The Holy Forty
Forty of Rome’s bravest soldiers chose between life and death. The emperor demanded all his warriors offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods, but these men, although pledged to die for their earthly emperor, would not dishonor their heavenly Emperor. Because of their allegiance to Jesus Christ they were stripped naked and left on a frozen lake. On the shore, guards built a fire and prepared a warm bath. They could save their lives if they would simply renounce Christ. As the wind and ice froze their physical bodies, their souls were warmed by singing hymns of praise to their Savior until all the voices faded. One survivor, the last of the forty called out, “I’ll renounce Christ.” He struggled passed his dead companions toward the warm bath. One guard on the shore was so moved by the commitment of the now thirty-nine, he willingly took the man’s place on the ice and willing lost his life for Christ’s sake. He truly found life eternal that day.
You may think to yourself, “What a courageous story! I would hope to have that kind of commitment if I were ever in such a situation.” However, we are not prepared to succeed in such a situation if we have not mastered the criteria of commitment in our daily lives. In Genesis 17, God promises Abram eternal promises and expects Abram will continue to walk before Him. Without any hesitation, Abram obeyed God “in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him” (Genesis 17:23). Instant obedience is necessary if you are to cultivate courageous obedience.
Nehemiah returned the message to his adversaries, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you” (Nehemiah 6:3)? Soon the last stone was in place and the wall was finished in fifty-two days. The enemies of the Lord’s work were disappointed, but Nehemiah’s courageous obedience was only possible because of his insistence to complete his commission. There were plenty of distractions. The world is full of them. For Nehemiah, nothing was as important as pleasing God. There are just two choices on the shelf: pleasing God or pleasing self.
Paul’s courageous commitment put him in the Philippian prison, but the strength of his obedience was already forged by his responsiveness. Going to Bithynia to preach the Gospel was a good thing, but Paul’s sensitivity to the subtle tug on the reigns of his heart made him most useful to his Lord. All of this leads to the courageous obedience Jesus speaks of, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24–25).
Courageous obedience is not developed in a flash, rather it is forged in the difficult circumstances and choices you face regularly. Paul said the good soldier endures hardness (2 Timothy 2:3). Conventional Christianity tells you today, enjoy the good times and be a good soldier. Indulge in the entertainment of the world, pollute your mind by fraternizing with the enemy, squander your precious, God-given resources on frivolous trinkets of this world AND be a good soldier. The truth is you can’t have both! You must endure the difficulties in order to be worthy of the decoration. Choose to develop the criteria of commitment in your life.