Our working definition of love - the affectionate and passionate devotion to the well being of others, at cost to one's own self - opens our door of understanding as to how the love of God and the fear of God unite to form the proper Biblical response to our Lord.
Love creates in us emotions and sensations of sentimentality. We feel warmly toward those whom we love, desiring to bless them with tenderness, kindness and the gentle caress of affection. This is appropriate, and the Bible commands believers to "be kindly affectioned one to another" (Romans 12:10). There is no notion in Scripture of a dour and joyless relating to each other, and warm sentiments of affection infuse God's love for us, just as they must infuse our love for each other.
However, mere sentimentality alone does not form the fullness of loving devotion. True love, the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, includes not only the gentle caress, but also the firm and forthright hand of truth, chastening and discipline. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" declared Solomon, revealing that loving devotion inflicts as well as inspires (Proverbs 27:6). An element of accountability, and yes, of fear, will always grace any genuinely loving relationship. Be it brother, or friend, or colleague, or God, the one who loves must bear the sword that will wound us when necessary. Such times will bring pain, and will at the outset involve an unpleasantry of which we should rightly be afraid, although in principle we may agree with the necessity of "the wounds of a friend."
There is no way to say it, but to say it: God, the great Friend of our souls and Father of trusting hearts, loves us enough to hurt us, and to hurt us grievously when necessary. He "scourgeth every son whom He receiveth," and if we know anything about "scourging" as practiced in Biblical times, we realize that the Biblical usage of the term forebodes of much pain and loss (Hebrews 12:6). Does God take pleasure in such chastening? Surely not, but the true friend always emphasizes purpose rather than pleasure. Our Heavenly Father loves us by His determination to administer to our needs before our desires. This is vital, because the difficult truth of our present existence is that there are times when we need pain - "Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I have kept Thy Word" (Psalm 119:67).
Wise is the believer who fears this love of God willing to bestow affliction as well as affection. We wouldn't want Him to act in any other way, but let us be aware that in times of chastening and scourging, we won't readily welcome the loving rod upon our backs. Regardless of how well we know in doctrine and principle that God chastens us for our benefit, the immediate experience of His rod will not elicit affirmations of principle, but rather cries of sorrow and pain. "Thine arrows stick fast in me, and Thine hand presseth me sore... I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly, I go mourning all the day long" (Psalm 38:2; 6). Certainly we must proceed to acceptance and faith, as did David: "For in Thee, o Lord, do I hope. Thou wilt hear, o Lord my God" (Psalm 38:6). But first we feel the necessary and corrective point of the arrow, and force of the hand.
God's love no less graces us in affliction than in affection. This is a blessed truth for which to be grateful. But it is also a blessed truth to fear. Indeed, the primary point of a Biblical consideration of love and fear is that the love of God should be feared as well as cherished. Our Father truly loves us, and thus, He always acts in accordance with our deepest need. This truth provides a blessed security and peace as we rightly understand the Bible's teaching. In our next message, we will consider the firm foundation provided by the love of God, as revealed in the fear of God.
"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."