Questions From Readers
First John 4:18 tells us: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love throws fear outside.” But Peter wrote: “Have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God.” (1 Peter 2:17) How can we harmonize these two verses?
Both Peter and John were apostles who had learned directly from Jesus Christ himself. We can thus be confident that what they wrote does harmonize. As to the verses quoted above, the key is that the two apostles were speaking of different sorts of fear.
Let us first consider Peter’s counsel. As the context shows, Peter was offering fellow Christians inspired advice on their attitude toward those in authority. Put another way, he was commenting on the proper view of subjection in certain realms. Thus, he advised Christians to be subject to men who held authoritative positions in human governments, such as kings or governors. (1 Peter 2:13, 14) Continuing, Peter wrote: “Honor men of all sorts, have love for the whole association of brothers, be in fear of God, have honor for the king.”—1 Peter 2:17.
Taken in context, it is clear that when Peter said that Christians should “be in fear of God,” he meant that we should have a deep, reverential respect for God, a fear to displease the highest authority.—Compare Hebrews 11:7.
What about the apostle John’s comment? Earlier in 1 John chapter 4, the apostle dealt with the need to test “inspired expressions” such as come from false prophets. Those expressions certainly do not originate with Jehovah God; they come from or reflect the wicked world.
In contrast, anointed Christians “originate with God.” (1 John 4:1-6) That being so, John urged: “Beloved ones, let us continue loving one another, because love is from God.” God took the initiative in showing love—he “sent forth his Son as a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:7-10) How should we respond?
Clearly, we should remain in union with our loving God. We should not be in terror of him nor quake at the prospect of approaching him in prayer. Earlier John counseled: “If our hearts do not condemn us, we have freeness of speech toward God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments.” (1 John 3:21, 22) Yes, a good conscience gives us the freedom to approach God without paralyzing or inhibiting fear. Out of love, we feel free to address, or approach, Jehovah in prayer. In this respect, “there is no fear in love.”
Let us combine the two thoughts then. A Christian must always have a reverential fear of Jehovah, born of deep respect for his position, power, and justice. But we also love God as our Father and feel a closeness to him and a freeness to approach him. Rather than being inhibited by any terror of him, we trust that we can approach him, as a child feels open to approaching a loving parent.—James 4:8.