Does Perfect Love Cast Out all Fear?

The simple answer is “no.”

That’s not bad because some fear is good. I am afraid of a rattlesnake. I am afraid to cross in front of a moving train. I am afraid to drink poison. I am afraid to climb over the safety rail on top of the mountain. You get the idea.

But doesn’t the Bible say, “Perfect love casts out all fear”?

No, it doesn’t.

It is true that some contemporary paraphrases of the Bible have added the word “all” (Today’s English Version; New Living Translation). But the word “all” is not in the Greek text, and is not added in the best translations of 1 John 4:18:

  •  “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (NKJV, NASB, NRSV).
  •  “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (NIV).
  •  “There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear” (ASV).

Not only is this text frequently misquoted, it is usually removed from its context (always a bad idea since context is often the most important factor to determine meaning). In the text a particular kind of fear is pinpointed:

By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment … there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18; emphasis added).

The specific fear referenced is the fear of judgment and punishment. Albert Barnes puts it this way: “The idea is, that he who has true love to God will have nothing to fear in the day of judgment, and may even approach the awful tribunal without alarm.”

“The one who fears is not perfected in love” – lingering apprehension of future wrath, shows that love has not accomplished its full work. To the contrary, the perfection of God’s love within us gives us “confidence in the day of judgment.”

It is not our perfect love for God that removes the fear of punishment, but His perfect love for us.

It is important to note from the context that perfect love is an expression of our personal faith in Christ:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:15-17).

True confession of Christ brings us into an abiding, mutual relationship with God described as “perfected love” which removes all sense of dread.

In this faith relationship we need not fear a God who loves us perfectly.

 

 

 

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