A Virtue of Virtues

by Eric Demeter

In one of my favorite movies, The Last Samurai, the character Nathen Aldren is a retired American soldier from the 1800’s, who gets hired to train an army to fight rebel samurai warriors in Japan. He travels to Tokyo, gets captured by the enemy and eventually does an about-face to join the samurai’s cause himself. In the last battle scene, he and Katsumoto, the samurai leader, travel to meet their enemy head-on, and are massively outnumbered by the Imperial Japanese Army. In their final effort to save their beloved village from destruction, they charge their enemy, and every soldier loses their life except Captain Aldren (hence, the movie’s title).

Aldren, Katsumoto, and the samurai army displayed courage to fight their more powerful enemy instead of retreating. They chose to face their oppressors, even though they knew it would be for almost certain death. They decided that it was better to die for what was right, instead of acquiescing to a cause they knew was wrong. 
How did they do it? Courage. Courage can be defined as the virtue to act in congruence with what is ultimately right and just, no matter the cost. Courage denies fear, but recognizes it, and courage is often contrary to the path of least resistance, even if the other path is ethically or morally viable. Courage acts in a way that is most loving for others, even when we might have to suffer pain ourselves. Also, as it’s often said, courage does not act in the absent of fear, but in spite of it.
Hearing stories of courageous people in the most dire of circumstances inspire us, because they remind us that persecution and death are not ultimately the things of which we should be afraid. Of course, in our in our daily lives, no matter our circumstances, we have the opportunity to display courage. This is because it takes courage to stop smoking, to end a relationship, to start a relationship, to love, to raise kids, to change your career, to keep your word, to work on a character flaw, to say no, to say yes, to stay true to yourself when fleeting desires constantly pull at our souls.
I am thankful that courage is not a limited resource—it is renewable, and it can grow like a monetary investment. We can do this by “encouraging” each other. To encourage simply means to give courage. Encouragement is a beautifully wrapped gift of an “I’m here for you” or “let me help you” or “let me listen” that we offer to each other in hard times, and even in easy times—there’s no wrong time to encourage! As each of us has different, gifts of courage will vary based on the individual’s needs at any point in time, so it is up to the receiver to decide what is, in fact, encouraging
Also, we needn’t wait for others to encourage us, because God is the ultimate Courage-Giver. He states in his Word:

  • He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3) 
  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut. 31:6) 
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12
  • Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. (Eph 3:20)

C.S. Lewis stated that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” In other words, courage is the metric, or plumb-line, that virtues like patience, temperance, charity, etc., get measured against—I agree. Another way to understand courage is that it’s the virtue that drives the others: We need courage to have patience, courage to have temperance, courage to do what is right, and courage to live in a way that honors God
So much of this life is based on courage. Do we have the courage to do what is right even when we might be embarrassed, ridiculed, or persecuted? Do we have the courage to that which God has called, even when other, more titillating opportunities arise? Do we have the courage to be vulnerable and look at ourselves and change? Do we have the courage to have the faith that we can trust God, even when circumstances look bleak?
Faith and courage are bound together like marriage partners. Some have said that faith is the “currency of heaven”, but I also believe that faith needs to be in an intimate, reciprocal relationship with courage. Faith is a position of knowing and trusting, and God certainly responds to it, but we can’t exercise faith unless we have courage: Faith needs courage to believe, and courage takes faith to act.
I hope you are encouraged that courage can be given, grown, and gifted. Let’s make a habit of not holding back love, but of “Encouraging each other daily” (Hebrews 13.3).

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