Thursday, February 12, 2015

Motivated By Fear – Or Love?

For some a sunrise like this might seem fearsome,
but others would view it as an act - and artwork - of love.

Recently I exchanged perspectives with some folks on social media, offering our views on what motivates people to do what they do. Fear, one of them said, is the greatest motivator.

In one respect, I don’t disagree. Fear is what keeps us from stepping into traffic or driving too fast. Fear keeps a child from touching a hot stove, especially after having made the mistake of doing that once. Fear is what keeps us glued to the morning TV news shows, waiting to find out what the catastrophe du jour happens to be – and what we can do about it. Fear of consequences can help to curb bad behavior. And with many religions, fear is what holds people to rituals and rules, no matter how curious or restrictive.

But I believe there can be a much greater motivator in life: Love. It’s love that pushes a single mom out the door to work a second, or third job to provide for her children. It’s love that pulls a parent out of a warm, cozy bed in the middle of the night to comfort a crying infant. It’s love that convinces a husband to defer a compelling, very justifiable “want” so he can purchase something nice for his wife instead.

Even more than these, love inspires acts of mercy and compassion to help people that can’t help themselves – and who couldn’t possibly repay the kind deeds received from others. And it’s love that insists on doing whatever is necessary to deliver someone else from danger, even if it means the “ultimate sacrifice.” As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Love is a recurring theme in the Bible, as summarized by the familiar verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). It was God’s love for us – and utter hatred of sin that has separated mankind from Him – that sent Jesus to the cross to become what many theologians term the “propitiation” or “atonement” for sin.

Followers of Jesus are commanded to love one another, but even that is a result of God’s doing. “We love, because He first loved us,” 1 John 4:19 tells us. And it is out of appreciation for God’s love and concern for the spiritual well-being of others that should prompt believers in Christ to share their faith with others – not judgmental attitudes or intolerance: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died (to their old, sinful selves)” (2 Corinthians 5:14).

The so-called “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, which is often repeated at weddings, describes love as patient, kind, protecting, truthful, trusting, hopeful, persevering and unfailing. At the same time, genuine love, it says, is not envious or boastful, prideful or rude, self-seeking or easily angered or grudging. These noble qualities aren’t easily manufactured, but are best cultivated through the power of Christ.

This passage also concludes by saying, And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). One of the reasons for this is that when believers die and go to their eternal home, their faith will have become sight and their hope – which the Bible defines as earnest expectation and confident assurance – will have turned into reality. Enduring, unconditional love will be all that remains of those three.

Books have been written about God’s love and the love we should demonstrate to others. But suffice it to say, I’d choose love over fear as a motivator any day.

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