I do not know the exact number of times the word love is mentioned or alluded too in the Bible (300 to 500 times depending on translation) but what I do know from my own reading/research and the many different scholars I’ve read is that outside perhaps the themes of faith, justice and money – love is one of the most spoken about topics in all of scripture. And interestingly the topic of love remains popular in our culture and is often found in our music, literature, movies, and social media. And most often when the theme of love is used in our modern context it is used as a way to identify how we personally feel toward someone or something by saying “I Love You/that” as way to express a heartfelt emotion. More recently love has also become a marketing tool as a way to signify our solidarity that eventually “love wins” – implying that love is always accepting and perseveres.
And because there is so much conversation about love in and outside the church, a wrong assumption can be made by assuming Christian love and how love is expressed/communicated/understood in our larger society is synonymous, equal and therefore the same thing . But this is not the case and a false assumption that we will be unpacking throughout this month. Specifically Christian love or what is framed as “perfect” love in our I John 4:7-21 text includes but goes well beyond how we may personally feel towards someone or something. In fact Christian or perfect love is quite unsettling to our modern sensibilities of what constitutes as love. Because truth be told, Christian/perfect love as described in our scriptures focuses very little on how we feel or even our individual rights as we understand them here in the US today, rather “perfect love” focus is on the:
- origin of love,
- the purpose of love
- and the actions of love.
Our scripture this morning powerfully teaches us that:
- Our ability to love doesn’t come from the goodness of ourselves, nature or our intellect. Rather love, specifically perfect love comes ONLY from God because:
“God – is love”I John 4;16b
It is God’s love for us that provides us the ability to love one another, to love God, to love God’s good creation, to love our enemies, etc. Love originates/begins with God who is the originator of love.
2. Secondly when scripture speaks about love and our text reminds us as well of- God’s great love for us …
“9 This is how God showed his love among us: God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him/Jesus. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins
3. And ultimately God’s love is to be replicated in truth and in love through us/God’s people the church. In other words God’s love is to be first replicated in God’s people and then in our world. Later in chapter 4 of I John 4:
“20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” I John 4:20-21
But before I go any further – I want to backup a moment because in my introduction I stated that love is one of the most communicated themes in all of scripture. However I am also confident that a close second to “love” (equal to justice, faith) and perhaps even 1a is – “fear”. Countless times in the darkest times of the Biblical narrative God speaks the words of hope directly or through a prophet/prophtess to an individual or a community telling them:
“Fear not! Do not be afraid”
“4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
But in our text this morning from I John 4 we find the rare and explicit connection of two of the more significant topics in all of scripture converging – love and fear. Fear and love. It reads vs. 18:
“18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
- What is Perfect Love? The word “perfect” in this scripture (is teleios) means completeness, to be completed in growth or labor. Perfect/Christian love is a love that has been perfected and complete. It doesn’t mean we have to live a perfect life for God to love us. Rather the more we surrender/sacrifice to God’s perfecting work in our life, the more complete we will grow in God’s love. Think of it this way: it’s not how perfect your love is towards God–it’s how perfect God’s love is towards us. When you and I come to know just how much God loves us, – the Bible says that fear will be cast out! As love increases fear is forced pushed out/cast out of us! Friends such perfect love is “given to us” only by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Amen? God’s word is teaching us a powerful truth today that as our Love increases in and for God our fear decreases and is cast out. But I also recognize that for many of us that there are lies that we have been told for so long it is hard to comprehend that perfect love can actually cast out fear. Sometimes the lies we have been told or we tell ourselves have been with us for so long they become truth – alternative truth I guess? Growing up there were more than a few small lies that my parents told me – to keep me safe and inline. For instance:
- SITTING TOO CLOSE TO THE TV WILL RUIN YOUR EYESIGHT
- IF YOU KEEP MAKING THAT FACE, IT’LL GET STUCK LIKE THAT FOREVER
- CRACKING YOUR KNUCKLES WILL GIVE YOU ARTHRITIS
- And the worse LIE of all…. Drinking coffee will stunt your growth – lies look at me!
