Jesus promised us that dark days would lie ahead. They would not be a time for the weak-hearted or the half-hearted. Our Lord expects courage of us in these dark days, and he expects all of us to be fully engaged in the battles of the day. No fence-sitters or deserters are allowed.
The Bible in fact says much about these themes. We are not to be fearful but faithful. With great battles upon us, we dare not succumb to fear and cowardice. One of the most powerful and sober verses dealing with cowardice comes from the book of Revelation. In Revelation 21:6-8 we find this very sombre warning:
“He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’.”
Notice the admonition about being an overcomer in verse 7. But the opposite of this – cowardice – tops the list of those vices which will result in people facing a fiery end (v. 8). While all the vices are serious indeed, it is interesting that cowards are the ones who are mentioned first.
While many of the latter vices can be found among non-Christians, the first few probably refer to believers. The comments of Robert Mounce on this passage are worth sharing here:
“In contrast to the overcomers are all those who have cowered in the face of persecution and joined the company of the reprobate. Leading the retreat are the cowardly, who in the last resort choose personal safety over faithfulness to Christ. They are the rootless ones of the Parable of the Sower who ‘when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately [fall] away’ (Matt 13:21). It is not a natural timidity that makes them what they are, but a lack of genuine commitment which provides the incentive for continuing in spite of persecution. They choose to forget the admonition of Jesus that ‘whoever would save his life will lose it’ (Mk 8:35). The unbelieving are not the secular pagan world (as in 1 Cor 6:6; 7:12 ff; 10:27; 14:22 ff) but believers who have denied their faith under pressure. In fact, all eight classes of people mentioned in the verse may refer to professing believers who have apostatized.”
Thus fear and cowardice should not be part of the Christian vocabulary. Indeed, we are told time and time again in Scripture to “fear not”. And there is good reason for this. Many of the times this phrase is used it is coupled with another phrase, “I am with you”. It is because God is with us that we need not fear.
Walter Kaiser, commenting on the use of this phrase in the book of Haggai (1:13), says this: “God promises to be ‘with’ us over 100 times in the Old Testament. It’s too bad that we have ruined the word ‘with’ by our careless use of it in everyday speech. ‘Yes I’m with you; I’m behind you,’ we say to our friends, but we never say how far behind we are. However, when God promises that He is with us, He means that He is right there alongside us with His strong presence. In fact, so real is His presence that when He is with us our service to our Lord is not a solo performance, but a team effort; the strong Son of God stands alongside us as we teach, sing, or serve in His name.”
Of course the promise of his presence is everywhere mentioned in the New Testament as well. Jesus promised his followers: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Indeed, the Spirit of God even resides within us. Or as it says in Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, and you need some graphic reminders about all this, recall the scene in which Gandalf seeks to comfort a fearful Frodo: “‘And now,’ said Gandalf, turning back to Frodo, ‘the decision lies with you. But I will always help you.’ He laid his hand on Frodo’s shoulder. ‘I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is yours to bear. But we must do something, soon. The Enemy is moving’.”
The opposite of fear is faith. We must have faith in the promises of God, and in his abiding presence. Jesus said in Matt 8:26 (and Mark 4:40), “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Faith in God drives out fear and cowardice, while lack of faith makes room for fear.
We may not feel very courageous or strong, but that is not the point. We do not overcome cowardice and fear by our own efforts. It is the work of God in us. In this regard I am often reminded of the story of Gideon and his calling as a deliverer. The text tells us that he was confronted by the angel of the Lord when he was working in the winepress, hiding under the oak tree from the marauding Midianites.
But the angel of the Lord approaches him with these amazing words: “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” Or as the KJV puts it, “The LORD is with thee, thou mighty man of valour.” (Judges 6:11-12) Gideon’s knees may have been knocking with fear, but Yahweh could still call him a great warrior. And that he was – and we all are – with God’s mighty presence guiding and protecting us.
The Bible has so much to say about these marvelous themes. Let me offer just one passage, Psalm 27:1-5: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock.”
Whatever the dangers and opposition we face, we have the Lord God almighty with us at every moment. Or, to resort to Tolkien’s great work of fiction once again, recall the last great battle of the third book (and film) of the trilogy. Recall the words of Aragorn as he tried to encourage and embolden his greatly outnumbered forces just prior to battle:
“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me! A day may come, when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of Fellowship, but it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down! But it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you, stand, men of the West!”
Prov 29:25 tells us that “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the LORD will be safe.” Too many of us seem to fear man more than we do God. That is why so often we will not get involved in the battles of the day. Instead of entering the fray, we are fearful of what others will think, or how we might be treated, or how our reputation might suffer.
But this is a snare. Our only fear should be of God himself. As God warned in Revelation, it is the cowardly that will not make it into heaven. Only those who overcome by means of the blood of the Lamb will make it in. And this is not hard to do, considering the great promises given to us, such as that of 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
So let us redouble our efforts to serve the Lord, no matter what the cost, no matter how hard the battle, no matter how fearful we may be. Let us determine to press ahead in everything God has for us, and not shirk the battles he would have us enter into. The stakes of the war are too high. No one has the luxury of sitting on the fence. Every soldier is needed for the battle.
Will you let God be your rock and your shield, or will you run from the day of battle? Remember, if we can’t handle the small battles, how will we ever stand in the big ones? As Jeremiah 12:5 puts it, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?”
We are in a massive battle between good and evil at the moment. The days are looking very dark indeed. But now is not the time to give in to fear and cowardice. Now is not the time to opt out and let others do all the fighting. Now is the time to do valiantly through our triumphant Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Indeed, “through our God we shall do valiantly” (Psalm 60:12).