What frequently makes us anxious and lacking in courage? Usually it’s fear. Fear can come at us in many different forms through our physical desires, lifestyles, and ambitions. We can find fear woven into ordinary nature adventures, like swimming, scuba diving, cliff climbing, or skydiving. And there are some who experience fear through physical entertainment, like an amusement park ride, or by watching suspense or horror films.
Then there are certain experiences that may create a bad emotional reaction from fear that someone or something is dangerous or threatening, and likely to cause us pain. We may also become the victim of irrational fears if we see or experience incidents that are horrifying. An emotional condition which forces us to lose our job can cause great fear and apprehension. Fear can also make us feel like giving up because we think we will lose someone we love, or an expensive or important possession, like a house, business, or land.
Some may face fear of the unknown because of something they have not yet experienced, especially death. We may hear other people say that they don’t care about life, so why should they fear death? This may also make us fear. These all represent a few examples of the kinds of fear we may face today.
All too often, many people have some fear of mankind, yet no fear of God at all. Then there are some who may have mixed feelings of dread and reverence concerning God, which come from both their fear of God and their love of Him. But what we truly need to learn about fear is how to properly fear the Lord. Then we will be able to have a true, loving relationship with Him.
The love God has for us is perfect. And “if we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us…” (1 John 4:12). But how can our love also be perfect? “Herein is our love made perfect…because as He is, so are we in this world” (v. 17). It is His love that perfects our love. Perfect love refers to love that is complete, the kind of love that is allowed to exercise its proper influence on our soul. And, to the extent that we have this love, it will be able to deliver both our mind and spirit from the things that alarm us. If we will give God perfect love in return, then we know that He will be on our side.
Perfect, mature love will cast out the fear that enslaves us, since this type of fear only brings us torment. It therefore cannot co-exist with the gladness love brings, because love and torment are opposites. But to the degree that our love has been perfected, that is how far fear will be scattered in every direction. Therefore, we don’t really have any need to fear, since we know that “…fear has torment….” (1 John 4:18). Torment will make us aware of our flaws and sins, and then we will expect to be punished for them. But where love is perfected, we won’t expect this fear of punishment to remain. John said that “there is no fear in love,” and that “perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18). It is a sense of guilt and the dread of a penalty that brings torment, while the kind of fear that honors God “is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Guilt can make us fear what we suspect is about to happen. Therefore, if we have fear due to guilt, it proves that we have not yet been made perfect in love, because “…he who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
The fullness of the love that we can receive from God is “perfect love.” This is what will cast out our fear. And when we become able to love with this perfect love, that is when we escape from bondage. When we truly begin to love the Lord with all our heart, then our doubt, lack of trust and unbelief will not plague us any longer. There is no spirit of bondage or slavish dread in perfect love—because it casts all of that out. But when we have many fears and doubts about God, it is a sign to us that our love is still far from perfect. What we really need is to have that perfect love, so we can stop having needless fear. Then we will be able to tackle life just the way it is, no longer worried about being a slave to fear.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”1 John 4:18