By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXII) 07/14/22

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.

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) notes that the Apostle John’s expectation of a literal, imminent judgment was not during his lifetime. However, his valid conception of human life as temporary, constantly exposed to divine judgment, and ultimately confronted with the final decision, is timeless.[1] All the apostles expected Jesus to return on any day at any hour; through the ages, every generation of Christians has anticipated the same. That’s why, since the promise of His return never grows old or expires, the Day of Judgment will remain an open date. The idea is not to keep trying to find out what year, month, or day. He is coming back. John is telling us to be ready when it does. And the best way to take our anxiety while waiting for His second coming is to ensure that God’s agápē is perfected in us. As John says, in this world, we are to conduct ourselves like Jesus but love others more than we love ourselves.

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) hears the Apostle John arguing that while we are here on earth, we are in an incomplete state of salvation, still under the threat of future judgment. In this situation, love demonstrates its true glory and power by removing the fear of the heavenly Judge and giving us confidence in our salvation. The phrase “love has been perfected among us[2] does not focus on demonstrating God’s agápē toward us. That has already been described.[3] The Greek verb teleiousthai, “to be perfected,” refers not so much to the degree as to the interior nature of perfection. The Greek pronoun hēmon (“us, we, our,”) has the Greek preposition en (“in, by, with, among, at, on, through”). Therefore, the key is to select the preposition that most clearly shows where our perfection came from.

The KJV translators used the English word “in” 1,902 times, “by” 163 times, and “with” 140 times. In his lexicon, James Strong (1822-1894) defines the Greek preposition en in verse twelve as: “that in which any person or thing is fixed, implanted, or with which it is intimately connected.” Furthermore, says Strong, it is “of the whole in which a part dwells or abides.” So, any perfection of love a believer experiences is only a tiny part. It is supernaturally implanted in the new birth by the Holy Spirit.[4] Therefore, the subject of the statement is Love as a divine attribute expressing itself to perfection in giving us confidence in the future. Schnackenburg prefers “with us” to show that such love is a reflection of God being with us as we love one another, and through this loving other, it is perfected – made complete like a circle back to God.

Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) finds this statement here in verse seventeen as positive. A literal translation of the first clause of this verse would read: “In this is love perfected with us.”[5] It is best to refer “in this” to verse sixteen. It is in the experience of dwelling in God and He in us that “the love’’ (the Godlike love which John has described) has been perfected with us. This is not to say our love reaches perfection in this life. Instead, God’s agápē reaches its goal as it finds expression in and through us to others.[6] The Greek meth hemon (“with us”) suggests that we are active in the expression of love. Even though love is from God and is, in reality, loving others through us, we are not mere passive channels through which His agápē flows.[7] God indwelling us produces His agápē, but we also actively participate in the exercise of love. Like any healing lotion or balm, God is the producer and provider; we are the ones spreading it around to those who are sick in sin.

John Phillips (1927-2010) tells an interesting story about a wealthy Christian lady who saw a street kid gazing into a shoe store window. She stopped and asked him, “What are you looking at?” The boy turned around in amazement since most people did not speak that kindly to him. “I was just praying that God would let me have some shoes like that and pointed to a pair of boots.” The lady asked if he’d like to go inside and look at them closer. Once inside, she asked the store clerk if he had something so she could clean the boy’s dirty feet. They brought her some water; she washed the little fellow’s feet and then went to find some warm socks. Then she asked if he would like to try on the boots he wanted. With a big smile on his face, he pulled on this pair of strong, comfortable boots. The lady then paid for the boots and told the boy he could go now. In amazement, he looked at the kind woman’s face and said, “Please, ma’am, are You Jesus’ wife?” That’s how, says Phillips, we will have boldness on judgment day.[8]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) says that the sense of what the Apostle John says here in verse seventeen, “This is how love is made perfect in us,” is excellent and agrees precisely with what John said previously in the second half of verse sixteen, and the first half of verse seventeen “If we love one another, God abides in us; and His agápē has reached perfection with us.” But the excellent sense is only found when this clause in verse seventeen relates to what John says in verse twelve. Some would reject this interpretation on the incorrect grounds that “herein” (KJV) in verse seventeen refers only to the judgment which follows. But this is indefensible when we compare “by this” (KJV); “this makes” (NIV); “from this” (NLT) in John 16:30; and “In this” KJV; “this is how” (NIV); and “now we can tell” (NLT) in 1 John 3:10.[9] Nowhere in any of these is Judgment Day mentioned.[10] Unless we feel the same way about Jesus, John says God’s agápē does not abide in us. Therefore, each day we should tell our Master, “Jesus, I live this day for You.”

