Is the Christian life one of constantly “turning the other cheek,” allowing others to take advantage of us? Must we forgive everyone? Must we love even those who are evil or who are our enemies? Can we not stand up for ourselves and fight back? Is the Christian life for those who are cowards or for the courageous? For some, it may seem that we are taught to always back down. Some actually believe that Christ was a coward because He allowed Himself to be ridiculed, beaten, spit-upon, and murdered without raising a hand or a word against anyone! Jesus even forgave His executioners, while He hung on the cross!
Those who believe that Christ was a coward forget that He will have the last word with every single one of us. All will come before Him to be judged. “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9-11). We will all bow before Christ and recognize Him as the Sovereign Creator and King of all. We may ask for mercy, but only He has the authority to forgive or to choose not to forgive.
In truth, Christ had more courage than any of us could. Courage is defined as the ability to act despite the fear and danger one feels. When Jesus awaited the moment when the soldiers were to arrest Him, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He said to His disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:38-39). According to Luke 22:43-44, “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” Knowing His fate, Jesus dreaded what was to come; yet despite this, He had the courage to choose to do the will of His Father. He chose to allow Himself to be crucified. We cannot truly comprehend that kind of courage.
Our Church history and even our present-day Church is filled with heroic saints, who demonstrated courage in the face of tremendous trials and tribulations. Many were faced with the dreadful decision to deny Christ or suffer torture and horrible deaths. They chose death, rather than deny Christ. This kind of courage requires great faith and tenacity, a stubborn persistence and conviction in our Lord, Jesus Christ. Their courage requires an immovable confidence in the promises of our Lord. “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Conviction gives us courage because it does not allow us to be tossed “to and fro.” We are steadfast in our beliefs. We trust in the Lord.
Christians may “turn the other cheek” because we acknowledge that our pride must not guide our actions. Courage requires self-control. Therefore, we do not react in anger. In humility, we respond by offering forgiveness. It is much easier to react in anger. However, if we strike back, we are no better than the person who struck us. It may appear to others that we are weak when we do not strike back, but by offering the other cheek we prove our courage and prove that we are not diminished by what others think of us. Rather, we maintain our integrity and remain in Christ’s righteousness.
We may forgive our enemies because we recognize that bitterness poisons our hearts. We do not seek vengeance because only God is able to dispense justice fairly. Only God is able to judge the hearts of human beings. Even the seemingly most evil criminal may eventually have his eyes opened to Christ, and so we pray for him. We must keep in mind that those who have rejected God are deceived. The deeper they are in sin, the more they cling to earthly things, then the more deceived they are. Truth has become hidden to them. They live in darkness. Jesus’s words on the cross still ring true, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Let us not be like Jonah, who was told by God to go and warn those in Nineveh that if they forsake God, they will be destroyed. Jonah did not want the Ninevites to be warned because he believed that they deserved to be destroyed. Instead, he fled by boarding a ship going in the opposite direction of Nineveh. However, God was not to be denied. All manner of danger from storms befell the ship, so the crew, realizing that Jonah was responsible for their misfortunes, threw him overboard. As the story goes, a whale came along and swallowed Jonah, and three days later it deposited him on the shores near Nineveh. Jonah, reluctantly did as God had commanded. He warned the Ninevites, and they repented of their wickedness. The city of Nineveh was spared from destruction and God rejoiced. Let us not prejudge other human beings. God is always seeking to reveal Himself to those who are willing to receive Him, no matter how far they have fallen.
Christians are to have compassion for all, even the worst sinners. After all, without Christ, they will end up in a most horrible place for eternity. Therefore, we pity those who are deceived and pray that their blindness is removed. We pray that the scales fall off of their eyes, and they are able to see the light of Christ. Courage requires compassion because if we are not concerned for our neighbors, then we would not be willing to do what we can to save them. When we see them drowning in the ocean, we will have the courage to jump in and try to pull them out, just as Christ had compassion on us and was therefore willing to die for us. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love” (1 John 4:18). Love gives us strength and courage.
Christians are called to offer strength to one another, “encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We are urged to look to God for strength. “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:29-31). The Christian life requires us to demonstrate courage, especially through the difficult times of our lives. Therefore, we must remember that God said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6). Our faith inspires courage and we continue to be strengthened by God and by one another.
The one thing that offers Christians the greatest courage is that Christ conquered death. Through His resurrection, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). We know that through Christ, we have eternal life with Him in paradise. We no longer fear death. Christ’s promise has removed man’s greatest fear. We need not fear eternal hellfire or oblivion. We can actually look forward to the time when we will be in Christ’s presence and all evil has been eliminated. We can look forward to a time of no pain and no suffering. Only joy and peace will prevail. We will celebrate the union of Jesus, our bridegroom, to His Church. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).