Courage and cowardice : How does one define and find them?

Courage is something we hope we have, but fear we lack. Sometimes we feel that we are cowards for experiencing fear, not recognizing that true courage typically emerges when there is something to fear.

Courage is something we hope we have, but fear we lack. Sometimes we feel that we are cowards for experiencing fear, not recognizing that true courage typically emerges when there is something to fear. Other times we make bold statements like, “I’ll deal with that issue” or “I’m going to give him/her a piece of my mind”, only to discover that when the occasion arrives, our performance is not up to par with our proclamation.

There is a humorous story about a timid minister arriving in heaven. “Welcome to heaven” said Saint Peter. “You can go anywhere you like, except on the gold colored clouds. Those are reserved for Christians who have done something exceptional for the Lord.”

The minister was dumbfounded. “I did something exceptional,” he protested. “For 15 years, my Sunday services were disrupted by a noisy, troublesome motorcycle gang. I was always too afraid to do anything about it. Finally, in a holy rage, I left the church in the middle of the service and kicked all their motorcycles to the ground.”

“When did that take place? I don’t have anything in my files,” said Peter. The minister looked at his watch and replied, “About two minutes ago.”

Setting humor aside, Peter himself, experienced both cowardice and courage. Just before Jesus was arrested, He quoted Zechariah 13:7 explaining that He would be arrested and killed and that all of the disciples would abandon Him.

Peter replied boldly, “Even if all the others reject you, I never will!” Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times. Peter’s denial is recorded in Matthew 26 and in verse 75 we read, “…Peter remembered the words of Jesus…and he went out, and wept bitterly.”

Thankfully, one act of cowardice does not need to result in a life of fear and failure. Reading through the New Testament reveals that God used Peter in significant ways and that Peter learned how to be a brave and fearless servant of Christ.

Peter was crucified around 67 A.D. during the Neronian persecution. Christian scholar, Origen Adamantius said that Peter felt unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as his Master and at his own request, was crucified upside down. Other sources say that the Romans executed him that way to point his soul toward Hades. All sources report that he died courageously.

Everyone has fluctuations in their personal level of courage. What does not fluctuate for the believer is God’s presence, promise and power.

“Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

— Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church