From a putrid dungeon carved from underground rock, with the stench of sweat, fecal matter, and blood mixed with the odor from mildew-covered walls saturating the air, Paul wrote his farewell. His final home, a dungeon, imprisoned countless Christians before and after him. Most of whom drowned inside when the city sewage flooded in to flush their dead carcasses. They were like waste.
Not Paul. He was so despised that they dragged him back out through the manhole in the ceiling and beheaded him in public—so history says.
This was not his first affliction. His ministry life was full of imprisonment, beating, stoning, lashing, shipwreck, drifting, disasters, robberies, starvation, exposure, anxiety, and slander. Even still, he gladly suffered for His Lord. We, in comparison, pride ourselves for courageously wearing our Christian t-shirts.
Paul had true, unparalleled courage. Where did it come from? What drove him to endure so much persecution and suffering? Tucked in his farewell message to Timothy is a progression from biblical knowledge to spiritual courage. In short, Paul was bold “by the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8).
He put it like this: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). In other words, the gospel gives us courage. Let’s see how.
Courage Rises out of Conviction
History tells us, as does rational thinking, that no one will die for a truth of which he is not convinced. Courage, the ability to dive face forward into fearful situations, rises out of conviction. No one will put his life in harm’s way unless a strong conviction exists.
Biblically speaking, courage is the combination of boldness and confidence. One is bold because one is confident. Conviction, therefore, is the soil from which courage grows. It produces valor and gallantry and separates the true Christians from impostors. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Stand firm in the faith … be strong.”
Conviction Rises out of Understanding
The conviction or firmly-held belief that brings forth courage rises out of understanding. Our positions are nothing if they are not grounded in truth appropriately comprehended. In other words, we must understand truth before we can be convinced of it.
Where there is strong understanding, strong belief takes root. It is in the soil of biblical understanding from which biblical conviction grows. These components are necessary to properly direct godly fear and find wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). Or as Paul put it, “Have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).
Understanding Rises out of Knowledge
Strong biblical understanding also has roots. For no one can understand anything unless there is knowledge from which to learn. Therefore, understanding rises out of knowledge. Moreover, biblical understanding rises out of biblical knowledge.
The psalmist wrote, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Ps. 118:8). Our source of knowledge is key to righteous understanding. If God is our refuge, than God’s Word is our shelter. For in it we discover wisdom and all things necessary for life and eternity (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16).
Knowledge Rises out of Scripture
Finally, we arrive at the gospel—“the power of God” (Rom. 1:16). It “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Apart from Scripture, there is no power. If there is no power, there can be no courage. This is why courage comes from the gospel. If Christian courage stands against worldly affliction, it is deeply rooted in the truth of God’s Word. The more biblical truth one knows, understands, and believes, the more courage one has to face the world. There is no other way. Courage does not exist in the soul that does not exist in Christ.
“Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared” (Prov. 3:25-26). Christian, plant yourself deeply in Scripture and be courageous.