1 John 4:17,18 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. 18 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.
This is for my children, my wife, my friends old and new, and anybody else that wants to listen in. I am a fearful person, a worrier to the nth degree. I am afraid of pain, of other people’s pain, of my own pain but I don’t think I’m afraid to die. I realized this when I was in a bus accident when I was 16 years old. I won’t give you all the gory details, but it was conceivable that I was about to die and I was OK with it because I knew where I was going. Today I want to look at I John 4:18. I want to look at two things: fear and love.
The first thing is fear. Let me give you some context. In verse 17 John talks about the day of judgment. Martin Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh preacher of the 20th century, gave some advice with regards to the day of judgment. He said, “Stand in front of the reality of the day of judgment.” Now, you’ve got a few types of folks and maybe you will see yourself in one or more of these.
The first type are those who out and out reject the day of judgment as nonsense or maybe even as evil. They are appalled by the very idea of it, it smacks of trying to control people with fear. If you have a commitment to free will, then this is you. We’re going to rebel against anyone trying to mess with our free will. Or the day of judgment seems to them as the epitome of ignorance. Once again the epitome of knowledge to them is self-determined; to say that all mankind is held to a standard other than the one they make up themselves or have agreed to follow is offensive to them. We can all say that we fall along this spectrum most days, meaning, whether you’re a Christian or not you don’t like the idea of judgment and to be afraid of it would mean that it seems reasonable to not like it. Some of us are more brazen – we hate the idea, we hate anything about it – but all of us have some hatred of the idea, if we’re honest.
The second group are those who, probably in a way to suppress fear or hatred of the idea of judgment, choose to ignore it. These are not the ones actively hating the idea or hating the idea that God is judge. They instead are seeking a life void of anything to be afraid of. They are usually the fun people in life. They don’t want to ask the question of “What is life‘s meaning?” Life‘s meaning to them is to avoid this question altogether. But things like war and pestilence and disease and the insane bombardment of information we currently are subjected to make this way of living impossible, and that is ruining our worldview and exposing us to the stuff we’ve done everything we can do to suppress. And out of these moments bubbles up the overflowing fountain of fear and hatred. The unknown is all of a sudden made known, and we are forced to confront a reality we have so desperately tried to keep far away from us. Christian and non-christian alike are equally affected.
Right now in the Covid 19 world in the United States of America it all depends upon your age, where you live, your economic status, and where are you are on this spectrum. If you are a teenager or college student with a good family situation and you have parents on the age bubble for this thing, you are going to whistle in the dark until someone close to you gets this disease and dies. If this thing went after the young I guarantee you folks like me would be way more freaked out, but as it stands right now we are worried to some extent about our health and infinitely more worried or fearful about money. So we whistle in the dark until a financial ruin day of judgment becomes too apparent to mask with a $2,400 check and our baseless hope in a brighter financial future is torn away. So, we should all stare the day of current and financial judgment in the face and be terrified by it. Yet the Christian answer, the one that comes from God, is that yes there is judgment, there is awfulness, there is true and real fear, but there is something else. Every time my phone buzzes with yet another report, the one I’m really looking for is the one that says, “FEAR HAS BEEN DEFEATED!”
Before I get to the category of love, there is one more group that we need to address. Those are the Christians who, as Lloyd-Jones put it, are “believers who feel it their duty to be miserable.” These are the folks, and all of us have been here, that want love and fear to coexist. Really they just want fear to exist because their biggest fear is that God‘s love for them is impossible. They can’t submit to love so they enslave themselves to fear. These are the older brothers trusting in their good works to save them and using fear as a full body hazmat suit to ensure that love isn’t needed. They have chosen to fear everything else but God. The fear of the greater drives out the lesser. Two months ago you were afraid that it might rain on your wedding day, today you were afraid you might die or someone close to you might die. Two months ago you were afraid that you would not be able to afford a good vacation, today you are afraid of losing your house. Greater drives out lesser. So why not fear (I’m both using the term as reverence and true fear of) God and it will drive out the lesser fear of death, pain, ruin. Why would you choose this? One word, love.
This leads us to our second point: love. God is love. His love for Himself and for you drives away fear because it is greater than fear. It offers life, it offers freedom, it offers forgiveness even in the face of inescapable judgment. I’ve been studying the book of Zechariah with a friend of mine these past couple of weeks and in Zechariah 3 Joshua the high priest is staring judgment in the face. He is in the courtroom of God and he is covered in his priestly garments and they are covered in excrement of every gross conceivable kind. He is according to God‘s law 100% guilty. Satan also stands there as his accuser, he has an airtight case against Joshua. Yet even here the greater drives out the lesser. God’s love dismisses the charges, clothes Joshua in clean robes, and crowns him with glory, not because Joshua did what was right but because God made him clean simply due to his eternal love for him. Oftentimes we become like Satan in that we want to point out the unacceptable nature of ourselves or of others. We make ourselves and others feel as though they can never be clean, much less worthy of glory. But love is greater than this and we must use it to drive away fear, both the fear of being found out ourselves and the fear of others “getting away with it.” This is the teaching, the doctrine, the way of life known as justification by faith. It is the imputation, the declaring, by the only one who can, that we are right before God so that nothing can touch us; it is Romans 8:31-39 type stuff.
So how can we know this love? First, by believing it and second, by practicing it. Especially with those overcome by fear. Love them, sacrifice for them, listen to them, pray for them, serve them. Don’t hammer them for their fears and their commitment to fear. Instead, love them in the midst of it. As you practice love, you will drive out your own fear and you may by God’s grace drive out the fears enslaving those around you.
In conclusion, there’s an article my friend sent me that was in the most recent Harvard Business Review The author was saying that the feeling that we are not acknowledging during this time is grief, basically grief over the thing we love the most that has died, security, control etc. His advice was to acknowledge that. Yes, acknowledge. But is that all? NO! fear and grief can go hand-in-hand, but the good news is that we grieve as those with hope, HOPE founded in love. So go to battle today armed with love, and let God’s love expressed in the sacrificial love of Christ drive out your fear and the fear of those around you.