“What does it mean when the Bible says perfect love drives out fear?”
I asked this question to the thoughtful group of Bible study participants as we gathered around the table at The Lamb Center, a day shelter for homeless and poor individuals where I lead Bible study on Tuesday afternoons. We were studying some of the many places in scripture, which talk about fear and courage. At this point in our discussion, we had landed in 1 John, chapter 4, verse 18.
Where God’s love is, there is no fear, because God’s perfect love drives out fear.
It was an active group, and many around the table had offered insights and stories about their own journey with fear and their attempts at bravery. When I asked this question about perfect love driving out fear, one of the newer ladies to our company shared these thoughts:
“I was so scared. I had gotten sick and lost everything. I ended up in the hospital and when it was time to leave, I didn’t have anywhere to go. One of the people at the hospital told me about The Lamb Center. When I came here, people were so nice. Everyone showed me the love of God. The more I felt the love of God through the people here, the less afraid I felt. I didn’t feel alone anymore. Experiencing God’s love through this place drove out my fear. That’s what it means when it says perfect love drives out fear.”
As we continued our discussion, she shared another example: the story of a kind woman on a bus who touched her arm and gave her a little money. Although having the money for bus fare was meaningful, she seemed more grateful for the kind words and the touch on the arm. She believed God sent the lady on the bus to let her know he saw her and was with her. I hope the kind lady on the bus knew how much her simple act of obedience meant to my struggling friend.
My friends at The Lamb Center know first-hand about fear. They know intimately the fear of having no place to go. The fear of sleeping at a bus stop or in the woods. The fear of an approaching hurricane when they have no shelter. The fear of disconnection, judgment, shame and loss. They know the fear of isolation and the fear of losing hope and never finding it again. My friends at The Lamb Center know all about what it means to dig deep for courage when they feel afraid.
Fear and anxiety are part of the human journey. While I am grateful my fears don’t include worrying about where I will sleep, I understand the solace of realizing I am not alone in my struggle—whatever that struggle might be. Like so many other topics found in scripture, each of us could relate that day to the need to navigate the difficult paths of fear, worry and anxiety. And we were all grateful that God seems to have some answers for us in his word. Answers that often, it seems, include our ongoing need to live in community.
Earlier in chapter 4, John says these words:
“If we love each other, God lives in us. His love is made perfect in us.”
Here are some things we learned that day as we talked:
- God is love.
- God sees us when we are afraid, worried or anxious.
- God’s love can heal.
- God’s love finds its fullest expression through us. It matters when we participate.
- When we love and care for each other without judgment, God’s love is made perfect.
- Isolation contributes to our fear. In community, we feel less afraid and less alone.
- It is a privilege to be used by God to encourage one another, so we need to pay attention to those nudges from God to reach out to somebody.
God repeatedly reminds us in scripture “Do not fear. For I am with you.” God’s answer to our fears is his presence. Sometimes, God’s presence involves our presence with one another. Perfect love casts out fear. God’s love is made perfect when we reach out and love one another.
As the old 70s song says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It seems simple, but I know I need the reminder sometimes.
The greatest commandment: Love God, Love Each Other. Could love indeed be the antidote to fear?
Originally published on www.kellyiveyjohnson.com.