By Kelvin Cochran
Many Christian Americans in today’s culture are faced with a choice whether to live out their faith or keep their jobs.
We are living in a season where one week we are receiving accolades for what God is doing through us in our careers, and the next week we are facing termination for expressing what we believe about the Bible.
This same bipolar culture existed when Paul and Barnabas were preaching in Lystra (Acts 14:8-20). As a man who had been lame from birth was listening to the Gospel message, Paul perceived that he had faith to be healed. So he called out to the man and said, “Stand up!” The man leaped to his feet and started walking.
When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they concluded that he and Barnabas were gods and wanted to worship them. Paul and Barnabas were vehemently agitated, telling the crowd, “We are human beings just like yourselves.” Shortly thereafter, some Jews arrived from Antioch and Iconium and turned the exact same crowds into a murderous mob. They stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city and left him for dead.
Here’s the disturbing part. Verse 20 says believers were in the crowd. They were apparently afraid to speak out on Paul’s behalf for fear that what happened to Paul might happen to them. They lacked the courage to stand.
Having the courage to stand means living out Christian values publicly as evidenced by Paul. Too many of us proudly live out our faith privately during church activities around other like-minded believers where it’s safe. When it comes to walking it out openly after the benediction, we are paralyzed.
Many of us can testify that our faith has caused us to achieve great things in our family and careers in pursuit of the American dream, having blessings we never thought possible. The Bible rightly declares, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!”
Sadly, many of the redeemed in this untoward culture are silent and passive when it comes to disclosing Christ as the source of our blessings. Like the crowd in Lystra, they see what has happened to believers who have stood publicly and are fearful of the same circumstances if they took a stand. This fear causes many to conclude the cost for standing is too great. So they devise passive plans to avoid the possibility of having to make a choice. Some even avoid interacting with other believers at work who courageously live out their faith because they don’t want to be guilty by association.
Avoidance is proof that we have more fear of worldly consequences than faith in the Kingdom consequences of living out our faith.
God understands our fears. He is a very present help in the time of trouble. What He doesn’t understand is how a believer will strategically plan how to avoid being discovered as a child of God when we profess embracing the whole truth of Scripture. What He doesn’t understand is why we don’t stand as a unified body with other believers who are being persecuted. Overcoming our fears begins with confessing our fears.
If you’re scared, don’t try to hide it.
If you’re scared that you will lose your friends for standing on the truth, say you’re scared. If you’re scared you will lose your job, say you’re scared. If you’re scared you will lose your business, say you’re scared.
If we will simply be honest with God, talk to Him about it and stop trying to avoid the conversation, He will hear us and embolden us with courage and strength to stand.
Jesus made a promise that whatever we lose standing for Him will be restored a hundredfold in this life, with persecution, and afterwards with eternal life. Moreover, Jesus also promised that if you try to hold on to your life (livelihood), you will lose it. But if you lose your life (livelihood) for His name’s sake, you will gain a life that is exceedingly abundant above all you may ask or think. I am living proof of this promise.
So, what does this passage of Scripture teach us about the courage to stand?
1. Christians who have a track record of courage to stand are chosen by God for divine assignments to do unexplainable wonders for His glory. The cowardly are never chosen for divine assignments.
2. Christians who have courage to stand grieve when men bestow honor on them for work that God is doing through them. We are just human beings performing works that are wrought in God.
3. Christians who have the courage to stand demonstrate divine boldness, living out their faith under high-risk conditions. Paul was stoned and left for dead. When he recovered, he went right back into the city where he was stoned.
4. Christians who have courage to stand are not dismayed or discouraged by threats and challenging conditions. They serve and perform with strength and valor in hostile work environments.
What shall we say to all these things? Don’t be afraid to live out your faith. Stand! God will give you courage and strength. Our back is not against the wall. We are not at the end of our rope. Throwing in the towel is not an option.
Kelvin J. Cochran is chief operating officer at Elizabeth Baptist Church in Atlanta who holds a doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. He is the former fire chief for the city of Atlanta and former U.S. Fire Administrator under President Obama.