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1 John 4:18 (ESV):

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.

2 Corinthians 7:1 (ESV):

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

According to John, we should seek to be perfected in love, which casts out all fear. In contrast, Paul encourages us to walk in the fear of God. A superficial reading of both verses might give the impression that the two apostles are contradicting each other. Which makes me believe that they are probably referring to different concepts of fear.

How should we understand fear in the contexts of "perfect love casts out fear" and "fear of God" such that there is no contradiction?

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What is it we are afraid of?


I find Jesus' answer quite effective:

And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Let's look at 3 types of fear:

  1. Fear of man - this could include worrying about bad things humans can do to you (I get why people worry about that), or it could be worrying about how people will perceive you (e.g. am I more motivated by what people think of me or what God thinks of me). Jesus did not appear to let fear of man hold him back.

  2. Fear of the devil - this seems to be what Jesus is referring to in latter clause above. I don't know that He is counseling us to be so much afraid as cognizant. We could phrase this colloquially as: be mindful that spiritual dangers can do far more lasting damage than physical dangers. The damage that can be done--long-term--by sin is a frightening prospect indeed.

  3. Fear of God - if one is wicked, God's judgement should be scary. I've heard it said that the prophets talk about hell in an effort to scare the hell out of people. If one is righteous, "fear of God" would be more plainly stated as "respect for God". Note that the Greek φόβος (phobos) has several known usages (see here):

    (a) fear, terror, alarm

    (b) the object or cause of fear

    (c) reverence, respect

So I take Paul's counsel to mean that we should fear God--and we get to choose whether that fear is #1 or #3.

Conclusion

If we are filled with Christ-like love and motivation as John directs, #1 holds no lasting threat, #2 holds little tempting power, and #3 becomes respect for the Sovereign of the universe.

When scripture speaks of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, one way to read that (just a touch tongue-in-cheek), is that it will be great for the righteous, and dreadful for the wicked.

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Perfect love drives out fear.

1 John 4:18 (NASB)

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

The degree to which a Christian loves God and senses God’s love for him has a direct effect on him in the future day of judgment. Those within whom love has been made “perfect” do not experience fear. ( 1 John 4:18, 19.) “Fear exercises a restraint” that would keep us from approaching God freely. So if we are experiencing such fear, ‘we have not been made perfect in love.’ But if we have been “made perfect in love,” this quality fills our hearts, impels us to do the divine will, and moves us to stay close to our heavenly Father in prayer and have no fear in the future day of Judgement. We certainly have reason to love God and pray to him, for as John says, ‘We love because God first loved us.’

A Christian must always have a reverential fear of our heavenly Father, 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 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.

Bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

From the above verse, we note that God wants us to be free of practices that pollute our fleshly bodies and damage our spiritual mental attitude. We must therefore avoid addictive behaviors that are known to be harmful to our physical and mental health.

To cleanse ourselves we have these promises. What promises? I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”(2 Cor.6:17-18)

2 Corinthians 6:17-18 (NASB)

17 Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.

Just imagine God will become your Father, protect you, and love as a son or daughter, provided you avoid defilements of the flesh and mental spirit. Christians are constantly refined (bringing holiness to completion) as they strive to come closer to God’s perfect standards. They are motivated by wholesome “fear of God,” one that stems from deep love and profound reverence, or respect, for him

Conclusion: There is no contradiction. This fear is not the fear of expectation of harm or pain, but wholesome fear of incurring the displeasure of God our heavenly Father, because of our deep respect and love for him.

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In the statement “there is no fear in love” the author specifically addresses one type of fear, and that is the fear of judgment or, more precisely, the fear of punishment:

  • v. 18 - There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment (1 Jn 4:18)

“But perfect love drives out fear.” The key to understanding this passage may lie in how we interpret the words “perfect love.” The word “perfect” hints that this love is first and foremost a love that can only come from God.

  • v. 7 - Beloved, let’s love one another; for love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
  • v. 10 - In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God’s perfect love is perfected in us when we mirror his love in our love for one another:

  • v. 12 - If we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us

When we love one another as God loves us, we will have fulfilled God’s commandment of love and can have confidence in the day of judgment:

  • 17 - By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, we also are in this world.
  • v. 21 - And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.

But the reason that “perfect love drives out fear” does not lie in the fact that we have fulfilled God’s commandment and therefore need not fear judgment. Rather, love drives out fear because our love is no longer governed by the fear of punishment. There is a subtle but distinct difference in what motivates our love. When God’s love is perfected in us, we love because God first loved us, not because we fear his judgment and punishment.

  • v. 19 - We love, because He first loved us.

Perhaps the answer to the OP’s question is that ideally, when God’s love has been perfected in us, our fear of God will not arise from or be governed by any fear of judgment or punishment, and our motivation for fulfilling his commandment will lie solely in the desire to love God by perfectly imitating His love for us in our love for one another.

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phobos phobia

The concepts of fear in both passages are the same. The issue, or the question your asking arises out of a ‘clash’ between our western understanding of ‘fear’ and ‘love’ and the intended biblical understanding of these.

In western ‘thinking’, the opposite of ‘love’ is ‘hate’. This is not biblical - at all. Biblically, the opposite of ‘love’ is ‘fear’. And reflecting on this leads to a different interpretation of those texts you quoted.

The ‘fear of God’ is a reverence, and holding God in ‘awe’. After he has done something that is absolutely overwhelming, or when you reflect on something He had done that is overwhelming - like he ‘saved’ you. And, his ‘act’ to you was solely done in Love. Out of Love. A ‘Godly Fear’ is the response - in fact, it is the only response possible.

Now in your other passage, if you sense you deserve punishment (e.g. for ‘sinning’), then you are not aware, or have not considered his Love. IF you were aware [deep down, in your heart] of his Love, you would have zero sense of punishment. Love does not punish - ever!

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  • Hi @Dave thank you for your analysis--particularly in light of cultural context. Do you believe a loving parent never punishes children? E.g. "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth". Or do you draw a distinction between punishment and chastening? – Hold To The Rod Mar 27 at 18:52
  • @Hold To The Rod Yes! Absolutely I hold a distinction between punishment and chastisment. Chastising is always done ‘in’ love. Punishment is never done ‘in’ love. Was actually going to footnote that in my answer:-) – Dave Mar 27 at 19:34

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