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Sunday
Oct142018

The Antidote to Fear

Hilton Head Island, SC –October 14, 2018
The Chapel Without Walls
R.R. – I Corinthians 13: I John 4:7-13; I John 7:14-21
A Sermon by John M. Miller

Text – There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. – I John 4:18

 

New Testament scholars are all agreed that whoever wrote the Gospel of John also wrote the three epistles of John. The style of writing is remarkably similar in all four of these New Testament books. But perhaps the greatest clincher that one author wrote all four books is that in the Gospel of John, the word “love” is used almost fifty times, although in several different contexts. The concept of love is also found many times in the three epistles.

 

The Greek word John almost always used when speaking about love is agape. This kind of love is the kind that God has for us and that we are supposed to have for one another. It isn’t romantic or familial or friendship love; it is the respect and commitment God wants us to have for everybody in general and for every person in particular.

 

Nobody knows who wrote either the Gospel or the Letters of John. Tradition said that it was the disciple named John who wrote these books, but most contemporary students of the Greek scriptures agree that it was someone else. They say these writings date to the year 100 CE, and thus it almost certainly could not have been John the apostle, known as “the beloved disciple.”

 

Whoever the author was, the notion of Christian love was the idea which most fully sparked his literary interest. Nowhere is that clearer than in the fourth chapter of the First Letter of John. There he made observations about love that no one else anywhere in the Bible came close to duplicating. It is almost as memorable as the famous thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians.

 

The first example of John’s unique treatment of the subject of Christian love is seen in I John 4:7&8. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Those are astounding and challenging words. Most of us would probably accept the notion that love comes from God. It is God’s gift to us, and God wants it also to be His gift from us to all others. Thus those who love with agape love presumably are “born of God;” they naturally try to do what God wants them to do. We are to express love for everyone, even if we do not like some people, or with whom we are not friends, or whom we may even identify as enemies. “Love your enemies,” said Jesus. “Love one another,” said the writer of the Gospel and Epistles of John.

 

The Book of Proverbs says this: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals upon his head, and the Lord will reward you” (25:21-22). Paul repeated those verses in Romans 12:20. I don’t think that is at all what Jesus meant when he told us that we are to love our enemies. If we are kind to our enemies, it will vex them, says Proverbs and Paul, and will be like we are pouring hot coal on their heads. But Christian love is to be a positive inclination, not a negative one. The kind of love Jesus urged us to exhibit is intended to transform the world from its bitterness and animosity.

 

However, the most amazing words in I John 4, and perhaps in everything John ever wrote, are those three short words in I John 4:8: “God is love.” God ---is---love . What does that mean? Surely it does not mean that God is the totality of what love means. Besides, God is much more than love. Nor can those three words mean that “love is God.” The beginning and ending words of that short statement are not interchangeable. Instead they must mean that those who know themselves to be in the kingdom of God are “in” God, in His plan and purpose for the world. Love is at the heart of that plan and purpose. “God is love” suggests that whoever is committed to God is committed to loving everyone in God’s world. “God is love” is a very abbreviated theological way of saying that to understand God is to enact love for all of our fellow human beings in God’s world. It is an unusually tall order in an unusually short affirmation.

 

God is not love in an abstract way. God is love personified, He is love incorporated into His very essence, He is love encapsulated and incarnated and distilled in the deepest center of God’s identity. And, says I John, chapter four, if that is who God is, that is who we must become also. God is love, and so must we be love.  

 

On the cover of today’s bulletin is a quotation from Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was twice a nineteenth-century Prime Minister of the British Parliament. He was born in England of Italian Jewish parents. But for a dispute Disraeli’s father had with the synagogue of which he was a member, we might never have heard of Benjamin Disraeli. In the nineteenth century, Jews were not allowed to serve in Parliament, but Disraeli and his siblings were all baptized in the Anglican Church after their father’s brouhaha with the synagogue.

 

Disraeli became a strong proponent of the British Empire, and a favorite of Queen Victoria. He also wrote several novels, one of which was Sybil, from which the quotation is taken. “We are all born for love; it is the principle of existence, and its only end.” That may be a bit of an overstatement, as “God is love” may seem like an overstatement, but there is a great deal of truth in Disraeli’s statement. “We are all born for love.” As love is essential to God’s identity, it must also become essential to our identity in how we conduct our lives.

 

As rich in meaning as this whole passage about love is in the First Letter of John, it is his last observation about love upon which I want us to concentrate for the remainder of this sermon. “There is no fear in love,” John wrote, “but perfect love cast out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love.”

 

There is a great deal of fear in the world today, and it is increasing. The wave of populism in many countries, including our own, is fed by fear. People fear that government has become their enemy. They fear that they are slipping down the economic scale, that their income is not able to meet their necessary expenses. They fear that too many politicians have become corrupt, and therefore they put their trust in self-proclaimed strong leaders who promise to solve all their grievances. Native-born citizens fear their nations have been inundated by foreign immigrants fleeing dangerous conditions in their homelands, but they believe their own nations are incapable of satisfactorily absorbing the immigrants. The #MeToo movement has given voice to many women who fear certain  men, because they have been assaulted by them. From personal experience they believe they received too little justice or no justice at all from those assaults.

 

Some people fear the growing national debt shall thrust our nation into economic disaster or utter collapse. Others fear that religion has lost its influence in our culture, and that therefore we are becoming culturally unraveled. China and Russia elicit fears in many Americans, and for very apparent reasons.

