Moral Courage

By Mike Willis

Sometimes the world considers those who are Christians to be spineless, and weak men. Indeed, some men think that “going to church” is for women and children. Quite the opposite is true. Being a Christian demands backbone and courage, strong moral fiber, a willingness to stand up and be counted. Those who are Christians develop a strong moral constitution and display a moral courage which is generally absent in worldly men.

Examples Of An Absence Of Moral Courage

One of the best ways to learn what is meant by words is to present an illustration or example of that of which we speak. Contrasting the presence and absence of a virtue will sometimes bring out more clearly what attributes of character are being discussed. Here are two examples of an absence of moral courage!

(1) Pilate. When Jesus was taken before Pilate to be “tried,” Pilate displayed an absence of moral courage. Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judea; he was the highest official representative of Rome who was responsible for administering justice and keeping peace. When Pilate tried Jesus, he found Him innocent of any wrongdoing saying, “I find no fault in this man” (Lk. 23:4). His responsibility at this point was to protect the innocent Jesus from the Jewish Sanhedrin and mob. He should have dispersed the crowd and taken a stand for right, even if he had to employ his Roman soldiers to enforce it.

Like many politicians, however, Pilate lacked the courage of his convictions. He sought to avoid having to take a stand on the issue of Jesus by sending him to Herod. When Herod returned Jesus, Pilate tried to pacify the Jews by releasing a prisoner for them, offering Barabbas and Jesus. He expected that the mob would prefer that Jesus be released rather than Barabbas. When they chose Barabbas over Jesus, his plans were foiled. He then sought to appease the Jews by scourging Jesus (Lk. 23:16), but the Jews still wanted Jesus dead. Finally, Pilate gave in to their will, trying to release himself from the guilt of his sin by washing his hands of the matter (Matt. 27:24). His display did not excuse his sin of lacking the moral courage to do what was right. He gave in to the mob rather than defending what was right.

(2) Peter. Peter displayed an absence of moral courage on two separate occasions in his life. When Jesus was being tried, he denied Him three times, because he lacked moral courage (Matt. 26:69-75). The second occasion in which he displayed an absence of moral courage was when he withdrew from associating with the Gentiles in Antioch because Jews came from James (Gal. 2:11-12). On both of these occasions, Peter lacked the courage to stand for what he knew was right.

Examples Of Moral Courage

(1) Paul. On the occasion when Peter withdrew from the Gentiles when certain Jews from James arrived in Antioch, Paul displayed his moral courage. He wrote, “But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:11-12). Paul had the moral courage to publicly confront Peter to his face for his sin. Earlier when some Jerusalem Jews tried to compel Titus to be circumcised, Paul “gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Gal. 2:5). Here is a display of a man with moral courage.

(2) Nathan. Another example of moral courage is displayed in the prophet Nathan. David fell into sin by committing adultery with Bathsheba. When Bathsheba discovered that she was with child, she told David. In order to cover his sin, David brought home from battle Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, hoping that he would think that the child was his own. But Uriah would not allow himself to enjoy the pleasures of his wife while Israel was in battle. In desperation, David made him drunk and sent him home, but again his plan was frustrated. Finally, to cover his sin, David ordered the murder of Uriah by placing him in the front lines of battle.

The Lord sent Nathan to David to confront him with his sin. The prophet was to confront the King of Israel, the absolute dictator of the nation who had already had one man put to death to cover his sin. Nathan had the moral courage to do what the Lord commanded. He confronted David with his sin, pointedly saying, “Thou art the man” (2 Sam. 12:7). His moral courage is an admirable trait.

(3) Daniel and the Three Hebrew Children. The moral courage of Daniel and the three Hebrew children, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, is displayed on several occasions in the book of Daniel. When taken into Babylonian captivity, these four Hebrew slaves were given the opportunity to serve in responsible positions under the King. For three years, they were expected to eat the King’s meat (which included unclean meat) and drink his wine. These men “purposed in (their) hearts” not to defile themselves. What moral courage they displayed in this decision. As slaves they could have been summarily reduced to menial labor, put in prison, or killed. Nevertheless, they had the courage of their convictions and God blessed them.