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) says that the comparison of “as He is” and “we also are” marks a likeness in character which is true of believers already “in this world.” Varied views have been expressed as to the nature of this likeness. Here are some that Donald Burdick (1917-1996) offers: (1) The Anointed One has perfect confidence before God, and the believer may also be confident both now and at the judgment. (2) Those experiencing the mutual indwelling are involved in a fellowship with God that is, to some extent, similar to the Anointed One’s present perfect fellowship with God. (3) Christians are like the Anointed One, not in one attribute but in His character. (4) Believers are like the Anointed One ideally or positionally in what is called “prophetic reality.” (5) Christians are like the Anointed One in that they love as He loves.[11] The context suggests that it is a likeness in love. Love is the theme in this section,[12] and in the next verse, John explicitly singled out love as the antidote to “fear” in a believer’s life. Clearly, John believed in a God-given Love that works redemptively in its recipients in this world and prepares them for the future.[13]

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) says that our confidence in life as a Christian is due to our conformity to the Anointed One, our perfect model. That’s why the Apostle John says here in verse seventeen, “in this world we are like Jesus.” A more literal translation is, “Because as He is, we also are in this world.”[14] As the Anointed One demonstrated His agápē, so should we show our love to one another in the world in which we live. In the context of this epistle, God’s agápē in His Son is predominant. Also, we must show love for one another and thus fulfill God’s command.[15] When we duplicate the love of Jesus, we need not fear the coming Day of Judgment.[16]

Stephen S. Smalley (1941-2018) finds that another tone in understanding this passage may be detected. In his Gospel,[17] the Apostle John explains more fully the relationship between the exalted Anointed One and His followers on earth, which John expresses more succinctly. also refers to the state of believers “in the world.”[18] Since Jesus indwelled them, and they do not belong to the world,[19] they are protected by the power of the divine name, Jesus, from the evil one – Satan. That means Christians who are in union with God can overcome the evil one[20] and may have “confidence” on earth as well as in heaven. This thought also helps to explain the seeming difficulty in the statement that Christians “are” as Jesus “is in the world.” No conflict is involved if this is understood as the statement of a spiritual ideal, which to some extent can become a reality even on earth. It should be characteristic for every believer to reflect the abiding fellowship and love between the Son and the Father; insofar as this is achieved, a complete likeness to the Anointed One in the future is foreshadowed.[21] Meanwhile, an injunction to imitate Jesus is present but not articulated. We are to become as He is,[22] both in His nature of agápē and in His obedient behavior.[23] [24]

Zane C. Hodges (1932-2008) comments that verse seventeen might be rendered, “In this respect, love is made complete with us, namely, that we should have boldness on judgment day.” The Apostle John was not referring here to a final judgment in which the eternal destiny of each believer hangs in the balance. There is no such judgment for a believer.[25] A believer’s life will be assessed at the judgment seat of the Anointed One.[26] Yet even on that solemn occasion, a believer may have confidence[27] that God will approve the quality of their life if, through love, that believer, while in this world, becomes like Him. An unloving Christian is unlike his Lord and may anticipate rebuke and loss of reward at the judgment seat. But a loving believer is one in whom the work of God’s agápē has been completed,[28] and the fruit of that is boldness before the One who will judge them. In this way, they achieve the goal of confidence and have no shame when facing Him.[29] [30]

[1] Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exegesis, p. 285

[2] 1 John 4:12

[3] Ibid. 4:9-10

[4] Romans 5:5

[5] Revised Standard Version – (RSV)

[6] 1 John 4:12

[7] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 78

[8] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 152

[9] See also 1 John 3:19

[10] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., Vol. 30, p.527

[11] Burdick, Donald W., The Letters of John the Apostle: An In-Depth Commentary, Moody Press, Chicago, 1985, p. 335

[12] 1 John 4:7; 5:5

[13] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p. 85

[14] New American Standard Bible Version (NASB)

[15] 1 John 3:23

[16] Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 339

[17] John 17:1-10

[18] Ibid. 17:11, 15, 18

[19] Ibid. 17:16

[20] Ibid. 2:13-14; 5:19

[21] Ibid. 3:2

[22] Ibid. 2:6

[23] Ibid. 2:29; 3:3, 16

[24] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 259

[25] John 5:24

[26] 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10

[27] Cf. 1 John 2:28; 3:21; 5:14

[28] Cf. the same words in 1 John 2:5; 4:12

[29] See 1 John 2:28

[30] Hodges, Zane C., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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