And why holy boldness is not the same as being mean
Long ago, Aesop told a fable about a Lion. This supposedly fearsome ruler of the wild heard a hollow and startling voice, but did not see anyone to accompany the voice—so the lion grew terribly afraid. After some moments of great dread, a frog hopped out of the lake and on to the shore where the lion could finally see who was making the noise. Realizing he was frightened by such an insignificant animal, the lion proceeded to stomp the frog to bits with his claws.
Aesop told some clever and revealing tales—and this one is not unlike the rest. Sadly, this fable may resonate in our age with those of us in the church. There appears to be one of two extremes common among the people of God—the extremes of the lion. Either shrinking back when we ought not. Or viciously thundering forth when we ought not. It seems the church may need to regain the lost art of courage, for there are those who shy away from battles that must be taken up, and there are those who don bravado and (seemingly) do nothing but battle. What may be lacking in these two poles is the biblical concept of “meekness”—or courage, rightly carried.
The Apostle Paul in Titus 1, speaks to the young evangelist, and lays out to Titus (and by extension, us) a list of qualifications we are all familiar with; the qualifications of elders. After Paul walks through these character qualities he points out that these godly attributes lead somewhere. The character of these leaders have a purpose, a goal, a particular practice. You see, it is not enough to have godly character, the scriptures expect us to rightly labor in accord with that Christ-like character.
Specifically, Paul tells these shepherds they must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to…rebuke those who contradict it.” (vs 9) He goes on, “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers… They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families” (vs 10-11).
Such leaders in Christ’s church, who are not arrogant, nor quick-tempered, and certainly not violent (vs 7), but are instead lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined (vs 8)—are to stop the mouths of people who are disturbing the church.
Now, we may hear those characteristics and the resultant behavior and believe the two stand in tension with each other. How can godly, gentle, under-shepherds of Christ’s sheep silence certain people? Or men who go around telling people to shut their mouths, how can they be the “gentle reformation” types? We are tempted to believe such holy boldness is either “not nice”, or that kindness means a lack of boldness.
Yet Paul does not hold these two truths in tension, he holds them in simultaneous union and harmony. True shepherds of the flock of God will stop the mouths of liars, troublers, and divisive folk who are in the church and are doing her harm. True courage puts oneself between the flock and those who are seeking to disrupt the flock, not allowing such to go undisturbed for fear of upsetting the disrupters.
Have we lost the art of courage—the wedding of truth and grace?
We need a boldness and a meekness to wade into controversial issues and be decisive. We need loving but firm effort to stop what needs to be stopped. We need faithful shepherds who will remove that which needs to be removed from Christ’s church. And we must see that such actions are a direct result of Christ-like character qualities.
Proverbs 25:26 puts it well when Solomon says, “Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.”
Sadly, polluted fountains are prevalent to find.
Alternatively, Solomon speaks to the other side of the equation a chapter later in Proverbs 26:21, “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife."
It seems there is a good bit of charcoal at play in the church as well.
Friends, the church must foster the art of courage—a boldness that holds its strength in meekness—like the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, who could have called down 12 legions of angels with a word.
To do so, we must reject the notion of stomping everything that sounds like a frog and calling it courage. And we must simultaneously refrain from cowardice that we falsely dress up as a kind lion. A Christ-like courage is neither—and we need more of His character in the church today.