6Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8But 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.”
In our passage today, the Lord Jesus holds out eternal life for those who worship and serve Him despite the opposition of the world and eternal death for those who worship other gods or live unrighteously. The list that our Lord gives of those excluded from life include “the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars.” It is that first category that I want to draw to our attention today – the cowardly.
Webster defines “the cowardly” as those “wanting courage to face danger; timid; timorous; fearful; pusillanimous.” While we typically associate cowardice with the battlefield, cowardice is shown whenever we turn away from a good purpose in the face of opposition because of fear.
First, we are cowardly when we turn away from a good purpose. It is not cowardice to face opposition for doing something evil and then to turn back – that is repentance. No, cowardice is the turning away from a good purpose – it is to fail to ask forgiveness from your spouse because you’re afraid of shame; to fail to confess your secret porn habit to your parents because you’re afraid to get in trouble; to fail to defend your wife from harm because you’re afraid to get hurt; to fail to confront your friend because you’re afraid you might lose her friendship; to agree to speak lies because you’re afraid you might lose your job; to watch a movie you shouldn’t because you’re afraid your friends might not think you’re cool. The cowardly turn away from a good purpose.
Second, cowardice reveals itself in the face of opposition. Anyone can be brave when there are no threats. It is when threats arise, when opposition is present, that our true character is revealed. We set ourselves to a good purpose but then face criticism or persecution or threats or a mob or financial duress. At that moment, at the moment of opposition, we discover who whether we are courageous or cowardly – for the cowardly retreat in the face of opposition.
Finally, the cowardly turn away from a good purpose because of fear. Fear of man; fear of shame; fear of death; fear of failure; fear of loneliness; fear of fame. The specific type of fear varies; but it is fear that motivates and drives the cowardly man.
C.S. Lewis in his book The Screwtape Letters has the demon Screwtape explaining to his nephew why God likely created “a dangerous world – a world in which moral issues really come to the point. [God] sees,” Screwtape writes, “as well as you do that 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. A chastity or honesty, or mercy, which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky” (148-149). Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Hence, our Lord pronounces His woe upon the cowardly – those who turn back in the face of risk; who turn away from the faith, turn away from virtue, turn away from honesty when the cost of such things is too high. So what of you? Are you cowardly? Have you turned back from a good purpose in the face of opposition because of fear? I have. So ought we not to seek the face of God and to confess our sin, asking Him to pour out His Spirit upon us that we live without fear? “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim 1:7). So let us confess our cowardice to the Lord this morning – and, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.