Cowardice repulses us. Central to the human condition is the impulse to celebrate heroes, and despise cowards. As one human body, we exalt those who live with courage and honor, and together we decry those who have the power to rescue but do not.
“We’re given a deep and abiding joy when we lay down our lives, one that can’t be realized in security and comfort.”
We respond with unanimous disdain when we see
- a police officer refuse to enter a school under attack by an armed gunman,
- a captain flee his sinking ship, leaving his passengers to fend for themselves, or
- a firefighter stand on the sidelines of a burning home rather than run in.
When a rescue mission is forsaken for self-preservation, we shrink back and cry out, “How could they!” The police officer, the captain, and the firefighter are all highly trained and prepared for the mission. So when they sit it out in pursuit of their own safety, we rightly identify and condemn the evil of cowardice.
Cowardice may seem distant and personally irrelevant to the average American with the average day job, but we Christ followers must ask ourselves, Has fear caused me to forsake my mission? Am I sitting on the sidelines, more concerned with my own self-image and security than with those who are perishing? I am equipped and called, so why am I unwilling to go?
Afraid to Obey?
We live in a time and a place where safety and comfort are prioritized in every sphere. And those are not bad values. Unless they take precedence over the commands of God. Left unchecked, fear hinders Christians from acting Christianly — from pursuing the very rescue mission that we’ve been called to.
Jesus commanded us, “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), to care for the least of our brothers and sisters (Matthew 25:40), to deny ourselves and take up our crosses daily (Luke 9:23).
His callings on each of us are as unique as we are. Some are called to neighbors and family members, others across town or to foreign lands. Some rescue missions require a passport and a foreign language. Others require a brave walk to the water cooler and an invitation to lunch with a co-worker. Just as we don’t look the same, neither do our rescue missions.
“The paralysis caused by fear keeps us from experiencing the deep and profound joy that God intends for us.”
While the specific missions may look different, the calling for each of us is the same: all Christ followers are called to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness (1 Peter 2:9). And this inevitably requires courage and sacrifice. We aren’t permitted to sit safely and carefully in the light, but rather commanded to proclaim him who saved us to those in the dark.
Afraid to Enjoy?
The paralysis caused by fear keeps us from experiencing the deep and profound joy that God intends for us. The counterintuitive reality of the Christian life is that joy is found when we suffer while doing what God has made and called us to do. Peter, who himself was persecuted for proclaiming Christ, said, “If you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3:14).
And Jesus’s example is supreme: “for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). The rescue mission that God the Father asked his Son to carry out was that of the cross, bearing the sins of the world. Jesus was willing to endure, knowing that he would experience joy in obeying his father and in being “seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
Paul, too, said, “Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). Though — or perhaps because — he endured great labor, beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck, hunger (2 Corinthians 11:23–29), God gave him joy. In spite of — or because of — his great suffering, Paul was driven to “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
Our God gives joy in the rescue. He gives us joy in our sacrifice. We are given a deep and abiding joy when we lay down our lives — a joy that cannot be realized in the security and comfort of our self-sufficiency. A joy that is realized as we hand ourselves over to him who is able, for his name’s sake and the rescue of others.
Overcoming the Fear to Go
If we stand on the sidelines and refuse to run toward those in need, we will miss out. We will never know God’s provision and sustenance found only in the midst of the mission. What’s more, Jesus said, “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). If we refuse to go, we will actually lose the very lives we’re holding on to.
“If we refuse to go, we will actually lose the very lives we’re holding on to.”
We have been highly trained to rescue. We have the theological training to pursue this work — we know what we need to do. And the Holy Spirit himself equips us with “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:19–20).
How tragic if we are found to be cowardly — like the police officer, or captain, or fireman who ran away when they were needed most. Let’s lay aside our own comforts, put our equipping to use, and run towards those in peril — whether they are across the street or across the ocean. Let’s not shrink back, but trust that Christ is with us and for us, and go.