I love cookies. That’s probably not a shocker to anyone who knows me or has seen me at a church potluck. I feel like cookies are one of the ways we know that God loves us because somewhere along the way God spoke to a person in a vision and gave them the recipe for chocolate chip cookies. I know this was from God because scientists have actually proven that the chocolate chip cookie is a perfectly balanced treat. Not too salty not too sweet. But if you take the salt out, people don’t enjoy it as much. If it’s not sweet enough, or if you use milk chocolate chips instead of the more bittersweet chips, again, people are disappointed.
I’ve loved cookies as long as I can remember. I remember, as a kid, when my mom would make cookies that I was only supposed to have them once in a while. There weren’t strict rules, but I also couldn’t just shovel them into my face like a train with a snow plow going through North Dakota in the winter. However, there was a loop hole.
Most days after school my mom taught piano lesson. During that time I would usually watch reruns of the Flintstones. But I knew that during that time my mom wasn’t going to come into the kitchen. And I also knew how to quietly sneak the lid off the orange Tupperware container mom kept the cookies in. Just as important, I knew how to put the lid back on without making the snap sound. So, I would sneak over there, sneak out a cookie or two and go back.
I’m sure she noticed that the cookies were getting eaten, but I don’t know if she knew my tactics. Of course, she listens to this podcast so she knows now. Sorry mom.
Why was I sneaking around? Because I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be helping myself to extra cookies. When we visit them now I don’t sneak around, I help myself to a cookie whenever I feel like it. Though, mom may teasingly smack my hand I know that I have permission to the cookie jar as an adult. But as a kid I didn’t. So I had to be covert about my cookie operations.
Today’s passage is dealing with this exact thing. Most of the time this passage gets used to talk about not fearing God or that there shouldn’t be fear in a relationship with someone you love. But, that’s not really what John was getting at here. Yes, he was saying why we didn’t have to be afraid in love. But he has also been telling us WHY we don’t have to be afraid.
The answer is not simply that God loves us. Which is obviously true. God clearly loves us. But, God also loves everyone. There has never been a person created that God didn’t love. Ever. In all of history. Hitler and Stalin were born being loved by God. But God certainly didn’t love what they did. As a result, they (most likely) faced God’s judgement when they died. I say most likely because even at the final hour of the life of the most wretched person, God would still forgive them if they asked Him to. But that’s a difficult question we can’t deal with right now. God’s love didn’t change, but God’s love didn’t keep Hitler from murdering millions and also having to deal with the punishment for that choice.
It’s not because God’s love isn’t powerful enough. It’s that we have also have to react appropriately to God’s love. It’s like the cookie jar.
I knew it was wrong to sneak more cookies. That’s why I was sneaking. I wasn’t supposed to be doing that, but I chose to do that anyway. In a sense, love had not yet been perfected in me when it came to my mom.
When love is perfected (finished, accomplished, complete) in someone it drives our fear. Remember, love is sacrificial. Love isn’t about me and the feelings I get from someone or something. Love is me laying down my rights, my desires, and my life for someone else. I am being perfected in love when I’m loving others sacrificially.
So then, when I’m living in God’s love and serving others sacrificially out of that love, I have nothing to be afraid of. I don’t try to sneak cookies out of the cookie jar. But, not just because mom made that rule. And not just because I want to deny myself my desire for the cookie. I don’t sneak cookies out of the cookie jar because it’s not loving to my mom or others in the house. I’m taking an unfair portion of cookies and depriving others of theirs. I’m taking advantage of my mom’s hard work in making the cookies and not letting her have a fair share.
In our world right now, you could take out cookies and put in toilet paper, hand sanitizer and cleaning products. Is it wrong to be prepared within reason? No. That’s wise. The ant is commended for preparing for the winter. See Proverbs 6:6-11. But, it’s not loving to hoard up resources. Look at the parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21.
Love isn’t simply obeying the rules so you don’t fear punishment. It’s serving others sacrificially. And that is precisely John’s point here. When we are being perfected by love we have nothing to fear. There is no need to fear God’s punishment when we’re doing exactly what God wants us to with the right motives. If we are afraid, we aren’t being made perfect in love.
That’s why obedience to rules isn’t God’s desire for us. Love has always been His desire. If we’re simply trying to do the right thing so we don’t get punished we’re still focused and obsessed with ourselves. We haven’t been made perfect in love, because love isn’t about loving ourselves as much as our modern society would say that it is. Yes, we obey. But what’s our motive for obedience? Is our motive to protect ourselves from God’s judgement or is it to be loving?
Am I denying myself the cookie because I don’t want to get caught and get punished? Or am I denying myself the cookie because I want my family to be able to have the cookie? Am I denying myself the urge to hoard pallets of toilet paper simply because some official said to stop hoarding toilet paper? Or am I denying my urge to hoard toilet paper because people I love need it and don’t have it right now?
1 Jn 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”