Exhortations From A College Student
When I think of having courage in my faith, it’s something I’ve always yearned for. In history classes or other stories, it was the large displays of valor that would catch my attention—the great heroes of the faith. From high profile and famous preachers like Billy Graham, to missionaries giving up their lives like Jim Elliot, I would daydream about witnessing to people and other great feats of courage all the time. Funny how as I’ve grown older that all seems to change. I’ve begun to realize that some of the greatest courage we can show is being intentional with our witness for Christ in everyday life.
As a college student, I find courage taking on a different form. Because of the circumstances of my life, I’m not living in a developing country under the threat of death for my faith. However, the courage I’m still called to display is courage nonetheless. It can even take the form of loving others, especially those who hate and despise us. God called us to love our enemies, because that can be the greatest sign of courage. The church has seemed to forget this part.
We are not of this world, yet we seem to fight very hard to hold onto aspects of it that are not crucial to our witness, especially as an American. How about the many times I’ve said, “It’s my right,” when I am the least bit persecuted. There is validity to this, and justice should be defended, but there’s a point where we need to leave it to God. It takes courage to unclench our fists and allow Him to carry out His will through us when all our flesh wants to do is haul off and punch someone. I saw a firsthand example of this in the spring of 2023. My University came under attack for holding true to its Christian values. There was so much hate and filth spewed out about many of our faculty members and the institution as a whole that some were shocked and understandably panicked. Then there were those who quietly and steadfastly continued on with love and courage. They were a witness to the entire student body of how to conduct yourself when persecution hits.
In church, not long ago, I heard the pastor say, “It’s interesting that we ask for strength from God to face trials and then are surprised when we come upon them.” As Christians we must deal with this reality. Our witness presupposes getting hurt and choosing to love anyway. We must reject cynicism and push forward. Satan loves a closed heart. When we choose to close our hearts, we seal off the witness that Christ could use. And there is almost a sort of pride that comes with being cynical in our culture. Rejecting cynicism and choosing to love unconditionally takes courage. Being cynical is not the joy that we have gained from Christ!
Another danger to our witness is isolation. I have struggled with this immensely at times. When it seems that you have enough of your own problems, engaging someone else in theirs is not very appealing. Interestingly, however, I’ve noticed my own problems can become increasingly smaller when I am encouraging others through theirs. The Greek for encouragement illustrates this: it’s parakaleo, which means to call alongside, bring counsel, comfort, encourage, and exhort. When you are bone tired it takes courage to ask someone else what you can do for them. In the end, however, it is so worth it! God can use a kind and encouraging word to change someone’s day or in some cases maybe even their life. Never underestimate what encouragement can do for others. The countless times I’ve seen my college friends light up when they are given a compliment or when someone takes time to remind them that God is in control is wonderful. (This especially seems to happen during finals week!)
Something else I have realized as I’ve grown older is the effect of fear on my witness—particularly the fear of what people will think of me. Oh, to be five years old again when I did not give two hoots about my self-image! To quote J.R.R. Tolkien, “Fear… the city is rank with it.” If I could commit plagiarism (my professors would be horrified) I would paraphrase, “The fear of man… The world is rank with it.” I have been thinking a lot about the fear of man coupled with how brave it is to love unconditionally. The Bible talks about the “steadfast” love of God for us—the definition being: unchanging, firmly fixed, and unmovable. Can you imagine if we embodied the same love that Christ has for us and showered others with it? I firmly believe that is why Jesus called it the “greatest” of commandments. There is courage required to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind. But the beauty of it is that if we follow through on the first commandment, the second will come a lot easier.
There is great confusion on how to love people in our society today. What crosses the line of compromise? Or will I come across as hateful? I firmly believe so much of the church’s confusion and cowardice is that we have lost sight of the Great Commandment. It’s pretty simple: there is a reason God put them in this order. If we put the love of man before we love God, we can turn the approval of man into an idol. Just listen to Paul: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
There is a difference between a) loving others in an attempt to win their approval, and b) loving them from the perspective of being Christ’s servant. This is pretty clear in society today, where it seems that people of faith are walking back their convictions and morals all the time in the name of love and tolerance. I remember seeing an article of a pastor who refused to call various blatant sins as such, because he said it “wasn’t within his authority” to tell others how they should and shouldn’t live their lives. Well, he’s right: it’s not his authority, it’s God’s. This is not being a witness for Christ, it’s displaying a fear of man.
Going to college has also highlighted the fact that young people need to have courage to reference the Bible again. This is crucial to one’s witness. There’s a reason Jesus used Scripture and implores us to use it in our everyday battles. I have found even at a Christian university there are times where I’ve been apprehensive to quote the Bible as an authority because of a general attitude that “the Bible says” is a trivial and outdated argument. It is sad that this has even affected Christian circles.
To sum up, I pray that Christians will focus on the First Commandment which will inspire us to seek the Spirit on how to live out the Second. If the Church truly seeks the courage to fulfill these two “great commandments,” our witness will shine across the globe. Thankfully many are doing so now and many have done so in the past. So I take God’s words to Joshua as binding to me: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). It is not one of the ten commandments but it is a command nonetheless. He could have said, “Did I not mention…” or “Have I not told you…” No, He commands us to be “strong and courageous.” May we take courage and allow our witness to be utilized by Christ, whatever circumstance we are in.
–Recent alumnus of Fairwood Bible Institute, Caleb is a student at Houghton University, in Houghton, New York.