“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
The relationship between fear and love is a theme in many stories, for example, someone hiding something because they are afraid they won’t be loved if they show it. In these stories, the tension between fear and love is explored to reveal what true love is.
In his letter, John is combating gnosticism and is trying to help believers see what truth is. It doesn’t take long to see that John’s emphasis in this letter is love. Why? Because love is truth. God is love and love comes from God. If it is love from God, then it is truth. And what kind of love is this? What kind of love has God shown to us? He loved us while we were imperfect. He spared no cost to heal us. We do not have to be afraid because we are not perfect.
I have to admit, I have a hard time loving myself unconditionally or believing that others love me because I know that I am not perfect. I don’t really see it as an issue with self-esteem or self-confidence, it is an issue with fear. I am afraid that since I am not perfect, that I am not worthy of love. To put it another way, I am doubting that God’s love or other people’s love is strong enough to look beyond my imperfections. I know this is ridiculous, I love others even though they are not perfect and I know that they love me even though I am not perfect. But knowing something cognitively and feeling it are entirely different. I don’t know how exactly I hope to go about feeling love for myself and others’ love for me, but I can begin by trusting that in God’s perfect love, the love that saved me and saves me while I am still a sinner, I have no need to fear. I’m not trying to be a better person so that God (or others or myself) will love me more, but instead because the more I become like Christ, the more I will know God.
Another amazing thing about becoming more like Christ and being around others who are becoming more like Christ is found in verse 12, “No one as ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” As the footnotes in my NIV version say, “Thus the God whom ‘no one has ever seen’ is seen in those who love, because God lives in them.” I want to be around people who see my imperfections and love me anyway, because they help me know God’s love. I want to be around people who aren’t perfect (including myself) and love them anyway, because this is an opportunity for God’s love to be made complete in me and for me to learn more about God.