13/10/2019 - 1 John 4:18 ‘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.’
I was recently asked these questions: 'What does ‘perfect love drives out fear’ look like in practice?', 'How do we know and rest in God’s love when the storm is raging around us? Even the disciples were terrified in the boat when the storm raged, and Jesus just slept!', 'If we feel fearful and anxious, does it mean our faith is weak?', 'How do we grow strong then?' and 'What exactly is 'perfect love'?' We looked at those questions in a recent Bible study so here are some of the answers.
Think of God the Father, Son and Spirit joined together in a circle of love, each one an individual in his own right but giving to the other in total selflessness. Life, eternal life, full of love, flows between them in that circle. Then the Father says that he wants the human race to be part of that circle and to experience that life in all its depth, fullness and richness – but there is a problem. It is a Divine circle, and we have sinned by making wrong choices. The two cannot mix. There was only one thing for it. It mattered so much to the Father that we were with him that he asked his Son to carry the guilt of our sin and its consequences. We need never doubt that we are loved and that God longs to be with us. It only remains for us to say ‘yes’ to that offer of life and to begin our journey with God and those who also walk with him.
So, what has that got to do with perfect love driving out fear? Just before the ‘perfect love’ phrase, John comes out with this amazing statement, ‘No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us’ (1 John 4:12). What does that mean? Back to the circle. That love runs from the heart of the Father (because the nature of God is love), through the Son and is brought to us by the Spirit. We have a choice. Do we fully receive that love; do we fully pass on that love? When we do, the circle is complete. In that sense ‘his love is made complete in us’.
What does all this look like in practice? Does it mean we should never be afraid or anxious? Were the disciples wrong to be afraid in the storm? There is a right kind of fear. For example, the fear that prevents us from sticking our fingers in a live electric socket saves our lives. We must never condemn ourselves for normal human emotions. The problem comes when we carry an internal reservoir of fear, anxiety or negativity that causes normal healthy fears to become disproportionate or that produces anxiety or guilt over things we need not allow to trouble us. It is this fear that perfect love drives out. When I choose to receive the love that flows from the heart of God and when I accept that love from my Christian brother or sister and then pass it on to others in the family of God, that love works its way deep into my psyche in such a way that it produces an inner strength and stability. In a conversation recently, I suggested to someone that she imagined writing a list on a blackboard of all the negative things that she felt about herself. I encouraged her to rub those words out and write in their place all the positive things that she knew are true about herself. (For the result of this exercise, read ‘The Blackboard’). Somebody read that article and came back with, ‘no matter how hard I try and scrub away at the negatives on the blackboard, I can still see them faintly as if they are too deeply imprinted'.
From childhood, deep within each person’s introvert is a fear – a fear that we are not good enough, not acceptable, not lovable. We want to be loved and accepted for who we are, not having to strive to be something or someone that makes us acceptable. Positive messages in childhood help to affirm us, but often even those don’t get down into the depths of what we feel about ourselves. We need the love of God. Only he knows everything there is to know about us – every thought, word and deed – and yet he loves us enough to want us in the circle. The fact that we are loved and accepted, just as we are, has to be worked into our lives in such a way that it erases even the most deeply engraved negative on our hearts. Through faith in Jesus, we have become God’s dearly loved and totally-forgiven children. It is the fear that we are not forgiven, not up to scratch that undermines us because, as John explains, ‘fear has to do with punishment’ (1 John 4:18). There is no punishment because Jesus took it. We can look forward to an uninterrupted relationship with God based on his great love.
How do we get that to register? Go to a church where you will be really loved. It’s not about the programme or the quality of the music – it’s whether they know how to love you. If you can’t find a church like that, then try and find another Christian who you trust and with whom you can build a friendship.
My answer is to keep talking, keep receiving and giving love. Let God’s love come through that other person. Let the perspective that I have outlined in this Insight begin to change the way you view yourself. Believe it and act on it even if your heart takes a while to catch up with it. (cf. 1 John 3:19-20). It is a process, stick with it, consistently let the love in, and over time the darkness of fear will be driven out.