“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.” (I John 4:18)
What does it mean to be fearless? Definitions include such additional words as courageous, bold, daring, valiant, brave and confident. Within the context of I John 4:18, the best definition for fearless would be unafraid.
The Apostle John says that “There is no fear in love.” This would be about not only God’s love for us but also our love for God.
The word John uses for fear is φόβος from which we derive our English word phobia. It can, and does mean in many contexts, a reverence for God. However, within today’s text it means a state of sever distress. John is not stating that believers should not have reverence for God in their love for Him, but rather that they do not have to be in a severe condition of distress in their relationship with Him.
This is a wonderful truth. Why? It is because God’s love for the believer casts out this condition of distress. To cast out (βάλλει; ballei) means to drive out or to do away with. God’s love for the believer in Christ drives away any feeling or emotion of distress.
Distress has to do with punishment. Do you remember when you knew you were going to be punished by your parents? Perhaps it was the period of time waiting for your father to come home from work. Frankly, the waiting part for the punishment was often worse than the punishment itself. Well, sometimes.
The Apostle John explains that fearful distress has to do with punishment. While the word κόλασιν (kolasin) may refer to God pruning the believer from ongoing sin (John 15), within this context in today’s text it refers to chastisement, a reprimand or a rebuke. Remember, Jesus Christ has received our punishment, reprimand and rebuke (I John 4:7-11).
One commentator explains that, “The fear spoken of here is not a godly fear or filial reverence, a holy fear of displeasing the Father through sin (I Peter 1:17, Heb. 12:28), but as the context indicates (“fear hath torment”), a slavish fear of a slave for a master, or of a criminal before a judge. The divine love produced in the heart of the yielded saint includes the former but not the latter. “Torment” is kolasis (κολασις), “correction, punishment, penalty,’ and brings with it or has connected with it the thought of punishment.” Thus, the saint who has experienced the fullness of this divine love in his earthly life, will have no fear of correction or penalty (loss of reward) at the Judgment Seat of Christ.”
John completes his thought by saying that whoever continues to have this fear of distress does not truly possess the love of God. They continue to battle besetting sin within their lives, therefore leading to a fear of distress. They are lacking a completeness or perfectness.
The word John uses for perfected (τετελείωται; teteleiotai) means to bring to its fullness. The believer in Christ who approaches the impending Judgment Seat of Christ in a spirit of distress is the saint who has not experienced the fullness of God’s love, and because they did not maintain a Spirit-filled life during their earthly life.
Dr. John Walvoord concludes that, “If a believer looks forward with trepidation to the judgment seat of Christ, it is because God’s love has not yet reached completeness in Him. The words here rendered perfect are no different in force from the idea of “completeness” expressed in 2:5 and 4:12. The matured experience of God’s love (reached in the act of loving one another) is incompatible with fear and expels fear from the heart.”
Thank you Lord for working within each believer so that they will possess a fearless love.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!