Yesterday we began our look at Paul's words to the Corinthians, “act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13). See that post for a basic explanation and its connection to some important Old Testament moments. Our first point was that we need to “act like men” and “be strong” because we face real enemies in our lives. Now we conclude our look at part of what it means to be a Christian man in our day.
SECOND, ACT LIKE MEN AND BE STRONG BECAUSE OF THE UNCERTAINTY IN YOUR LIFE
All those OT moments—Israel about to cross into Canaan, Joshua about to take over for Moses, Solomon about to become king—when the Lord spoke to his people to “be strong and courageous” were moments of great uncertainty. Crossing the Jordan into Canaan, taking over for Moses the great prophet, and battling armies bigger and fiercer than your own are moments of profound uncertainity. And your life is filled with uncertainty. And that means risk. You can't get away from that. Your finances, your job, future of your children, your health—all of these are immersed in uncertainty. We need to “act like men, be strong,” because of that uncertainty.
The key is this: WHAT YOU KNOW IS GREATER THAN WHAT YOU DON'T KNOW.
Listen to these words from Romans 8: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35-37)
There is a precious promise here that nothing “shall separate us from the love of Christ” (v. 35), and another that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” But don't miss the sober reality between these. Paul is saying here that our lives may well be filled with “tribulation,” “distress,” “persecution,” “famine,” “nakedness,” “sword,” even “regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” Ouch.
These are all in that realm of the uncertain and unknown in our future. But what we know is greater: none of these are powerful enough to rob us of the love of God or keep us from being conquerors through Christ. That love and triumph has to do with our eternal inheritance with Christ where “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev 22:4).
The famous Olympian Eric Liddell would eventually die in a Japanese internment camp, likely because he did not receive the medical treatment he needed for a brain tumor. He was forty-three years old and left an immense hole in our world. And yet, that death which seems so premature in our eyes could not rob him of the love of Christ or keep him from being a “conqueror.” He went from the hardships and death of this world to unending bliss in the next. Truly, what we know is greater than what we don't know. That gives us the ability to “act like men, be strong” in the face of the uncertain future. Precious promises, but they are also hints that we will experience some truly hard things. Eric Liddell really did die of a brain tumor in a WWII internment camp facing daily struggles. Yet, the love of God was immovable in his life. He went from this life to endless joy and peace with his Savior. The love of God was his foundation.
THIRD, “ACT LIKE MEN AND BE STRONG,” BUT NOT IN YOUR OWN STRENGTH
One of the lies we buy when we hear “BE STRONG” is that the strength is ours. But it's critical to see that the strength is the LORD'S working through us. When Moses challenged Israel to “BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS,” he pointed them directly to the LORD'S power:
The LORD your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the LORD has spoken. 4 And the LORD will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. 5 And the LORD will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. 6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut 31:3-6)
The Israelites were right to “be strong and courageous” because “the LORD your God will himself go over before you.” They would fight and win because the LORD would fight and win for them. The same is true for us, though we can't always claim the same right to triumph in our circumstances as these Israelites. But the obedience and faithfulness God requires of us he will give us strength to accomplish—if we will walk in faith and dependence on him. The grace of God is our strength. The power of God is our strength. This what enables sinful men to do things beyond themselves. Many of you have faced struggles that from the outside were truly daunting: Long-term illness, job struggles, difficult relationships, sin battles. Yet, you walked through them—strong and courageous. That is God at work in you and through you!
FOURTH, “ACT LIKE MEN AND BE STRONG” WITH MORAL COURAGE AND NOT JUST PHYSICAL COURAGE
Physical courage rightfully gets a lot of attention. Eric Liddell's gold-medal run in the 1924 Olympics was an act of courage as well as a picture of athletic prowess. People write books about courageous acts and wartime heroism.
But as significant as physical courage is, it is not something we call upon most days. But moral courage is something we need constantly. Working through a conflict in our marriage, discipling our children, navigating the workplace, how we vote, saying a hard word to a friend—all of these demand moral courage.
Moral courage is evident when the Lord charged Joshua. The Lord exhorted him to moral fortitude, not just wartime bravery:
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Josh. 1:7-8)
His moral compass was to be “this Book of the Law,” and Joshua was to walk in “all that is written in it.” In the end, this is not only the right way but the good way, making him “prosperous” and successful.
FIFTH, “ACT LIKE MEN AND BE STRONG” BECAUSE FAMILIES AND GENERATIONS ARE IMPACTED BY YOUR ACTIONS.
The impact of being courageous and strong men is seen in the scene mentioned in 2 Samuel 10. David had ascended the throne, and the Ammonites became a real problem. The Ammonites hired the Syrians to join them in battle against the Israelites. Joab was David's general. He put part of his army against Syrians and his brother to lead the other part of his army against Ammonites. In his speech to the men before the battle he said,
Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him.” (2 Sam. 10:12)
In the KJV this is written, “be of good courage, and let us play the men.” The motivation was “our people” and “the cities of our God.” How they did that day would impact the people they loved, the people they were responsible for. Losing that battle was not only a matter of personal defeat. It could cost their families and children dearly.
