But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongrs, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Rev. 21:8).
Linking the “fearful” (“cowardly” RSV) with murderers, perverts and sorcerers invites the question, “What fears could lead to rejection at the judgment seat?” We all have fears of varying intensity, many of which are essential to our own survival and that of our families. Yet there are some fears which can lead to the loss of eternal life.
A couple of these are obvious; another, however, is not.
Fear of failure
We can be so afraid of failing to rightly follow Christ that we never try. We are never baptized or may never even learn the truth because we are afraid we’ll become “responsible” and be rejected at the judgment seat. Of course such a fear keeps us from having any hope at all of eternal life.
Thankfully nearly everyone reading these words has overcome this fear as we take comfort in the assurance of our Lord: “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). We strive to live a life of obedience confident in the forgiveness God is pleased to grant, based on His grace and our faith in the Lord Jesus.
Fear of persecution
Another obvious fear that can cost us life is an excessive fear of persecution. We are disciples of a Master who was reviled, rejected, and eventually crucified by the religious and political authorities of his day. Because we are to carry this message of truth and seek to put it into practice, the Lord has warned us we, too, may face similar, violent, opposition. His words are clear:
The disciple is not above his master…If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household. Fear them not therefore…fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…Everyone who confesses me before men, I will confess him before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven (Matt. 10:24-33).
True to these words, persecution has dogged the community of true believers throughout the centuries. Any reading of the Acts, epistles and Revelation makes it clear believers suffered persecution on a regular basis. If a believer fears persecution too much, the only way to avoid it is to renounce Christ. Of course, if we do that, and persist in such a course, Christ will renounce us before the Father.
Many of us have never faced persecution for the faith. We may have experienced some ridicule or shunning, but nothing very serious. We may wonder if we could handle it. Perhaps it’s reassuring when we see our brethren in the Muslim world holding up under what few of us have had to face: Brother is against brother, a man is against his father, daughter against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies are members of his own household. The situation has been intensified since the “cartoon” outrage that has provided an excuse for more persecution of Christians by Muslims.
Yet we see our brothers and sisters in Turkey and Pakistan enduring. We see a community of Christadelphians in southeastern Turkey growing to 60 members. We see one in Pakistan growing beyond 1,000. We see Iranian Christadelphians spending years in exile under continuous threat holding fast to the faith.
Perhaps we can take courage that if they can do it, so can we!
But this much is certain: to be “fearful” to the point of denying Christ to avoid persecution, will put us with the murderers, liars and idolaters.
Fear of offense
There is another kind of fear that could be spiritually fatal which is not so obvious. It’s fear of offending our “brothers” in the faith.
The parents of the man born blind would not testify to the miracle of his new sight, “because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22).
Why should they care if they were put out of the synagogue? The man who could open their son’s eyes had God on his side. Why not side with him and forget the synagogue? Of course, the synagogue represented the right and proper religious establishment of the day while the Lord was still an itinerant Rabbi. Unfortunately, if they persisted in fearing to offend the Jewish establishment, they would never be part of eternal life.
Joseph of Arimathea was another who was afraid of offending his “brothers.” He was a disciple of Jesus, “but a secret one for fear of the Jews” (John 19:38). Why should he, a wealthy and respected man, care what others thought? But coming out publicly for Jesus would shock his establishment friends and family, and perhaps negatively impact his status and wealth. Hopefully, his willingness to seek the body of Jesus from the cross and give the Lord a king’s burial represented his coming out from his fear and was followed up by a subsequent commitment to worshipping the risen Lord Jesus Christ. If, however, he tried to remain a secret disciple, he would end up denying his Lord and being included in those headed for the second death.
Then there was Peter. He had recovered from the three-fold denial of Christ, but now he was “fearing the party of the circumcision.” When members of this “party” came to the ecclesia at Antioch, Peter, who used to eat with the gentiles, “began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.” While this may not seem a big issue to us, Paul says that Peter “stood condemned…[committing] this hypocrisy…[and was] not straightforward about the truth of the gospel…” In fact, the issue at stake was whether a man is “justified by the works of the law” or “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:11-16).
How could Peter make such a serious error? He had been given the special vision of various unclean animals on a sheet to forever impress him that “what God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Why would he worry what the circumcision party thought? Unless it was this: he was the apostle to the circumcised (Gal. 2:7-8) and he did not want any obstruction to this ministry.
Whatever his thinking, it was fatally flawed. If he had continued to give in to this “fear,” which thankfully he did not, he would have been headed for ultimate rejection. Our present situation
This month, some letters to the editor appeal for courage. They challenge us to cast aside our fears of offending our brothers and act according to the great principles of unity and devotion to Christ. We feel the appeal should be seriously considered.
Some of us hesitate to stand up for what we know is right because we do not want to impede our work with a constituency of the brotherhood. This is a “fear” akin to Peter’s.
Others of us are afraid of being opposed, or criticized or shunned or “persecuted” for taking a right position. This is a fear like the fear of persecution which can cause us to deny the principles of our Lord.
This much is clear: we need to beware lest being “fearful” we fall short of the grace of our Lord which will rescue us from the “second death.”