Summary: Fearing God's rejection when we don't feel we measure up to his expectations is totally wrong.
Love Myths #4: How Then Should We Love?
February 7, 2010
In this sermon series on what it really means for us to live lives of love, I’ve hesitated to use many examples of love in the context of marriage because of our tendency to romanticize love rather than understand love from a Biblical perspective, where romantic love is a small part of what it means to love, but I couldn’t resist the following story I found online. I don’t know if it is true, but it is certainly believable…
A young couple, very much in love, were getting married in church. However, Sue the wife was very nervous about the big occasion and so the vicar chose one verse that he felt would be a great encouragement to them. The verse was 1 Jn 4:18 which says: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” ( 1 Jn 4:18).
Rather unwisely, the vicar asked the best man to read it out and to say that the vicar had felt that this was a very apt verse for Sue and that he would be preaching on it later in the service. However the best man was not a regular churchgoer. And so he did not know the difference between John’s Gospel and the first letter of John. So he introduced his reading by saying that he was going to read a verse that the vicar felt was a very apt verse for Sue, and that the sermon would be on this verse. But then he read John 4:18, which says “You have five husbands and the one that you now have is not your husband.”
Mis-Reading 1 John…
The “right” verse, FIRST John 4:18, is the launching point for today’s conversation about what love really is, how our culture impacts (and often contradicts) what the Bible says about what love really is, and what that all means for how we live in obedience to Jesus’ commands in response to a question about the “big executive summary of the entire Old Testament”, which I’ve read each week and repeat again today: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:36-40).
The entire verse in 1 John 4:18, (NIV) is this: “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.” It is a familiar verse, and one that gets us into some problems because we read it on the surface. We read that and think it says, “if I feel afraid, I am not loved,” – which we get from the line that says “there is no fear in love” – so if I have fear that must mean there is no love; and we get that also from the line that says “perfect love drives out fear”, assuming that means if our fear is not “driven out” then we haven’t been loved. And then the surface read gets even worse, when we think/believe/feel “that’s probably because I’m not really good enough to be loved – I don’t deserve it”, which we take from “The one who fears is not made perfect in love” – we read that as descriptive of something lacking in us, probably evidenced by the very fear itself, conclude we are not “made perfect” which obviously means we are defective, and walk away from hearing the verse feeling condemned and rejected. But the problem with all that is that it is not at all what the verse is talking about – that surface read completely distorts what God is really trying to say, twisting it to mean the opposite.
So why do we go to that place of interpretation? I believe it is because of the cultural messages we receive about fear, love, law, and punishment. These undermine our ability to hear what God is actually saying to us, which (as we will see before we are done) is an incredibly beautiful and liberating reality, which really does as the verse says and drives out fear and makes us perfect.
Love and Fear and Punishment: A Cultural Perspective:
Let’s start with law and punishment. What does our culture say about law and punishment? I know that is wide and open-ended, but lets see where that goes, and probe it a little deeper.
I think that when we drill down to the root of it, our system and culture is based on a desire to create a society that is orderly and functional and that creates rules which everyone must follow, and if they don’t they are punished. Ultimately that punishment is removal from society. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with that in the context of our fallen, sinful world where evil is a very real presence. But that is not the foundation for the Kingdom of God… a thought we shall return to in a moment.