1 John 4:18 (NIV)
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.
There is no fear in love. What does this mean? Perfect love drives out fear. What does this mean? Yes, I can understand how fear is associated with punishment. So to be without fear is to love? Complete love drives away fear of punishment?
I first thought to read some commentaries of biblical scholars more learned than myself. I decided to peruse Matthew Henry, William Barclay, and Charles Spurgeon. And then I chose William Barclay who best put this verse into the broader context of 1 John 4: The love of God in Christ Jesus completed in us. So I have reprinted some of his commentary (public domain) to follow the theological theme that John develops in this epistle:
Love has its origin in God (1 John 4:7). It is from the God who is love that all love takes its source. As A. E. Brooke puts it: “Human love is a reflection of something in the divine nature itself.” We are never nearer to God than when we love. Clement of Alexandria said in a startling phrase that the real Christian “practices being God.” He who dwells in love dwells in God (1 John 4:16). Man is made in the image and the likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). God is love and, therefore, to be like God and be what he was created to be, man must also love.
Love has a double relationship to God. It is only by knowing God that we learn to love and it is only by loving that we learn to know God (1 John 4:7-8). Love comes from God, and love leads to God.
It is by love that God is known (1 John 4:12). We cannot see God, because He is Spirit; what we can see is His effect. We cannot see the wind, but we can see what it can do. We cannot see electricity, but we can see the effect it produces. The effect of God is love. It is when God comes into a person that s/he is clothed with the love of God and the love of others. God is known by His effect on that person. It has been said, “A saint is a person in whom Christ lives again” and the best demonstration of God comes not from argument but from a life of love.
God’s love is demonstrated in Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9). When we look at Jesus we see two things about the love of God. (a) It is a love which holds nothing back. God was prepared to give His only Son and make a sacrifice beyond which no sacrifice can possibly go in His love for us. (b) It is a totally undeserved love. It would be no wonder if we loved God, when we remember all the gifts He has given to us, even apart from Jesus Christ; the wonder is that He loves poor and disobedient creatures like us.
Human love is a response to divine love (1 John 1:19). We love because God loved us. It is the sight of His love which wakens in us the desire to love Him as He first loved us and to love others as He loves them.
When love comes, fear goes (1 John 4:17-18). Fear is the characteristic emotion of someone who expects to be punished. So long as we regard God as the Judge, the King, the Law-giver, there can be nothing in our heart but fear for in face of such a God we can expect nothing but punishment. But once we know God’s true nature, fear is swallowed up in love. The fear that remains is the fear of grieving His love for us.
Love of God and love for one another are indissolubly connected (1 John 4:7; 1 John 4:11; 1 John 4:20-21). If God loves us, we are bound to love each other, because it is our destiny to reproduce the life of God in humanity and the life of eternity in time. John says, with almost crude bluntness, that a man who claims to love God and hates his brother is nothing more than a liar. The only way to prove that we love God is to love those whom God loves. The only way to prove that God is within our hearts is constantly to show love for others within our lives.
So the question becomes do we fear punishment when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ? Or will we have boldness and confidence when we appear before His throne? John indicates that knowing and competing the love of God will produce the latter in our consciences and hearts. As Barclay stated, “When love comes into our hearts … fear goes.” His perfect love casts out fear! And, “Yes,” we can know the love that God has for us. (Cf. 1 John 2:5; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:16; 1 John 5:2)