NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXIII) 07/15/22
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.
Ian Howard Marshall (1934-215) feels that the NIV translation of the Greek preposition en toutō (Translated as “in, by, with”), and (“pronouns: “thing” or “one”), with “This is how,” as does the NASB’s “By this” conceals “Herein,” which indicates how love is made complete among us. I agree with Marshall when you stop and think that the Apostle John might be answering a question on “How is love made perfect among us?” Here in verse seventeen, it is likely that the love of which John is speaking is the relationship that involves both God’s agápē to us and our love for Him. This experience of mutual love is fully realized when we can have confidence on the day of judgment. John will explain more fully how this is the case in the next verse concerning the Judge involved and our relationship with Him. But before reaching this principle, he comments that this confidence is possible because “in this world, we conduct ourselves as He did.”
John Painter (1935) asks, what is meant by “love has been perfected?” From the comparative statement in verse twelve, it is clear that “His (God’s) love” is in view. The discussion has been to identify God as the source and example of love, so this is a natural conclusion to draw. But how can God’s love be perfected? The Greek verb telos denotes the “end” or “goal.” Therefore, it indicates the conditions under which God’s love reaches its goal. John’s emphasis has been on love, which originates with God, expressed by God sending His Son to be the world’s Savior and propitiation of our sins so that we may be spiritually alive through Him. Furthermore, we express the life He gave us by loving one another. Thus, God’s love reaches its goal when that love is known/recognized and believed/accepted. Therefore, belief is the basis for love because operating in God’s love involves loving others.
For Muncia Walls (1937), the boldness given to God’s children is the incredible awareness that wages of sin have been paid through the blood of Jesus the Anointed One. Because of the new birth, we can stand before God cleansed and justified by His Spirit, knowing that being a child of God gives a comforting feeling of blessed assurance that it is well with their soul. So, if they are called before the Judge at any time, they would stand there justified because of the witness who lives within their heart.
Michael Eaton (1942-2017) is convinced that verse seventeen should be joined with the first part of verse eighteen to read this way: “And as we live in God, our love grows to perfection, so we will not be afraid on Judgment Day, but we can face Him with confidence because we live as Jesus did in this world. Such love has no fear because perfect love expels all fear.” Perfected love throws without fear because fear holds on to punishment, and those who continue to fear are not perfected in love. Why are we unloving? John says it is because we fear ourselves, our security, our pleasure, our reputation, and our future. We are unloving because we are defensive and self-protective. We are afraid of discipline from God now and retribution later on Judgment Day. We fear abuse from other people that they will reject us, oppose us, or criticize us. The root of being unloving is always fear of retribution. While this may be true of our critics and persecutors, it is not true of God. He who is our Savior is also our Judge.
William Loader (1944) notes that verse seventeen’s pronoun “He” means the Anointed One. But how are we like Him in this world? To begin with, the Anointed One is not physically in this world; He is exalted in the heavenly world. Yet we share with Him a typical father-child relationship. Since the Anointed One is God’s Son, we are God’s sons and daughters. Why does this give us confidence in facing future judgment? Because we are in Him, we, too, share the same love God the Father shows to the Son. Even though the Anointed One is in the heavenly world, we are in this world. Possibly John is also thinking of the protection in such a relationship with our heavenly Father, enabling the believer not to fall and so be found lacking in future judgment.
To illustrate this from everyday life, imagine that the Anointed One gave His bride – the church – an engagement ring, but when the bride shows up for the marriage supper of the Lamb, the ring is missing. What else can she offer to show that she is His true bride? It can be illustrated by an ancient Anglo-Saxon custom where the future groom gives his finance engagement gifts, also known as a dowry. The complete dowry had to be returned if she was found unfaithful. It reminds us of the custom back in Jesus’ day. A groom would give his intended bride love gifts, including a necklace made of gold coins while he was away, earning his wealth to support her and their expected children. When he returned, if she still had the necklace just like he gave it to her, he took that as a sign of her faithfulness. Likewise, the lady in Jesus’ parable of the lost coin knew that if she did not find it when her fiancée returned, he would take away those love gifts and give them to someone else. That’s why she was so frantically looking for that lost coin and why she rejoiced with her friends when she found it. So, what gifts did Jesus give us before He went away to prepare a place for us so that when He returned, He would take us to live with Him? It was simply His agápē in the form of the fruit of the spirit.
