Many have taken this to mean that Jesus had a special love for John over the others. However, I believe the phrase is more about the writer's awareness of being loved.
The idea of love permeates the NT books attributed to John and resonates with a language of love found in no other book of the Bible, except for possibly the Song of Solomon.
It is John who tells us that God is love (1 John 4:16).
In his teaching about love in the first epistle, he makes this bold assertion: "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" (ESV).
The first phrase is enough to cause much discussion before we ever get to the other ideas presented within this verse: "There is no fear in love." The two are mutually exclusive.
Fear is not present within love. Period. Love is not present within fear. Period.
This does not mean that a person who is afraid of the dark cannot love, or that one who is generally loving will not have any fear. But, it does mean that at any given moment there can only be ONE of these two present.
That is why the writer does not leave us with that thought alone, but goes on to say that a perfect or complete love drives out fear.
This is where it gets sticky.
There are three possibilities for this perfect love that drives out fear:
- God's love for me.
- Someone's love for me.
- My love for someone.
I know more than a few in this condition. My first wife is still crippled after more than 40 years as a Christian, and readily admits to her continued fears and insecurities. Yet, she claims that God loves her and she loves God.
What about if I am loved perfectly by someone else? Will that drive out my fear?
Again, because of experience, I say it does not. Again, the mother of my children claims that her husband of 16 years shows her a "real love this side of heaven." She also says that being fearful is who she is. So, his perfect love for his wife is not driving out the fear.
I have a friend who is married to someone bound by fear. He loves her in a way that is a model for me. Her fears have not lessened, and have at times threatened their marriage of more than 30 years.
So, I rule out number two as a possibility.
That leaves us with only number three--my love for someone.
This presents a conundrum: If I am afraid, then how can I love? How can I get rid of the fear, since love cannot be present with fear?
I draw once again upon my experience for a solution.
The major work in my healing from the years of emotional abuse in my marriage has been learning to love.
Getting rid of the shields and walls I had erected for my own protection has required me to reach beyond my own capacities to access something I was incapable of achieving on my own.
I began hearing how "Love is a verb," and so I would do something to show love. I began putting love into practice--I put feet, if you will, to my desire to be free of the pain that fear causes. I used 1 Corinthians 13, The Love Chapter, for my directions as to what to do, how to be loving.
That was all action--not feeling.
A friend of many years struggles with anxieties, one of which is being in a crowd. For a few years, he was almost recluse. But, his love--and his desire to be loved--drove him to attend functions that made him uncomfortable. There he would remember his love for some of those present, and tentatively reach out to them. A chink would appear in the armor of fear.
The perfect love that John speaks of has not yet appeared in my life nor his; but it is getting closer each day, because fear is being driven out.
I did not attack my fear.
I began to love. Love fills all the empty places like water fills a glass. You do not have to get rid of the empty in order to make room for the water.
Just add water.