WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXIV) 07/18/22

4:18         Where God’s love is, there is no fear because God’s perfect love drives it away. On the contrary, it is His punishment that makes a person afraid.

In the First Covenant, Job’s friend Eliphaz was not hesitant to express his view on the subject, “They say that an evil man suffers all his life. A cruel man suffers all his numbered years. Every noise scares him. His enemy will attack him when he thinks he is safe. An evil man has no hope of escaping the darkness. There is a sword somewhere waiting to kill him. So, he wanders from place to place, looking for food. But he knows a dark day is coming, which he brought on himself. So, he lives in fear, with worry and suffering threatening him like a king ready to attack.[1]

A mistake Christians can make is consoling the sinner and telling them there is nothing to worry about.  God is kind and gracious; He wants them to repent, and everything will be fine. So, they need not hurry because God’s patience is long, and He has such compassion for them that no one can believe He will punish them in the end, and somehow, He’ll find a way to let them in. 

Psalmist Asaph did not see it that way in his Song of Praise for God’s understanding when he lost his way in trusting Him, “One day I went into Your sanctuary to meditate and thought about the future evil men face.  What a slippery path they are on; without God, they will be sent sliding over the cliff edge and down to their destruction instantly, ending all their happiness, and they must then face an eternity full of terror.[2] This is not what God wants, and it will only happen if the sinner insists on going down his chosen path instead of God’s way.

By expanding on his concept in verse twelve of how love is made complete by the fact that God is in us, and we are in Him, John explains that when God dwells in us and we in Him, there is no room for apprehension because true love dissolves anxiety.  The question is not “what is fear,” but “what is feared.”  In this case, it refers to the coming day of judgment when sin will be punished.  If there is no sin, there will be no despair.  So how do we make sure there is no sin? by filling our hearts, minds, and souls with God’s influence. 

And how do we do that?  Let the Holy Spirit take charge of our conscience, heart, and mind and control our ethics, virtues, and morals.  And how do we allow the Holy Spirit to take charge?  By completely surrendering to the will and ways of the Father so that Jesus can become Lord of our lives.  I don’t mind telling anyone that sin was defeated in my life, and I am now under occupation forces, the forces of the Father, Son, and Spirit.  I have completely surrendered my all to Him.  Not waiting for a peace treaty, but for the rest of my life.

Furthermore, verse eighteen gives proof of verse seventeen. We have boldness at the Judgment Seat of the Anointed One because God brings His agápē full circle in us. John now examines love from an opposing viewpoint. Love accomplishes something new. The Christian does not look to the Judgment Seat of the Anointed One with anxiety because He understands God’s agápē. Not only does love look forward to meeting the Lord, but it presently drives out fear; love gives freedom from dismay.

Repulsion and love are as contrary to each other as oil and water. Panic and love can coexist, but perfect love and misgivings cannot exist together. Fright, to various degrees, exists in every believer’s life. It would not be the case if God’s perfect love gripped their soul. There is no room for apprehensiveness in God’s economy of love. We cannot simultaneously approach God in love and hide from Him in suspicion. We overcome hiding out of uneasiness about God’s displeasure by an understanding of His perfect love for us. Love is the most important manifestation of fellowship with the Lord. 

Perfected love” is God’s agápē, not ours. Only God possesses perfect love because He IS love.[3] This is the ideal love we find in verse seventeen. However, God extends agápē to believers in fellowship. Since God’s agápē begins with Him, He’s the one who initiates the love affair with believers in fellowship. Christians in love with the Lord show the love that the Anointed One has for them to others. “Perfect” here does not mean “without flaws” but “completion.” The reference is to love that reaches a stage of accomplishment; it is mature love. A mature understanding of God’s agápē drives out fear. Acceptance of God’s perfect love does God’s work. It is love reaching for fulfillment. It is complete because it followed through to the production of loving. This agápē completed its intended course of reaching out rather than dying within the soul. 

Dread is a self-centered function. Misery has no home in love because love is oriented toward others.  Perfect love casts away, throws out, and ejects mistrust.  Love and misgivings are mutually exclusive.  Where there is one, the other is not.  Love always banishes uncertainty.  The presence of being unsure is an indication that love has not yet arrived. God’s agápē nourished in our soul indicates there can be no peaceful coexistence of love and confusion.

The perfected love in the believer is a love that resides in God’s agápē, in mutual fellowship with the Lord. In other words, this agápē cannot operate in us unless we work in union with God. That’s why love harbors no fear outside its sphere of influence. Skepticism is conflicting and contrary to God’s agápē. Hesitancy has its retribution. Being scared is an unsettling passion that tortures itself. Love drives out this distrust. When God’s agápē develops in us, it expels misgivings about God’s immediate prohibition or reprisal. Unloving Christians experience self-induced misery because they know they must face their sinful tendencies at the Judgment Seat of the Anointed One. The believer who loves other Christians has no nervousness about meeting the Lord.

