In a couple of weeks I’m preaching at our church on the topic of love. The challenge is that our actions should be motivated by love. I should be kind to my wife because I love her. I should be benevolent to my children because I love them. I should help my friends because I love them. I should be respectful of my neighbors because I love them. I ought to obey God because I love him.
But is this really true?
Am I actually motivated to do any of these things out of love?
Is love the primary motivation behind anything I do?
I’m pretty sure the real answer is no—not even close.
The more I think about it, the more I see that it is not love that motivates me, but fear
Some of this fear has its benefits:
I love to drive fast, but my fear of getting caught holds me back (too bad that wasn’t the case 20 years ago)
When I was in school I really didn’t like studying or reading but my fear of getting lousy grades made me a better student.
But for the most part fear is a terrible motivator.
I’m pretty certain that my main motivator in being kind to others is not so much love, but a desire to be liked—or better put—my fear of not being liked. I put on a good show of putting others first, but I’ll bet if I really got down to it my motivation would not be love, but of trying to please others and a fear of being rejected.
And when I look at my relationship with God I wonder if I follow that same pattern. Do I obey, serve, worship, and follow God out of love, or out of fear of being rejected.
Now to be sure, the Bible is clear that we are to fear him—he is holy, righteous, all powerful, and just. Proverbs 19:23 says “the fear of the Lord leads to life”.
But do I need to fear his rejection? Should I be motivated to serve, worship and love him based on my fear of him not loving me or rejecting me?
Do I obey what the Bible says because in the back of my mind somehow I think this will make God love me more?
Do I give my tithe or have compassion on the poor, or help the downtrodden because I think that will in some way make me look better in God’s eyes?
Am I motivated by the thought that I can do something that will make God love me more?
Am I motivated by the thought that I can do something that will make God love me less?
The more I learn about God and the more I study his Word, the more I see how foolish and simply stupid this kind of motivation is.
Can I really do anything that will affect in any way the love God has for me? Is there anything I can ever do that would make God say—“wow Aaron, that was great—I love you more because of that”.
God’s love is perfect. There is nothing we can do to make him love us any more than he already does.
In fact, the Bible doesn’t just say that God loves; it says that God is love (1 John 4:8). God doesn’t just go around loving people; he walks around as love itself.
God loves us so much—his love for us is so full and perfect he simply can’t love us any more than what he already does. If this were possible his love for us wouldn’t be perfect.
God loves us as much as it is possible to be loved.
And if that weren’t enough, there’s also nothing we can do that will make God love us any less than he does.
Certainly he hates it when we do wrong. And he hates the sin that we allow to entangle our lives. But his love is not based on what we do. His love is based on what He has done at the cross. So for those who have put their trust in Jesus who has died for our sins, there isn’t a single thing we can do that will allow God to love us any less.
For certain there may be discipline—but God’s love will remain perfect in spite of our failings.
A while back I read an article that asked the question: what is the opposite of love. I immediately answered the question in my head as “hate”. But the article went on to say that fear is the opposite of love. And the more I thought about this the more I realize that this is true.
So the challenge goes out to me today.
Will I be motivated by love or by fear?
I’m sure you can add more to this list, but here are a few thoughts that show how love and fear oppose one another. What else can you come up with?
Fear causes suspicion: love offers trust
Fear causes skepticism: love offers hope
Fear causes separation: love offers unity
Fear causes isolation: love offers community
Fear causes tension: love offers release
Fear causes resentment: love offers joy
Fear causes passivism: love offers action
Fear causes criticism: love offers encouragement
Fear causes bondage: love offers freedom
Fear causes self-centeredness: love offers sacrifice
Fear elevates self: love elevates others
Fear causes greed: love offers generosity
Fear causes pride: love offers humility
Fear is weak: love is meek
Fear puts “me” first: love puts “you” first
Fear causes anger: love offers forgiveness
Fear keeps score: love just plays the game
Fear has to win: love doesn’t mind losing
Fear wants you to fail: love wants you to succeed
Fear deceives: love offers truth
Fear is short tempered: love is patient
Fear strives to hide my flaws: love matures and grows
Fear boasts: love waits for honor
Fear is closed: love is open
Fear hides in darkness: love lives in the light
Fear commands: love dialogues and requests
Fear subverts justice: love proclaims justice
Fear causes favoritism: love offers equality
Fear accuses: love offers grace
Fear punishes: love offers mercy
Fear holds back: love presses on
Fear approaches slowly: love wildly embraces
Fear looks in part: love looks at the whole
Fear is conditional: love is unconditional