By Basilea Schlink
Coward! That seems to be a despicable word. A coward is someone who is afraid to show his allegiance when it costs something, who fears to confess allegiance to his social class, nation or to a certain group and its principles when they are despised, disdained or attacked. But cowardice--despicable as we think it is-exists in all of us, even if more or less hidden. A coward runs away when the enemy comes near. The disciples were cowards when they ran away, when Jesus was in danger and taken prisoner. Cowards lack courage. What kind of courage is meant here? It is the courage to suffer, to be despised and disdained, the courage to lose one's life. Cowards want to keep their lives and what makes life worth living for them, what they think is important and worthwhile. Cowards want to save their happiness, their reputation, their income, and everything they enjoy. That is why they evade the issue when their happiness, reputation or their life is threatened.
Cowardice is nothing more than a consequence of being afraid of bearing the cross. Cowardice usually goes hard in hand with fear, especially with the fear of suffering. This fear, this cowardice, often leads to short-circuit reactions which could cause us to become very guilty, or could make us deny people, even Jesus and His church. Cowardice often makes us untruthful, inconsiderate and irresponsible. It can even allow others to suffer in order to save our own skin. Out of cowardice Peter denied his Lord; the disciples left Jesus in the lurch. Cowardice has caused, or at least not done anything to prevent, countless disasters.
What catastrophic consequences cowardice had for the German people during the Third Reich! And when the time of the Antichrist arrives and everyone worships his image and has to bear his mark (Rev. 13: 15, 16), the main reason for betraying Jesus at this time will be cowardice. It will have terrible consequences. These people are threatened with the punishment of God: "he shall drink the wine of God's wrath . . . and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night" (Rev. 14: 10, 11). Our cowardly behaviour can bring us such judgment in eternity if we do not repent and turn over a new leaf.
That is why we have to hate this sin and begin an all-out fight against it today. Yes, if confessing the name of Jesus and upholding the commandments demands courage in our times, we absolutely must overcome our cowardice; in the future much more courage will be demanded, when people will not only ridicule the believers, but will also lay their hands upon them. If we tolerate our cowardice and make it seem harmless, we will deny and betray our Lord Jesus Christ and lose the heavenly glory for all eternity.
The important question is: How can we overcome our cowardice? One way is to dedicate ourselves to suffering. We should surrender ourselves by writing down our dedication. Furthermore we must be willing to take upon ourselves all the difficult things that we are afraid of and that may be in store for us. And we must say; "My Father, I do not know how I will be able to bear the difficult things if they should come, but I am counting on Your help. You will make me strong and pull me through. FATHER, I believe in Your love, which has already taken into account what I can bear and will not let me be tempted beyond my strength. If the difficult things should really come, I know that You, My FATHER, will comfort and refresh me in my suffering, even in martyrdom."
Yes, we must believe that we will taste heaven in the midst of suffering. And then, when we are deprived of people, things, love and honour, we will be happy, because Jesus will come to us as the Prince of joy. In experiencing His love, our sorrow will be changed into joy, as many people who were in prison and concentration camps can testify.
Because suffering is never the end in God's plan. He will afterwards prove His goodness to us all the more. Jesus Himself trusted His Father and experienced that the Father sustained Him throughout the fear and horror of Gethsemane.
Thus we can surrender ourselves into the kind hands of God, to the loving will of the Father and take the sting out of the difficult things by saying to the Lord; "In faith, I want to go the way that You have planned for me, even if it is difficult for me. You will shed light on my dark path and make it straight for me." Then our hearts will be in peace. Fear and cowardice will be broken, because we have yielded to the difficult things which the coward always wants to escape.
The second way to overcome our cowardice-and if we neglect this, we will never be free-is to take Jesus at His word. With compassion He said, "in the world you have tribulation", but He also added, "But be of good cheer: I have overcome the world" (John 16: 33). He has trodden fear beneath His feet. And we will find, if we claim this statement, that fear will no longer be able to rule over us. His peace will come into our hearts.
Jesus has promised us "My peace I give unto you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14: 27). And this He will do, if we expect it and call upon the victorious name of Jesus, proclaiming its power over our fear. Just as the cowardly disciples became strong after Pentecost, we too become strong men, who are not afraid of humiliation, disgrace, persecution or laying down our lives. Jesus, who powerfully changed His disciples through the Holy Spirit, is the same Lord today. He will turn us cowards into people who will testify to their convictions and be true disciples of Jesus, who are faithful to Him and will attain the crown of life (Rev. 2: 10).