In 1 John 4:18, we are told that perfect love casts out all fear. This is one of those nice verses we like to read for the joy it brings us. We like to remember when we are afraid that if perfect love comes, then all fear will be gone. Unfortunately, if we view it on a sentimental level, I think we miss the wonder of this verse.
There was a time when I was studying Greek. Unfortunately, my computer program doesn’t work like it should any more and so I can’t get back into it, but I did enjoy it. At one point, I set out to translate 1 John which is what I was told was a good book for a beginner in Greek to start on.
So I started going through the book and then I got to this verse. What I saw in this verse was absolutely astounding. I cannot tell you how joyful I was at it. It was so exciting to me that while I had signed off for the evening, I got back on my computer and spoke to another friend for 45 minutes about it.
The key word in this is casts. Now in the Greek the nominative is the subject of the sentence. The accusative is what directly receives the action. Love is the nominative in this case and fear is the accusative. What is really being done by love though directly to fear? It’s not what we think!
My understanding of this passage had always been that this was a more passive thing. Consider the way it is when you light a candle and go into a dark room. The darkness must flee before the light. That was the way I saw things. As you experience the love of God, that love causes the fear to flee.
I was wrong.
The word is ballo. I would safely guess that’s where we get our word ball from. What do you do with a ball usually? You throw it. That’s exactly what is going on here. Someone I talked to about it described it as love is being like a barroom bouncer throwing out the unwanted guest.
Love is incredibly active in this and it helps us to realize that. God is not taking fear passively. He is waging war on it. We should be ready to do the same. My favorite description I’ve seen of fear is still found in the Harry Potter novels and if we grasp it, I think we can realize much on it.
Rawlings depicts a world where there are creatures called Boggarts. You don’t see a Boggart’s shape really. Instead, you see that it takes on the form of whatever terrifies the person who is viewing it. There is no rationality in the belief necessarily. (Think of Hermoine who gets bested by one by thinking it’s her professor saying she failed all her classes.)
The fear has no definite shape though. It is not a substance really in itself. It exists only as a parasite. There was also a great way of defeating a Boggart. One simply had to think of it in a ridiculous light, point a wand, say “ridiculous!” and the Boggart would take on the ridiculous form. The way to defeat it was to laugh at it.
The love of God is a love in truth. It is not a friend to fear as fear is never an affirmation of the truth. It might have a grain of truth in it, but it is not the truth. Consider a fear of flying for instance many may have. (I used to have it as well.) One can say it is true that planes can crash, but by and large, very few of them do. It is that grain that is twisted.
What can we conclude though? Take fear as an opponent to be defeated and remember your God is not passive at all in dealing with it.