The Greek concept of “torment” (kolasis) that John uses here in verse eighteen is literally “correct, punish, penalize.” The English word for “torment” is too strong for the Greek word. Webster’s Dictionary defines extreme pain, anguish, vexation, and infliction of torture as on a torture rack. The fear in verse twenty is a state in the believer’s life that is at variance with God’s agápē and thus subject to corrective discipline, unlike American prisoners of war in Japan and Vietnam. The one habitually characterized by submissive cowardice is the opposite of the one applying God’s agápē to their life so that they become mature in owning God’s agápē. The mere absence of fright proves nothing. Some people operate in bold defiance, irredeemable ignorance, presumptuous unbelief, and inexcusable indifference.  This is not divine love. Love displaces mistrust. 

The love that erects confidence[4] also expels fears. God’s agápē is amiable toward the believer because of the Anointed One.  The believer’s love should be amicable toward fellow Christians because of their filial relation to the Anointed One.  Other Christians are worthy of being loved because of the Anointed One. If a person dreads the thought of judgment day, their life remains unmarked by God’s perfected agápē that expresses itself in concrete action. In other words, he has no basis for assurance concerning his welfare when the Judgment Seat of the Anointed One comes. “Love” here also has the additional thought of “acceptance.” 

So, we can say that love implies attraction and repulsion; therefore, fear does not exist in love. Love here means the principle of love in general; it must not be limited to God’s love for us, our love for God, or our brothers and sisters. Love and anxiety only coexist where love is unperfected. Perfect love will exclude alarm as surely as complete union excludes all separation. Self-interested love worries: pure and unselfish love has no despair. Yet nothing but pure love will drive out dread. Otherwise, this text might become an excuse for taking the most unjustifiable liberties with Almighty God.

As such, ceasing to be uneasy without attaining perfect love is irreverent and presumptuous. Hence John is once more pointing out an ideal to which Christians must aspire but to which no one attains in this life. There is distress, as Bede the Venerable points out, which prepares the way for love, and which comes only to depart again when its work is done.[5] That’s because they are afraid of sin’s punishment. Such discipline should not be rendered with indefinite “suffering” or “torment.”[6] But “it has” does not mean “deserves” or “will receive sanctions,” but quite literally “has it.” ” It is the day of judgment and horror in reference to that day that is under consideration, and the panic of retribution is anticipated chastisement. Note the conjunction “but” introducing a contrary and then a contrast: “Terror is not in love, but perfect love does get rid of dread, because the apprehensiveness is tortuous, and he who is fainthearted has not been made perfect in love.”[7] The dread of suffering a penalty may deter someone from sinning, but it cannot lead them to righteousness. For that, we need either a sense of duty or a feeling of love.

So, we can see that verse eighteen offers proof of what the Apostle John says in verse seventeen. We have boldness at the Anointed One’s Judgment Seat of Christ because God completes His love in us.  John now looks at love from a negative viewpoint. Love accomplishes something now. The Christian does not look forward to the Judgment Seat of Christ with nervousness because He understands God’s love.  Not only does love look joyfully to meeting the Lord, but it presently casts out terror; love gives freedom from anxiety. Being alarmed and love are as contrary to each other as oil, water, and love can coexist, but perfect love and despair cannot coexist. Being scared, in varying degrees, exists in every believer’s life. This would not be the case if God’s perfect love gripped his soul. There is no room for cowardness in God’s economy of love.  We cannot simultaneously approach God in love and hide from Him in dismay.  We overcome the trembling misgivings about God by understanding His perfect love for us. Love is the most important manifestation of fellowship with the Lord. 

When Christians manifest a Spirit-filled life by loving other believers, they have no distress when anticipating the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He knows that the Spirit is the controlling influence over their life.  A believer, out of fellowship, torments their soul because they learn they are out of harmony with God. Anxiety intimidates their soul with thoughts of meeting the Lord. But, on the other hand, the Christian in fellowship anticipates meeting the Lord at the Rapture. Most people are scared of judgment. They are also alarmed about accountability to God. Non-Christians will face the Great White Throne judgment for rejecting the Anointed One as their Savior. That will be a dreadful day.[8]


[1] Job 15:20-24

[2] Psalm 73:17-19

[3] 1 John 4:8

[4] 1 John 4:17

[5] Bede the Venerable: Gerald Bray, ed., James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, op. cit., p. 228

[6] See Matthew 25:46; Ezekiel 43:11, Wisdom of Solomon 11:14; 2 Maccabees 4:38

[7] 1 John 4:18 – Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

[8] Hebrews 9:27-28; 2:14

About drbob76

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