I was recently working on a series of devotions and happened to be reading from 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (ESV). This started a line of thought and reflection for me in regard to the subtle ways that people utilize fear in their relationships with even their loved ones.
As Christians, this should not be – particularly in how our relationships with each other play out in daily interactions. Relationships with others, whether with spouses, children, friends, neighbors or even co-workers, fall short in God’s eyes when their motivating quality is fear.
For some, this is what they perceive as necessary to survive in our sin-ladened world. An excessive emphasis on control and retribution characterizes the way they interact with their spouses and children. To not utilize fear runs the risk, in their estimation, of allowing people to do the wrong thing or to do them harm.
Please understand that I am not saying that we should not recognize the appropriateness of fear inasmuch as it is an essential ingredient in a right understanding of God (as in overwhelming awe of His majesty and holiness) or that is the right response to our sin condition apart from Christ for there is only condemnation for us if we are not saved by Him. Fear should be our response to God’s judgment if we did not have Jesus’ blood to shield us. “For in Him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:19-20 ESV).
Nor am I saying that establishing appropriate boundaries for ourselves and our loved ones isn’t necessary: it is. As is the need to justly enforce those boundaries with whatever consequences are right.
But it isn’t God’s design that we use fear to lead others to lives of devotion to Him. Instead, His plan is that we live with His love shaping our dealings with them in such a way that we inspire them and invite them into a “safe” emotional and spiritual closeness to us that opens the door for them to perceive and receive our Heavenly Father’s invitation to come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.
As far as how this plays out in our day-to-day relationships and how we should connect with others under our influence, ask yourself these questions: “Are my relationships characterized by other people’s worry in regard to how I may act or react? Do they relate to me based on the fear that I won’t accept them if they don’t please me?” If so, there may be a bit of selfish manipulation working in you in an effort to control others’ according to your selfish desires.
Before you dismiss this out-of-hand by saying, “I would never treat someone else that way!”, consider that almost no one who does it realizes he does it. Instead, allow the Holy Spirit of God to reveal to you any felt “need” within you that doesn’t quite trust God with the hearts of loved ones giving you the temptation to feel as if you need to help others with threats and “ultimatums”.
Think of how our treatment of others and our use of fear to influence them may affect their perception of the God we say we serve. Might people have the idea that God is waiting on them to mess up? Are people around you under the impression that they must never “mess up” because God will reject them if they do? Is it possible that they get that idea from others who actually do accept them or reject them based on those superficial ideas?
While it is sometimes true that a boss, teacher or parent may have to “spell things out” for others in regard to the consequences of choices, our goal is to establish a more genuine Christ-like relationship with others that is characterized by grace and love. After all, isn’t that how God wants us to perceive Him? Isn’t what we truly desire a genuine relationship based on a Christ-like regard for others? Do we want people to “behave” more than we want them to “be His” in love and affection? Isn’t what God really wants from you and me is a relationship based on our sincere love for Him?
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.