“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18)
The in his first general epistle, the apostle John (by inspiration of the Holy Spirit) writes to those he refers to as “my little children.” (1 John 2:1). The recipients of the letter are also referred to as “children of God” (1 John 3:1) and as “beloved” (1 John 4:1, 7). The letter then was written to those who are “beloved little children of God.” Brethren, that is us! What a picture of the faithful Christian – a beloved little child of the Father! God loves each of us as a father loves his child – yea even more! God’s motive for loving us and sacrificing Himself for us is born of the fact that He is our Father and we are His children. This is the central message of 1 John 4:7-21. God loves His children and His children are to love and obey Him. Because God loves us so, we as His beloved little children must love one another. Love, agape, is the highest motive. It is what motivated God to act on our behalf. Love should be what motivates us to act on His behalf.
There is another motivation to serve God beside the motive of agape and that is the motive of fear. Many are the souls that have been brought to repentance by a healthy fear of damnation in hell-fire. Hell, fire and brimstone sermons have their place – each of us needs a healthy amount of fear of such things, often we need to be reminded of that fear. While godly fear can be a healthy motive for obedience, irrational and ungodly fear is a decidedly unhealthy one.
In his dissertation on love in 1 John chapter 4, the apostle John said, “There is no fear in love…” (v.18a). John is not referring to “godly” fear or the overwhelming sense of awe of God. Here he is speaking of that irrational fear where one has an overwhelming sense of doom; the sense that they can never be “good” enough to get to Heaven. This kind of fear has no part in the love of God.
He goes on to say, “…but perfect love casts out fear…” (v.18b) Perfect refers to that which is completed; that which has matured. Love perfected and fully matured casts out fear. “Casts out” literally means “to turn out of doors” such as when the dog is “shoo-ed” out the door of our house. Perfect love casts our fear because there is no room left for it when it has been replaced by agape.
Why must perfect love cast out fear? “Because fear involves torment…” John says in v.18c. When we are motivated strictly by a sense of fear and terror, we “torture” ourselves. If all we ever do, is focus on the “terror of the Lord…” (2 Corinthians 5:11), we will be unable to grow as Christians. If we irrationally allow fear to cause us to regress to the “fetal position” every time we make a misstep or every time we fail – we can never grow as Christians. Love, faith and patience are perfected as we are tried and as we learn from and overcome our shortcomings (James 1:1-4).
John concludes the thought, “But he who fears has not been made perfect in love…” (v.18d) The Christian who has allowed irrational fear to take over is not mature and cannot become mature as long as he holds that fear. How can one come to be made mature in love? Notice the first phrase of verse 17 from the King James Version, “…Herein is our love made perfect…” What is referenced by the word “herein”? We must go back yet another verse to find out. “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him…” (1 John 4:16) John says that our love can be perfected when we recognize God’s unwavering love for us. When we come to realize the depth of God’s love. Remember the words of Paul, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
When we realize how much God has done for us (1 John 4:9-10) we come to understand truly how much He loves us. When we realize we are loved so much by God “that He gave His only begotten Son” we grow in our love for Him. As our love for God grows, there is less and less room for irrational fears. Love so perfected then casts out that fear.
When we were new in the faith, perhaps the fear of hell motivated us to stay on the right track. That is normal and healthy for those who are still babes in Christ. However, if one is to mature, they need to go beyond that fear-based motivation to serve God and progress toward the higher motivation for serving God – reciprocated love! “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)