“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 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 man who fears has not been made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:16-18
In my newest ebook, 9 Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues, I spend some time talking about how the love of God as motivation for operating in and serving with the Spiritual gifts is more important than any use of the gifts in and of themselves.
Our phraseology has been that ‘love [agape] is better than wine [works of the Spirit] but not excluding them as mentioned in Song of Solomon 1:2, and 4:10. We’ve been establishing the context for which I’ve been saying those things: that the gifts and ministries of the holy Spirit are not either/or, but both/and and that true filling and operating in the Holy Spirit will also be characterized by love for God and for one another.
Ephesians 5:17-33 gives us another witness in Scripture about this and how it ties into the Bridal paradigm of the New Testament. Hopefully today we’ll destroy some misconceptions about the fear of God.
Let’s face it, how can we be intimate with someone if we’re afraid of Him?
The reason I’d like to look at these verses from 1 John for some reflection and meditating in this context is because most of us still view God with fear, instead of awe. Many people feel obligated — myself included oftentimes to be completely honest — to obey God out of fear instead of out of love and appreciation of Him. Many preachers I love listening to and reading emphasize the consequence of disobedience, and the consequences of sin, and talking about what we’ve been saved FROM, but they don’t nearly emphasize as much what we’ve been saved TO. The side effect as a result, is fear, shame, and guilt motivating much preaching rather than obedience as a fruit of intimacy.
Love Instead of Fear as a Motivation For Obedience
In Revelation 1: 17 we read the Apostle John say upon seeing Jesus in all his glory in the verses preceding, that “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” Most of us don’t finish the sentence and read Jesus’ reaction to this: “But he laid his right hand on me saying, “Fear not.” Even though Jesus is clothed in all his splendor — and the human heart’s reaction would be to be fearful of being struck by lightning or something of that sort — we are SAFE in the presence of the Saviour. He reaches out His hand, yearning for us to come near and not fear.
A friend of mine once remarked to me that most of us are so preoccupied with loving God with all our heart, that we forget to realize and accept how much He loves us. Author, speaker and teacher S.J. Hill says this:
Personally, I’m deeply troubled by messages that use the fear of punishment as a motivation for obedience. Jesus deserves so much better! In fact, if our obedience is not motivated by love, it’s not the kind of obedience Jesus is wanting from us in the first place. If some want to talk about God testing our motives, then let’s talk about the proper motivation for walking in holiness. Our obedience must be affection-based. If it isn’t, then it’s not true obedience at all. How can an obedience motivated by a fear of punishment in this life or the life to come really be pleasing to the Lord?
In my book, ENJOYING GOD, I write, “Passages such as 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 have been used to provoke individuals to radical obedience. However, what’s overlooked is John’s statement in 1 John 4:16-18 (Emphasis mine)
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears has not been made perfect in love.‘” (v 18)
Most of us mistakenly view fearing God as the same thing as being afraid of Him. How on earth could we be intimate with Him if we were afraid of Him? How many children have had deep meaningful relationship with their earthly fathers if they were afraid of them — maybe growing up in abusive situations? Afraid that at any given moment the father might fly off the handle and snap.
When you’re afraid of a parent, you’re not going to be close to Him.
We’re not going to spend eternity with God afraid He might wake up one day in a bad mood. There won’t be some day in the year 5 million, where we hear a loud grouchy thunderous voice, and have fear instilled in us as we ask someone nearby ‘what was that?“
“Oh, that was God — He’s in a bad mood today! If you run into Him, don’t make eye contact!“
Of course not!
He is the most pleasant person to be around, and our worship of Him should reflect that.
The fear of the Lord is more rightly translated as the awe of Him. We are to be in as much awe and fascination of Him as possible. The idea that He dwells in unapproachable light is not to be taken to mean HE is unapproachable, but that is our reaction in holy fascination of His beauty.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
This is a very important and sobering concept and you might not have heard it put this way before, but hear me out: I’ve heard fear-based messages on this taught more times than not, using this passage to point out that just because people do things in the name of the Lord doesn’t mean they’ll be in heaven. I don’t disagree with that, but I think it’s over-emphasized by most.
Notice the things mentioned — these people were proclaiming to Jesus that they were prophesying, casting out demons in His name, and performing mighty works which one cannot do in His name without being saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. They were boasting of all the great ministry they were doing in His name. His response isn’t that he merely didn’t know them, but the text says never. Not just because they didn’t know him, but because they didn’t know Him and then after the comma, in the same sentence He states, “you [are] workers of lawlessness“– or as other translations put this phrase — ‘workers of iniquity.’
I’d like to submit for consideration a different angle to view this from: it’s not just that these people were workers of lawlessness or iniquity who this will be said to on that day when the sheep are separated from the goats, but that doing anything — even of the spiritual gifts — WITHOUT agape love and coming from a place OTHER than out of agape love and intimacy with Christ — is itself iniquity.
Even when our motives are good, our righteous deeds are still as filthy rags (Isa 64:6). Hosea 6:6 mentions how God desires mercy — or as some translations say loyalty — more than sacrifice, which could signify the ‘right’ religious rituals and activity. God wants us, and stands at the door knocking so that He may fellowship with us, first and foremost.
Anything ministry-wise that we will ever do effectively for God must come from a place of intimacy with Him. It is such a reason as this that He will take one look at many, and say “I don’t know you. In fact, I never knew you.” It’s not that spending time in intimacy with Christ is important so that He won’t cast you aside on that day, but because NONE of the works you could ever do for Him to present to Him on that day will have any significance if they aren’t birthed from an intimate relationship with Him.
The point is not to put fear in our hearts for why we’re doing things for the Lord so that on judgment day we will not be cast aside as people He doesn’t know. Rather, I want to encourage you to just focus on your intimacy with God first and foremost, and then take ministry and your deeds for the lord, your operations in the gifts of the Spirit such as the prophesying, healing and casting out demons like mentioned. Let these things flow FROM your intimacy with Christ.
I speak from experience as well as just posing the question: how many of us rely on our works, our ministry, our deeds for God to replace our relationship with God? How many of us are so preoccupied and busy doing ministry, that we have no relationship with God?
Friends, never allow yourself to get to a place where you’re too busy to spend time with the lover of your soul, because you’ve put the cart before the horse and are finding yourself too busy to spend time with him.