Ephesus. In an emotional farewell speech, he said the following. Ac 20:22-23 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”

             Here we find the support of another member of the Trinity. Jesus has got Paul’s back, protecting and covering him; the Holy Spirit is compelling him, keeping on moving him forward, inspiring him, putting a burning and yearning within him to accomplish God’s goals for his life. And those goals lead to Jerusalem, even though that’s where the opposition is most dangerous.

             The Holy Spirit is our internal supernatural power and perception source. Jesus taught about the Holy Spirit’s role in a believer’s life. Jn 14:17b “...you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” 16:13 “...when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”

             So the Holy Spirit not only SHOWS us what the situation is and what needs to be done, this Counselor also moves us and guides us to start taking steps toward applying God’s truth to the situation.

             One aspect of the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5(22f) is LOVE. Paul says in 2Co 5:14, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” We are compelled by the Spirit, compelled by Christ’s love, convinced of God’s truth which climaxes in the cross, moved to reach out to others with this Good News. Is that so with you? What’s COMPELLING you? What’s entrancing you, captivating you, trying to sidetrack you from showing Christ to those around you?

3) COMMISSIONED to Testify to God's Grace (Acts 20:24)

In Acts 20, Paul is speaking to the church leaders from Ephesus, admitting openly that the Holy Spirit keeps on warning him that jail and suffering await him (v23). What a gloomy prospect! What could possibly keep motivating a person to carry on given such a dire future? He tells us in v24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” See the contrast he’s setting up? To many people, their life is worth EVERYTHING – their worldview doesn’t have scope for anything other than this material existence that could give it value and meaning. It’s the cult of consumerism, the worship of one’s own happiness. But for Paul, there’s something else that obsesses him and drives him, a supreme objective that he’s continually using to evaluate his goals and plans. That is, “the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

             Back in Acts 9, Saul (as he was then called) was on his way to the synagogues in Damascus, searching for followers of The Way so he could take them back to Jerusalem as prisoners. But Jesus appeared to him and stopped him in his tracks. Paul recalls how Jesus commissioned him in Acts 26:16-18: “...I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.I am sending you to them [APOSTLE <- Gk APOSTELLO, to send] to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

               That was Paul’s task, given by the Lord, his “Job 1 ”, the consuming calling that would occupy him the rest of his life. As he acknowledge in 1Cor 9:16, “Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach.Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!”

               Being conscious of this commissioning empowered Paul to overcome fear of endless prison and hardships, and instead forge ahead to share the news about Jesus in foreign and hostile settings. What about you? Do you have an awareness of Christ’s calling and commissioning upon your life? All who call themselves Christians receive direction from the Great Commandment (love God with all your being, and love your neighbour as yourself) and the Great Commission (make disciples of all nations). Besides these, has the Lord helped you identify (sometimes with the help of other Christians’ observations) what your unique task for Him is in your context? In the language of Romans 12, what’s your particular gift? 12:6-8 “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” See the pattern? “If it is [something], let him/her DO it (and, graciously).” What’s your unique ‘something’? Take that as Jesus’ commissioning of you, by His grace.

               Side note: Last Sunday in the video announcements Jacoby pointed out several areas in which the church needs volunteers for its ministries each week - including greeting, Sunday School, sound booth, and so forth. Often the way our gifts become apparent is as we sign up to serve in various roles. Give it a whirl and discover the joy of serving in the area of your gifting!

4) CONVINCED of the supreme Value and Authority of Christ (Acts 21:13)

We’re Covered - Compelled - Commissioned – and last, Convinced. After leaving the meeting with the elders from Ephesus, Paul continued on towards Jerusalem, and his eventual looming conflict with the religious powers-that-be. They came to Caesarea, the port on the Mediterranean close to Jerusalem. Luke the author of Acts records a prophet named Agabus acted out a visual by binding his hands and feet with Paul’s belt and predicting thus the Jews would bind Paul and hand him over to the Gentiles. Luke notes, Acts 21:12 “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.” That must have been emotionally hard to hear!

             But Paul is not swayed from his objective. Look closely at 21:13, “Then Paul answered, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."” He’s ready to be bound – tied up, imprisoned; he’s ready even to DIE. Why? What’s his motivation? FOR THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. NLT “...for the sake of the Lord Jesus.” Literally “name” in the Greek; the lexicon notes, “the name is used for everything which the name covers, everything the thought or feeling of which is aroused in the mind by mentioning, hearing, remembering, the name, i.e.for one’s rank, authority, interests, pleasure, command, excellences, deeds etc.”

             We say, “So-and-so has a good name in the community.” That means they’re valued, respected, looked up to, admired; they have a good reputation. Or in another sense someone might bang on a crook’s door and shout, “Open up in the name of the law!” That’s more the authority side, the agent is there representing the power and command of the office the name of which is being used.

             Paul was ready to die, to lay down his life, for the name of the Lord Jesus: because Paul valued and worshipped Christ and acknowledged Jesus’ power and claim on Paul’s life. Do *you* recognize both those aspects? When we end our prayers, “In Jesus’ name, Amen” - do we really acknowledge the implications? Are you ready to let His signature endorse the cheque of your life? Are you ‘all in’ for Him? There was baptism class this morning: immersion in water pictures a believer’s getting ‘sunk into’ Christ, becoming one with Him. Our very identity becomes wrapped up with His.


Writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul looks back at his time with Silas in prison at Philippi in 1Thess 2:1f: “You know, brothers, that our visit to you was not a failure.We had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition.” Or as NLT renders v2, “Yet our God gave us the courage to declare his Good News to you boldly, in spite of great opposition.”

             There are other instances in Paul’s life when he showed considerable courage. In Acts 14:19 at Lystra some opponents stone Paul and drag him out of town, thinking him dead. But what happens? Ac 14:20 “But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city.” WHAT?! He went back into the city? I’d be running for the hills! “Get me away from this place!”

             In Acts 13:9f on Cyprus Paul confronts a sorcerer who had attached himself to the governor of the island, and the sorcerer is struck blind for a time.

             Galatians 2 tells about Paul confronting Peter when the ‘lead apostle’ had started to cave in to pressure from the Judaizers and pull back from fellowship with Gentile believers. Gal 2:11,14 “When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong...When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” That must have taken some boldness, to call the chief apostle to account for doctrinal dilution!

               When Paul was bitten by a viper on the island of Malta, he doesn’t panic but calmly shakes it off into the fire (Ac 28:3ff). Mr Cool!

               And twice when there’s a riot, Paul doesn’t turn tail and run, but instead wants to address the crowd that would like to tear him limb from limb. At Ephesus (Ac 19:30f) and again at Jerusalem (Ac 21:39). The guy’s got pluck!

               Our own response to challenging situations can be a remarkable witness to others who see that our reaction isn’t the panic or despair that might normally be expected. John Wesley was on a ship bound for the Americas when a storm struck and damaged the boat significantly. Also on board were some Moravian missionaries. Their calmness grounded in their Christian faith made quite an impression on John Wesley.

Journal entry: Sunday January 25, 1736

At noon our third storm began. At four it was more violent than before. At seven I went to the Germans [ie the Moravians]...There was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear...In the midst of the psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the mainsail in pieces, covered the ship, and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up.A terrible screaming began among the English.The Germans calmly sang on.I asked one of them afterward, “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked, “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied, mildly, “No; our women and children are not afraid to die.”

               Due no doubt in large part to them knowing the One who, when His disciples were in a boat buffeted by the waves in the midst of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, came to them walking on the water and said: Mt 14:27 “Take COURAGE! It is I.Don’t be afraid.” Let’s pray.