However scripture tells us that:
“When we become an adult (mature in our faith) , we are to put the ways of childhood behind us.”
So I had to put away/cast out the lies of my childhood. I want you to know this morning that there are lies that we continue to believe about fear as adults that we hold on to. Lies that tell us that:
- Fear is natural and God given. When we believe this lie we live and make fear a way of life believing that as followers of Jesus fear naturally will come upon us. But II Timothy 1:7 tells us a far different truth telling us that:
“7 God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
Reading this, we see two things: fear isn’t of God and it’s a spirit. Therefore fear it’s not natural, but supernatural – it’s a spiritual battle requiring of us to put on what Eph 5 names the “Armor of God”. Friends fear is a spirit and this spirit is NOT from God therefore fear is from the evil one. And because fear origins are from the evil one this spirit will always lead to division, destruction and death. Fear will stop you individually and communities of faith from fulfilling God’s call on our lives. Ultimately our battle here on earth/in this country is spiritual! Yes will always be a physical/immediate manifestation, a physical obstacle to overcome because of fear. But the battle against fear that we cannot lose sight of is that fear is also a spiritual battle that we are to engage in according to Ephesians.
The next lie we believe is that fear is a good thing. Fear is God’s way of keeping us safe. Sadly the church has often been guility of this lie. We do this when we say to one another – “you have to do or don’t do this or you will go to hell”. This is using fear instead of perfect love according to our I John 4 passage today. Also Philippians 4:6 rebukes this understanding telling us rather :
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
When God commands us to not worry about anything, God apparently means it. We’re not to be consumed and worry all the time about the future, the unknown, our children, our jobs, our finances, our country/world. Yes we are to “act justly and love mercy but we are also to walk humbly with God”. To me, “Walking with God” implies being at peace over and against fear. We are never to be satisfied with injustice but neither are we to be fearful, anxious. Rather scripture says that if we ask it of God, we will receive peace in the midst of the hardship enabling us to walk with Him.
And lastly some of us have come to believe the lie that fear and worry are actualy ways to show our love and concern. When we equate love with fear we often find ourselves seeking to be like God in the world. When we do this it leads to pride, a prideful spirit whereby we are often: over critical of others, over committed, over extended, prayerless and joyless. This why in Matthew chapter 6 Jesus command us to not worry about our future – God is already in the future! Jesus compares humankind to the birds of the air and the grass in the field. Neither worry about their futures, but our loving God sustains them. Jesus goes on saying:
“So do not worry saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?”
For according to Jesus it is the “faithless not the faithful” that will run after all these things, because we the faithful (should) know that we have a loving God who loves us perfectly! Rather to counter fear Jesus continues on in Matthew 6 by telling each of us:
“seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things (clothing, food, our needs) will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
When we as followers of Jesus Christ respond to situations in our world with fear, we’re unintentionally teaching others that fear is acceptable and that our God can’t be trusted. And this is of importance for us right now because brothers and sisters, if you didn’t already know we are currently being bombarded in and outside of the church, social media, politics, etc with fear. This cultural phenomenon of using “fear” right now is impacting our country’s policies, executive orders, but also how even the church now utilizes armed security forces in our sanctuaries. And spend more than 10 minutes on social media and you will find that most conversations are based on fear. We are being bombarded from all sides with calls to be afraid and to fear the world around us:
- To fear immigrants and refugees.
- To fear our Muslim brothers and sisters.
- To fear women who gather in Washington to make decisions for themselves.
- To fear people who do not conform to our sexual ethics.
- To fear the President.
- To fear people who are crying out that our lives matter.
- To fear anyone who doesn’t look like us, or think like us, or believe like us, or love others like us, pray like us or worship like us. To fear anything and everything different than us.
And perhaps what grieves God the most is that our current national addiction to fear is being pushed, peddled and packaged not only by the usuals suspects – politicians, media outlets, hollywood, etc. but fear is also being pushed/peddled/packaged by those of us in the church who claim Jesus IS Lord over heaven and earth – well Is he or not?
