Courage is Contagious: A Timeless Word from Billy Graham

As I was reading- or being momentarily overwhelmed by- the headlines earlier this week (ethnic and religious cleansing, the massacre of school children by armed militants, international strife, cyber terrorism, prejudice and racism, etc.), I found myself at a loss as to how to respond. What could possibly be done to stem this tide of evil in the world today? What could every day people, like you and me, do in the face such daunting circumstances?

In the midst of asking these questions, and a myriad of others like them, I was reminded of a quote I had read, a while back, by Billy Graham; “Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” These words so struck me- both their relevance and potency- that I wanted to search out their context.

I found them located within an essay entitled, ‘A Time for Moral Courage,’ which was written by Reverend Graham in 1964 for ‘Reader’s Digest.’ Fifty years have passed since he wrote this piece, but these words are no less true today then they were when he first penned them in era of the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement. It is time for men and women of conviction to again embrace courage and take a stand for what is right and what is just.

I encourage you to read the excerpts below and, when you are finished, click on the link at the bottom to read the entire essay. Let’s allow his exhortation to make us uncomfortable, to challenge us, and to wake us up to the responsibilities of what it can mean to live for Christ in dark and sinful world!
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“The world today, it seems to me, suffers not only from a lack of convictions, but also from our timidity in expressing those convictions we do have…. In the face of all kinds of conditions screaming to be rectified, too many of us find ourselves afflicted with moral laryngitis….

How will we respond when the challenge comes? Will we speak up? Or, failing in moral courage, will we keep silent…?

Christianity grew because its adherents were not silent. They said, ‘We cannot but speak the things we have heard.’ Nor did they stop with expressing the great faith they had found. They stormed against the evils of their day….

I feel sorry for the man who has never known the bracing thrill of taking a stand and sticking to it fearlessly. Moral courage has rewards that timidity can never imagine. Like a shot of adrenalin, it floods the spirit with vitality….

Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened….

Commitment to great causes makes great men…. One of Christ’s great commands to His followers was, ‘Let our light so shine before men.’ We are hardly Christian if it is not obvious whose side we are on….

The world is changed by those like Martin Luther, who cried, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other.’ The power to speak out is ours for the taking. The same Simon Peter who cringed before the servant girl’s accusations that he was one of Christ’s disciples later became one of those who, the record says, ‘turned the world upside down.’ Our world needs turning upside down. Even a small minority can do it, but it takes faith, and courage.”

– Billy Graham (from, ‘A Time for Moral Courage,’ Readers Digest- July, 1964)

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Is Christ Divided?

Nearly two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul asked a rhetorical question to the church he had planted in the city of Corinth, “Is Christ divided?” Of course, the answer to him was obvious- just as he hoped it would be to the Corinthian believers- “No.” However, if history has shown us anything, it is that the answer to this question has been far from obvious to many believers down through the centuries…. Zwingli and Luther Case and point, October 1st-4th, 1529 AD, Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli, the great instigators of the Protestant Reformation, met to see if they could work out their differences regarding the one article of faith about which they disagreed (the nature of the Lord’s Supper). It did not end well. They agreed on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone and they agreed on the authority of Scripture (all told, they agreed on 14 of 15 articles of the faith). But, on the nature of the Lord’s Supper, on the presence of Christ at the communion table, they could not see eye to eye, though they both rejected the Catholic teaching of Transubstantiation (that the bread and wine turn into body and blood of Jesus Christ during the Mass). Both men- passionate for Christ and his gospel- could not reconcile this point with one another. In conclusion, Martin Luther was reported to have said, “We are not of the same spirit.” How sad that, in hindsight, we can say- with near certainty- “yes, yes you were of the same spirit, but in your fervor for ‘truth’ you were both blinded to ‘the Truth’.” They were both so caught up in the nuance of the Lord’s table that they missed the significance of it! The communion table reminds us all that we are imperfect and sinful creatures, in constant need of a perfect and holy Savior. It points us back to what Christ did for us on the Cross, while at the same time reminding us of the great supper yet to come, when we will all sit down together with Christ in eternity to celebrate His great and glorious work of salvation. Communion should have brought these two men together in their shared heart for the gospel (John 17:17-26), but instead their own zeal drove them apart. How different might the landscape of Protestantism (which, ever since, has been prone to division) be today had these two men been able to come together, 485 years ago, in gospel centered unity? Unfortunately, we will never know, but we can learn from them. How many debates that are raging within the Evangelical church today are reminiscent of Luther and Zwingli? Before we draw swords on one another, Cessationalist vs. Charismatic, Baptist vs. Pentecostal, Calvinist vs. Arminian, we would to do well to remember the Professor of Wittenberg and the Pastor of Zurich. Let’s ask ourselves, are we fighting over essentials (the person and work of Christ, the authority and sufficiency of Holy Scripture, salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone, etc.) or are we expending most of our energy waging intramural debates (about the use of hymns vs. contemporary songs in worship on Sunday mornings, the cognitive vs. experiential nature of Christianity, the exact nature of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing ministry in the life of the believer and the church, etc.). If the former, then by all means let us continue to, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). However, if we find ourselves majoring on the latter, let’s heed the words of the Apostle Paul, which he wrote to the church in Corinth, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).