Questions From Readers
When the apostle John wrote that “perfect love throws fear outside,” what did he mean by “perfect love,” and what “fear” is thus thrown outside?
“There is no fear in love,” wrote the apostle John, “but perfect love throws fear outside, because fear exercises a restraint. Indeed, he that is under fear has not been made perfect in love.”—1 John 4:18.
The context shows that John was discussing freeness of speech—specifically the relationship between love of God and freeness of speech toward Him. This can be seen from what we read in 1Jo 4 verse 17: “This is how love has been made perfect with us, that we may have freeness of speech in the day of judgment.” The degree to which a Christian loves God and senses God’s love for him has a direct effect on his freeness of speech—or the lack of it—when he approaches God in prayer.
The expression “perfect love” is significant. As used in the Bible, the word “perfect” does not always mean perfection in the absolute sense, that is, to the infinite degree, but often in a relative sense. For example, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus was telling his followers that if they loved only those loving them, their love would be incomplete, deficient, defective. They should perfect, or bring to full measure, their love by including even their enemies. Similarly, then, when John wrote about “perfect love,” he was speaking about love of God that is wholehearted, fully developed, and embracing all aspects of one’s life.—Matthew 5:46-48; 19:20, 21.
When approaching God in prayer, a Christian is well aware that he is sinful and imperfect. However, if his love for God and his feeling of God’s love for him are fully developed, he is not hampered by fear of condemnation or rejection. Rather, he enjoys freeness of speech in expressing what is in his heart and in asking for forgiveness on the basis of the ransom sacrifice, which God has lovingly provided through Jesus Christ. He feels assured that his petitions are favorably heard by God.
How can one be “made perfect in love” and thus ‘throw outside’ fear of condemnation or rejection? “Whoever does observe his [God’s] word, truthfully in this person the love of God has been made perfect,” said the apostle John. (1 John 2:5) Consider: If God loved us when we were yet sinners, would he not love us all the more if we are truly repentant and diligently “observe his word”? (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10) Indeed, as long as we remain faithful, we can have the same assurance that the apostle Paul had when he said about God: “He who did not even spare his own Son but delivered him up for us all, why will he not also with him kindly give us all other things?”—Romans 8:32.