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  • Writer's pictureKeith Haney

Perfect Love Drives Out Fear


God's perfect love.

16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:16-18

Several of John's previous thoughts are now gathered together. Again, the word "we" is emphatic. In his statement, he clearly refers to himself and all of his readers and affirms that they know and believe what he says. These two Greek words, egnōkamen ("know") and pepisteukamen ("rely"), are so closely connected that they form what should be considered a "compound verb" since they both concern the object of love.

These two characteristics together result in an abiding reality because both are in perfect tense. Verbs have a definite order and emphasis. Faith explains and precedes knowledge. Faith must have content. The phrase "keep the faith" is meaningless. It is always the crucial question, "In what do you have faith?". A person's knowledge of God and faith in God grow when they abide in God's love. Our love for him increases our understanding of him, which increases our faith and trust in him. Westcott says:

  We must have a true, if limited, knowledge of the object of faith before true faith can exist, and true faith opens the way to fuller knowledge. A general faith in Christ and self-surrender to Him prepared the disciples for a loftier apprehension of His character. The actual experience of love includes the promise of a larger manifestation of its treasures.

Faith and love are both evidences of being indwelt by God. Indwelling is what makes fruit possible.


Man praying to God.

Divine-human mutuality is once again expressed here. Bruce notes: "The love which dwells in the community of God's children and which they show to one another is His love imparted to them. More than that: the God of love imparts Himself to His people, so dwelling within them that they, in their turn, dwell in His love and dwell in Him." Indeed, this is a fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus: "I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them" (John 17:26). When we remain in this love, we live in God because God is love (cf. v. 8). It must be stated that the previous characteristics and qualifications are still required. As many often do, speaking of the love of God is not enough. The confession of the incarnate Christ and acknowledgment of his atonement and Lordship are necessary. Without this combination, this mutual abiding is not possible. The fact that the word "abide" (menō) occurs three times in the Greek text underscores this point.

John now incorporates the theme of judgment into his discussion. In addition, he refers to what he just wrote. It is clear that one's love for God affects the future. The confession of Jesus as Lord and the mutual abiding between God and the believer allows God's love to be fully expressed. As a result of his close union with God, a believer's love becomes complete or perfected so that when the judgment day comes, he has no fear. Love imparts a bold confidence in the believer that will enable him to stand before the judgment seat of Christ without fear or shame." On that day, the believer need not fear because Christ has atoned for his sins. Due to the atonement, "in this world we are like him" (lit., "just as that one is, so are we in this world"). It does not mean that we have reached his perfection, but that we stand in relation to God as Christ does, which makes us like him. Love characterizes the relationship between God's indwelt people and their Judge. This love allows the believer to have confidence when looking toward that day of judgment.

In verse 18, John begins with an affirmation. In love, "there is no fear." The word "fear" begins the sentence, emphasizing that the believer does not need to fear in his relationship with God through Christ. According to John, "Fear not is in love." The believer can have complete "confidence" based on this assertion. The word phobos (fear) can mean either good fear (respect) or bad fear (dread). Specifically, he is referring to the latter kind of fear. A person who dwells in God should not be afraid. According to this argument, love and fear are mutually exclusive. In addition, using the strong adversative alla, "but," emphasizes the difference. Those who are being perfected by God's love cannot coexist with fear since perfect love "drives out fear." Robertson calls this a powerful metaphor and notes that it can mean "to turn out-of-doors." The evil of fear is cast out of those who are perfected by God's love. According to John, kolasin ("punishment") refers to eternal punishment in the context of fear. It is already apparent that the person John is describing has a fear of retribution. The individual lacks love, which would cast out fear. Because of this lack of love, one dreads the day of judgment for fear of being permanently removed from God's presence. A person who fears this day is not being perfected in love.

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