 

Some people fear that advancing age is adversely affecting them or other elderly people they know. This concern is a reality which cannot be ignored. It is not a fear over large issues like these other concerns, but it is a personal fear over personal issues. There may be fears that close relationships with others are crumbling, and that it may bring bleak prospects for those who live in fear of the dissolution of a valued relationship.

 

Continuous fear is a very negative emotion or state of mind. If we live in constant fear, we are less able to function effectively on a daily basis, because we inevitably lose the ability to give our whole focus to what is important and what truly matters. Fear leads people to make faulty decisions and to take the wrong courses of action.

 

Fear of a dangerous drug culture has led the people of the Philippines to elect a president who has taken draconian measures to combat drug dealers. He has given orders to kill thousands of drug dealers with no questions asked and no questions asked of their killers, either. The people of Hungary have twice elected a president who has systematically eviscerated the hard-won democracy which was established after communism dissolved in the early 1990s. Fear of Muslims has resulted in acts of terrorism against Muslims in several western nations, including the United States.

 

The nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was the time when Christian missionaries made amazing progress in spreading the Gospel throughout the world in places where it had scarcely even been known before. In the Far East, the Middle East, throughout Africa and South America, missionaries from various denominations and mission organizations made great inroads in proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ to countless millions of people who had never even heard of Jesus. I have not personally spoken to any missionaries in many years. All those I did meet years ago, exhibited extraordinary love. It was remarkable.

 

Without question some of the missionaries subconsciously were promoting western culture as much as the Christian religion. Eventually most of them realized they could not continue to do that and be successful in the essence of what they were trying to accomplish. But there were countless numbers of persistent servants of the Gospel who toiled for decades in mission stations in remote places who made little apparent progress. Nonetheless, over the course of many years, Christianity made important strides forward among native peoples in numerous non-Christian nations, because the missionaries expressed genuine love for all the people among whom they were living, and not only for those who converted to Christianity. Many people said of the missionaries what so many pagans said of Christians in the early centuries of Christianity, “See how they love one another, and how they love all the rest of us as well!”

 

Non-Christian people feared missionaries coming into their villages and towns and cities. They were afraid that they would persuade their neighbors to become Christians. Now, over the course of more than two centuries, that has happened. There are hundreds of millions of Christians in nations which had practically no Christians at the dawn of the nineteenth century. But that did not occur solely because of the power of the Gospel, as powerful as that is. It also happened because the missionaries loved the people they served and all the others in those places who never became Christians. Perfect love casts out fear. The skeptics about Christianity learned to overcome their skepticism because of the loving acceptance of the foreigners who came among them and showed their love for them regardless of whether or not they made visible progress in proselytizing. You can’t truly fear people whom you know truly love you. It can’t be done.

 

Andrew Brunson is a Presbyterian minister who lived in Turkey for a quarter of a century, quietly being the pastor of a small congregation of Turkish Christians in a country which has been unalterably opposed to Christianity for much of the time since the ninth century. Two years ago he was arrested and imprisoned by the president of Turkey, who is one of the most feared men among millions of Europeans and Americans. But because of the respect of his parishioners and his many neighbors in Izmir (biblical Smyrna) , the city in Turkey in which Andrew Brunson served, even the autocratic President Erdogan concluded that politically he had no choice but to free him. Yesterday Pastor Munson  finally arrived back in the USA. Amor Vincit Omnia: Love Conquers All, including fear of what foreign religious operatives might do.

 

If there is love among people who strongly disagree with one another, there is no need to fear the disagreements. But if it is evident there is no love among those who are polarized, the polarization is likely to continue and to deepen. “We love,” said the writer of I John, “because God first loved us.” If we are convinced God loves us, then we should convince ourselves to love everyone else, even if we have major disputes with one another. There is too much fear among us over many factors because we do not sufficiently show our love for one another, especially when we have such visible and strong controversies.

 

All this may sound  hopelessly idealistic. Who can honestly live the life of love? You can. I can. We all can. We have the ability to do it. But we must choose to do it. If we wait for unanticipated sentiments of altruism miraculously to sweep over us, we may wait until the end of time. Agape is not an emotion. It is an action. It is a choice. It is a carefully chosen strategy that we decide to exhibit, hoping thereby to transform the world by how we live. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

 

Some Americans are still fuming about what happened in our country in the last three weeks. Everyone needs to get over it. Some Americans are delighted that “our side” defeated “the others” in what happened in the last three weeks. They too need to get over it. Most of us are far too afraid of what our country seems so determined to put itself through. If we really loved one another, despite our disputes, we wouldn’t keep repeating these foolhardy, fruitless explosions. We would not become so bent out of shape by the political obtuseness we think is displayed by “the others,” even as “the others” think we are politically obtuse. Perfect love casts out fear, but surely even imperfect love can also cast out oodles of obnoxious fear.      

 

Because we don’t have sufficient love, we create endless reservoirs of bilious uncertainty. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; that’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” It all sounds so terribly trite and simplistic. But it’s true. When we display too little love, we acquire too much fear.

 

God wants to free us from our fears. He knows far better than we the damage these fears are doing to us. Love, whether perfect or not, goes farther than anything else in casting out our constantly gnawing anxieties. God doesn’t force us to love widely and bravely, but He bids us do it; He wants us to do it; He woos us to do it. He sent a Master of the Life of Love to show us the way. But in the end, only we can choose to walk the road our master showed us.

 

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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