Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Perfect Love Drives Out All Fear

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Jesus and the Little Children
from Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Dearborn, Michigan
1 John 4:16b-18
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 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.”

You may have heard people say, “Fear is a great motivator.” Few, however, are honest enough to complete that thought. If someone ever tells you that “Fear is a great motivator” you can be sure that they are trying (or will try) to manipulate you to do something which will benefit them, but will not necessarily benefit you.

Fear paralyzes people. Fear makes people want to act to save their own lives, or avoid getting hurt, but they cannot act out of fear that they will be harmed in the process. It’s a vicious circle. This is why tyrants employ terrorist tactics to cower people into submission. Fearful people will not effectively resist forceful oppression and therefore can be manipulated and easily subjugated by evil people.

Creation and the Fall into Sin
from Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Detroit, Michigan
Fear of Punishment
As St. John notes in the Scripture quote above: fear has to do with punishment, or a desire to avoid pain and suffering. When Adam and Eve first disobeyed God they should have run to Him and confessed their sins and asked Him to rescue them from the doom which they had brought upon themselves. They should have known God would have mercy on them (as He ultimately did), but instead they feared the righteous punishment for their sins and ran away from their savior instead of running toward Him for help and salvation. At that time Adam and Eve were naïve about sin, and they were not used to living as sinners as we are, but we act in exactly the same way.

As I was preparing this article I found this interesting news story: Police detectives in California recently solved a 30 year old murder case. Evidence pointed to a 48 year old man who, after police questioned him about the details of the case, took his own life rather than face the consequences of his actions from three decades ago. For thirty years he must have lived in fear that his crime would be discovered. Then, when it was discovered, he feared the punishment so much that he carried out a capital sentence on himself. Now, I’m not saying that the self-imposed punishment did not fit the crime, but until the murderer’s life ended there was forgiveness available for him in Christ. The state’s punishment may not have been as bad as what the man feared, and he could have received true forgiveness in Christ long ago. I don’t know why he didn’t seek Christ’s forgiveness earlier, but had he repented he could have given the family of his victim some sense of justice by confessing to the crime and taking the civil punishment for the crime. Instead, his fear gave him torment throughout his life, and no doubt added to the sorrow and suffering of the victim’s family, also.

What Can Stand Against Fear?
After the Japanese attacked the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt told the American people, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It was a fearful time, but Roosevelt wisely called for courage in the face of fear. Courage is the antidote to fear. But where does courage come from? Courage is not a natural response to fear. Panic is the natural response to fear, but courage comes from somewhere else.

Window from Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Detroit, Michigan
Courageous people act out of love. Love is simply when one cares more for someone else than for oneself. Courageous people are more concerned for others than for themselves. So when courageous people see someone in danger they only think of how to help someone in need, they don’t stop to consider their own safety. Courageous people may have fear for themselves, but they do not take time to think about their own needs as they act bravely to save others. Courageous people (i.e. Loving people) cannot be terrorized. They cannot be manipulated. They cannot be forced to submit to tyrants.

Perfect Love Drives out Fear
Saint John writes in his first Epistle, “Perfect love drives out fear.” This sounds like a good thing. I would like to find some perfect love. The only trouble is that we all are sinners in a sinful world, and you will never find “perfect love” in a sinner. However, even the imperfect love of sinners can accomplish wonderful things. Love can heal wounded or broken hearts. Love can drive out wicked tyrants. Love can give comfort and hope to those in despair. But where there is only imperfect love – fear remains.

So where can we find the perfect love which drives out all fear? Since we can’t find it in ourselves or in other sinful people we must look for it outside of ourselves. The only place to find perfect love is in Jesus Christ. There are many descriptions of this in the Scriptures, but one of my favorites is in Philippians 2:5-11. Saint Paul tells us, Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!

Jesus paid the price for your sins
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Detroit, Michigan
Jesus is the only person who ever lived His whole life in perfect love. Jesus loved God, the Father, with all His heart, all His soul, and all His strength; and Jesus loved His neighbors as Himself. Even when Jesus learned that it was God’s Will to punish Him for the sins of the world in order to save sinners from that punishment, Jesus loved God, the Father, (and us wretched sinners) enough to do all that needed to be done. Jesus is the only one who could save us from the punishment for our sin because Jesus is fully God and fully man in one person. His death paid the full price for the sins of the whole world. That is why the only place you will ever find perfect love is in Jesus Christ.

The perfect love of Jesus drives out all fear because fear has to do with punishment. There is no greater fear than the fear that God will send us to eternal punishment for our disobedience. He would be completely within His rights to do so, but He would rather take the punishment Himself and save us from that torment – and that is exactly what Jesus did for us. We need have no fear because Jesus endured the punishment for all our sins. Because of Jesus, God no longer has anything more to punish us for. So if we do not need to be afraid of God, then there is nothing in all of creation which ought to cause us fear.

How do we receive the perfect love of Jesus? We can only receive it as a gift through faith in Jesus by believing that Jesus died to save us from our sins. God, the Father, counts us righteous through faith and gives us salvation and eternal life. The courage and love that comes from being forgiven is just one of the many bonuses granted by God’s Holy Spirit.

This is not to say that love has any particular power on its own. It does not. Strictly speaking, love, itself, does not save us. Only the perfect life and innocent death of Jesus can save us. It is true that it was the love of Jesus that caused Him to endure God’s punishment for our sins, but until Jesus was physically hanging dead on the cross our salvation was not complete. It is like a parabolical argument I like to use against decision theology: Three frogs are sitting on a log in a pond. One decides to jump in the pond. How many frogs are left sitting on the log? The answer is three, because until the frog actually jumps into the pond he is still sitting on the log no matter what he has decided to do. Likewise with Jesus, He can love us as much as He wants, but all people were still subject to condemnation for our sin until Jesus lived the perfectly obedient life in our place, and then died to pay for our sin.

Christ has taken away all need for our concern about ourselves. Baptized Christians are God’s children through faith in Christ and God will provide for all our needs of body and soul. His perfect love has removed all threat of God’s punishment, and where there is no threat of punishment there is no fear. In Christ we are freed to think about our neighbor without fear that we might come up short. Jesus has overcome all our shortcomings.

The Crown of Life
from Zion Lutheran Church
Columbus, Ohio
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present 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 in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

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