Later, Nebuchadnezzar issued a decree that all of the province was to fall down before an image at the sound of the music. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to violate the commandments of God saying, ” . . . be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Dan. 3:18). What moral courage they displayed! The Lord delivered them from the fiery furnace into which they were cast.

On another occasion, Darius ordered that men cease praying to anyone except him for a period of thirty days. Daniel refused to compromise himself. He continued to pray three times a day, as he was accustomed to doing. Because of his disobedience to the king’s commandment, he was put into a lions’ den. The Lord delivered him. We admire his moral courage.

Our Forefathers Displayed Moral Courage

Those who have moral courage are not all gone. Many of the generation immediately before us have displayed the courage of their convictions in standing for the truth. During the 1950s and later, many congregations became involved in church support of human institutions (colleges, orphan homes, hospitals, old folks homes, etc.), the sponsoring church form of church organization, and church supported recreational activities. Some among us recognized that there was no Bible authority for these activities and had the courage to challenge those who were involved in them.

Church historians estimate that nearly 90 percent of the churches went with the liberal brethren. Those who stood for the truth paid the price. One preacher wrote that he had fifteen meetings cancelled; many preachers were fired. Those who took the lead in writing against these unscriptural activities suffered ridicule and slander because of their opposition. Their attitudes were condemned, internal church problems where they preached were used to destroy their reputations. Nevertheless, they had the moral courage to stand. We are the heirs of their work. Many of us have a place to preach and worship because that generation of preachers had the courage of their conviction.

I have no appreciation for men who have never engaged in spiritual battle standing back and criticizing these brethren for how they conducted the battle. Like the armchair quarterbacks, some brethren who have never been involved in spiritual conflict know better how to fight the good fight of faith than those who have experienced the ordeal. In the calm and peace of a settled congregation which was won through the labors of these men, they pass judgment on how they fought for the truth. At a relatively young age, they pass judgment on their elders. Such manifests poor grace! Those men who endured the conflict are worthy of honor; we should render honor to those to whom it is due, not be party to destroying their good reputation.

The Need For Moral Courage Today

There will always be a need for moral courage among Christians. Here are some areas of application in which we need Christians with the courage to stand for their convictions today.

1. Christians willing to suffer ostracism because these practice moral purity. Christians are tempted to be conformed to this world. When the world sees a Christian who refuses to be conformed, his distinctive morality is a rebuke to their ungodliness. They do not like the fact that a Christian does not participate in their filthy jesting, drinking, cursing, drugs, dancing, mixed swimming, free sex, pornography, etc. They will ostracize him. Consequently, we need Christians with enough conviction to suffer ostracism, willing to be different for Christ’s sake.

2. Preachers willing to preach what needs to be preached. Sometimes preachers need to display more backbone. Some churches are at peace where sin is tolerated. Social drinking, mixed swimming, masonry, adulterous marriages, and other common sins are ignored. When a preacher moves into such a congregation, he sometimes learns that the elders’ children and other relatives are involved. Sometimes he is remarkably silent about such sins. He is afraid to stir the water for fear that he will lose his job.

I appreciate the gospel preaching of the New Testament which was geared to the need of the moment. Peter said to the Jews on Pentecost, “. . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 2:23). Paul reasoned with Felix of “righteousness, temperance, and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). Felix trembled. Their preaching comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comforted!

The kind of preaching which is unwilling to address the problems of sin in a congregation will not save the souls of those who are involved in those sins. Preachers need the moral courage to address those sins and seek to lead men to repentance, even if their preaching creates turmoil and conflict. If men are complacent in their sin, they need to be stirred to repentance. The preaching needs to be explicit enough that the sinner understands his condition before God. If the preaching leaves the sinner thinking that he is saved, it has not accomplished its purpose.

3. We need enough moral courage to confess Jesus. Jesus said, “Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:38). Sometimes men have the opportunity to put in a good word for Christ and the church but do not say anything because they are afraid of how the world will react to them. We need the moral courage to speak up for Christ whenever and wherever the ungodly world speaks against Him.


Moral courage is a needed virtue in each of us. Like Peter, many of us stumble and fall from time to time because we fail to display moral courage. Like him, we need to repent of these sinful failures and begin anew to display the moral virtues which Christ manifested.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 22, pp. 674, 694-695
November 21, 1985