“For God has not given us the spirit of cowardice, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Carolina Panther fans call their coach “Riverboat Ron” because he has become a risk-taker.
Ron Rivera admits he had been too conservative in his play-calling. When facing a fourth-down and two or three yards, he would instruct the team to punt, which turns the ball over to the other team. So, he began “going for it on fourth down,” which is a risky maneuver. If it works–if you gain the requisite yards and make a first down–the coach looks like a genius. If it fails, you are the goat. Do that enough and your job is in jeopardy.
Rivera was willing to take some risks. Since the team won its division this year, fans and sportswriters agree his decision paid off.
The coward will take no risk.
Bible students recall the bond-servant in Jesus’ parable who said, “I was afraid and went away and buried your talent in the ground. And here it is!”
The owner of that slave was upset. “You wicked, lazy slave! You know how I am–that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed. You should have put my money in the bank, and on my return I’d have received it back with interest.”
The master turned to the other servants. “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. And cast that worthless slave into outer darkness, in that place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth!” (Matthew 25:14-30).
Even in parables, cowards are not appreciated.
From beginning to the end Scripture says that only acting “by faith” pleases God. By its very nature, faith means taking a risk. It means acting on what you know to be truth but without complete information or sufficient guarantees, perhaps without adequate resources or full endorsement of everyone. If the obstacles would cause most people to turn back, only a person of faith goes forward.
To act by faith means there are negatives of one type or the other, but the person of faith decides the strong positives outweigh them.
A person of faith believes in God but may still have questions or the occasional doubt.
Such a one has simply decided to act on the faith they have, rather than waiting for a perfect situation.
The unforgettable “faith chapter”–Hebrews 11–gives us example after example of Old Testament characters willing to risk everything in order to serve God. Some paid for it dearly.
The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), “For we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), and “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11).
Here are a few fascinating insights from Scripture concerning cowards….
1. In olden times, cowards were allowed to leave battles and return home.
Deuteronomy 20:1 “When you go out to battle against your enemies and you see horses and chariots and people more numerous than yourselves, do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God who brought you up from the land of Egypt is with you.” Even the warriors were required to exercise their faith!
20:3 (Then, when you near the battle, the priest shall say to the army) “You are approaching your enemies today! Do not be fainthearted! Do not be afraid or panic or tremble before them!”
20:8 “Then the officers shall speak further to the people, and shall ask, ‘Who is the man who is afraid and faint-hearted? Let him depart and return to his house so that he might not make his brothers’ hearts melt like his heart.'” (You have to wonder if anyone took the officers up on this. Imagine their walking into home a few hours later to say, “Good news, everyone! They sent the cowards home!” Not likely, I’d say.)
Fear is contagious. Cowardice feeds upon the fears of others of like minds. (See Numbers 13:25-14:1ff for a case study in a little fear spreading like wildfire.)
When God is calling people to act, He is not pleased by our indecision, by our placing more weight with the numbers of the enemy than to His presence among us. We recall the man of God telling his servant, “Those with us are more than those with them” (2 Kings 6:16). Only eyes of faith see that; only people of faith know this.
2. God demands that His spokesman be bold and confident. Nothing less would do.
You have been appointed as God’s personal representative. Let that soak in. Now, get over your stuttering. Stand up straight. Speak out clearly. Keep telling yourself, “This is not about me. I’m only the messenger.”
The young Jeremiah was protesting. “Lord, are you sure? You want me to stand before kings and magistrates and priests and princes? Are you aware who you are talking to here, God?”
Jeremiah 1:6. “Then I said, ‘Alas, Lord God! I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.”
1:7 “The Lord said, ‘Do not say, ‘I am a youth.’ Everywhere I send you, you shall go. And all I command you, you will speak.”
1:8 “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”
1:17 “Now, gird up your loins and arise, and speak to them all which I command you. Do not be dismayed before them, lest I dismay you before them.”
1:18 “Now, behold, I have made you today as a fortified city and as a pillar of iron and as walls of bronze….
1:19 “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.”
God wants no timid spokesman, no hesitating preacher standing before the bullying Pharaohs and self-righteous high priests of this world, and no uncertain trumpet calling the troops to battle (see I Corinthians 14:8).
I think of what Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said to President Bush when Operation Desert Storm was about to commence. Before ending the phone call, she said, “Now, George. Don’t go wobbly on us.”
That’s the idea. The troops and the nations will be looking to their leaders for confidence and direction. They will be picking up the attitude of their generals and kings. They must get this right.
In teaching public speaking for God’s people, I like to point out Jeremiah 1:17. In essence God said, “Do not get stage fright before these people or I will humiliate you in front of them.”
Some luxuries are not allowed for those who would speak for God effectively. Stage fright–which is nothing but fear of the audience–is one of them.
3. Scripture specifically excludes cowards in heaven.
Nothing settles the matter of timidity and cowardice more eloquently than the 8th verse of Revelation 21.
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Leading the sad parade into hell will be the cowards.
These are those timid souls who had been afraid to do the right thing.
They had feared what people would say if they confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior. So they kept quiet.
They had feared what living for Jesus Christ would do to their job or social standing or bank accounts. And so they did nothing.
They had feared being disinherited or making mama unhappy by committing their lives to Jesus Christ. Family considerations came first and now they have eternity to regret such an unwise choice.
They had feared embarrassment if they joined a church and humiliation if they were baptized by immersion. So, they played it safe and did nothing.
They had feared being proven wrong by some professor who had degrees covering his walls and whose acidic arguments could peel the paint off a pickup, and so they did nothing.
They lived their lives by fear and always looked for the safe place to hide.
And they now have all eternity to “live” with the consequences.
Nothing is sadder than the fate of cowards.
To act by faith means to do the difficult right thing…
In urging boldness for God’s people, I feel a need to point out that there is a fleshly kind of boldness and one that is of the Holy Spirit.
The fleshly boldness is offensive and repulsive. It drives people away from the church, from the Gospel, from Jesus. It brutalizes, takes no prisoners, embarrasses, and harasses. It leaves people bleeding in its wake. The offender receives the scorn as proof he is a man of faith willing to bear the shame of the cross.
The “spiritual” boldness–that motivated by the Holy Spirit–lifts up Jesus, makes Him attractive to people, and draws them. Spiritual boldness is not about humiliating the audience, not about destroying the opposition, and not about puffing up the ego of the speaker.
We see Spirit-powered boldness on display throughout the Book of Acts, and nowhere more than in Chapter 4. After being threatened and warned to quit preaching Jesus, the early believers got together for a prayer time in which they committed their situation to the Lord. “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31).
Before leaving this point, let’s linger long enough to describe what fleshly, carnal boldness in preachers looks like. Ego is all over the place, the emphasis is on externals (appearance, showmanship, symbols of success), and people are either drawn to or repulsed by the preacher. His sermons are loaded with references and stories of himself, his publications glorify his successes (while never mentioning his failures), and his ministry revolves around his career.
Not a pretty sight.
The true Holy Spirit kind of boldness cares for none of that stuff, but says “He must increase; I must decrease.” Such a minister has long since given up any ambitions for a (ahem) ministry career with its constant emphasis on self-advancing, and derives wonderful satisfaction from something far better: a calling from On High.
“God has not given us the spirit of fear or timidity, but of Holy Spirit power, of love for all people, and of saintly sanity.”