“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.” 1 John 4:18
You might have heard this phrase before, “perfect love drives out fear”. It’s a commonly quoted verse, but we often miss the 1 John 4:18 meaning and how it actually applies to our lives.
This verse is both a reminder of God’s love for us and a challenge to live in light of that love. When you see what this verse means and the context in which it was written, I believe it will take on new life for you.
Let’s start by looking at the context of 1 John 4:18.
The Context Of 1 John 4:18
1 John was likely written by John to a number of churches around Ephesus. This letter was primarily written to edify these readers in the truth of Christ. At the time, there were heretical teachings that were gaining popularity. John writes to correct these beliefs and point the church back to the life of Christ.
1 John 4 starts with a warning against false teachers and to not accept every claim they hear. Rather than blindly accepting these spiritual claims that come from teachers and leaders, Christians ought to examine these claims in light of the gospel.
1 John 4:11-19 is considered the foundation for this letter. John argues that Christians ought to be recognized by their love. This echoes Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35 and both of these passages focus not on feeling in love but the actions we take to show our love.
Love should be the foundation that identifies followers of Jesus. God has loved us therefore we are to love those around us. To obey God is to love the people around us.
This is what leads us to the verse we are looking at. So, let’s look at the 1 John 4:18 meaning and see what we can learn.
The 1 John 4:18 Meaning
There’s a lot packed into this short verse. To help you better understand the meaning of 1 John 4:18 I’ve broken this verse down into three sections.
There Is No Fear In Love
We know in context that this is referring not just to the love God has for us but also the love we show to those around us. When we experience God’s love and share his love with others, we need not fear.
In this verse fear is used to describe all fears, rather the fear of punishment. A Christian might have other fears, the Bible talks about those elsewhere. But in 1 John 4:18 the fear that’s being talked about is specifically the fear of punishment.
But Perfect Love Drives Out Fear Because Fear Has To Do With Punishment
“Perfect love drives out fear”. In other words, when we receive the love of God and share the love of God it drives out fear of punishment. This is what it means to follow Jesus, to love God and love those around us. When we are living in his will we should have confidence and security.
This is what it means to abide in Christ. Abide means to remain or reside in. So when we abide in Christ we are staying connected to him, listening to what he says. This means to receive the love of God and allow it to flow through us to others. If we do that Jesus promises to produce fruit in our lives. This is perfect love and in it there is no room for fear.
In contrast, the Christian who doesn’t love feels guilty and will fear punishment. Let me be clear: it’s not our obedience that saves us. Rather, our love for others shows that we’re following and trusting God.
The One Who Fears Is Not Made Perfect In Love
John is saying that those who fear punishment don’t have a complete relationship with God; they haven’t fully accepted him. This could be referring to an unbeliever who doesn’t know the love of Christ or a Christian who doesn’t love those around them. They don’t have a mature relationship with Christ and, as a result, don’t know perfect love.
The way to know this love is to know Christ and share this love with others. Anything short will result in fear, subconscious or conscious.
How To Apply 1 John 4:18 To Your Life
Now that we know the meaning of 1 John 4:18, I want to end by looking at how we can apply this verse to our lives today. Here are two applications.
1. Accept The Love Of God
The message of 1 John 4:18 centers around love and how we treat those around us. Before we can love others, we need to accept God has love for us. God’s perfect love drives out fear in our lives. In order to properly love those around us, we need to understand God’s love for us.
In John 3:16 we see the extent of God’s love for us. He came into the world in pursuit of us and died for our sins. His heart for you is that you would find healing and peace in his presence. All you have to do is accept his love.
There is no fear in love, and there should be no fear when we come before God. He doesn’t want to condemn us but rescue us.
2. Share The Love Of God
Once we have accepted the love of God, we are to share it with those around us. This is at the heart of 1 John 4:18: We love because we were first loved.
Some people are easy to love, others not so much. And we are called not to just love our friends but also those who are difficult to love. Lest we forget that we aren’t so easy to love either. Yet God still loves us.
This is what Jesus says will be the marker for Christians. We shall be known for our love for one another (John 13:35). This verse is a challenge for us to love others so that they, too, can see the love that God has for them.
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