1 JOHN 4:17-21
By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears I not perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also (NASB).
A little five-year old boy in an orphanage habitually stole things from other children and hid them in his locker. The superintendent reasoned with him, but to no avail. Then, he tried different kinds of disciplines. Still the child continued his thievery. “Possibly the child takes things which do not belong to him to compensate for the lack of parental love,” suggested one. “Let’s lavish love on him!” In different ways, the officials of the orphanage demonstrated to the child that they had genuine love for him. Within a short while a wonderful change was observed. He no longer took things from the other children. “Love never fails.”
An article that appeared in The Defender years ago goes like this: “It is not my duty to love the whole world. My only problem is my neighbor next door.”
I. LOVE ENSURES BOLDNESS IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT VV. 17-18
In verse 12, John declared that if we love each other, God dwells in us and His love has been perfected in us. In verses 13-16 John has enlarged on the idea of divine indwelling. In this present text, verses 17-21, the apostle John reverts or goes back to the theme of the perfection of love. Now, here is the difference. In verse 12 the perfection of love had to do with the perfection of God’s love for us. Here it is the perfection of our love that is John’s focus. The key expression of this passage is found in verse 17: “By this love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment, because as He is, so are we in this world.” Let us find out what John is not saying and what he is saying to you and me by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. John is not saying that anyone of us loves perfectly. In love, as in all else, only God is perfect. Amen. What John is saying is that our love must be developed and mature, set firmly on God. The word, “perfect” in this context means, “mature,” “ripe.” He is talking about the ripened fruit of love. When love is properly developed in your life, it will bring forth certain fruit. Two things are mentioned: (1) boldness in the Day of Judgment (4:17-18), and (2) love for our Christian brothers and sisters (4:19-21). The word boldness occurs here for the third time in this epistle (cf. 2:28; 3:21). The word “boldness” basically means freedom of speech and then in a general sense bold, fearless confidence. The confidence that you and I will have on the Day of Judgment is a sign or proof that our love is made perfect. The Day of Judgment will be one of shame and terror for the wicked, but not for the Redeemed people of God. The Day of Judgment is that final day when Christians will appear before the judgment seat of Christ and be held accountable for what we did with our lives and opportunities God gave us. With God living in us through Christ, we have no reason to fear this day, because we have been saved from punishment. Instead, we can look forward to the Day of Judgment because it will mark the end of sin and the beginning of a face-to-face relationship with Jesus Christ.
Are you one of those who dread the mention of the Day of Judgment? There are some today that are teaching that there is no future judgment. They say that you get all your judgment right here in this life, but this is contrary to the word of God. Let me ask you a question: Do you rely on someone’s opinion about judgment or on what the Scripture teaches? If the opinions of men and women regarding judgment are to be preferred, then Jesus is a liar. Why? Because Jesus spoke more on the topic of judgment than anyone else in the NT did.
John provides the reason you and I who are Christians can have confidence or boldness on the Day of Judgment: “Because as He is, so also are we in this world.” The “He” is Jesus Christ. This is what John is saying, Jesus is God’s beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased; we too are God’s children (3:1) and the objects of His favor. That has to do with our standing, our position in the sight of God. In other words, in this world our standing before God is the same as the standing of our glorified Lord Jesus Christ. You and I are accepted in Christ (Eph. 1:6) and may share His confidence toward the Father. The Holy Spirit who anointed Jesus for His earthly ministry is the same divine person who empowers us for living the Christian life. The question you need to answer is this: “Do you love people as Jesus loved and continues to love?”
Your love for others will give you confidence on the Day of Judgment. By the way, on the day of judgment, Christians will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, but unbelievers will stand before the white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). When Christians appear before the judgment seat of Christ, it is not for condemnation but rather for the reception of rewards. On the other hand, when unbelievers stand before the white throne of God it is for judgment and condemnation. However, those who are like their Judge, can await with confidence the result of His decrees.
