I John 4:7-18
“Here Comes the Love, Here Comes the Love”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
God our Father,
Creator of all things,
true source of light and wisdom,
origin of all that is:
Thank You for calling us to faith,
for planting Your Word in our hearts,
and for delivering us from our sin.
Thank You for calling us to Your service,
for giving us the ability to read Your Word
and share this good news with others. Through Christ, our Savior, Amen.
Let’s start today’s message with an informal and very unscientific survey. It’s just a one-question survey that everyone in this room is able to participate in – so I might call on you if answers don’t start flying at me. Are you ready?
Name something that causes you to fear: [tax audits, annual physicals, new lumps, getting laid-off, getting pregnant, when I see someone texting while they’re driving, etc, etc, etc.]
Those are all real fears, aren’t they? Fears that maybe we can all relate to. Thank you for your participation.
Y’wanna hear something this official surveyor noticed? We are in the middle of a sermon series on what it means to “fear God” – and no one in this room said, “God!”!
Frankly, I’m not surprised by that. I don’t think that’s what I woulda shouted out either. And if we took this survey out on the street, nobody out there would have answered that they were afraid of God either.
That’s a bit of a change over the last 500 years. Before Martin Luther and before the enlightenment and before Charles Darwin, someone would have boldly proclaimed their fear of the Lord. But that is not the world we live in anymore. This is not an entirely new phenomenon – (in the plagues sent to Egypt when Moses was called by God to deliver the Israelites, we read this passage: Exodus 9 20 He that dreaded the word of the Lord (He who feared the word of the Lord), made his servants and (his) work beasts (to) hide into (their) houses; 21 similarly he that despised the Lord’s word, left his servants and his work beasts in the fields – and they were killed by the plague of hail) – but what’s new is how prolific that lack of fear is.
After the Israelites escaped through the Red Sea, Exodus 14 31 and they saw the great hand, or power/or might, which the Lord had used against the Egyptians; and the people dreaded the Lord, and they believed to the Lord, and to Moses his servant.
We began this series reading Proverbs 1:7 which tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…” Last week we read Psalm 112:1 which tells us, “Blessed are those who fear the Lord, those who find great delight in His Commandments.” Fear the Lord? Be terrified of a loving God? What about “God is love”?
Listen to these words from I John. I John 4:7-18 …. —-
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 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. (NIV)
Yesterday we held our annual Church Officer Training class, and while we were each giving our personal faith journeys and the stories that led to our becoming Christians, one of our members shared that she was brought up by a very strict Catholic mom, who raised her with “a real fear of the Lord … so I was a good kid growing up…”
Historically, cultivating a healthy fear of God was a prime means of restraining criminal activity in social networks. This seemed necessary because since the days of Adam and Eve “everyone does what is right in his own eyes”.
But in recent decades, even within the walls of Christendom, talk of “fear of the Lord” sounds archaic and old-fashioned. We, rather, emphasize the “love of the Lord”. We have an overarching theme that teaches that the love of God is such an overwhelming biblical thesis that “fearing God” is seen as a sign of immature faith, a faith that lacks security, even a faith that misses the point of the Cross. Who here hasn’t heard someone teach that God loves everyone so much that “all dogs go to heaven”; that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you haven’t done any real evil, you’re good to go.
But is that what the Bible teaches? Is that what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount when He teaches that “even if you hold a grudge against someone you have committed murder in your heart even if you lust you have committed adultery in your heart; even if you don’t forgive someone their sins against you God will not forgive you your sins”?
Right? It seems like it really does matter! And that, yes, “God is love”, but that does not mean He hasn’t earned our dread! In fact, a healthy and properly understood fear of God is not only endorsed by Scripture, it is beautiful, and leads to a Christian life that is full of joyful obedience and service!
I hear some people argue that “fear of God” is an Old Testament thing, that the New Testament reveals a loving God. But a quick look at Jeremiah 32:40 (that’s an Old Testament prophet) shows us a New Testament promise about putting the “fear of [God] into the hearts of God’s people”. Did you catch that? In the New Testament, the fear of God will fill the hearts of God’s chosen people, not just God’s enemies, but His Church! The full quote contains both love and fear: “40 I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them (that’s the love), and I will inspire them to fear me (that’s the fear), so that they will never turn away from me (here comes the love, here comes the love).”
And this Old Testament promise is fulfilled in the New Testament person of Jesus Christ and the New Testament gift of the Holy Spirit!
So, take a look at today’s reading from The Apostle John’s First Epistle, written to people struggling to understand the Gospel Good News of Jesus Christ. In today’s paragraph the point the author is making is that without Christ we have no hope whatsoever! Without Christ, we should be afraid, very afraid! God’s judgment is righteous and final! But, he says,
“There is no fear in love; perfect love casts out all fear.” That does not mean that there is no reason to fear God; but that when we belong to God He will see us through everything, every evil, every blight, every enemy we might face!
Listen to the context: “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (I John 4:17-18)
The fear John is talking about has to do with punishment on the day of judgment awaiting those who do not have the love of God in them! But for those who belong to Christ, in whom the love of God abides there is no fear of the day of judgment because Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to be the “propitiation for our sins” (4:10)
Did anyone here grow up with a “wait till your father gets home” mantra? I don’t recall my mom ever using those words, but I have a deep-seated memory of that being the rhythm of my rearing. Did I fear my father’s punishment? Yes. The belt on my bare behind was nothing to be trifled with. Did that sense of fear mean that I thought Dad didn’t love me? Never was that my experience! I knew Dad loved us with everything he had!
My own children occasionally earned their just rewards – errr, their just punishments. But that never meant I, or Jennifer, didn’t love them with our whole hearts! Nor, I believe, did they ever question our love for them.
Love and fear, properly understood, are not antithetical ideals; they are complimentary. There is no true love of God without a proper fear of God; and our fear of God is only fulfilled when we know His love through His Son’s life, death, and resurrection, offered for us!
God is the perfect Father – full of love and full of justice. His justice does not overwhelm His love, it requires it. And His love does not suppress His justice, it fulfills it!
To love God as our heavenly Father includes a healthy fear of Him that keeps us humble (we are not God, only God is God) and encourages us to strive to live our lives worthy of His love (because as God, He can do as He wishes!).
Do you know this Almighty God who loves you?
Whom have you shared this “too-good-to-keep-to-ourselves” news with this month? Whom will you share it with this week?
Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a grace-filled place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.
Watkins, Eric B.; “Putting the Fear of God into Practice”; TableTalk; January 2018; Pp. 24-29.