The Price of Fear Is Too High
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.
1 John 4:18
Many Christians see in the verse above a contrast between an Old Testament emphasis on “the fear of the Lord” and the New Testament way of love. In reality, however, the New Testament commends the fear of the Lord, and the concept in the Old Testament is much more positive than it might appear on the surface.
Exploring the meaning of the fear of the Lord awaits a future post. For now I want to call attention to another perspective on the interesting juxtaposition of fear and love that John places before us. It has been pointed out that “Do not fear” is the most frequent commandment in the Bible. The two great commandments, on the other hand, both focus on love. The acid test of biblical love is the scandalous call to love our enemies.
Some might be surprised to find that we don’t have to wait until the New Testament to hear the command to love our enemies:
If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to return it. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.
Note, however, that the passage from Exodus does not mention the word “love.” We tend to think of both fear and love as emotions, but the Bible, as in this passage, focuses more on actions. In Luke 6:27 Jesus teaches, “Love your enemies,” but he immediately elaborates what he means with “do good to those who hate you.”
We cannot conjure up feelings on command. Treating an enemy in a loving way, on the other hand, can be extremely difficult, but it is possible. Similarly, we cannot turn off feelings of fear like a light switch, but we can face our fears and do what needs to be done.
Fearing others produces deadly consequences. Fear plays to our most basic, self-serving nature and inhibits our ability to think and act reasonably. It often leads to hatred. We can’t love our enemies if we fear them. As John teaches us, the experience of God’s perfect love drives out fear and frees us to love.
Unfortunately, the world teems with those who consistently and skillfully appeal to our fears to sell us something or persuade us to ally with their cause. Fear the Left, fear the Right, fear Muslims, fear homosexuals, fear the rich, fear the poor, fear big business, fear big government.
If we allow the merchants of fear to shape our hearts, we exclude Jesus from doing so. Do we spend more time exposing ourselves to those who feed our fears, or more time strengthening our security in Christ? Either perfect love will cast out fear, or the prevalence of fear will cast out love.