A sister in Christ asked me recently about the connection between fear and love. And her conflict came between verses in 1 John 4 and Proverbs.
“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.” 1 John 4:18 NIV
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Prov 1:7 NIV
Do these verses contradict one another, or is there something else going on?
As human beings, and as Christians, we like everything to be nice and neat. There are, however, certain things that scripture holds in tension, such as faith and works. We know that scripture is very clear that we are saved by faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 2), but faith without works is dead (James 2). Both are clear from scripture, so both are true. The tension here is that we are saved by faith alone, but authentic faith leads to good works (Eph. 2:8-10). There is tension here, but God leaves this tension in place.
I believe that we see a similar tension here between fear and love. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. God is truly Awesome. He is omnipotent (all powerful)! He is also omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (everywhere at all times)! God sees all and knows all. He is holy, righteous, and just. And we are sinful human beings. Our sin deserves to be punished. There should be a healthy fear of God.
Fear can be observing Who God is . This was John’s natural response when coming before Jesus in Revelation 1. He was saved, He knew Jesus. In fact, he referred to himself as the one whom Jesus loved. But seeing Jesus in His power and might brought about a healthy fear. This is why Jesus had to say to him, “do not be afraid (Rev. 1:17).”
But fear is also about punishment. As we begin our journey of faith, knowing who we were before Jesus… knowing who He is as God… knowing we deserve His wrath… a healthy fear is good as it will lead us to God.
In 1 John 4, God gives us a clue as to how this tension is held in the above verse. God is all of those things, but He is also loving. He paid the price for our sins. Therefore, as His children we no longer need to fear Him as long as we love Him because Christ paid for our sins by dying in our place. Much like earthly parents, fear comes when we are disobedient. The Bible makes it clear that love brings obedience, and obedience removes fear.
We love God so we obey Him. We do this because we want to, not because we have to. We want to please Him! Love brings about obedience, and in this there is no need to fear.
“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.’” John 14:23-24 NIV
Love drives out fear, because love brings about obedience, which removes the fear of punishment. Our goal should be to love God completely and to obey Him completely (even thought this goal is unattainable in this lifetime), and with this there is no reason for fear.