How does perfect love cast out fear? (1 John 4.18)

  • Question 207, from John, United Kingdom

    What does it mean that “perfect love casts out fear”? How does it cast it out?

    This phrase is found in the first letter of John, 1 John chapter 4, verse 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.”

    In its context it refers to not being afraid of the day of judgement (verse 17), because as followers of Jesus, Christians are righteous in the sight of God and therefore have nothing to fear. Love is a key theme in 1 John. It is the hallmark of believers. Anyone who does not love does not know God (chapter 4, verse 8). Living in God means living in love (chapter 4, verse 16).

    What the writer means by this verse is that true disciples, or believers, obey God out of love, not out of fear. They live according to the will of God because they love God, not because they are afraid of being punished by God for disobedience. The Greek word used here is agape, meaning sacrificial love. Believers are expected to be willing to give up everything out of love for God, which then spills over into love for other people.

    Fear is ‘cast out’ when people live this life of love. Loving God means trusting God in all situations. Chapter 4, verse 16 says believers rely on God’s love, so there is no need to fear. Verse 18 goes on to say that a person who fears is not made perfect in love. This works two ways. Firstly, if a person fears God, then they have not reached a point where they know God loves them and love God in return. Secondly, fear prevents people from loving other people. If a person is afraid of someone then it will be very difficult to love them. This is evident in discrimination, prejudice and injustice that are often based on fear of others in society.

    1 John is a very challenging letter and the call to love is among the most challenging in the whole New Testament. It echoes strongly the teaching of Jesus contained in the Gospel of John, where again love is the ultimate test of whether a person is truly a disciple (John chapter 15, verses 9-17).

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  • 1 comment

    1. lewis Mar 11

      It is teaching that God doesn’t punish us.
      Jesus’ sacrifice removes that anxiety.
      When we dispel this pervasive fear it frees
      us to concentrate only
      on the positive joyful relationship we can now share
      with Him.
      When we have removed the negative and are seated firmly in
      the father’s love, only then, are we free to truly operate in love to
      God and others.

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