NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CIX) 07/11/22
4:17 If God’s agápē is made perfect in us, we can be without fear on the day when God judges the world. We will be without fear because we are like Jesus in this world.
William Kelly (1822-1888) explains that if we show love to one another, it proves by faith that God lives in us, not anything we’ve done, leading to the great truth of the Spirit – God lives in us. But this is not all the Apostle John says. He adds, “God perfects His agápē is in us.” To follow His word indicates the highest and deepest character of obedience. We must not be satisfied with keeping His commands in detail but maintain His Word as a whole. That’s how God perfects His agápē in us. But, of course, this does not mean we can replace it with our interpretation of perfection. Our fleshly passions are never eradicated while we live. Still, God dealt with it in the Anointed One on the cross, and we, having our spiritual life from the indwelling Anointed One, crucify our fleshly passions to the same cross.
However, notes Kelly, those sinful tendencies are still in us, although we do not participate in them. Our evil impulses do not mysteriously become spiritual aspirations; both will continue to exist while we are in the body. It’s by grace and faith in the power of the Anointed One’s death we plan never to let our bodily passions carry out their desires. That way, God’s agápē is perfected by keeping His Word and loving one another. We are pilgrims in His Word and walk together in love despite all difficulties. Thus, God perfects His agápē in us; it is expressed according to God’s will. We have nothing to boast about, but we heartily obey and love through the power of His agápē toward us and in us. Undoubtedly it supposes that habitually we have been looking to God and that He has answered our prayers, so His agápē is perfected. Obedience is carried out and love perfected according to His mind, not ours.
Kelly also suggests we keep in mind, that we dwell in God and He in us, but that He has given to us of His Spirit, and by this agápē is being perfected with us, so we may have boldness on Judgment Day; because as He is, so are we in this world. It is not a state given to us on the day of judgment; we are blessed with it now. Therefore, it provides boldness even with the thought of standing before our Heavenly Judge. How could it be otherwise? If I believe and am sure that God made me be like the Anointed One, what can the effect of the day of judgment be but to display the perfections, not only of the Anointed One’s influence on me but what I am by and in the Anointed One our Lord? That is how it is supposed to be now. That means, when we stand before God on Judgment Day, our presentation to Him is not anything we are in the Anointed One but what He is in us.
Kelly also notes that the ensuing verses show the immense importance of what we have gained in verse seventeen. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.” Oh, how these words of God speak to the heart! It is not mere sentiment, but the God of Light and Love help His children against all doubt so that they might enjoy what He has promised with all openness and assurance. The fear spoken of here is inconsistent with love. Some advocate the standard error that God will judge His children, but only the elect (those predestined) will get through. What tormenting anxiety this creates for godly souls cannot be measured. They hide the gleam of comfort under their impenetrable secret of the elect instead of the true light shining brightly and steadily for all that come to God through Him. I don’t doubt, says Kelly, any more than the Calvinist that those that come are the elect, but the way he put it is apt to strand souls on a hopeless reef. The truth of Christianity always points the sinner’s needy soul to the Anointed One who can and will reveal salvation to them and give them rest through faith in Him. 
Irish pastor Philip Bennett Power (1822-1899) tells us that Love operates on many levels. However, it is the same in principle at its beginning and end. The difference is not in the quality but the quantity. We must always keep in mind that we are dealing with inquiring and awakened souls. God’s young and growing children should be disappointed if they still feel immature in agápē. That means their love is not growing.
Power suggests that while Love may exist in different degrees, it is still capable of high attainment. Can anyone among us produce a reason why we should not be enabled to love as much as Peter, Paul, or John? Can anyone show us anything so corrupt in their natural disposition, or so supremely good in that of these apostles, that it is a moral impossibility that they can ever love as Jesus’ disciples did? Can anyone prove that the gifts of the Spirit are more limited in our case than theirs and that extra powers given to them by God’s decrees are withheld from us?
We can observe further, says Power, that even the least robust love can produce a great result. The songs of poets, the stories of real-life, and history’s records are full of love’s triumphs. As frail as we may be, love has won more victories than all else combined. When love is true, it is invincible to assault, irresistible in attack, and indestructible by time. Its efforts do not weaken its awareness nor make it grow weary. It remains tight in its grasp yet tender in its touch; that which it lays hold of cannot escape. Its grip is tight but without injury. Love is not just a watcher but a warrior – love is not only a servant but also a sovereign. True love in spiritual and temporal things is omnipotent; those who love most will believe most, and their faith and love will reach the highest goal – perfection.
