A Case Study on Courage: 8 Characteristics of Courageous People

In the Library of Congress, there is a small blue box labeled, “Contents of the President’s pockets on the night of April 14, 1865.” This is the day Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Inside the box was the president’s wallet. It contained a $5 Confederate bill and a number of newspaper clippings reporting his great deeds. He must have read these for ongoing encouragement.

Today, we recognize Lincoln to be a great man. We don’t need clippings like this to inform us. However, during his day, the jury was still out. The country was divided. Some wanted him dead. Others wanted him gone. And, fewer than that wanted him to succeed. He didn’t live to read the history books detail his great achievements.

Neither did the apostle Paul. The world in his day was equally fierce. Many wanted him dead. He represented the Christian faith, and all who identified with it were persecuted or killed. To associate with Paul or his gospel was dangerous. But “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner,” he wrote to Timothy from a murky dungeon in Rome (2 Tim. 1:8). In this same letter, Paul briefly described a case study on courage, giving us eight characteristics of courageous people:

You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus.” (2 Timothy 1:15–18)

Courageous People are Loyal

The first part of Paul’s case study details the actions of “all those who are in Asia” which includes two prominent figures, “Phygelus and Hermogenes” (1:15). He says that they “turned away from me” (1:15). This is not courage at all. It is cowardice. These people might have been a group of Christians sent to assist Paul during his trials in Rome. The two figures named might have been lawyers of some kind. We can only imagine. He might have had these people in mind when he recalled, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). Whoever they were, their actions teach us by way of contrast. Courageous people are loyal. They don’t desert the gospel or it’s keepers.

Courageous People are Sacrificial

In contrast to those in Asia who turned away, Paul asks the Lord to “grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus,” because of his great courage (1:16). Onesiphorus was sacrificial. Seeking mercy for his family indicates that Onesiphorus left them behind and that they may be troubled by his leaving. Seeking Paul in Rome was a very dangerous mission. In fact, Paul’s language in this passage implies that Onesiphorus was killed shortly after ministering to Paul. It reads a like eulogy. Courageous people are sacrificial, not even counting their own well-being as more important.

Courageous People are Refreshing

Onesiphorus was man on a mission. Paul said that “he often refreshed me” (1:16). Judging by the context of the passage, Onesiphorus refreshed Paul with the ministry of mercy. He demonstrated compassion to Paul while he was alone in misery. To refresh means to receive a breath of fresh air. Onesiphorus refreshed Paul by his persistent presence and acceptance of Paul. He encouraged him, cheered him up, and fortified his hope. This is because courageous people are refreshing.

Courageous People are Humble

Onesiphorus was “not ashamed of my chains,” Paul says ( 1:16). Chains were for lowly people like slaves and criminals—the people that society casts out and mistreats. Paul was considered a criminal in the Roman world because he preached the gospel. To associate with him was to bring yourself low and to suffer the same treatment. Onesiphorus was not too proud to avoid Paul. This is because courageous people are humble.

Courageous People are Selfless

If we didn’t know better, we would miss this next point. The phrase, “when he arrived in Rome,” is jam packed with realities of courage and selflessness (1:17). Fear is a self-protecting mechanism. It steers us away from harm. During his day, Rome slaughtered Christians. No rational disciple would voluntarily travel there unless he was purely altruistic. Courageous people are selfless.

Courageous People are Diligent

Paul said that Onesiphorus “searched for me earnestly and found me” (1:17). Godly courage rises out of gospel soil. It is not snuffed easily. It strives to accomplish what it believes to be true. Conviction drives courage. Obviously, Onesiphorus was driven by the gospel of Jesus Christ. He would not back down or given up when challenges came. Courageous people are diligent.

Courageous People are Rewarded

Already noted, Paul desires that “the Lord grant him mercy from the Lord on that day” (1:18). This is because Onesiphorus showed a great deal of mercy to Paul. Mercy was suitable. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy,” said Jesus (Matt. 5:7). Courageous people will be rewarded for their good works.

Courageous People are Recognized

Finally, the begins and end with recognition. In the beginning, Paul says to Timothy, “you are aware” of the absence of courage. He ends by saying to him, “you well know” of the presence of courage. In both instances, Paul tells us that courage, or the lack thereof, is obvious to those around you. So, “let your shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Courage people are easily recognized.

In closing, we have no greater model of courage than Jesus Christ. He is loyal (2 Tim. 2:13). He is sacrificial (Jn. 15:13). He is refreshing (Matt. 28:20). He is humble (Phil. 2:8). He is selfless (Jn. 15:18). He is diligent (Lk. 15:4).

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