Citizenship has its advantages. Those of you who have traveled outside the United States before, you understand what I am talking about. When you are returning to the United States at the entry point in a major US airport, there are separate entrances for those who are US citizens and those who are not. Those of us who are not US citizens form a separate line and if you are coming to the United States for the first time, questions upon questions are piled on you. The citizens just show their passports and off they go. A similar experience will happen during the judgment day. Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:31-33).
Those of you who have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, He will become your ultimate Judge. Would you rather want Jesus to be your Lord and Savior now, or become your final Judge on the Day of Judgment? You think about this. If you want Him to be your Savior and Lord now, I will give you the privilege of doing just that at the end of the message.
In verse 18, John goes on to say, “There is no fear in love.” “There is no room for fear in love.” Here the word fear (phobos) means, “dread” or “terror.” Fear is the opposite of confidence. “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment.” Fear and love are mutually exclusive. The two are incompatible as oil and water. Fear has to do with punishment, something that is foreign to love. Therefore, if fear is present it is evident that perfect love is absent. You can love and reverence God simultaneously (Heb. 5:7), but you cannot approach God in love and hide from Him in fear at the same time (Rom. 8:14-15; 2 Tim. 1:7). Indeed, it is by love for God that a false cowering fear of God is overcome.
Parents do not present God to your children as someone to fear or dread. God is not a tyrant or a mean person who is ready to hit your head with a sledgehammer. God is love. When the Bible talks about the “fear of God,” it does not mean this kind of negative and cowering fear.
For instance, the Bible says, “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). The word “fear” in this context is not dread or terror that John is talking about. The word “fear” used in Psalm 111 is reverence. We call it “reverential fear.” Therefore, do not paint God as fearsome or a dreadful person, like someone that people must stay away from.
Fear has in it something of the nature of punishment. To be controlled by fear is to begin to suffer punishment already. Once you are assured that you are a child of God, you cease to be afraid of Him. It is evident that he who fears is not made perfect in love. As a believer, you overcome fear by focusing on God’s immeasurable love for you, then by allowing Him to love others through you.
One of the reasons some Christians cannot love unconditionally is because they were reared in a family where love was not demonstrated. Some came from family backgrounds where the parents were perfectionists and critical. Therefore, whatever they did was not enough. The parents were hard to please. When such persons become Christians, they think that God is like their parents, you can never measure up to His expectation. Brothers and sisters, God is not like your perfectionist parents. God loves you unconditionally. His love for you is not based on your performance. He also wants you to love others the same way He continues to love you.
- CHRISTIAN LOVE ORIGINATES FROM GOD V. 19
If it were not for God, you and I would not have known love (John 3:16). Love, not fear, is that which marks God’s people. And our love is in response to His initiative. All true love is a response to His initiative. Negative and dreaded fear dwells within us by nature.
There is an old Indian fable about a mouse, which, like all mice, was afraid of cats. A wizard felt sorry for him and offered to help him lose his fear. So, with the mouse’s approval, the wizard turned him into a cat. The cat, however, was afraid of dogs. So, the wizard turned the cat into a dog. But the dog was afraid of tigers. So, the wizard turned the dog into a tiger. When the wizard discovered that the tiger was afraid of hunters, he exclaimed in disgust. “You are hopeless. What you needed was a change of heart! And that I cannot give you.” People too need a new heart. Rather than being fixed up on the outside, they must be changed on the inside to their sin-related fears. This inner change occurs when we admit our sinfulness and place our trust in Christ for salvation.
Agape, God-like love does not reside in our fallen nature; our capacity to love God and our neighbors is due entirely to God’s prior love for us and in us. In other words, this kind of love is supernatural. Unless you become a Child of God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you can neither receive nor demonstrate agape love. When you become a Christian, you cannot help but to love. Why? Because God’s nature is to love and since you have become His child, you too must love. When you receive Jesus Christ, you become a new creation; you become a new person from the inside out. We call it transformation, regeneration, or the new birth (2 Cor. 5:17; John 3:5-6). God’s love is the source of all human love, and it spreads like wildfire. In loving those of us who are His children, God kindles a flame in our hearts. In response we love others because God has warmed our hearts with His love. Therefore, do not stop loving because God has poured His love in your heart (Rom. 5:5).