Daniel Steele (1824-1914) points out that some expositors say that it is God’s agápē described here, but we agree with Henry Alford (1810-1871) that “the whole context forbids this.” God’s agápē is always perfect, but humanity’s love for God poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, meeting various obstacles, limitations, and resentments, is feeble and imperfect initially. But when the flesh is crucified, the Spirit of inspiration says that love fills the soul’s total capacity to begin perfection. Again, “God’s agápē” in this Epistle commonly means our love for Him and others. If it means the love which He implanted in us, He and others are the direct object of that love, and we are the responsible subjects. It is best to interpret “herein” at the beginning of this verse as referring to what precedes; our abiding in God and God in us. The Greek strongly expresses the purpose for which our love is made perfect by the mutual indwelling with God’s agápē.
Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) states that St. Jerome has a strange inversion of the sense of the passage here. The context in which this is written, says Westcott, is a unique form of expression and appears to have been chosen instead of the simple “has been perfected in us” in order to place the perfection clearly in the realized fellowship of God and humanity. Love is simply not perfected in humans by an act of divine power, but in fulfilling this issue, God works with His chosen. Something of the same thought of cooperation appeared when the Apostle Paul arrived in Jerusalem from Antioch. In other words, the completion of God’s agápē goes into and out of us to our fellow believers and then back to Him. It doesn’t wait until the day of Judgment to be finalized.
Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) agrees with a lot of other scholars that verse seventeen in the English Revised Version (1855), “Herein is love made perfect with us,” is more correct than the Authorized (KJV) Version (1611), “Herein is our love made perfect.” It is because love has been perfected, matured, and fulfilled, not in itself but in our souls’ conscious life and fruit-bearing.
John James Lias (1834-1923) says that the doctrine of a Christian’s blessed assurance is amplified in verse seventeen. If we want confidence as a consequence of such a guarantee that we are in the Anointed One, we will find it in the fact that we have been conformed to a spirit of love. Of course, the Apostle means that the boldness with which we may present ourselves at the tribunal on the last day is ours now, so far as in our conduct we realize that which alone can give us this boldness. The Apostle John bids everyone to look forward to a time when they can throw aside all that leads them to be fearful of God. There is a natural bitterness between love and fear. Fear disappears as soon as love takes entire possession of the heart. Does anyone imagine a contradiction between what John says here and in his Gospel? They will also find these doctrines harmonize with the Apostle Paul’s view. 
Therefore, says Lias, salvation through the Anointed One is no arbitrary act of God’s power or will but circumstances that affect a believer’s moral or ethical development. We are delivered from wrath because we are translated into a realm of love. Love surrounds us on every side; we are bathed in an atmosphere of love; we breathe it into us, and it becomes part of us. And this agápē is God Himself. We dwell in Him, and He in us. And so do all Christians. Therefore, the mutual love that exists among Christians is perfected when God lives in them and possesses them. The more complete the indwelling, the more comprehensive the occupancy, and the more perfect the result of that dominion, the mutual love of those thus captured by love. With this in mind, says the Apostle John, why would we fear standing in judgment before the One who loves and owns us?
Marvin R. Vincent (1834-1922) has several important things to say about the three terms used in verse seventeen. First the word Herein. To what does this refer? Two explanations are given for “That we may have boldness.” (1) Because verse eighteen shows the Apostle John’s thought is toward Love’s fearlessness. According to this, love has its fulfillment in freeing us from fear and inspiring us with boldness even in view of the final judgment. (2) Others say it is to what was already said, namely, our dwelling in God and He in us. Vincent tells us that Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) states: “The fellowship of God with mankind and mankind with God carries with it the consummation of love.” Vincent prefers this one, principally because in phrases such as “in this” or “on this account,” the pronoun usually refers to something preceding, which will be more fully developed in what follows.
 See 1 John 2:5
 Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., Logos, loc. cit.
 See Matthew 11:28
 Kelly, William: Lectures on the Catholic Epistles of John, op. cit. pp 329-330
 Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, Vol. IV, op. cit., pp. 493-494
 Romans 5:5
 Galatians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3
 1 John 2:5; 3:17; 5:3
 Deuteronomy 6:4-7; Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27
 Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 115-116
 Jerome: The Principal Works, Philip Schaff Ed., Christian Classic Ethereal Library, Grand Rapids, 1892, Against Jovinianus, Bk. I, p. 610
 Acts of the Apostles 15:4; cf. 2 John 1:3
 Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 52
 See John 3:18; 5:24
 See Galatians 5:6
 The First Epistle of St. John, Exposition, op. cit., pp. 336-337
 Ibid. with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 335-336
 See John 5:16, 18; 6:65; 8:47; 10:17; 12:18; 16:15