The Bible is filled with stories of courage and faith. What lessons can we learn from the apostles to help us grow in the courage we need today?
Many of the best-known stories of courage are found in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Joshua followed God’s admonition to “be strong and of good courage” as he led the Israelites into the land they were promised (Joshua 1:6, 7, 9).
David, as a youth, overcame Goliath (1 Samuel 17). As young men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Daniel 3). And when still a young woman, Esther risked her life to save her people (Esther 4:16).
Hebrews 11 documents the stories of many of these faithful people.
The simple answer is yes! There are also accounts of people in the New Testament displaying great courage under the most difficult circumstances.
One of the most extensively documented and insightful stories of courage in this section of Scripture is that of the apostles—the men personally selected by Jesus for training during His earthly ministry.
The apostles’ initial lack of courage
During the 3½ years the apostles spent with Jesus, their courage was somewhat of a mixed bag.
They had the courage to leave their careers and follow Jesus in order to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). And Peter had the courage and faith to walk on water toward Jesus—at least for a short while (Matthew 14:25-31)!
As tensions between the religious leaders and Jesus intensified just prior to our Savior’s crucifixion, Peter vehemently said, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!” And the other disciples made similar statements (Matthew 26:35).
It sounded good. They all wanted to be courageous. The only problem was, when Jesus was taken into custody, they weren’t courageous.
Peter tried to stop the proceedings by pulling out his sword and taking a swing at the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear (Matthew 26:51). But when Jesus told Peter to put his sword away so He could be arrested in order to fulfill Scripture, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (verse 56). Some later did follow to see what would happen to Him (John 18:15-16; Matthew 27:55-56).
Not knowing what to do under these circumstances, the apostles allowed their fears to prevail.
The apostles were strengthened by the Holy Spirit
After Christ’s death and resurrection, He told His disciples to go to Jerusalem and remain there until they were “endued [clothed, English Standard Version] with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).
Just a few days later, when Jesus’ followers assembled in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, they received this promised gift—the Holy Spirit of God, which is a spirit of power (Acts 2:4; 2 Timothy 1:7).
The Holy Spirit came with physical evidence: a sound like a “rushing mighty wind” and “divided tongues, as of fire” that rested on each of them (Acts 2:2-3). Furthermore, they miraculously spoke in other languages (verse 4).
From this time forward, the power of God continued to be demonstrated as “many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (verse 43).
Peter and John arrested
One of the miracles that the apostles were now empowered to perform was the healing of people who were sick or infirm.
Shortly after that momentous Day of Pentecost, Peter and John went to the temple. As they entered, Peter healed a man who had been lame from birth (Acts 3:1-10).
Instead of rejoicing and praising God that such an amazing miracle had occurred, the religious authorities became angry that Peter was publicly giving credit to Jesus for this supernatural event. They became so angry that they arrested Peter and John and “put them in custody until the next day” (Acts 4:3).
The courage of these apostles to face the same religious authorities who had just recently orchestrated Jesus’ death was now going to be tested.
This time they had God’s Spirit in them to help them face the vitriolic efforts of the Jewish leaders to put an end to their ministry.
Courage to face the Jewish religious authorities
The next day, when Peter and John were brought before an assembly of the most distinguished Jewish authorities, they were asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?” (verse 7).
Fellowship with brethren was an important foundation of early Christianity, and spending time with those who share our faith remains a powerful means of nurturing spiritual courage today.Instead of being intimidated, “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (verses 8-12).
The text doesn’t explain what John said or did, but we are told that the Jewish authorities marveled at “the boldness of Peter and John” (verse 13).
Realizing that they couldn’t deny that a miracle had occurred, the Jewish authorities decided to “severely threaten them” and command them “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (verses 17-18).
Peter and John’s courageous response was: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (verses 19-20).
3 keys for building and maintaining spiritual courage
After their encounter with the religious authorities, Peter and John were let go. What they did next further bolstered their courage to continue their ministry.
Acts 4:23-31 documents three key activities of the apostles that can likewise give us spiritual courage.
1: They met with fellow believers.
After Peter and John were released, “they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them” (verse 23).
Sharing what had occurred with the other apostles—people who shared the same commitment to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God—was surely encouraging to Peter and John.
It must have been uplifting to the other disciples as well to hear how the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit healed the lame man and how God had guided the events so the Jewish leaders were stymied in their efforts to stop the blossoming ministry of the apostles.
Fellowship with brethren was an important foundation of early Christianity, and spending time with those who share our faith remains a powerful means of nurturing spiritual courage today (Acts 2:42; Philippians 1:5).
2: They prayed for courage.
After hearing Peter and John’s report, the apostles prayed to God (Acts 4:24). In their prayer they recalled that David had prophesied that rulers would gather together “against the LORD and against His Christ” (Psalm 2:2) and noted that this had indeed occurred (Acts 4:27-28).
They then prayed, “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus” (verses 29-30, emphasis added throughout).
In addition to asking for courage to boldly speak God’s word, they also asked that they might continue to do miracles in Jesus’ name.
3: They focused on the future.
It is important for us to notice another component of their prayer: they asked for help to fulfill the commission Jesus had given them to preach the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28:19-20). They were not trying to get out of their commitment; they were focused on the future!
Perhaps this teaching of Jesus was etched deeply into their minds: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
After their prayer, we read that “the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
These three key activities bolstered the apostles’ spiritual courage, and they remain powerful lessons for us today.