"But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur…" (Revelation 21:8).
I was taken aback by the word "cowardly." This is now the last page of the last book of the Bible. That's 65 books, and 21 chapters into the 66th book, and as far as I know (and my concordance knows) this is the very first mention of the word "cowardly." And here is the Lord, not only springing this new term on us in the eleventh hour and 59th second of history, but also saying something like, "Oh, by the way, your salvation hinges on this."
Isn't that like a professor telling you on the day before finals that you will be tested on a book you haven't even read? I mean, we are not surprised to find that "faithless" will be on the test. And "murderer" and "sexually immoral" and "liar" and the rest. But "cowardly." What chapter was that in?
Unless-unless cowardliness and courage are what God has been talking about all along. C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters:
"Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at the point of highest reality."
Courage (and its opposite, cowardliness) has to do, then, with the reality of all our other professed beliefs. It's fine to talk and write books about faith, and about love. But God is watching to see if we will actually trust Him enough to push through fear-of-man temptations and actually do these things we talk about.
The Apostle John's sudden mention of cowardliness clears my senses. The newly introduced vocabulary is startling and makes me take a second look at how I have been living. It was not after all unforeseen. Way at the beginning God told us: "Be strong and courageous" (Deuteronomy 31:6). It was a command, not a suggestion.