1 John 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.
I recently received insight into this verse through a book, Culture of Honor, by Danny Silk. It caused me to think much more about the whole matter of repentance, forgiveness, and punishment. We can’t seem to get it through our heads that forgiveness means no punishment, period. That’s not to say that actions don’t have consequences, because they do, and most of the time we have to live with those consequences. However, consequences aren’t the same as punishment. The other side of that is our shallow understanding of repentance. It’s not “I got caught,” or “Sorry about that,” but a genuine regret at what was done and a genuine choice to turn from that. In God’s system, when there is genuine repentance there is full forgiveness and therefore no punishment. Sadly, the Church seldom operates that way. When someone is caught in a major sin, we don’t help them work through to understand the root of that sin, why they opened that door to the devil, so that their repentance can be from the ground up and really change their behavior. Because we fail to do that, we don’t trust their words – or them, for that matter – and we impose all sorts of punishments, demonstrating that we haven’t really forgiven. We need to love people enough to care enough about them to take the time to help them understand their sin and so repent from the ground up. Then we need to forgive them fully, and be done with the whole idea of punishment. That’s when love is perfected in and among us.
This is of course of great interest and pertinence to me as a pastor. I have feared the whole field of “church discipline,” because I don’t like confrontation. However, reading the book helped me understand that confrontation is scary only when it has the motive and goal of punishment. I am to confront people with their sins, not to punish or shame them, but to help them see themselves and enable them to repent, rather than just modify whatever cover-up they are using to hide their sins. That’s not necessarily easy, but it’s a lot less scary, to me at any rate. The more we love God the more we will hate sin, in ourselves or in anyone else. However, at the same time, the more we love God the more we will love His children, whatever they are doing. I must not forget that discipline isn’t the same as punishment, but rather let the Holy Spirit guide me in applying loving discipline.
Father, this issue is huge. Thank You for the insight You gave Danny Silk, and for his faithfulness to share it. Thank You for how You have been helping me apply it even in the past few days. Help me be more and more effective as a channel of Your love and grace, so that I won’t operate by the world’s system, much less the devil’s, but by the principles of Your kingdom, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!