The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 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, which is the second death. Revelation 21:7-8 (ESV)
What a sad and horrible list, these people who will not make it. I have read and shuddered at it many times, thinking “Wow, I’m glad I’m not one of those!” But this last time I was drawn to the first on the list – cowardly. How come just being a coward can put you on this list? Looking at the meaning of the word was eye-opening, and I realized something. I am on the list! The one described as cowardly – that’s me.
The word is deilos (δειλός). It means cowardly and fearful It derives from a word that means “fear-driven,” dread-full. The Expositor’s Greek Testament defines the word as “apostates, who deny Christ in the persecution and worship Caesar through fear of suffering” and “embraces further all those who draw back under the general strain of ridicule and social pressure.”
It describes a person “who loses their ‘moral gumption (fortitude)’ that is needed to follow the Lord.” But it also means this – and this is the part that convicted me – it means “fearful of losses,” referring to “an excessive fear (dread) of ‘losing,’ causing someone to be fainthearted (cowardly) – hence, to fall short in following Christ as Lord.”1
Fearful of losing what? There are a lot of things we cling to. Respect, reputation, career, land, stuff, wealth, loved ones, dreams, control.
The word is only used three times in the New Testament, two of which are in Matthew and Mark when Jesus rebukes the disciples for being afraid in the storm on the sea. Were they afraid of losing their lives? Afraid of losing the boat and their livelihood?
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid (deilos)?” Matthew 8:23-26
It seems that fear of losing and unbelief go together – and may lead eventually to turning away from God, as did the rich young man who came to Jesus asking what “good thing must [he] do to obtain eternal life.”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:21-23
The Pharisees were also afraid of losing. And they plotted to kill Jesus to keep that from happening.
If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation. John 11:48
Jesus said a lot of “hard” things to his disciples, but these may have been the hardest of all:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple … In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Luke 14:26, 33
Asking us to “give up everything” seems impossible for us needy, grasping, hoarding souls. Could this be why those who have the least to lose have the most faith?
I will confess the fear of losing that God is putting his finger on in me. I am afraid to lose my kids and my grandkids. I have lived in dread of it for over forty years. I have read Luke 14:26 for all those years and let it just skip across my consciousness like a rock across the surface of a lake. But now God has me wrestling with it. It seems like asking me to “hate” my family is harsh and contradictory. Aren’t we commanded to love? But the word translated “hate” means “to love someone or something less than someone (something) else.”1 Jesus wants me to love them less than I love him. Jesus, and following Jesus, must be my first love.
With wild, ruthless, passionate grace, Jesus gives me hope by agreeing that doing what he asks is absolutely impossible for me to do. After the rich young man turned away from following him, the disciples asked incredulously, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Yes, it is impossible for me, but with God it is possible. But I must throw myself on his mercy. I must allow him to peel my fingers off that which I dread losing, that which I love more. I must let go of it and hand it all over to him. Without that, I am Cain bringing a good-enough offering. I am Achan hiding my loot under my tent. I am the rich young ruler walking away sad and maybe more than a little angry. I am Peter denying that I know Him at the warming fire. I am that woman in the crowd.
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:27-28 (ESV)
I am still wrestling. Yet, Father, nothing is impossible for you. Make me like Jesus.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself … Philippians 2:5-7 (ESV)
Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39
1HELPS Word-studies, Discovery Bible
Photo copyright by Sheila Bair