We live in a loud world, and it can feel like the one who shouts and throws around the snarkiest comments online wins. The other day I was scrolling on social media (my first mistake), clicked on a news story, and then read the comments (so many mistakes). The topic is not important, but the commenters split into two sides and were full of hate, fear, and anger. Many of the loudest voices identified as Christians. It sent me reeling for a few days. Is this what it means to be a Christian and live courageously in our day and age?
It seems many of us have lost sight of what it means to obey Jesus, especially online. There are those who claim boldness for Christ but reject his example of humility and self-sacrifice (Phil. 2). There are those who tell you God is in control one minute but then spend the following hour convincing us everything is spinning out of control (and that we better be mad about it). And there are those who try to sprinkle some Christian language on whatever agenda gets the most clicks and shares in that moment. It’s all very loud and disorienting.
Learning about real courage from Romans 12
But here’s the thing: real courage is very often quiet. In a crazy, noisy world like ours, the most courageous and countercultural thing we can do is live with intentional calm. In a world where it seems like everyone around us is losing their minds, Christians are called to have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).
But what does that look like, practically? I’m grateful we don’t have to guess. Over and over again, the early church was given instructions about how to live as Christ-followers in the midst of hard circumstances (like living under the rule of the Roman Empire). For example, in Romans 12, Paul writes:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (vv. 17–21).
This quite opposite of the rage we see online, often perpetuated by Christians. Whether it’s a hot take about COVID-19, a defensive opinion about the latest politicized issue, or a mean-spirited theological debate, we have gotten into the habit of dishonoring Christ and his people in the name of “courage.”
On the contrary, it takes real, Spirit-born courage to live the way Paul describes — to live peaceably and honorably when it feels better to be defensive and self-protective; to serve others faithfully, even those who wish us harm, when it’s easier to give up and hide from the evil around us; to trust that God is just and in control when it would be more satisfying to enact revenge; to be misunderstood, even by our brothers and sisters, but refusing to retaliate.
What is most amazing to me about this passage is the last imperative: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Up until this point, Paul sounds a little bit to me, dare I say it, naive. These are hard words to live by in a fallen world. But he’s not naive. He’s reminding us that the gospel offers a new way of living that doesn’t just repay evil with more evil — it actually overcomes it with good. Amazing!
For centuries, Christians have read these words and taken heart amid pandemics, wars, famine, and persecution. These living words of God enable us to live with real courage and do the kind of humble, quiet, countercultural things that have eternal consequences. And if we are called to live this way toward our enemies (v. 20), how much more should we demonstrate kindness, grace, and good to our fellow believers?
So let’s not be fooled by those who appear to always be taking a stand courageously but only seem to spread anxiety and chaos. Let’s not be egged on by the bluster that has us creating enemies and seeking revenge. Let’s not give in to the temptation to join such practices that are wicked in nature. And let’s not even come close to describing these things as “Christian.”
Instead, let’s seek the simple clearheadedness necessary, born of a mind renewed by the Spirit in the Word of God (Rom. 12:1-2), to keep about the work God has for us. Just as the Thessalonians were instructed “to live quietly” and continue the daily work God gave them (1 Thess. 4:11), we won’t be distracted by noisy, secondary issues because we are too focused on moving the gospel forward.
We have days and years ahead that demand a choice: will we choose the quiet courage that’s grounded in trusting a just and sovereign God, or will we get sucked into infighting, anger, and dishonoring the glory of God. I want to wake up each morning in 2022 and choose the better. Will you join me?