"Be strong and courageous, "Moses tells all of Israel and then his successor Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:6-7, 23). "Be strong and courageous," God thrice tells Joshua, and the Israelites say the same (Joshua 1:6, 9, 18). Later, King David gives Solomon that same exhortation, as does King Hezekiah his commanders (1 Chronicles 22:13, 2 Chronicles 32:7).
One principle of biblical exegesis is that a repeated statement is an emphasized statement. What then do we do with a phrase used at least eight times? Clearly, this is important stuff. But what does it mean to be strong and courageous?
To some it means confronting opponents of Christ on the street. Some activists say that in-your-face protests demonstrate true commitment, and those who speak within sanctuaries are wimps. They claim biblical warrant for yelling at people, "You're going to hell," because if they don't say it the heathen will never hear it. (As if gay newspapers haven't for years printed such comments in order to equate Christianity with hatred.)
I value guts and WORLD wants to be edgy, but Christians should operate within the biblical context of what strength means. Paul the apostle tells the Corinthians, "Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love" (1 Corinthians 16:13). He tells the Ephesians, "Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might" (Ephesians 6:10).
The strong perseverance of those who have led the solemn March for Life in Washington for 32 years is wonderful to see, and that's why we're glad to be picturing it in this issue. But Christians who race out in glee to scream at their foes need some personal and theological maturing.
The folks who most exemplify for me strength in the Lord and letting all be done with love are those who serve at the front lines of poverty-fighting and pro-life work throughout the world-for example, Jim and Terry Cooney, the Maryland parents (WORLD, Jan. 22) who adopt numerous children no one else wants and do so in the realization that there's no turning back.
The Cooneys have made commitments for a lifetime while trusting in His providence. That doesn't satisfy some Christians who say they're only being Christlike if they follow His tough-talking example when confronting evil. Such claims, along with many others, should drive us to Scripture.
Certainly, Jesus was harsh to the ostentatiously religious: "You Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness." He knocked those who invented laws beyond those biblically demanded: "You load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers" (Luke 11:39, 46).
Christ warred on those who should have been good shepherds, but He was gentle with wandering sheep and particularly with those outside of Israel, like the Samaritan woman (John 4) and the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7). If more of us walked in His steps so that the typical secular college student associated Christianity with kindness and not contempt for others, evangelism would be much more productive.
Paul knew Phariseeism so well that he particularly emphasized the need to show and not harangue. One of the most-quoted Bible passages is what he wrote to the Corinthians, who lived in a port city that was probably one of the most ungodly in all of the Roman Empire: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
Corinthian Christians could have gone 24/7 protesting the decadence around them, but Paul pleaded with them to show love, which he defined as "not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. . . . When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways."
For Joshua in his calling, strength and courage had an obvious military meaning-march into hostile territory and don't look back-as well as a spiritual one. But we are looking to Christ, not invading Canaan, so we are not here primarily to destroy: God does that quite well, thank you, by letting today's evildoers dig pits and fall into them. Our task is to build.