Men, There’s a Difference Between Being Brave and Being Courageous

by Sean Nolan October 18, 2016

Are you courageous?

I’m not asking if you are brave, although you should be. I’m asking if you are courageous.

In the opening chapter of Joshua, God’s people are commanded to be strong and courageous four times (1:6, 7, 9, & 18).

Nowadays we use the words brave and courageous interchangeably. But if we were to trace them back to their roots, the words mean different things.

Being brave doesn’t mean you are fearless; it means you are willing to face your fears. It is tempting for men who desire to be macho to act as if they are fearless. But fearlessness isn’t bravery; it’s posing, which is dishonest. Bravery admits its fears but faces them regardless.

The roots of the word courage mean “the heart, or the innermost feelings.” Courage takes bravery one step further admitting fear is not our only imperfection. It is vulnerability. If bravery is to outwardly face what intimidates us, courage is being transparent enough to admit that inwardly we have many fears and wounds. Courage admits imperfection, exposing our hearts as needy.

On one hand, a man with an over-realized fear of heights who summits Mount Marcy showcases bravery. On the other hand, a man who is afraid of heights because his father died in a plane crash and openly shares his wounds, fears, and tears showcases courage.

A courageous man is not afraid to be vulnerable. He willing expresses the broad range of emotions.

As someone who ministers to teenagers, I desire that this next generation will exhibit bravery. But even more so, I desire that the next generation of men will exhibit courage.

David’s Legacy

If we are looking for models of male courage, David is an example par excellence. Since humans are image bearers of God and courage refers to the heart, we shouldn’t overlook the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22).

No doubt David was brave. He faced the giant Goliath when he was still a boy (1 Sam 17:33). His battle victories were so numerous (1 Sam 18:7) that he was barred from building God’s temple because of his reputation as a “man of war” (1 Chron 28:3).

If the life and war stories of David show his bravery, it’s in his Psalms that we see his courage. In those verses, we peer into the heart of a man who was not afraid to be vulnerable. He exhibits the full range of human emotion. He fears (Ps 34:4), experiences sadness (43:5), shame (69:19), and joy (4:7), despairs (69:20), loves (18:1), and showcases a myriad of other emotions.

He also models an ideal male friendship. His relationship with Jonathan was more than a surface level bond, but a transparent sharing of life together (1 Sam 18:1-4). He was known on a level far deeper than the water cooler fodder of an office friendship. We do well to seek similar relationships with the men we share life with.

One cultural lie today says that the only acceptable male emotion is anger and all other emotions should be channeled into it. To be sure, David exhibits anger (Ps 4:4), but he exhibits it in healthy proportion to the full range of other emotions.

David’s example to young men is to be courageous poet-warriors - possessing the willingness to bravely face conflict—despite having fears—with a reliance upon God (Ps 23), the willingness to courageously pour out our shame, shortcomings, and sin in confession to God (Ps 51), and the courage to share our lives with others (1 Sam 18:1).

David is a great role model for the young men of our current generation. He is authentic, human, and imperfect—but striving to follow God.

Paul’s Witness

When we turn to the New Testament, we have other men worth emulating as well.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thes 2:8). Here, too, we have a lot to learn about being a courageous man.

Paul is not afraid to express his affection for others. The Thessalonians were dear to him and he desired a close relationship with them. Even more, he was eager to share his life with them. These kinds of words and the actions that follow take courage.

But Paul also wanted to share the gospel with them. The good news that God shared Himself with us in Christ. God was so desirous of reconciling rebellious sinners to Himself that He would pick up the tab that was owed. On the cross, Jesus shared his very self. Paul wanted to share that gospel with the Thessalonians, but also, he was ready to share himself.

Is this courageous sharing of the gospel of God and of our very self anything less than the fulfillment of the great commandment to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Mt 22:39)?

Being vulnerable and transparent frees us to love. If we have no secrets, we have no fear of someone finding hidden sins. If others know us as we really are—even the ugly and weak parts—we are truly human. It also instills compassion in us; we are able to love others in their ugliness and weakness because we are not in denial about our own.

We were created for community, to share our lives with others—not only the good parts, but the bad parts (Rom 12:15). In the upside down economy of God’s kingdom, he desires his followers be honest about their own weaknesses and sin (1 Jn 1:8) and the emotions that come with dealing with sin and suffering. This honesty takes courage. Thankfully, we don’t have to do it alone. For we follow a risen Savior who was not afraid to weep (Jn 11:35) and entered our pain and shame (Mk 12:4) so that we would not be put to shame by God (1 Pt 2:6). At times, this kind of honesty means walking through the mess of the human heart with others, trusting that our courage will be used for God’s glory and for the good of others.

So I ask you again, men of all ages, are you courageous?