I admit I had to do a little research for this idiom. You learn something every day!
In the 18th and 19th centuries naval ships going into battle would display their coloured flags so that they could be identified. During the battle if the captain lowered the flags it was a sign of submission. The battle would consist then of ships aiming fire at the opponents flags to hit them hoping the ship would then surrender. However, often what happened was the captain would hoist whatever remained of the flags back up the rigging or if the mast was broken a sailor was sent to climb it while still under fire to nail the flag to the top of the broken mast and this became known as ‘nailing the colours to the mast’. It became almost impossible to surrender when in battle because of this determination to keep the flags flying.
These instructions to his mission-sent disciples continue with words which are quite similar to this idiom.
“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10 v 32-33)
- Say what you really think about something openly.
The sin of Eli (1 Samuel 2) still exists. Eli didn’t speak up. When it came to his sons he rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders and lowered his flags.
- Let it be known you cannot be swayed on it.
Proverbs 29: 25 plagues many. The fear of not getting the vote or the applause means flags are lowered because people become more important than principles.
- Be prepared to lose for your beliefs.
In Dido’s love song she sings, “I will go down with this ship; And I won’t put my hands up and surrender”. Better to lose your ship through defeat than lose it through surrendering your flags.
It isn’t enough to simply believe in Jesus. To be a mission-sent disciple is to live within the kingdom which stands in stark contrast to the kingdom of this world.
In the words of the Message, “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you?”
You’re on team heaven and whatever happens here happens there for you.
It will be tough and you might need to keep on nailing your colours to the mast during the fiercest of battles but you are doing so because you follow the captain of your ship, Jesus.