Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Thursday, 22 October 20:
1 John 5:3 — For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Today, John adds that if you love God, you will keep His commandments, and it won’t be burdensome to do so. Why? Because it isn’t burdensome to do what you truly desire in your heart to do. Love is the ultimate motivator. Are you truly passionate and joyful about obeying all Jesus commanded, such as loving your enemies, giving abundantly, forgiving, proclaiming the Gospel, etc? Or do you find it burdensome? What motivates you to obey God when you do, and how does it feel?
A heartless captor and executioner or a loving father? Some are motivated to obey God out of fear, but fear is a tremendous burden which robs a person of their joy, stifles the person’s growth, and robs that person of a healthy relationship with God – relationships are built on trust, not fear. But the Bible is full of many verses which speak to the importance of “fearing” the Lord – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 111:10) However, yesterday we read in 1 John 4:18: “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.” So, apparently, we are to fear and not fear – how do we resolve this apparent contradiction?
Luther described too different types of fear, one bad and one good: A bad fear is when God is viewed as an unloving, malicious, malevolent actor who merely seeks to torment and punish his captives or slaves. In contrast, Luther described a healthy fear, a tremendous respect and love, that a child has for a loving father, a love which ‘fears’ offending the father who is so deeply respected and appreciated, but a love which never fears that the father’s love is in jeopardy or dependent upon the son’s perfect behavior. Reflecting back on 1 John 4, our fear of the Lord is awe and amazement of His grace which inspires us to obey Him out of love, not fear of punishment. It is the love of the Father which enables us to love and motivates us to love as He loves – as beloved, loving children, we want to grow up to be just like Daddy. In God’s love, obeying isn’t burdensome.
- 1 John 4:7-21 — Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 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. 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. 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. We love because he first loved us. 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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
Some are motivated to obey God in hopes of gaining approval or blessings. This too is arduous toil which inevitably wanes as it fails to achieve the intended results. And reward-based obedience is self-centered, superficial and artificial, not the foundation a close relationship. Still others will be motivated to obey God from a sense of duty. Once again, duty is a burden, a response to what is required rather than desired, performance more than passion. Duty is powerful and often honorable but still falls short of love – Would you be more excited about someone giving you a gift because she knew she should or because she genuinely wanted to give it to you? Would you be able to tell the difference between an act of duty and an act of desire?
“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” (1 John 5) “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) All of us recognize our obedience often remains burdensome, a struggle. We have mixed, imperfect motives because we are still growing in our love as we grow in our faith. How do we grow in love? We abide in God’s love — “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) Obey God and pray that He will increasingly strengthen your desire to obey and your joy in obedience, and joy in the abiding.
- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 — For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 22 October 20: Today, consider the motives behind your obedience, and pray that God will help you obey in love.