A Foundation of Fear or Love?

Jesus encouraged the populace to listen to the teachings of the Pharisees while disregarding their examples, and this leads to a question: Is it possible to do the right thing for the wrong reason? Does the wrong motivation invalidate the right action? Jonah, for example, is a character who demonstrates reluctance to preach to the Assyrians, but he finally caves in – seemingly hoping that the people would not repent, bringing judgment upon themselves. Pharisees were examples of prayer and charity, but they performed these acts for the attention of others.

Also, I Corinthians 13 addresses this issue in the context of love – making clear that righteous acts for the wrong reason benefits nothing for my soul. While Ninevah benefits from Jonah’s teachings, Jonah is chastised. While others could learn from the example of the Pharisees, Jesus reprimands them. By worshipping God, we are doing something good, but what are our reasons? Do we serve God because we love Him? Do we serve Him for our own self-preservation?

We sometimes encourage “hellfire and brimstone” preaching because fear can be a strong motivator. In Hebrews 10:31, we are told it is “a fearful thing” to fall into God’s hands sinful. Matthew 10:28 records Jesus telling us to be more fearful of God than of men, and, in the illustration of the judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, eternal punishment is spoken of. However, this fear should not be our primary motivation for serving God.

Service Based On Love

For parents, do you want your children to obey you because they fear your punishments or because they love you? Those raising children understand that distinction. Fear is a shaky foundation for commitment. For example, marriage is not based on fear (and, if it is, it will likely not last long). Returning to our main theme, revisit those questions. Do we serve God out of love and respect, or do is our service based on fear.

In John 14:1-3, Jesus makes it clear that He wants His disciples to join Him in Heaven. In this context, He instructs His disciples to keep His commandments based on their love for Him in verses 15 and 21-24. John 15:9-10 continues this theme as does I John 5:2-3. John assures us that His commandments are not “grievous.” Like our prohibiting children from touching a hot stove or playing in an electrical socket, His commandments are for our own benefit. Time and again, obedience is demonstrated as an expression of love, and God shows His love through His word.

We develop love for God the same way we develop love for one another – by examining the qualities that make Him lovable. I John 3:1 records that He loved us enough to consider us His children. He claims us as His own despite our flaws and problems. I John 4:9-10 continues this idea in the selflessness He demonstrates in His love, and verse 18 discourages fear as a primary motivator. Love pushes fear aside.


We sing of God’s goodness in so many of our songs, and Romans 5:2 speaks of the hope we have in Him. That hope (in verse 5) is based on the self-sacrificing love God has shown us. The love He has for us gives us a foundation upon which we can love Him, and, as a result of love, serve Him.

lesson by Tim Smelser