Can you imagine the strength of faith that it took for the disciples to continue following Jesus after his crucifixion? Or the faith of Paul remaining committed to spreading the word as he was jailed and tortured? It’s one thing to have faith while Jesus is beside you performing miracles and reassuring you, but quite another to keep the faith after he is gone and much of the world is against you. What tremendous acts of courage!
Recently, as I was reading the works of Paul, I recalled the words of a colleague who followed someone out of a room where the boss was telling an inappropriate joke. I’ll never forget her words: she said “I didn’t have the courage to lead but I sure had the courage to follow!” Once more, she wasn’t the only one to leave. Another colleague followed her out of the room and echoed her sentiment.
What has always stayed with me was not the courage of the leader but of the followers. The leader was already gone and the point clearly made. The colleagues had nothing to gain by following but they stepped out of their comfort zone and potentially put their jobs on the line. Leaving the room took both courage and faith.
In many ways this is the central challenge of faith–having the courage not to lead but to follow. When we lead, we are in control and we are relying on our own inclinations. A leader may or may not have faith or even guidance, but a true follower has both courage and faith. A true follower comes into agreement and in doing so is strengthened by the power of union. (This is a point that is sometimes lost on congregations.)
Moreover, and as importantly, a follower’s faith is significantly strengthened by the faith of others. Followers inspire others to find the courage within and to exercise their faith. This is in part what Paul is saying in Romans when he says “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” In other words, by following God in faith, and having the courage to join in the union of agreement we experience God’s goodness and we strengthen others so that they may enjoy the same.
Paul’s commitment and methodology toward spreading the gospel, in this context makes perfect sense. Paul understood well that faith begets faith and strength begets strength when we have the courage to follow!