When Cowardice Is Sin

Reading the list of sins which will consign a person to eternal torment is unsettling. Still, most of us take comfort in knowing that “terrible” sins occupy most of the list found in Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (NKJV). We’re actually relieved as we scan the list. “I’m not guilty of murder, idol worship, witchcraft or sexual immorality,” we think. “I guess I don’t have to worry.”
But what about the sin that opens John’s list? Why does God condemn the “cowardly” (“fearful” in the KJV)? That seems more like a personality trait than a sin. Some people are just naturally bold and daring; others are more timid, reluctant to step out into unknown territory. Why would God be so angry with people who don’t possess massive amounts of courage?
The cowardice to which John points is not a personality trait; it’s a decision. The same Greek word is found in Mark 4:40. In the midst of an awful storm, Jesus’ disciples concluded that they were going to perish at sea even though the Master was present. When they woke Jesus with the charge, “Do you not care … ?”, he rebuked the disciples before rebuking the wind. “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” They had seen Jesus’ power over illness and demons. But they didn’t have faith in his power in their present distress. It grieved the Lord that their faith was so underdeveloped.
A similar application of the principle is found in Deuteronomy 7. As Moses prepared the second generation of Israelites for their conquest of Canaan, he warned them about fear: “You shall not be terrified of [the inhabitants of Canaan]; for the Lord your God, the great and awesome God, is among you” (Deuteronomy 7:21). But fear was the very thing that kept the first generation out of the Promised Land. When told about the giants that controlled the land, Israel chose to believe their eyes rather than the power of the God who had led them out of Egypt.
Contrast this fearfulness with the courage young David demonstrated as he prepared to fight Goliath. David’s confidence was not in his size or his weaponry: “Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied'” (1 Samuel 17:45). The smallest, youngest and most ill-equipped among the army of Israel was able to topple the giant because he had faith in God!
No wonder the cowardly occupy a place in the list of the condemned! God has revealed more than enough to build faith in the hearts of the honest. Any who read God’s revelation will see his surpassing power and majesty and can easily develop faith (see Romans 10:17). Without this faith that God is still able to do what is right, we cannot hope to please him (see Hebrews 11:6).
Let me be careful in how I respond to God’s will. Instead of saying, “Lord, I can’t do that,” let me say, “With your help, Lord, I can do whatever you will me to do.” May I never focus more on my own weaknesses than on the power of the Almighty who commissions me! Cowardice that is a result of little faith in what God has revealed is a serious offense.

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Tim Hall

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