That's a helpful picture of our lives as well. How we do spiritually is not just a matter of personal growth or personal defeat. It has an impact on other people. Families thrive when men spiritually thrive. Families suffer when men fail to grow. That idea isn't supposed to paralyze us, but it should inspire us. Our wives can't be the only ones in our marriage who are growing spiritually. And even if you aren't married, you need to feel the weight of this. Your actions now will have an impact on others.
CONCLUSION: ERIC LIDDELL's EXAMPLE
The story of Eric Liddell illustrates a lot of what we've said. He was born to missionary father worked in China w/ London Missionary Society. He and brother Rob to English boarding school after Boxer Rebellion. They excelled in sports and attended Morningside Congregational Church. Both were committed to abstinence—they would drink apple juice at parties because of how it looked. But they were also convicted about the Sabbath. No sports on Sunday was their rule.
Well, fast-forward to 1923 when Eric Liddell is a rising star in the British track circuit. There is an international meet between Britain and France. Eric's event, the 100 yard spring (this is before things had switched to all metric), was to be run on a Sunday. So instead of running the finals he was preaching in a church where he said,
“There could be no neutrality where Christianity was concerned….Each one comes to the cross-roads at some period of his life and must make his decision for or against His Master” (For the Glory, 72).
For many an international meet like this would be seen as “the cross-roads.” But for him it would come in just a few months. In the fall the schedule for the 1924 Olympics came out and the finals for the 100 were to be run on a Sunday. He was devastated, but knew all he could do was withdraw.
The national pressure was immense for him to change his mind. He was branded a traitor by many. Many high-ranking government officials tried to persuade him to change his views on the Sabbath or honor it at a slightly different time that one week of his life. He refused. For him the path was clear. To “act like men, be strong” in that moment meant to walk according to his conscience and not the opinions of men.
Eric was a principled man, but he was also a superior athlete. He decided to change to the 400-meters. To change events at this late stage was to most people an impossibility. He was essentially forgotten as a contender. Two Americans were the favorites and demonstrated their prowess throughout the spring preliminary meets.
The Olympics came and Liddell advanced through the heats, always running well but not instilling fear in any of the real contenders. He was a sprinter. All knew that he would start strong and then fade. Horatio Fitch, one of the Americans, went into the finals the presumed winner because the other, Guy Butler, had hurt his thigh.
But Liddell was no wimp. Off the track he was as gentle and kind as any Christian man you would ever meet. But once the gun went off he ran to win. He went into the finals with a singular strategy: “Go all out—and don't be behind at the last straight” (For the Glory, 102).
When the gun went off he took off like a bullet and generated tremendous speed. One reporter said, “I feared he would kill himself by the terrible speed he had set up” (105). Horatio Fitch said he ran like one “possessed.” Halfway through the race he clearly had the lead, running near the gold-medal pace for the 200-meters the day before (22.2 seconds). But then came the test. A sprinter could be expected to carry the first part of the race. The second leg is where he would fade. Horatio began to make up the distance. Liddell saw him in the corner of his eye and burst ahead. Horatio couldn't hang on and began to fade. Liddell would win by 6 yards in a world-record time of 47.6 seconds. He was hailed as a national hero and even recently was voted the most famous Scottish athlete of all time for his effort.
There is no doubt that this was an act of both moral courage and physical courage, and yet his real test was yet to come. Liddell knew that he was destined to join his father as a missionary in China. That is where he had expected to end up. But as a young man winning a gold medal, he was also the presumed favorite for the 1928 Olympics when he would be in his physical prime as a runner. For him there was no decision to make. He would go to China.
He continued to train in China in case the 28 Olympics became open to him. But by then the demands were too great on him in China. His opportunity to run came and went.
As the years passed the typical hardships of life as a missionary in China intensified when Japan invaded the country. Random searches, interrogations, and the worst brutalities became a part of their normal life. Eventually Liddell would find himself in a Japanese internment camp for foreigners. Life there was just slightly above that of the famously terrible Japanese prisoner of war camps (remember Louie Zamperini in Unbroken). During these years Liddell developed a brain tumor which went untreated. He died in that camp at 43-years old.
His legacy was not just that of a famous athlete, but as a truly noble Christian. One of the vivid epitaphs said of him was written by one of the men with him in that Japanese war camp. He said of learning about his death,
“It leaves me shocked and bewildered. His passing stunned us. We could hardly believe it was true. We confided in him, went to him for advice, looked on him as probably the most perfect and honorable Christian friend we had ever known and the whole camp feels that in losing Eric they have lost a real friend. He was loved by everyone….It was my prayer that I may live like Eric, a life that is exemplary, lovely, useful and full of caring service to others” (For the Glory, 325).
I see Liddell's life as a powerful example of what it means to truly, “act like men, be strong.” Brothers, live that kind of life. Your enemies are real. The uncertainties of life are real. The consequences when you compromise are real. But your God is bigger. His grace is greater. His power is stronger. His love is unchangeable. Move forward with a firm confidence in his presence with you in all that you do.