This week we look at the fourth of our seven Christian Skills. Traditionally this skill (or virtue) has been called “Fortitude.” The word, fortitude, is not in common use today, so it needs a little explanation. This is a complex word that has several levels of meaning. “Getting the job done” is the central focus for the skill of fortitude. But the process of getting the job done takes different resources, each of which shape levels of meaning in the skill of fortitude. We will try to delve into these different levels of meaning to better understand the inner workings of this skill and how it can benefit us in our Christian life.
On one level, fortitude means nearly the same thing as courage. We use the word courage to talk about what brave soldiers do under enemy fire. We also use the word courage when talking about the way a cancer patient bears up under the medical treatments they must face. Fortitude requires both types of courage in order to overcome adversity in getting the job done. As we develop the skill of courage we need to find resources to provide it in our lives. St. Paul’s imprisonment became a touchstone of courage for those reaching out with the word of God. This bold fortitude got the job of spreading the Gospel done. In our own lives we must acquire the courage we need to get done what God is calling us to do.
On another level fortitude means strength and endurance. We all know how important strength and endurance are to athletic competition. It is also vital to the enterprise of living the Christian life. As the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 12, verse 1: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Fortitude is the key skill that keeps us going, using every available scrap of strength and endurance to live the Christian life. The nature of Christianity makes life more difficult, more challenging, more discouraging, and more rewarding. There is a reason for our lives that God has set into place. We have a purpose. We need to get the job done. The skill of fortitude taps into all the strength and endurance God has put into our lives so that we can run the race, so that we can press on when we are weary, so that we can overcome the obstacles that Satan, the world, and our sinful selves will put in our way. We need the skill of fortitude so that we can complete the race.
Fortitude also requires diligence. Diligence means the frame of mind required to stick to a course of action. Diligence draws on mental strength and determination. It is also a form of spiritual courage. Diligence is an essential part of the fortitude required to get the job done. As Hebrews puts it in Chapter 6, verses 11-12: We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Without diligence the temptation to walk away from God, while our Christian lives are only half-finished, can become overwhelming. The skill of fortitude enables us to hang in there, no matter what, in order to finish the entire course of Christian life.
In conclusion, the fourth in our series of seven Christian skills is fortitude. As a skill its purpose is to help us get the job done. By this we mean the things Christians are called to do; serve their neighbors, live for Christ, and to fully appropriate the salvation Jesus has won for us. Ultimately Christian fortitude depends on the work of God’s Holy Spirit within us, but it takes shape around attributes common to all human beings. These attributes are such things as courage, strength, endurance, and diligence. Christians need to seek to develop fortitude as a key resource in the work of Christian living. It is a gift that our Heavenly Father desires to give to us. It is an essential factor in the assignment of working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13)