Brent Niedergall

A FEATHER IN YOUR THEOLOGICAL CAP

I like how different states take pride in their own unique regional sodas. In New York, they have Manhattan Special. In Michigan, they drink Vernors Ginger Ale. In North Carolina, we have Cheerwine. If you’ve never heard of Cheerwine before, don’t let the name fool you. There’s no alcohol. You won’t find any wine in Cheerwine. But what about cheer? Will it bring you cheer? Going by the way we typically use the word today, sure it can. At one point, the advertising slogan for this drink was, “Betcha can’t not smile.” Why couldn’t a tasty drink give a person cheer, lift their mood, and affect their emotions? That’s how we tend to think of cheer. But there’s a phrase in the King James Bible I was looking at recently: “Be of good cheer.” In Greek, it’s just a single word (θαρσεῖτε). But as our English language has changed, Bible translations have changed to keep up with accurately communicating the sense of this word. What does it mean? How is it used?

Surveying the Occurrences 

Jesus says this word to a paralytic when He tells the man his sins are forgiven (Matt 9:2). The Lord appeared to Paul while he was facing some troubling events, and He encouraged him to “Be of good cheer” (Acts 23:11). And it turns out there was a good reason he could do so. The Lord was going to ensure he made it to Rome to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Others receive this same word of instruction. Jesus tells the woman with the “discharge of blood” problem that her physical affliction will no longer be an issue because of her faith in Him. Therefore, she was to “Be of good comfort” (Matt 9:22). It’s the same underlying Greek word in each instance.  

The Pattern 

Looking at these passages and others where this word appears, there’s a clear pattern. Whoever receives the instruction to be of good cheer is in a tough spot. They’re facing some kind of difficulty. And there is some justification for them to find comfort and encouragement. Modern Bible translations will go with something like “Take heart” or “Have courage.” And it’s not a pleasantry or empty well-wishing. There is always a legitimate reason to take heart and have courage. You see it every time this word shows up in the New Testament. And the occurrences in the Septuagint seem to follow the same trend. There’s always a clearly stated reason to be of good cheer. 

A Reason for Good Cheer

It might cheer you up to know there’s a good reason for Christians to be of good cheer too. Jesus told His disciples in John 16:32–33 that they could be of good cheer even though he just told them they would abandon Him and be scattered. Their life was about to get distressing. And this fits the mold for when we see this word. Someone is facing troubling circumstances, and here the disciples are about to experience some troubling circumstances. So this must mean there’s also a legitimate reason for them to take heart. And there is. The Lord Jesus informs them, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). Their courage is justified because of His victory over the hostile world. Disciples of the Lord Jesus, then and now, shouldn’t expect to experience peace in this world. At least, for the time being. We find our peace in Christ, who achieved victory on the cross—a victory that will be completely realized at Christ’s return (Mark 14:62). So when you face troubling circumstances in this unpeaceful world, know that your experience fits this pattern. You can rightly take heart, have courage, and be of good cheer because you’ve found your peace in Christ.