The Courage for True Success
Dr. Jim Denison
Dr. Bill Austin, the former Baylor chaplain, enjoyed telling this story on himself. Years earlier in his ministry, God led him from one pastorate to another. An elderly lady in the church he was leaving came to him with great sadness. “We’ll never find another pastor as good as you,” she said. “We’ll never find someone who can preach as well or lead as well.” “Oh, yes you will,” he assured her. “You’ll find a man who can preach much better than me, and lead much better than me, and be much better than I have been.” “Oh, no,” she shook her head, “that’s what they said the last time.”
It takes courage to follow God’s will. The message today is about the courage we must have to give sacrificially of our time, lives, and money to our Father. Now, how does this subject of courageous, sacrificial giving make you feel?
Before I became a pastor, whenever I learned that the sermon would be about giving I expected to be made to feel guilty or pressured. To be asked to do something I didn’t really want to do, because the pastor told me I should. I thought the goal was to raise as much money as possible.
My favorite cartoon about giving pictures two men walking out of the church in their underwear. The first says to the second, “That was the best sermon on giving I’ve ever heard.” Do you wonder if that’s my goal today?
Well, it’s not. There’s a much better way to understand this subject. A way to give courageously and sacrificially to God because we want to. Because we’re thrilled to. As life’s greatest privilege and honor.
We’ll find that way today, for our money, our lives, and our souls.
Why did Paul sacrifice?
For weeks we’ve been learning about true success from the Apostle Paul. Today we see the courage of such success, in a very dramatic way.
Paul and Barnabas are on what we call their “first missionary journey,” in the south-central part of modern-day Turkey. Here they established the churches to which Paul wrote Galatians. And here, in the town of Lystra, one of the most dramatic events in Scripture occurred.
In Lystra, God uses Paul to heal a man with crippled feet.
The pagans decide that Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form. The priest of Zeus brings bulls to sacrifice to them. Paul and Barnabas immediately begin to protest, and to preach to the gospel to the excited crowd (Acts 14:8-18). No preacher ever spoke to a more enthusiastic audience.
But fame is short lived, and people are fickle: “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (v. 19). The crowd wanted to sacrifice to Paul. Then they sacrificed Paul.
Bruised, battered, bleeding, knocked unconscious, so beaten that his enemies thought him dead. What would we do? Call 911? File charges? Go back to these very people, to preach the very words which had gotten us stoned? This is probably not our first impulse.
But it was Paul’s. Here’s the point for our souls this morning: “…after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city” (v. 20). He sacrificed himself again, courageously, to preach to them the word of God. To obey the will of God. To serve God. He chose to do it. He wanted to do it.
And not just in Lystra: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:24-29).
Did Paul want to make such courageous sacrifice to his Lord? “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying” (vs. 30-31).
Paul wanted to give himself so courageously, so sacrificially to his Lord. He counted such sacrifice a privilege: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9).
Paul knew the joy, the privilege of courageous sacrifice to God. He was not the first.
Noah spent a century building his ark and preaching to his neighbors. Abraham left his home to “go out not knowing” where God would lead him. Moses brought God’s people from slavery to the edge of their glorious future.David, who wanted to fight Goliath. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who chose to enter the fiery furnace rather than worship the king’s idol.
Peter chose to be crucified upside down rather than die in the same manner as did his Lord. So did James, beheaded by Herod; John, exiled to Patmos; Andrew, James the less, and Simon the Zealot, all crucified; Bartholomew, beaten to death; Jude, Matthew, Matthias, Philip, and Thomas, all martyred. Each could have refused to preach and save his life. Each chose courageous sacrifice.