You, being human, have a propensity to see what you want to see and to not see what you don’t want to see. We all have this fault to one degree or another. I know I do. The singer Paul Simon wrote a popular song many years ago with the lyrics: “All lies and jests, Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest.” I think Paul got this one right, especially when it comes to how we see our creator. We see this truth playing itself out every day as we watch our world create a God who is more the way we want to see Him while ignoring those things about Him that we don’t want to be true. We, ourselves, must in fact resist turning the God of the scriptures into a god of our own making. Our carnal desires make us want a god who is okay with our sin, a god whom we don’t need to fear no matter what evil we’ve been up to. But fortunately for all of mankind, our desires don’t dictate reality. If the Bible says repeatedly that we ought to fear God, ignoring all those verses that reiterate this by misinterpreting one verse that would, on the surface at least, seem to suggest that God is not to be feared, would not be wise; as in, “The-fear-of- the-Lord-is-the-beginning-of-wisdom” not wise. (Prov 9:10)
To help us ignore most of what the Bible tells us about fearing God, there is a go-to verse that we often hear quoted. “Perfect love casts out fear“. Here is the passage from which it is taken:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1st John 4)
This raises a couple of questions. First, are we supposed to fear God or not? Second, why should we fear a loving God?
The answer is yes, we are supposed to fear God. And second, yes, we need to fear Him. But we fear Him, not because of His love, but because of our lack of it, as this passage in its true meaning beautifully points out. So let us look more closely at the passage, shall we?
In a passage like this, with such a rich emphasis on love, it would behoove us to understand what is meant by that very word. That, in itself, will be a life-long project for you. Grasping the love of God is no small feat. But this passage gives us a good hint. It is not an accident that God’s proclamation of love for those who are His is almost always in the context of the cross. In this passage we are told, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us”. This is a proclamation of love. But following are these words, “…and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This “propitiation for sin” was paid on the cross.
So, if we can look past our biases and assumptions we can see that this passage is about two things: 1)our love for God, 2) and our love for our fellow man, neither of which has any hope of being perfect in this world and in our fallen lives. It is that word, “perfect”, that has caused many a soul to set this verse against what the rest of the Bible teaches. In verse 12 we see the first use of it which has to do with our love for others brought about by His love abiding in us. ( if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.) The second use is in verse 17, and again, it refers to our love, not Gods. And in the next verse we see it for the third time. It is used after, “Perfect love casts out fear“. After the semicolon the same point is restated, “…whoever fears has not been perfected in love”. The “whoever”, by the way, is not referring to God, but us. So this ought to raise a question. Do you love God perfectly? Are you perfected in love? If you can answer yes, then you need not fear God, and the entire rest of the Bible can be ignored by you because you have already been perfected in love. I, on the other hand, still fear God, and until I am removed from this sinful body, and stand before the judgement seat of Christ clothed in His righteousness, I don’t see that changing.
This is as clear as day to me. In this very passage, in fact, the topic of God’s judgement is raised. But we are told that we can have confidence for the day of this judgement because of God’s love which is manifested in our increasing love for God, our brethren, and even for this lost world. But perfect love is not based on having good feelings toward others as much as it is compassion. Perfect love does not dictate that we bless sin, nor bless people in their wicked ways. It does, on the other hand, dictate that we warn, just as Jesus warned repeatedly during His ministry here on earth. It dictates that we be a light that shines forth and illuminates sin. That is perfect love.
In the end, pulling a Bible verse from the context of the rest of the Bible, and then using it for the purpose of–in the words of Paul Simon–disregarding the rest, is unwise. If you study this passage you will see that it is in complete agreement with the rest of scripture’s command to fear God, so we should, therefore, fear God. We ought not, by the command of scripture, create a god in our minds that need not be feared.
I pray for you my dear children, that you would understand who God is, and that you would love and fear him, for that is right. I pray that you would worship Him in spirit and truth, the true Him, and not a made-up version of Him that you find more appealing. May our Father in heaven bring this about in your minds and hearts as you grow in revelation and love for your Father and Savior.