The Bible talks about perfect love, which casts out fear, but it is hard in this world not to be fearful. For example, a tragedy happened in our community recently. A senseless shooting. It was wrong in many ways, and a cloud of worry hung over our community as we grappled with this tragedy. Fear was in the air as we all tried to determine why the shooting had happened. People pointed fingers every which way, and we all wondered if we were safe.
Some people seem born to fight. I admire their get-backup attitude when fear rattles their world. They don’t seem to be fazed by crippling fear. I admit I’m not like that. Fear makes me stop, pause, and maybe even turn around and go the other way. I care deeply about what God holds as truth in His word, but I’m not looking for a fight.
Just the opposite, I’m looking for friends, and I want to get along. So, when I share pro-life views, I must overcome fears. I have to grapple with fearful emotions. For example, fear of the unknown, being ridiculed, rejected, fear of being misunderstood, standing alone and fear of violence. Is there a way to overcome fears like that? How can the Bible so easily say, perfect love casts out fear, in 1 John 4:18?
Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
1 John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” The ultimate punishment or fear is separation from God. Thankfully, for those who believe in Jesus, that fear has passed. Therefore, we know we will spend eternity in heaven at the end of our physical life. However, what does that verse mean for those who already believe in Jesus today? I’m not in heaven yet, but I feel fearful now. Is there anything to gain from this verse for believers while on earth?
What Does Perfect Love Casts Out Fear Mean?
It is helpful to look at the surrounding verses of 1 John 4 for clues about the meaning. Here are some key insights that shape this passage:
- Verse 7 tells us, “Love is from God.”
- In verses 8 & 9, we find that “God is love.”
- We are reassured that God loves us in verse 16 and told to rest in His love.
- Finally, in verse 18, perfected love has no fear.
That is a lot of love, but how does that help us? The Classic Edition of the Amplified Bible version clarifies verse 18. It says a person who is afraid has “not yet grown into love’s complete perfection.” Notice how it says “not yet grown.” Therefore, there is an element of growth. Perfect in this verse does mean arriving flawless. Instead, it means it is growing towards a goal.
In other words, “… full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out ….” There is a way to overcome fear, and it is to have a fully mature love, love that comes from God, the author of love. Or another way to look at it is from The Message’s point of view, “Well-formed love banishes fear.”
How Can Love be Perfected?
With this in mind, there is a process to this perfect love. It doesn’t arrive flawless. It grows. And as it expands, it turns out fear or casts fear away. How does it grow and become better and better? Verses 11, 20 & 21 give us a clue. Loving others is how God perfects love in us. We get to practice, stumble, fall, and get up again as we learn to love others.
I have often struggled with this thought. People hurt us. They use and abuse us—how can I possibly love those who hurt me? Only with God’s help. God’s love growing and filling us is how we love others. That doesn’t mean we allow ourselves to be abused or manipulated. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to call someone on their manipulation. Yet we don’t give up on God and what He is doing through us by loving others.
Was Jesus Ever Afraid?
Thinking through these things, I wanted to know how Jesus dealt with fear. Was Jesus ever afraid? Let’s look at the most fear-inducing thing I can think of, Jesus’ time in the Garden of Gethsemane right before being taken and crucified. He was facing a horrific death on a cross. There would be betrayal from some of his most intimate friends, loneliness as they abandoned him, excruciating physical pain and yes, death. Matthew 26:36-46 records that Jesus was sorrowful even to death (verse 38) when facing this future.
I would think that he is struggling with all that is coming up. He could have been afraid, maybe questioning the way things would happen and deep dread, but how did he treat it? He reached out to his friends and asked them to watch and pray with him (verse 36.) Next, He fell on His face and prayed, not just once but three times, asking the Father to choose a different way. However, in the end, he said those powerful words, “Yet, I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Matthew 26:39b NLT) And then he moved forward in giving love to humanity.
Perfect Love Overcomes Fear
We would be conjecturing about Jesus’ exact emotions. However, it was heavy on him. Jesus asked three times for the brutal death to pass from him. His sweat became like blood. This is known as a medical condition called hematidrosis. In other words, his sweat became bloody because of extreme distress, fear, and facing death or torture. Whatever Jesus felt, we can assume it was difficult to accept. And how did Jesus get past this point? In the end, He submitted himself to the Heavenly Father’s plan. He reached out for the company of other believers. Finally, Jesus chose to love others and fulfill the desperately needed sacrifice for sin.
How Do We Fight Fear With Love?
First, we realize overcoming fear is a process. Thankfully, we do not walk alone. We take the Lord’s hand and follow Him. We look forward to where He wants us and ask for His strength and courage. It is not a finished product. It is something we keep working on. Secondly, we pray, realizing the difference prayer makes. Pray for the future, for those who are challenging and pray for ourselves to be filled up and overflowing with God’s love.
The hall of faith reminds us that “giants in the faith” were people just like us, who stumbled and fell, but at certain moments they looked towards the Lord and trusted His plan instead of their own. Like Jesus, they decided to submit their ideas to God’s plan instead of their own. Faith in God’s goodness and His ability to work things for good, as it says in Romans 8:28. Therefore, we don’t panic or fret thinking God has forgotten us or will abandon those who follow Him. In the end, we can be courageous when following Him.
And we need to use the weapons the Lord has given us. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV). And Psalm 121 encourages us to keep our eyes on the Lord. He is where help comes from. Not ourselves, our bravado or our self-sufficiency.
We rest in Psalm 91:14-15 what the Lord says about us: “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. Finally, as the Bible says in Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
In conclusion, it is refreshing to know that we don’t need to arrive at perfect love being well –perfect. Even the great apostle Paul shares in 2 Corinthians 7:5 how he felt “afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within.” He did not have it all together. Therefore, there is room to breathe and acknowledge we get to grow into the perfect love mentioned in 1 John 4:8.
We don’t have to feel like a failure if we are not perfected yet. Remember, it is not our strength that helps us. Romans 8:15 reminds us, “… you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Our adoption and love from the Heavenly Father to help perfect us or grow us is what we need.
As followers of Christ, we are loved by the Heavenly Father. We can rest in that love and give it to others. We are full and overflowing. Look at others through God’s eyes. He will give us the vision of perfect love that overcomes fears. And remember how the story ends. 1 Peter 3:14 tells us, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” God, who is love, will empower us to have perfect love that casts out fear.