The Courage to Suffer

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (ESV)

The television show Fear Factor taught an entire generation the lie that courage is reckless disregard for one’s safety. True bravery, according to the show, is jumping off a moving van, being chained down underwater, or eating a pound of worms—all in the name of winning an earthly prize. Yet that is a far cry from biblical instruction. According to the Apostle Paul, courage is not reckless endangerment but calculated sacrifice of temporal comforts in order to gain eternal rewards.

Paul certainly needed such courage. Indeed, his life was filled with suffering for the Lord. He was “afflicted in every way … perplexed . . . persecuted . . . struck down” (4:8-9). But he wrote 2 Corinthians to explain that, contrary to appearances, suffering is actually God’s means to reveal His glory. Though his opponents argued that Paul suffered too much to be an apostle, he countered that suffering embodied the cross of Christ (1:3-5).

In 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, he explained why he did not lose heart in the midst of suffering. First, he knew that even if his earthly body were destroyed, he would have a dwelling in heaven (v. 1). Thus, he looked forward to eternity where suffering would give way to perfection (vv. 2-4). And he owed such confidence to God, who gave him the Holy Spirit as a pledge of his salvation (v. 5). So where did that leave Paul? It left him full of “courage” (v. 6).

Paul served God confidently through suffering because he did not fear dying and being with Christ. The worst fate imaginable was not suffering but failing the One who dispensed eternal blessings. So his courage rested on the certainty of his eternal destination and the knowledge that obeying Christ through suffering would lead to heavenly rewards (v. 10).

Just as Paul modeled courage for the Corinthian Christians, it is incumbent upon pastors to be courageous before their own congregations. What might this look like? Courage will bring a note of urgency to the pastor’s preaching. Certain that God’s word can affect the eternal destiny of its hearers, he will not fear the consequences of offending their earthly sensibilities. Courage will keep the pastor holy. Confident of an unfading crown, he will tune out a world that mocks the heavenly minded. Finally, courage will lead a pastor to love his congregation even though it’s full of sinners and scandals. Zealous for the approval of Christ, he will endure the hassle of repairing broken lives.

Christianity always carries with it a cost. But faithful believers choose to pay a visible cost now because of their confidence in an eternal reward later, for they “walk by faith, not by sight” (v. 7). And that is courage.