By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXVI) 07/20/22

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

In his epistle to the people of Thmuis, Phileas points to all the examples and signs and illustrious tokens given to us in the divine and holy Scriptures. “The blessed martyrs who lived with us did not hesitate but earnestly directed their soul’s eye to the God who is sovereign and willingly embraced the death their devotion cost them while remaining steadfast to their vocation. For they learned that our Lord Jesus the Anointed One endured mankind’s lost state on their behalf, that He might destroy all sin and furnish us with the provision needful for our entrance into eternal life.[1] For this reason, these anointed cross-bearing martyrs sought the more excellent gifts and endured every kind of pain and all the various devices of torture not merely once but continuously; and though the guards showed their fury against them with threatening words and violence, they would not swerve from their resolve, because perfect love drives out fear.”[2] [3]

Augustine (354-430 AD) agrees with the Apostle John’s words. So, if you do not want to be afraid, see whether you have that perfect love that throws anxiety out the door. But expelling apprehension before achieving such perfection could be a matter of pride puffing up, not love building up.[4]

Leo the Great (440-461 AD) thinks that the apostles wanted to ensure that no other so-called truth would creep in and false doctrines taught. So they recruited more students to join those already learning and increase the loyalty of that love that drives out all fear, not dreading the rage of persecutors.[5]

Gregory the Great (540-604) places his admonishment on those who are frightened of retribution and those who have contempt for it. He says that when it comes to those who worry about punishment and try to live as innocently and unprovocative as possible should be treated differently than those who have grown so hard in their wickedness that not even retaliation can correct their attitude. Those who fear revenge are to be told under no circumstances to desire temporal goods as being of any great importance, seeing evil people have them. Furthermore, they should not avoid present evils as intolerable, realizing that, for the most part, good people are afraid of retaliation.

Instead, Gregory says they are to be admonished to be terrified of punishment if they desire to be truly free from following their sinful tendencies. And rather than continue in this uneasiness of reprisals, grow up by the nurture of kindness and goodness and how great they are to the grace of love. For it is written that God’s perfect love drives out despair because it involves punishment.[6] It is also said that the Spirit we received is not a spirit that enslaves us again and causes us to fear. On the contrary, our Spirit makes us God’s chosen children. And with that Spirit, we cry out, “Abba, Father.”[7]

If, notes Gregory, the fear of punishment still restrains us from giving in to our law-breaking tendencies, that no true spirit of liberty possesses our soul. If we were not afraid of reprisals, we would doubtless sin. Therefore, the mind bound by the bondage of terror does not know the grace of liberty. For good should be loved for itself, not pursued because of the compulsion of penalties. Those who do not do what is good because they are not afraid of their conscience being tormented hope that such misgivings will go away so they can commit what is unlawful with boldness. As such, it appears clearer than daylight that the longing for innocence is lost before God in the eyes of those who have an evil desire to sin.[8]

Christian scholar Bede the Venerable (673-735 AD) offers this advice: “God’s agápē is such that it makes it possible to imitate God’s goodness to the point where we start to do good toward our enemies and even to love them. The fear that love casts out is spoken of in the psalm: ‘The reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’[9] The new convert is afraid that the strictness of the righteous Judge will condemn them, but love casts this kind of distress out and assures them on the day of judgment.”[10]

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) states that Love is never without anxiety; instead, it is godly reverence. Love is never without desire, but only lawful needs. Therefore, love perfects serving by infusing devotion; it perfects the law of wages by restraining greed. The burden of intolerable submissive fright becomes tolerable, and uneasiness remains pure and family-like. Though we read: “Perfect love drives out fear,” we understand that suffering is never absent from apprehension no matter the cause being put into effect. So, too, self-interest is restrained within boundaries when love interrupts, for then it rejects evil things altogether, prefers better things to average benefits, and cares for the good only on account of the better. In like manner, by God’s grace, a person will respect their body and everything about it for their soul’s well-being. They will love their soul for God’s sake and will love God on their behalf.[11]

John Calvin (1509-1564) looks at the Apostle John’s statement “there is no fear” and commends the excellence of this blessing by saying that we are continually pressured until God delivers us from misery and anguish by His agápē. The meaning is that as there is nothing more miserable than to be harassed by continual uneasiness, by knowing God’s agápē, we obtain the benefit of a peaceful calmness beyond the reach of despair. It now appears what a singular gift of God it is to be favored with His agápē. Moreover, from this doctrine, John will draw a message. But before he calls us to duty, he commends to us this gift of God, which by faith removes our doubt.