Duncan Heaster (1967) tells us that the connection here connects with what Jesus taught that through the gift of the Holy Comforter, we could be with the Lord “that you also may be where I am,” in His relationship with the Father. And this is in effect by the gift of the Comforter. As the Apostle John explained in verse twelve, the work of the Spirit is too perfect or develops our characters towards an ever-deeper love, approximating progressively closer to the love of the Lord for us on the cross. By the end of our lives, we will have reached the maturity of love intended for us, and thereby we will be confident in the day of judgment. We shall know that we have the spirit of the Anointed One, which in simplest essence is love like His love. In this sense, we will have received eternal life, the nature of living as He lived. We can confidently expect to resume living that eternal life through resurrection and glorification.
Karen H. Jobes (1968) admits that it is difficult to see at first glance how “just as that One is, we also are in this world” can logically function. The demonstrative pronoun translated “that One” is used often in the Apostle John’s writings where one might expect a personal pronoun, and it usually refers to God or Jesus. Here it almost certainly refers to Jesus because the phrase “in the world” suggests the human presence of the Son on earth. John is presenting an analogy between “we are in this world” and “that One is,” perhaps with the prepositional phrase “in the world” to be understood. The reading here reflects a possible amendment that considers this an analogy between how Jesus “was in the world blameless and pure” and how “we” are to be in this world. By this understanding, the analogy is the method of being like Him.
Most commentators reject the idea that John is referring to Christians being able to heal the sick, raise the dead, and open the eyes of the blind, as Jesus did. But when we consider that it was by the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit being in us, these things were done, it would not be out of the question for some of those same miracles to occur today. However, I would rule out transfiguration, turning water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, or walking on water. Those belong exclusively to the Son of God.
So, when the world looks at us, what do they see? asks David Legge (1969). Do they see the Anointed One? Do they see God? John implies that just as the Anointed One dying on the cross over 2000 years ago and rising again was the answer to humanity’s needs, the solution is that same agápē displayed through Christian lives – the Anointed One’s-ones! We are predestined to be the answer to mankind’s needs, not in and of ourselves, but because the love of God is meant to be displayed in our lives. The world is supposed to see His love perfected in us, but they only see us biting and devouring one another; they see backbiting and hear on radio and TV Christians chastising one another over secondary doctrines which are essential to God’s people but mean nothing to a soul that is lost and on its way to hell.
4:18 Where God’s agápē is, there is no fear because God’s perfect love takes away such anxiety. It is His punishment that makes a person afraid. So, His agápē has not been made perfect in the one who has such dread.
In Jewish writings, we find an interesting interaction between love and fear. It talks about the natural love a father has for his son and the love his son has for his father. It says: “This reciprocal desire gives rise to fear in both their hearts: the father is afraid that the son may hate him (even a little), and the son fears the same.” So John wants all of God’s children to know that they should never fear that God will decide not to love them any longer just because they make a mistake. After all, if He was willing to send His Son before they were even part of His family, why would they think that God would think twice about it after their election and adoption.
So, His love is not made perfect in the one who has fear. Now John introduces a concept considered spiritually incorrect in today’s Christian world. He contrasts God’s agápē with God’s punishment. It is alright for some ministers to speak about God’s agápē, grace, mercy, and kindness. Still, they avoid mentioning His punishment, discipline, judgment, and condemnation, fearing they will scare sinners away.
 Marshall, Ian Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 223
 1 John 4:16
 Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol. 18, loc. cit.
 Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John & Jude: op. cit., p. 78
 Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 166
 1 John 5:18
 Revelation 19:6-9
 Luke 15:8-10
 Cf. Revelation 2:4; the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) reads: “You have abandoned the love you had.”
 John 14:3
 Galatians 5:22-23
 John 14:2-3
 See Ibid. 14-16
 Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, pp. 34-35
 Cf. 1 John 2:6; 3:5, 16; John 1:18
 Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Book 18), p. 204
 Legge, David: 1,2,3 John, Preach the Word, op. cit., “Christian Love: Its Source and Sign,” Part 13
 The Zohar: by Rav (a rabbi with advanced raining) Michael Laitman, Laitman Kabbalah Publishers, The Second Commandment, 2007, p. 389