To be clear when we the church function out of fear – it is a lie to everything that Jesus stood for, and falls woefully short of the whole Gospel message, a message of both love and truth, of both justice and compassion, of both action and sabbath, of both joy and lament. Friends, I am beginning to understand that to live in fear is to live at odds with Christ – and I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be at odds with my Lord, I want to be obedient trusting that:
“Perfect love (does what to fear?) – casts out all fear.”
And what does this perfect love/Christian love look like for you and I in 2017? I am so glad that you asked! Well Christian love/Perfect love is…
“4 … patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres……” I Cor 13:4-7
And we know that these words are not spoken only about “marriage” as it is often read – rather what the scripture is telling us is this is how we in the church are charged to love one another. Whereby we read these passages as such:
“4 … OCMC is patient, OCMC is kind. We do not envy, we do not boast, we are not proud. 5 we do not dishonor others, we are not self-seeking, we are not easily angered, we keep no record of wrongs. 6 OCMC does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 We always protect, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres….
And when we seek and take seriously God’s call for each of us to love God, love each other in this way the world around us will know without a shadow of doubt – we are followers of Christ. Amen?
But I know it is hard for many of us to “see through (the) glass darkly”, at times I have been frozen in my own fear:
- Fear of the future of the church
- Fear of those who may not like what I say or what I do not say
- Fear of the President
- Fear for my immigrant/refugee brothers in sisters
- Fear of disappointing God in responding or not responding to injustice …
- Along with catching myself from believing the lies I mentioned earlier that – fear is inevitable, fear is to be expected, fear is a sign of love … lies one and all.
So I’ve been asking God and I invite you to join me in asking God like the Father in the Gospels whose daughter was vexed with the evil spirit when he said to Jesus:
Jesus Help Me in my Unbelief
I’ve been asking:
“Dear Jesus help me to love, to love perfectly so that ALL my fear can be cast out!
Because like many of you here this morning – I want to be motivated in this world by God’s perfect love – NOT fear. Let us be woke in 2017 – but not afraid because fear cost to much. Think for a moment – What is fear costing you right now? Some of you know what I am talking about because…:
- Fear is costing you your peace of mind and your sleep
- Fear is costing you emotionally and the ability to forgive yourself or others
- Fear is costing you relationships – with others, church members and ultimately with God
- Fear is costing you your joy, fear is stealing your joy that God’s spirit gives us
- And Fear is costing you your freedom in Christ but – DO NOT BE AFRAID because God’s. But…
“perfect love drives out (our) fear”
There is no one more dangerous person/community in our broken world that a person or persons(s) who are no longer motivated by fear and instead motivated by God’s perfect love! With see this most succinctly in our Lord Jesus whose “perfect love” motivated him to LOVE and stay woke to:
- heal the sick, the blind and lame
- feed the hungry
- Preach of all things blessed are the poor thereby
- Bringing the good news/gospel to those on the margins in his day publicly declaring that even Samaritan lives matter
- And eventually we know that Jesus being motivated by LOVE – his identity not only activity – that it was LOVE that for took him towards the cross and empowered him to be raised up from the dead. I believe like Peter Riedemann 16th century writer when he so eloquently writes that…
“Love is like fire – when it is first kindled in us, small troubles and temptations smother and hinder it; but when it really burns, having kindled our eagerness for God, the more temptations and tribulations meet it, the more it flares, until it overcomes and consumes all injustice and wickedness.”Source: Love Is Like Fire. Riedemann (1506-1556) wrote this in a dungeon where he was imprisoned for his faith.
Friends let our fire burn within us – let us look to one another to remind this year that NOBODY or NOTHING can separate us from God’s Love. So…
“Fear not! And Do not be afraid” this morning, this week, this month…
Don’t allow the Spirit of fear to lie and steal your joy. And so I pray today as I close that God’s perfect love will fill each of you today – casting out/leaving NO room for fear and may you be comforted right now as we pray knowing:
“…. beyond doubt that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8