Now Is Not the Time for Cowardice

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).

[1675 words]

11 Replies to “Now Is Not the Time for Cowardice”

  1. Forgive me for asking this question again. Is it possible for a believer to lose not only his or her faith but inheritance also? Is the theology of “Once saved always saved” like the theology that says that “even if hell exists there may well be no one in it?”

    David Skinner, UK

  2. Thanks David

    The question about whether a believer can lose his salvation is a big one, with plenty of passages which one can cite on either side of the debate. It partly comes down to one’s theology: the more Reformed you are, the less likely you will think that salvation can be lost; the more Arminian you are, the more likely you will be to believe that it can be lost.

    It is a complex and nuanced discussion, so I won’t go any further here with it. But I may write up an article about it all one day. All I can say at this point is that we need to take the warnings of Scripture seriously, including the Revelation 21 passage. But the security of the believer is also a strong and fully defensible position to hold to.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Thanks so much Bill,
    Wondrful article on cowardice!
    Great encouragement from scripture and I loved being reminded of those powerful lines from Tolkien.
    Has anyone put the speechs in Tolkien’s works into a book of some sort for easy access?
    Julyan Sumner

  4. Inspirational words Bill, always getting better. Indeed, dark times are upon us and we all need to step up to the plate.

    Paul Moric, Geneve, CH

  5. One of the signs of how easily we are bullied by small and vocal groups is how many universities, among other institutions, dare not even refer to the Christmas vacation but instead refer to “the winter holiday.” — Thomas Sowell.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  6. Very helpful and insightful. As always, great to have things explained so clearly.
    Annette Nestor

  7. Another good word, Bill. I can’t remember the exact quote from C.S. Lewis or where he wrote it, but he said that without courage, all the other virtues are empty- they can’t stand without it. I’m also reminded of Jamie Owens-Collins song “A time for Courage.” Here are just a few lines:-

    “And when sorrow dims the light along our way
    Help us to see each time of darkness through eyes of faith.
    A time for hope, a time for courage, knowing you will see us through,
    And we’ll march with hearts courageous after you.”

    Indeed, it is a time for courage!

    Ed Sherman, Holland

  8. Thanks Ed

    Yes a great quote: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” – The Screwtape Letters

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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