Perfect Fear Drives Out Love
Well, we’re only two weeks in and it’s already been an eventful year. We always hope that the New Year will provide a fresh beginning. Unfortunately, the crises that defined 2020 have spilled over into 2021—from a still-raging pandemic that threatens our health and our freedoms to an election crisis that threatens our national unity. Christ’s Church is always called to bring light to a dark season of history, so here we go again! While the Church may not agree on a lot of things, all believers (Democrat, Republican, Independent, co-dependent, all of us) can all agree on at least one thing. Ultimately, our allegiance is to Jesus. Oh my, if only we lived that way!
Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob and (fill your name in the blank), whose hope is in the LORD their God. (Psalm 146:3-5, with the extra blank, of course)
Unlike human leaders, Jesus’ plans didn’t “come to nothing” when He died. A couple of days after the Cross, He conquered the grave. His plans to protect, prosper, and empower His children are as alive as He is. That’s the fresh beginning this New Year offers us. The chance to respond to every crisis we face with a renewed commitment to the Gospel that brings life.
Jesus Christ is neither surprised nor intimidated by political bullies. He will not be ignored by media or silenced by tech companies. But neither is He the leader of your political party. He died for everyone. Republicans’ sins may differ from Democrats’ sins, I don’t know. But since every member of every party desperately needs God’s grace, posturing yourself as morally superior to others certainly isn’t helpful. Neither is it accurate. Our pursuit, as a church family, is less to protest the opposition, and more to pursue the Great Commission. And our allegiance is to Jesus Christ. He had a lot to say about how we should respond to those who provoke fear in us. That’s what He addressed in the longest sermon He ever preached (at least, the longest on record). The challenge I take away from the Sermon on the Mount is a simple one.
The Kingdom of God does not fight fire with fire. In Jesus’ words…
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)
The example Jesus gave us was to change the status quo, to change enemies into friends. So, let’s follow His lead and also seek reconciliation with those who show hostility to us. This isn’t about winning some type of competition. It’s about bringing our (former) adversaries along with us. In a competitive event, we try to beat our opposition. But winning a game doesn’t change loyalties. It may establish who is stronger on a particular day, but it won’t change minds about who’s rooting for whom in the future.
If somehow, my Bruins beat your Trojans, the same people who rooted for the Trojans before the game will still be rooting for them after the game. The only difference is that they will hate the Bruins even more.
Beating enemies wouldn’t be difficult for an all-powerful God. He would simply have to get out that Hyper-Galactic-Thermo-Nuclear-Hammer He obviously has stashed away somewhere and start bashing! But judgment is not His preference, grace is. His primary goal in the Incarnation was to bring reconciliation and restore health to the relationship He wants to share with us forever—to turn us into His friends. You need to know, He’s very serious about this.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9)
There’s only one way to love like God loves. Sincerely. The Greek anapokritos (sincere) means “without hypocrisy.” Hypocrisy is the word the Greeks used to describe an actor, someone who makes a living pretending to be someone they’re not. God warns us against pretending to care about people when we really don't. So, what about those people we don’t agree with, those who frustrate and oppress us, those who need to know Jesus like we have come to know Him? Do we care about them or do we simply want them to get theirs? Do we long for the return of Jesus because we want to see Jesus or because we want Him to give our enemies what they deserve?
Jesus simply hated insincerity. In fact, the only people He never got along with were the Pharisees. They weren't sincere about caring for people. They expected a lot from the people, but they didn’t care all that much for them. Actually, they were just thankful that they were better than them.
Like the one Jesus talked about in Luke 18:11, who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” Granted, there are certain things we shouldn’t do in our lives, like that guy pointed out. But sin management doesn’t redeem lost people. To manage our sin without becoming a hypocrite requires that we love people, not just identify what’s wrong with them. To sincerely hate evil, we must tenaciously pursue love.
Living in a world where personal agendas and narcissistic leaders dominate the headlines, it’s hard to love like that. But with the empowerment of God’s Spirit, we can do it. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out the darkness. Only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can.” He went on to say that “Love is the only thing that can turn an enemy into a friend.”
This doesn’t mean that we don’t vote when we have the chance, or that we don’t peacefully protest, if that’s an option for us. But fear is a terrible emotion, because perfect fear casts out love. I know I have that backwards, but it works both ways! The Apostle John actually said, “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.” (1 John 4:18)