The King James translation of the Bible uses the phrase “be of good cheer” to translate one of the commands of the Lord. “Cheer” comes from a Middle English word meaning “mood,” so the phrase basically means, “be in a good mood.” It is translated “take courage” and “take heart” in other translations. Jesus used the expression seven times in the New Testament, and every time it is an imperative, or command.
“Be of good cheer” may be one of the hardest commands of Christ to follow. It is hard to be in a good mood when the pressures of life weigh you down. We might be tempted to make the excuse that times have changed, and we are no longer obligated to follow this part of Christ’s teachings. We forget, however, the hardships of the people who lived in the days when Jesus originally spoke these words. However hard life is for us, it was exceedingly more difficult for them. If he expected his disciples to take heart when they lived in poverty, pressed down by Roman dominance and harassed by the legalism of the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees, he expects us to take heart today.
Three examples might help to focus us on obstacles Jesus asks us to overcome so that we can be filled with joy:
- Guilt: Coming into Capernaum, Jesus saw a paralytic and said to him, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 9:2). Jesus wants us to be encouraged by the promise of forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to be burdened by the thought of past sins. He died so that we no longer have to be haunted by personal histories.
- Loneliness and fear: When his disciples were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus came to them walking on the water. They were terrified, thinking he was a ghost, but immediately he spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matt. 14:27). If you are a child of God, you do not have to be afraid. You do not have to feel alone, for the Lord’s promise that he will always be with you (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13: 5, 6.)
- Enemies: on the evening of his arrest, Jesus had to prepare his disciples. He warns them, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But then he encourages them with that familiar phrase: “but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Sometimes it feels as if you are fighting a losing battle. That’s when you must remember that you are fighting on the side of God! Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).
Jesus was not a gloomy, pessimistic whiner. He was an encourager. He commands us to be of good cheer. Take heart! The Lord is with you.