10 January 2014

1 John 4:17-21

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.” (vv. 18-19)


There are two points in today's passage:

  • the relationship between love and fear
  • the relationship between love for God and love for others.

To say that there is no fear in love does not imply that the believer will miraculously overcome the fear of spiders or of flying! The writer means specifically that there is no need to fear God's punishment on the day of judgement. And yet, so many Christians find it hard to accept God's unconditional love for them and spend their lives constantly trying harder to make God love them a bit more. So this passage can easily become another stick with which to beat ourselves: we still retain a lingering fear that we are worthless and therefore we have not reached perfection in love. But, in fact, this is the wrong way round to see the relationship between fear and love. Fear is all too human and is not magically eradicated by love; rather, the deep conviction of God's unconditional, all-encompassing love for us gives us a strength, which is beyond out human capacity, to resist our fear.

The writer also wants to make clear that love is not complete unless it is extended to others. We are unable to love others on our own initiative, however: "We love because he first loved us". Love comes from God to us and is returned from us to God. But as God is also loving every other one of God's own children, that love cannot be complete unless we too love other people. The Welsh scholar and theologian C H Dodd wrote, "The energy of love discharges itself along lines which form a triangle, whose points are God, self, and neighbour." This is essential, since so many of us catch a glimpse of God's love through the love shown them by other people. This, then, is another test of genuineness of faith and of teaching; faith is only true if love for God is accompanied by love for others.

To Ponder

  • What is your worst fear? Spend some time acknowledging that fear and allowing God to meet it with God's unfailing love.
  • How have you caught a glimpse of God's love through the love shown you by another human being?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.