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.
Our Verse of the Day presents a challenge to us in view of its surrounding context. I think we need to understand the meaning of the words translated “perfect” and “fear” within the context of the larger passage, so I’ll reprint it for us:
1 John 4:7-21 (NIV)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete (perfect) in us.
This is how we know that we live in God and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 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. We love because God first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And Jesus has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
The word “perfect” can be translated “complete” or “completed” – not perfection in the sense that we are without flaw. It connotes the idea of “bringing into fulfillment.” When love has been perfected or completed, it has come full circle and is finished. Think about the words of our Lord Jesus upon the cross when He announced: “It is finished!” (Cf. John 19:30) His sacrificial death demonstrated the love (agape) that brought eternal life into fulfillment for us.
The word “fear” used in this verse should be translated in the same manner that we usually associate with this word. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it to mean “painful agitation in the presence or anticipation of danger.” Fear can conjure feelings of dread, alarm, panic, terror, and trepidation – adding the idea of intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation. Aversion and anxiety are present within this emotion.
And so, with these definitions in mind, I think we can readily begin to see the connections within this passage of Scripture. Remember, Jesus instructed: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Cf. John 13:34) And we should not lose sight that this is a command … not a suggestion. John focuses on this command to remind believers of its imperative and significance. Why? Because we will all face the Day of Judgment! As it is written: “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Cf. Hebrews 9:27) And, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10) And, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” (Cf. Romans 14:10)
And so, the certitude of judgment for the life we have lived enters our thoughts; and perhaps, a sense of fear, dread, or trepidation accompanies it. I think these feelings are natural to us … but John shares how we can face the Day of Judgment without fear. Yes, he asserts we can face our judgment with confidence in this: Perfect (complete) love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and the one who faces their judgment with fear has not been made perfect (complete) in love. So, this raises the question: “How do we know if love is perfected or completed in us?” “How can we have confidence on the Day of Judgment?”
The answer lies in Verse 17! What does it say? “In this world we are like Jesus!” Indeed, John affirms to us: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.” (Cf. 1 John 2:6) Just as Jesus taught, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Cf. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23) We cannot escape the point being made here. If we want to have confidence on the Day of Judgment, then we must live as Jesus lived … we must love as Jesus loved. This is the heart of our response to the gift of His grace – seen in the light of the Gospel!
Again, as we have studied, John emphasizes some key theological points for us: Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete (perfect) in us. How is it made complete? In this world we are like Jesus! And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. And, “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit! Yes, the Spirit guides us into the truth and empowers us to put it into practice. His love is what activates our faith! As Peter wrote: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)
Confidence! That is what I pray would fill each of us on that Day! Not confidence in our abilities or self-perceived virtues, but confidence in His power to equip us with His Spirit to love one another in truth. And if there is any fear or hesitation … any dread or trepidation within us now, we know how this fear can be allayed. The answer lies in Jesus – the author and perfecter of our faith! We look to Him and His merciful love. We look to His teachings and example. We abide in His unfailing grace and intercession. We repent of self-centeredness and humble ourselves. We deny ourselves and pick up our crosses to follow Him. In weakness, we share in the fellowship of His sufferings. Indeed, Jesus calls us to return to our first love … to the One who loved us first. Oh, my friends, His love being completed in us and through us is HOW we are empowered to stand before Him with confidence on that Day! So, I thank John for the insight, wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement he imparts in this epistle to prompt us toward completion! Yes, may the fullness of love become the sole focus of our faith! Oh, Father, may we live as Jesus lived … and love as Jesus loved! Amen.
So Now You Know…
Have a Blessed Day!
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~ James 2:12-17