Calvin then explains how the Apostle John amplifies the greatness of the grace he is speaking about. Since it is a miserable condition to endure continual torments, there is nothing more to be wished for than to present ourselves before God with a quiet conscience and a calm mind. Some say that servants are afraid when their Master calls out loudly because they suspect it’s for punishment. Even if they don’t do their duty unless forced to do so does not matter. In the following clause, John gives this exposition: they are scared because they have not perfected their love by not willingly submitting to God’s will. That they would rather free themselves from any service does not harmonize with the context.[12] The Apostle reminds us that it is owing to unbelief when anyone fears, that is, has a disturbed mind. But when we know God’s agápē, it tranquilizes the heart.[13]

Then in another place, Calvin says there is nothing objectionable in John’s statement: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love expels dismay: because uneasiness has torment.”[14] There is a vast difference between suspicious unbelievers and believers. The wicked do not hesitate to offend God, provided they could do so with impunity, but knowing that He is armed with power for vengeance, they tremble with anxiety upon hearing of His anger. And they are fearful of His fury because they think it is impending over them, and every moment they expect it to fall on their heads. But believers, as has been said, dread the offense even more than the punishment. They are not alarmed by the dread of punishment, as if it were impending over them,[15] but are rendered more cautious of doing anything to provoke it.[16]

French theologian Theodore Beza (1519-1605) and others consider “love” as suggestive on account of the preceding “we.” But this is no particular criterion, and here so much the less, since “we, us, ourselves” has an emphatic reference to the subsequent personal pronoun “he.” And as no clear sentiment or context is produced, it appears reasonable to adhere to the interpretation of the Latin Vulgate of verse seventeen, where “fiduciam habeamus” (“might have confidence”) is subjunctive.[17] Then agápē is being put to as God’s agápē. And accordingly, in verse nineteen, we find a similar sense: “Nos ergo diligamus Deum, quoniam Deus prior dilexit nos” (“Therefore, let us love God, for God first loved us”). We find this same reading in the Syriac Version: “We will then love El Elyon because He has first loved us.”[18]

John Trapp (1601-1669) says that while love drives out doubt, being scared can be tormenting. As King Solomon said, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.” Also, early church teacher, Tertullian, stated that “dread inspires hated.”[19] That hatred sets the soul on a rack,[20] as if it were, and leaves it in torment.[21]

John Owen (1616-1683) points out that John remembers hearing Jesus say, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.[22] Therefore, love is dependent upon obedience. That’s why Love is the foundation of all their duties. Our Savior transformed obedience into loving God and our neighbor;[23] on the same ground, Paul tells us, “That love is the fulfillment of the law.”[24] Where love is the motive for any duty, it is complete in the Anointed One. How often do the Psalms express with admiration this principle of walking with God! “Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long,[25] and, “Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold.”[26]

[1] Philippians 2:6-11

[2] 1 John 4:18

[3] Phileas: Fragments of his Epistle to the People of Thmuis

[4] Augustine; (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit., Sermons 348.1

[5] Leo the Great: Ibid., Sermons 76.5

[6] 1 John 4:18

[7] Romans 8:15; See also 2 Corinthians 3:17

[8] Gregory the Great: The Book of Pastoral Rule, Part 3, Ch. 13, p. 555

[9] Psalm 111:10

[10] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John

[11] Bernard of Clairvaux: On Loving God, op. cit., Ch. 2 p. 9

[12] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, Footnote 88: Most commentators regard love here as that which is in us, and not God’s agápē as apprehended by faith. — Ed.

[13] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] 1 John 4:18

[15] Ibid. Latin, “cervicibus suis impenderet,” – our necks are under persecution: we labor and have no rest,” and in French: “comme si l’enfer Leur etoit desia present pour Les englouter;” — indicates that they fear punishment as if hell were already present to engulf them.

[16] Ibid. John: Institutes, op. cit., pp. 600-601

[17] Subjunctive means it influences the verb, causing some doubt

[18] Cf. 1 John 5:10

[19] Tertullian: The Apology, translated by Wm. Reeve, published by Griffith Farran & Co., London, 1889 Edition published in 1900, p. 105

[20]A rack was a bedlike open frame suspended above the ground that was used as a torture device. The victim’s ankles and wrists were secured by ropes that passed around axles near the head and rack’s foot. When the axles were turned slowly by poles, the victim’s hips, knees, shoulders, and elbow joints would be dislocated. 

[21] Trapp, John: Commentary upon all books of New Testament (1647), op. cit., p. 478

[22] John 14:15

[23] Matthew 22:37-39

[24] Romans 13:10

[25] Psalm 119:97

[26] Ibid. 119:127

About drbob76

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