10 Key Bible Verses on Courage

This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.

Take Heart

The Christian life isn’t guaranteed to be without struggle and strife—and it undoubtedly requires courage. God’s word commands us to be courageous, trusting in God’s power and strength, and not our own. Be encouraged by these scriptures with commentary from the ESV Study Bible.

Joshua 1:6–9

Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 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. 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Three times the Lord charges Joshua to be strong and courageous, words reminiscent of Joshua’s earlier commissioning under Moses (see Deut. 31:6–8, 23). Joshua will need strength and courage to accept his task (“you shall cause this people to inherit the land”; Josh. 1:6); to obey the Torah (“Book of the Law”; most likely this would have included at least the book of Deuteronomy or portions thereof [see Deut. 31:26, “this law”]); and to resist being terrified (“do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed”; Josh. 1:9). Most difficult of all will be the middle responsibility—namely, to make the Lord’s instructions (Hebrew Torah) integral to who he is and what he does (Josh. 1:8), meditating on them constantly so as to do them (Josh. 1:8). Thus the middle exhortation is made emphatic by the addition of two small words: “only be strong and very courageous.” Given Joshua’s leadership responsibilities, this charge to be strong and courageous would be daunting were it not for the framing promises: “I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (Josh. 1:5); and “the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9). Fortified by these assurances of the Lord’s abiding presence, Joshua is empowered to receive his commission with courage. The Hebrew terminology used in these assurances has nothing to do with worldly wealth or worldly success, but has everything to do with accomplishing one’s mission and acting with keen insight in any circumstance that presents itself. Only when one fails to “ask counsel from the LORD” (Josh. 9:14) is such insight lacking.

Isaiah 41:10

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

“You” here is the people as a whole (called “Jacob” in Isa. 41:8). Unlike the terrified nations of Isaiah 41:5, the people of God have in him reason to be fearless (compare Isa. 41:13–14). Unlike the gods of the nations, which must be strengthened and secured (Isa. 41:7), the God of Israel secures his people.

The weak people of God are made into a powerful force to remove even mountainous obstacles to his joyful purpose.

Ephesians 6:10–18

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Paul introduces the armor of God by focusing on the strength it gives. Because Christians cannot stand on their own against superhuman powers, they must rely upon the strength of the Lord’s own might (see Eph. 1:19), which he supplies chiefly through prayer (Eph. 6:18).

The Greek word for whole armor (panoplia) refers to the complete equipment of a fully armed soldier, consisting of both shields and weapons like those described in Eph. 6:14, 16–17. Paul’s description here draws primarily on Old Testament allusions, yet the terms used also overlap well with Roman weaponry (especially the terms for the large, door-shaped shield and the short stabbing sword). Visible portrayals of such weaponry can be found on the numerous military reliefs (especially on sarcophagi) throughout the Roman Empire. Here the diabolical origin is exposed, regarding the “deceitful schemes” of those teaching false doctrine (Eph. 4:14; see also 1 John 2:18, 22; 1 John 4:3; 2 John 7).

This list of spiritual rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers (see Eph. 3:10) gives a sobering glimpse into the devil’s allies, the spiritual forces of evil who are exceedingly powerful in their exercise of cosmic powers over this present darkness. And yet Scripture makes clear that the enemy host is no match for the Lord, who has “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”

Isaiah 43:2–3

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

“You” designates the whole people (Isa. 42:1). Even when they are subject to the hardships of captivity and exile, God is still with his people (compare Isa. 41:10).

God’s people are secured by his resolve to be glorified through their salvation. Here Isaiah plays on the idea of a ransom price that is sometimes conveyed by “redeemed” (Isa. 42:1). God will move history for the sake of his people. “Egypt” alludes to the exodus. The more remote Cush and Seba may imply that God will go to any length and alter the history of any nation for his people’s salvation.

Matthew 10:28-31

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Sparrows were customarily thought of as the smallest of creatures, and the penny was one of the least valuable Roman coins (compare Matt. 5:26). God is sovereign over even the most insignificant events. Since the heavenly Father gives constant sovereign supervision even to seemingly insignificant creatures, surely he will also care for his disciples in their mission to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.

Psalm 56:3–4

When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

Many take this to be an individual lament, but it could also be a psalm of (anticipated) thanksgiving: the description of troubles and prayer is taken up into gratitude that God has heard and will act (as he has acted in the past). The singer describes his circumstances and sets his mind on the right response. The situation can be seen in the repetition of trample and attack (Ps. 56:1–2); the response is seen in the repetition of trust (Ps. 56:3–4). This enables those who sing the psalm to set their own hearts on the right response: when they are afraid, this is the antidote.

Psalm 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

In singing Psalm 27, God’s people have a way of not simply expressing confidence in him but of cultivating that confidence for the widest range of challenging life situations. The psalm uses several synonyms for “enemies” (Ps. 27:2, 6, 11, 12), giving it the concrete setting of a faithful person beset by those who would destroy him with bloodthirsty and deceitful means; one who can trust God in those circumstances can trust him in other situations as well.

The terms “fear” (Ps. 27:1, 3) and “be afraid” (Ps. 27:1) contrast with “be confident” (Ps. 27:3): the faithful must learn to base their confidence on God’s ever-present protection (“light”, “salvation”, “stronghold”, Ps. 27:1); this will be a confidence that grows through experiences of deliverance (as Ps. 27:2 recounts).

Romans 8:15–17

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Christians are no longer slaves to sin but are adopted as sons into God’s family, as evidenced by the Spirit that cries out within them that God is their father. “sons”. Abba is the Aramaic word for “Father”. Paul’s use of the term likely stems from Jesus’ addressing God as Abba (Mark 14:36). The witness of the Spirit gives the Christian’s spirit assurance that he or she is God’s child.

2 Corinthians 4:8–12

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

In spite of his suffering as an apostle, Paul does not lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16) because the same power that raised Jesus from the dead enables him to endure adversity (2 Cor. 4:7–12), reveals the power of God (2 Cor. 4:7, 11–12), and provides a sure sign that he will experience the resurrection at the end of the age (2 Cor. 4:16–18).

“Treasure” is a reference to the “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6) as the content of the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). “Jars of clay” is a common metaphor in the ancient world for human weakness (see Ps. 31:12; Isa. 30:14). This verse thus restates the central thesis of 2 Corinthians as seen in 2 Corinthians 1:3–11 and 2 Corinthians 2:14–17: God triumphs amid human weakness, embodying the principle of Christ’s crucifixion (compare 1 Cor. 1:27; 2 Cor. 10:3; 2 Cor. 11:30; 2 Cor. 12:5, 9; 2 Cor. 13:4, 9).

Paul is always being given over by God to death for Jesus’ sake so that the power of the resurrection life of Jesus (experienced in Paul’s ability to endure adversity and in the powerful spread of the gospel in spite of opposition) might be made known in the weakness of his mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:7). Paul’s suffering and endurance are intended to bring about this same resurrection life among the Corinthians as they too learn to trust God amid adversity.

2 Timothy 1:7

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

The Greek (deilia) in extrabiblical literature refers to one who flees from battle, and has a strong pejorative sense referring to cowardice. Boldness, not cowardice, is a mark of the Spirit (see Prov. 28:1; Acts 4:31).

All commentary sections adapted from the ESV Study Bible.


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