Growing up, I heard many sermons that focused on specific behaviors: what I should and shouldn’t do, with a heavy bent toward the “shouldn’t.” Each Sunday the preacher delivered his dire warning of the consequences of my stepping out of line. I had a picture of God watching me carefully from the sky, keeping tally of my sins—when my mind wandered during the sermon or I embellished a story for dramatic effect or I didn’t do my homework. I was convinced that God kept detailed records of these transgressions to use against me one day.
Today’s reading says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (NIV). If you are anything like me, maybe it comes as a surprise that fear plays a part in a discussion on love. Its role, however, becomes much clearer in the phrase, “Fear has to do with punishment.”
The news related in First John 4:18 doesn’t get much better for any of us who, like me, grew up thinking that God was mostly vengeful, just waiting for us to slip up so as to cut us down to size. It has taken me the better part of my adult life to see God more as a God of love and less a God of fear and punishment. Sometimes I fall back into the notion of God as divine punisher, but scripture is full of arguments to the contrary. I have to look no further than my own life—from the people God has placed in it to the challenges, setbacks, and obstacles that God has seen me through. If I look carefully, I see a love so deep and so wide that there is no room for fear. God is love, and God wants each of us to live in the joy that comes with knowing that we are loved more than we can imagine.
O God, immerse me in your love so that there is no room left in me for fear. Amen.
Two primary themes emerge from our readings for this week. In Psalm 22, we find the promise that faraway nations will turn and worship the Lord. The book of Acts provides partial fulfillment of this promise. Through the action of the Spirit, a court official from Ethiopia hears the gospel and can take it home to his native land. The Johannine readings focus on abiding in God. “God is love,” the epistle states, so all who claim to abide in God manifest love to the world. The author pushes the point: If we maintain animosity toward others, we cannot claim to remain in the love of God. In John, Jesus states that we must remain in him if we want to bear good fruit for God.
Read Acts 8:26-40. When has an unexpected encounter led you to a deeper understanding of God?
Read Psalm 22:25-31. Recalling that Psalm 22 begins with the cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” do these verses of praise seem surprising? When have you seen this kind of movement in your spiritual journey?
Read 1 John 4:7-21. How does your assurance of God’s love for you move you to love others?
Read John 15:1-8. How secure do you feel about being attached to the vine? What has God done in your life to make it more productive?
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