God is Love. Fear Disrupts Love. Perfect Love Casts Out Fear. Fear Not. Love Always.
Last week, on the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I had the privilege of preaching at Rising Hope Mission Church, a sister church dedicated to being in ministry with the poor and marginalized in our community. As I prayed over 1 John 4:18-21 and thought about the tragic events of that September morning, 15 years ago, my mind kept circling back to four major points.
- Human beings are almost always driven by one of two primary emotions, fear or love. These emotions are at perpetual odds with each other.
- God’s perfect love is demonstrated through God’s own selflessness and a self-giving nature, whereas fear often leads us away from love and into self-preservation and a self-centered nature.
- Whereas human beings act out of two primary emotions, love and fear, the cosmic Christian narrative unfolds as a real life drama where two competing forces, good and evil, battle for our allegiance. Said another way, the kingdom of earth and the kingdom of heaven are constantly colliding in our minds, hearts, and actions.
- God is love, and love is always on the side of good. Evil is represented by anything that seeks to disrupt God’s loving and redemptive purposes. The tool most frequently used by evil is fear. Human beings must always choose where we will place our loyalty.
In the week and a half since the 9-11 anniversary, our nation has continued to witness fear, not love, being given front and center stage, as we all grieve more senseless loss of life and lament what feels like an ever-growing divide in our nation. Sometimes it may feel like there is no way out of our terrible human predicament. But 1 John 4 speaks to us still today and reminds us of our call as followers of Christ:
There is NO fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Any person who does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
Why have we been sold a lie that there is an “us” and a “them,” as opposed to simply a “we?” When will we begin to reject this lie and start living as if we are truly one people, created in God’s image, and designed to work together, reflecting God’s character into the world?
In 1 John 4, we are reminded of who God is. God…is love. And God, who is love, is not of this world. This love, this perfect, selfless, agape love, was revealed to us through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
John also reminds us of the cosmic battle that rages between God, who is love, and not of this world AND of the spirit of the antichrist who is of this world; who was in the world then, and is still in this world. The spirit who is NOT love, OF love, or FOR love.
We’ve got love and the antithesis of love. Would you agree?
God who is with us, who is in us, and who represents love and right relationship and reconciliation is GREATER than the spirit who is in this world; the spirit seeking to tear down, destroy, and wreck havoc on all God is in the process of redeeming through love.
On all days of tragic, senseless, violent, terror-filled death and destruction, the spirit of world celebrates and tries is get a leg up and a step ahead of love.
Because if the terror from those days isn’t enough to destroy us, what is birthed out of that terror often continues to seek more death and more destruction.
BUT, this is NOT the way of God, of love, and life.
There is no fear in love, because perfect love casts out fear. And the way we love others, the way we demonstrate active love for our neighbor and stranger, is THE ONLY means we have at our disposal, the only means we have at all, to show our love for God. Verse 20 says, “Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers and sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, CANNOT love a God whom they have never seen. Those who love God, MUST love their brothers and sisters also.
Who are our brothers and sisters? Who are our neighbors? Jesus had much to say on those questions. Let’s suffice to say our job is find any and all people we would least likely consider a neighbor, and then love that person as if he or she was our next of kin. And then do this again and again and again.
This is hard stuff. This is gospel truth. This is love in action.
We are designed and called to be agents of God’s love in a world that is in so many ways loveless, decaying, and self-destructing. A world that does not seem to know it is meant to be part of God’s redemptive plans; plans that births hope and reconciliation; new life from death, and purpose for chaos.
Loving each other is simply not optional for Christ followers.
We know this though. So, what is it then that causes us-especially those of us who know Christ-to work against God’s redemptive plans and God’s love? What is it that causes us to reject our call as love agents and feed, instead, a fear that tears us down?
Here’s what I think it is. When 1 John 4:18 says that says there is no fear in love, he is really talking about “no fear of judgment.” When we love, we need not worry about God’s judgment because we are fulfilling the commandments. HOWEVER, it is also saying something much deeper about our entire purpose here on earth.
You see, some social scientists, that is counselors, psychologists, and social workers-people who study how we relate to ourself and to one another, believe that when you break it all down, there are only two primary human emotions driving us, fear and love.
We are either thinking and acting out of love, which births compassion, and mercy, selflessness, and forgiveness, and humility, and empathy, and bridge building, and a willingness to listen, and sense of connectedness to God, connectedness to each other, and connectedness to all of creation, and eventually justice.
OR-we are thinking and acting out of fear, which births anger, and hatred, and malice, and vengeance, and pride, and greed, and corruption, and bigger walls, and the desire to conquer and rule over rather than co-create with. Fear even births addictions, and self-harm, and self hate. All rooted in fear. Fear of being unlovable. Fear of being unworthy, fear of being rejected, fear of failing, fear of others getting to know our truest selves.
BUT at the heart of everything at all, maybe, just maybe, is either LOVE or FEAR. Now, hold that thought because…
As Christians, we believe there are two primary driving forces in the world, good and evil. We know that good is represented by God and that God IS love. And we know that Evil is represented by everything that seeks to disrupt God’s loving and redemptive purposes in this world. What I’d like that suggest is that the primary tool that evil uses to disrupt God’s loving purposes is FEAR. Because if evil can get you to fear, then your thoughts, your words, and your actions will be anything but loving.
Fear and love cannot coexist over the long run because they tend to both birth a TON of secondary emotions and behaviors, like the ones mentioned above. Eventually, it seems, one tends to break the other down and win out. Therefore, any thought, word, or deed that is not rooted in God’s love and our two-fold love response-which is love of God and love of neighbor as ourselves, is primarily rooted in fear. God does not desire that you live in fear. Fear is a liar and fear will hold you back from accomplishing the purposes God has for your life.
The good news is that fear needs your approval to stick around. Fear only has as much power as you give it. God is not on its side.
Just as God’s perfect love, as revealed in Christ, broke into the messiness of this world and began reconciling us back to God, when you and I are willing to pull back the layers and ask God to help us uncover our own deepest fears that are likely buried under layers of scabs and masks, maybe we too will then be able to unlock the secret and mystery to discovering our deepest capacity to love. There is no fear in love.
People attribute senseless acts of terror and violence to all sorts of things. False religion, false ideology, corruption, hate, thuggery, etc. However, what if these terror-filled acts are actually a failure throughout history to truly live out our call as love agents in this world, and a willingness to let fear run amuck and birth all sorts of hate and destruction?
What if there is so much hate in the world because Christ followers haven’t learned how to truly love?
Our call as Christians is a big one. Love first. Love always. Fear not. 1 John chapter 5 verse 4 goes on to tell us that whatever is born of God conquers the world. This is the hope. Love will win.
But first, we must address our fear and all of the ugliness we have let it give birth to.
There is no “us” and “them.” There is only us. Humankind. Created in the image of a loving God.
Fear is not from God. Love is. Be love. Do love. Show love. Birth love. Self giving, active love will certainly cost you. But, this is what our God demands of us.
And as you love actively in this broken world, God’s perfect love will also be at work, casting out fear…