After the apostle John (the apostle of love) summed up the nature of God by writing, “…God is love” (1 John 4:8), he declared, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Literally, the original text asserts, “Fear is not in love!” It has no existence whatsoever.
Let us begin to notice this powerful passage by defining some terms. Of course, the fear of which John speaks is not the fear that God commands—it is not the godly, reverential fear that is the beginning of wisdom (Psa. 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10) or the beginning of our ultimate fulfillment as servants of God (Eccl. 12:13). In fact, the Psalmist declared, “The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.” Rather, this fear that perfect love casts out is the terror and dread associated with wickedness, disobedience and rebellion against God (cf. Rom. 8:15). The love that John describes is the ultimate love that seeks the best of others—agape love. The term “perfect” originates from the Greek term telos, which refers to the conclusion or termination of an act and conveys a maturation process. The term “torment” is a faulty translation—the word literally refers to “punishment” [ASV, ESV & NASV] or penalty. In addition, because of the present tense of the verb, the punishment is presently ongoing. Thus, fear anticipates punishment even now!
Let us seek to put it all together. Because God supremely loved us, demonstrated by sending Jesus on our behalf (1 John 4:9-10), when we love one another, then we exhibit this same attribute of His deity. Love, of which God is the source, reaches its maturity when we love one another with the same love that God has for us! However, the love that God has for us is imperfect and incomplete unless we respond to that love by loving one another with the same type of love.
Consider a parallel. In James 2:22, James asked, “Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?” In other words, just as the obedience of one brings his faith to maturity, the love that God has for us is of no benefit unless we draw from that love and allow it to dwell in us so that we love one another; by so doing, we bring the love of God to maturity in us.
In so doing, we understand that “perfect love casteth out fear.” The term “casteth out” is a strong expression. In fact, it literally means, “turneth out of doors.” In other words, God casts fear out of the very sphere of the fellowship of love. Thus, we do not have to be afraid when we stand in judgment before God. Why? We do not have to be afraid because we have come to partake of the nature of God—we actively love one another as God loves us. Therefore, we do not need to fear! We have the characteristic of God. Why should I be afraid of the judgment if I have the same type of love that God has? In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus gave the two greatest commandments, both of which hinge on love: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Finally, the apostle states that God demonstrated His love to us before we ever loved Him in return: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). It is as Marvin Vincent records in his Word Studies of the New Testament, “All human love is preceded and generated by the love of God” (p. 362).