Cowardice can be defined as “a trait wherein fear and excessive self-concern override doing or saying what is right, good, and of help to others or oneself in a time of need—it is the opposite of courage.”
For years I have considered cowardice to be one of the most incompatible traits for those who follow Christ.
Scripture is full of cowardice, from Abraham offering his wife Sarah to Abimelech as his sister in order to escape trouble (Genesis 2:20), David killing off Uriah in order to avoid the consequences of taking Uriah's wife (2 Samuel 11), or Pilate giving up Jesus to be tortured and killed because he was afraid of upsetting the crowds (John 19). These are just a few examples of many.
Our hearts natural, sin-corrupted bent is towards cowardice. Bold living is extraordinarily difficult, painful and risky, but all the same, to live cowardly is to choose self over others, comfort over Christ-likeness, ease over sacrifice.
To live a life of cowardice is to not follow the way of the Cross. To name Jesus as Lord is to follow the way of loving boldly, always at a cost to self.
Look at these few examples of the disciples wherein they were rebuked by Jesus or one another.
Galatians 2:11-21 – Paul confronts Peter when he finds that Peter is forcing believers into cultural norms out of his fear of the popular and culturally powerful (Judaisers). The cowardice of choosing to pursue cultural acceptance over the Gospel way.
Mark 4:35-41 – Jesus calls out the disciples for their doubting his power and living in self-centered fear when the storm came on their boat while they were out at sea. The cowardice of trying to control life rather than trust Abba.
Luke 9:54-55 – Jesus rebukes James and John when they wanted to offer death and war (fire from heaven) against a culture that didn’t welcome him. He replies that he came to save life, not destroy it. The cowardice of waging war instead of offering shalom/peace.
John 12:1-7 – Before his betrayal, Jesus tells Judas to leave Mary alone when he is nagging her about wasting money. Jesus consistently calls out loving wealth and material comfort when it gets in the way of loving him or others. (see John 2, Matt. 21, Matt. 19:16-30). The cowardice of choosing self-concern over the welfare of others.
Mark 16:14 – After his resurrection, Jesus quite sternly rebukes his male disciples for hiding in fear and not listening to the testimony of the women who saw him alive. The cowardice of believing your own fear-based thinking rather than the experiences of others.
Mark 10:13-16 – The disciples are rebuking parents for bringing their kids to Jesus, to which Jesus swiftly rebukes the disciples. Culturally, kids were by far the ‘least’ among the adults, little more than a nuisance. Jesus rebukes the cowardly way of only loving the important or culturally high-status at the expense of the culturally least and lowest. The cowardice of adopting the easy way of cultural rightness over the hard way of loving the 'least of these'.
Jesus consistently rebukes the way of cowardice, the way of choosing self over loving the unlovely, striving for ease at the expense of the down and out, or helping one’s own cause when it oppresses or pains the poor and needy. In fact, cowardice seems to be so looked down on by Jesus, that in Revelation 21:8, as he proclaims the new heavens and new earth, he condemns the cowardly alongside the faithless and detestable.
My encouragement is this: Be audacious as you confront sin and love the unlovable. When I was a YoungLife leader, I knew I was doing ministry right when I heard that parents wouldn’t let their kids come to our meetings because they didn’t want them to be around ‘those’ kinds of kids. Jesus always risked his reputation among men to boldly love and confront, because he was sure of his reputation with the Father. If and when you find yourself acting cowardly, whether it be in the way you love and care for others or in the way you confront sin, check where you are finding identity and acceptance.
Love boldly, confront gently and stand firm in the faith.