Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"Love and Fear" Part 1

We begin our consideration of love and fear by defining the terms in accordance with Scripture. First, love is so broad a Biblical issue that admittedly, we risk oversimplification by seeking to offer any definition. However, it can be said that both the essence and expression of Scripturally declared love reveals affectionate and impassioned devotion and commitment to the well being of others, including if necessary, great sacrifice on the part of the one who loves. "God is love" (I John 4:8; 16), and throughout the Bible, His character of unselfish consecration to His creation shines forth as the spiritual and moral content of His heart, and the ongoing way of His hands (we might add to confirm, His "nail-scarred" hands).

"Fear" is also an interesting Biblical issue. When I first became a believer in 1975, much of Christendom was beginning the unfortunate practice of seeking to attract unbelievers (and hold on to nominal Christians) by accommodation rather then honest affirmation of God's truth. Sadly, the notion of being "friendly to seekers," as it were, included far more than a proper attitude of lovingkindness and graciousness. Biblical terms and language long settled by skilled linguistic scholars were redefined so as not to offend.

"Fear" was one of those words that fellow under the accommodator's knife, particularly as related to the fear of God. I recall hearing many teachers and reading many authors who proposed that fear, as taught in Scripture, did not mean fright, or terror, or being afraid, as we usually define the term. The proponents of this notion rather declared that Biblical fear meant "reverential awe, or wonder." For years I thought this to be the case, again, because respected teachers and authors so often seemed to make the claim.

The notion was not true. Indeed, any reliable Hebrew or Greek lexicon of ancient languages defines fear in both Old Testament and New as far more than reverent awe. The Biblical meaning primarily includes terror, dread and being afraid, the usual understanding of the word fear. Certainly awe and wonder may be included in the definition, but this meaning is not primary. The Greek root most often used in the New Testament, for example, is "phobos," from which we derive our term phobia (meaning, of course, that which makes us afraid). Therefore, when we consider the Bible's frequent commands to "fear the Lord," we must accept the fact that a place for terror, dread and being afraid must be found in our interpretation and response to God's truth.

As we proposed in our introduction, no greater challenge of Scriptural understanding exists than the necessity of including both love and fear in our doctrinal system of belief. We are commanded to fear One who is, again, affectionately and passionately devoted to our well being, and who sacrificed to the utmost in order to meet our deepest need. How do we begin to understand and reconcile such an enigma? We will continue our consideration in part 2 of this series of messages.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.... For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, "
(II Corinthians 5:10-11; 14-15)

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