III. CHRISTIAN LOVE EXPRESSES ITSELF TO OTHERS VV. 20-21
Love for God does not only express itself in a confident attitude toward Him, devoid of fear, but a loving concern for our fellow Christians (3:14). The perfect love that casts out fear also casts out hatred.
The point of this verse is not that we are more friendly, pleasing, or amiable than God, but that people afford you and me the opportunity of demonstrating in an objective way the reality of our love for God. That is the whole essence of Jesus’ story of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). John does not mince his words. If what you are contradicts what you say, then the Bible says you are liar.
It is easy to say that you love God when it does not cost you anything more than weekly attendance at church services. But the real test of your love is how you treat the person right in front of you, or beside you, your family members, and fellow believers. You and I cannot freely love God while neglecting to love those who are created in His image. Love must always find an object to express itself, and if it fails to find out the nearer object, your neighbor, a fellow Christian, it will never reach the further object, which is God.
There are three acid tests that show that you are a true believer in the Epistles of John. First, to claim to know God and have fellowship with Him while walking in disobedience is to lie (1:6; 2:4). Second, to claim to possess the Father while denying the deity of the Son is to lie (2:22-23). To claim to love God while hating the brethren is to lie.
This also goes for those of you who cannot wait for something negative to happen in this church so that you would go home and broadcast it to your friends, even unbelieving friends. Why don’t you pray when something bad happens in your church? When something bad happens, you cannot wait to get hold of your phone. You know why? Because you have not really changed from the inside out. Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you love your neighbor as yourself?
Christianity is the only faith that has a God who is both transcendent and immanent. All other religions have a God who is only transcendent. By transcendent, I mean a God who is remote, who is far. By immanent, I mean near, easily accessible. Yes, our God is both transcendent and immanent. In His transcendence He is awesome, He is majestic, He is invisible, but at the same time He is immanent; He is near, He is accessible, He is approachable. He has revealed Himself to us; He came to pitch His tent among us. He walks with us and talks with us and tells us that we are His own. Do you remember the story of the two disciples on “Emmaus Road?” God in the person of Jesus Christ took upon Himself the form of a man. Therefore, when you pray do not think that you are speaking to a vacuum. In prayer you are speaking to God who is very near. Amen. Because our God is near, that is why He wants us to love our brothers and sisters who are made in His image. Do you love things more than you love people? When God wanted to prove His love for you and me, He became one of us and died for us. This reminds me of a single mother, who used to leave her little girl all by herself during the evening. As the mother was about to leave, she would kiss her on the cheek and say to her, Jesus is with you. One day when she kissed her and said, Jesus is with you, the girl replied, “I want Jesus that I can see.” When you and said, we want God that we can see, God came in the form of man. Amen. He came not only that we might see and touch Him as the apostles did, but also to save us from sin.
Verse 21, to be obedient to the commandment of God, love God and love your neighbor. That is why we help those who are in need in our midst. That is why when other nations are suffering, we pray for them and send them financial and material assistance.
The folly of the liar’s position is seen not only in its inherent inconsistency, but also in the fact that love for God and for our brothers and sisters form a single commandment (3:23). In other words, love for God and for a brother or sister is not mutually exclusive. Rather, it is mutually inclusive. You cannot separate the two. Therefore, your love for your brother or sister in Christ is not optional. It is a command from God. God’s command is not simply that you love Him, but that you love your brothers and sisters also (Matt. 25:31-40). The essence of the verse is that you cannot love God, while at the same time you hate the children of God.
God is saying, “if you don’t love My children it is an indication that you don’t love Me.” Love is not an emotion to which you may give expression now and then, as you feel inclined; it is a duty required of you at all times by God, and you and I must obey our heavenly Father.