There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.1 John 4:18 (MSG)
We live in a very anxious and fearful time. The Covid-19 pandemic threatens our way of life, our livelihood, our families, our future and our very lives. The CDC exhorts us to take precautions by not going out of our homes, not getting near others, wearing masks and gloves when we get out, washing our hands frequently, not touching our face and using lots of disinfectant on packages and sanitizer for our hands. These are all wise precautions because we don’t want to risk our health or the health of other more vulnerable populations. But as some have observed, there is a fine line between “self-care and self-absorption.” When we live in fear we ask the question “How can I get out of here?” When we live in love, we ask the question, “How can I be a light in this situation?”
In 1 John 4:18, the apostle John writes that “There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear.” The NIV translates it a little differently, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” (John 4:18a, NIV). The apostle John is often described as “the apostle of love” or “the one who Jesus loved” (See John 13:23; 19:26; 21:7). For John the perfect expression of a life lived in union with God was to love one another (see 1 John 1:7, 12).
Subsequent generations of the church in the first and second centuries practiced loving “one another” so that it became the defining quality of Christians. One 3rd century theologian who recognized this was Tertullian. Tertullian (155-240 CE), was a lawyer, priest and great theologian of North Africa. He was considered the “Father of Latin Theology,” because he was the first major theologian who wrote extensively in Latin and was also the first to coin the word “Trinity,” (“tri-unity”) to describe the Godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Tertullian was born in Carthage, North Africa at a time when Carthage was a center of commerce and trade in the Roman Empire and was even described as the “granary of the empire.” Sometime in middle age he had a dramatic conversion to Christianity (197-198?) and was ordained a presbyter (i.e., priest or elder) in Carthage.
Tertullian is probably best known for his famous quote about how Christians cared for others in need as a mother cares for her children. He, like the apostle John, recognized that love for one another is the hallmark and defining quality of the Christian life. In his lengthy 50 chapter long letter, Apologeticus, we find this quote at the beginning of chapter 39, which describes Christian assemblies:
“But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another…”
The defining quality of Christians from the first century to today has always been loving one another. But how can we best live out the life of love for one another in the midst of Covid-19? By practicing the principle of thinking of others before ourselves. I have to confess that in this present crisis I struggle personally with this question on a daily basis. There is indeed a thin line between self-care and self-absorption. When does caring for myself become self-absorption? This is a difficult question to answer and one that each of us must answer for ourselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit through introspection, prayer and Bible study. And exactly how we answer this question might look a little different for each Christian as we individually struggle to discern what God’s desire is for us to serve him in this present time.
Nathan Betts, a Christian leader in Washington State, offers five tips for living from love in his helpful article entitled “The Coronavirus: Choosing Love in a Time of Fear.” I believe it may provide us with some general guidance in answering how we live Christ’s love for others in this Covid-19 crisis. I want to close with this quote.
Here are the five tips:
“1. Quiet. It is difficult to live out of love when our minds are anxious. A still mind is a better starting point. Take time daily to be quiet. In this moment, there is so much noise, especially online. If we find our minds and hearts busy, setting aside time daily to simply be quiet can enable our minds to have the quietness we need.
2. Prayer. Pray often. We live in an age of self-sufficiency. And yet, the coronavirus has exposed how flawed this mindset is. Setting aside different times of the day for prayer to God, calling out to Him for help, reminds us that we cannot do things on our own. We need his help. If we call out to Him, He will answer.
3. Listening to God. Take time daily to read or listen to the Bible. The Bible shines a spotlight on how God has acted throughout history—in times of hardship, plagues, war, famine, and peace. The Bible helps us know what God is like and how He has acted throughout history. Becoming aware of God’s acting throughout history creates a greater sensitivity to how he might be working today in our lives and in the world.
Understanding. Practice the discipline of understanding. I have found that in order for me to love my neighbor, friend, or family member well, I need to understand them. Understanding is vital to loving. But this takes patience and care. It requires us to ask more questions than to utter statements when we are in conversations.
4. Understanding. Practice the discipline of understanding. I have found that in order for me to love my neighbor, friend, or family member well, I need to understand them. Understanding is vital to loving. But this takes patience and care. It requires us to ask more questions than to utter statements when we are in conversations.
5. Thoughtful Care.* Increasing amounts of people are being quarantined during this time. Having the opportunity to express care and kindness can become more challenging. One practical way in which we could express care for our quarantined friends could be to use our phones to actually call our friend. Or we could set up a video call. Hearing a friend’s voice can be hugely meaningful, especially during times of self-isolation. We could send a note of encouragement to a friend by text or video chat. While still maintaining social distancing, making a point to check in on elderly or vulnerable neighbors could be a way of letting them know that they are loved. In this time, we need to become creative in expressing embodied ways of expressing care to others while at the same time not necessarily being physically present with them.”
O God, you know we live in a fearful and anxious time. We thank you that you have raised Jesus from the dead and through Him we have victory over death, evil and fear. Fill us with your perfect love which casts out fear and help us to live with courage as bearers of your love and light to others. In Jesus name.
Questions for Reflection
1. What fears or anxieties prevent you from living as a bearer of God’s love and light to others?
2. John writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” The Greek verb used here for “drives” is the verb “Ballei” which means “to throw as at a target, to cast or drive.” The adverb modifying it is “Exo” which is an adverb of place which means “out” or “outside.” The implication is that God’s love completely drives out or throws out fear, so that there is no place inside us anymore for fear to inhabit. Have you experienced God’s perfect love in Christ? How does Jesus love for us drive out our fears?
3. How and where is God leading you to live out Christ’s love for others during this pandemic?