Over the past few months I’ve pondered 1 John 4:18 over and over. Here are two translations-
“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” (ESV).
“Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment has not reached love’s perfection” (Passion).
I want to highlight three things from the verse above:
The word used in this passage doesn’t infer we’ll always love each other without flaws, rather it suggests we will love each other maturely. The Greek word for “perfect” here is the same world used for “complete.” Paul uses the same word in Colossians 1 when he says that he endeavors to present “every man complete in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). The word translated is telios, meaning “reaching their full potential.” Or, “fulfilling the purpose for which it was created.” In the same way Paul longed for his congregants to live their purposes, John wants us to “love our purpose.”
What does that kind of love look like?
Well, a telios love pushes fear out and makes massive space for grace.
A la 1 Corinthians 13, it hopes for the best, believes in the best, and never fails- even when the other person being loved clearly falters. In fact, this love keeps no record of wrongs at all. It actually endures and abounds all the more aggressively when sin is present (see Romans 6:1).
How did Jesus love the Church? How mature- telios- was His love? He abandoned all of His rights and offered her everything.
John also tells us that mature love dominates fear. It makes people feel secure.
Here’s how intensely it creates security: the same word used of “casts out” fear is the same verbiage used throughout the New Testament to describe how Jesus treated demons. When He bumped into them, they had no choice but to leave. He expelled them. He forced them to go.
Perfect love drives fear away with this same passion.
This, of course, is the exact opposite of what we most often do. Rather than driving fear away from the relationship and communicating, “Hey, come in close… tell me what’s really happening…” we actually invite fear and place it on the person like a cloak of shame.
Let’s be honest. We often like it when others have a “healthy” measure of fear, because it allows us to control the relationship, to maintain the upper hand.
The more you exercise control, the less intimacy you experience. The more you hide, the less vulnerability you share. Fear kills both intimacy and vulnerability.
That said, let’s ask another question: What makes us feel afraid?
Quite simply, we fear punishment.
John says it clearly, “Fear involves torment” (1 John 4:18).
We believe we’ll be hit with emotional (or physical) distance, abandonment, or shame. As such we hide as an act of self-preservation and self-protection.
John tells us that the one who is afraid has not been made complete in love. Now, it’s easy to look at that person and say, “Hey, it’s your fault. You need to get whole. You need to get healthy. I can’t provide your emotional needs.”
There’s some truth to that. You cannot be responsible for another person’s emotional wholeness.
At the same time, however, you can create an environment in which grace abounds. And you should when you’re in covenant relationship. This means that wholeness is both their responsibility and it’s ours. In other words, if they’re afraid, YOU may be the one who’s not loving perfectly / maturely. Love may not have yet done it’s work IN you, as it’s not yet doing it’s work THROUGH you.
In other words, even though I cannot “perfect” you in love I can provide space that gives you the greatest possible chance of the Lord doing that work in you- by loving you “”perfectly." And you can do the same for me.
Here’s what I’ve seen / learned firsthand:
Notice the shift. The first has to do with performance and reveals the relationship is on a performance criteria. They don’t know that you love them, so they’re seeking verbal evidence that you do. The second option reveals grace. They know they’re loved, and they know they have the grace to come clean.
More in the talk…
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