WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXIX) 07/26/22

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 people afraid.

James B. Morgan (1850-1942) observes that the argument of the Apostle John in verse eighteen is plain and forcible and needs only to be stated that it may be perceived. Let us notice his views:

1. The nature of love. It is self-evident. A child who perfectly loves its parent has no forbidding fear of them. On the contrary, it can come to them with confidence knowing there is nothing to be afraid of in their presence.

2. More firmly, the same view is presented in the operation of love. Reverence for God, understanding it in the evil sense of terror, is natural to mankind. But let love for Him be conceived, and it counteracts that dread.

3. The very nature of anxiety further confirms this view. We avoid the person whom we are scared of. Their presence is painful – no need to expose oneself to it except out of necessity.

4. Finally, the operation of distress is to destroy love. As one element is introduced, the other is destroyed. If apprehension is allowed to predominate, love will be overcome.

What a powerful argument for the cultivation of love. Would we now be happy in God and love to meet Him at last with joy? Then let us love Him. Let us see God in His Son to repose our faith and hope in Him. Let us cultivate this feeling since we regard Him as our friend. This will elevate, purify, and strengthen that love towards oneself. Then, in the end, we will await judgment day without being afraid.[1]

American theologian and author James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) brings several passages to show that the spirit of the Gospel is not a spirit of fear and that Jesus came to deliver us from all dismay.[2] But, should we not be afraid because life is full of danger and evil? And if the Bible contains passages that teach us not to be uneasy, does it not have other passages which teach that we ought not to be overly concerned?[3]

So, how are these facts and statements, asks Clarke, reconciled with the assertion that it is the duty of Christians not to be afraid? First, we may say that a distinction can be made between suspicion as an ulterior motive and terror as a ruling motive of human action. Fear is the ruling reason for degrading conduct because it is essentially selfish. But misgivings, when controlled by reason, subordinate to hope, joined with courage, become caution, watchfulness, and modesty. A Christian may have qualms but is never governed by fright.

The work of the Anointed One is to deliver us from all excessive fear, states Clarke, and to leave calmness, sober watchfulness, and profound peace in its place. But this work is not done suddenly; it is progressive work. Consider the apprehension of sin and of its consequences. The primary purpose of Christianity is to save us from sin and, thereby, from its effects, which are moral and spiritual death. And it keeps us, not by stirring up uneasiness but by inspiring faith and courage. It assures us that “sin shall not have dominion” over us. God’s law shows us our duty but gives us no power to do it. The purer and higher the standard, we feel less able to reach it. We need the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father!”

Once we are delivered from the fear of sin by the power of the Gospel, we are also freed from misgivings about God. However, there is a concern about reverence for God, which is always right and we must always cherish. Heathenism is a religion of terror; Judaism is the religion of conscience; Christianity is the religion of affection. Where God is regarded as an Almighty Ruler, the chief duty is implicit, unquestioning obedience. The principal task is righteous conduct, where God is a Judge. Where God is as a father, the chief responsibility is childlike trust and love. There is gradual progress in the conception of Deity. Beginning with power, it ascends to justice and terminates in love. And when perfect love is attained, it casts out all anxiety.[4]

William Sinclair (1850-1917) says that the more perfect this disposition of perfected love becomes, the less any form of anxiety can share in it. Even if regarded as directed to an earthly object, if its character is pure and divine, not even a lack of exchange can disturb its calmness. Where it is a well-grounded emotion with a perfect being, its serenity is complete in proportion to its sincerity. When love is perfect, fear dwindles to nothing and is expelled. Love, seeking to be perfect, and finding despair alongside it, will diligently seek out the cause of the dismay, perfect itself by getting rid of the reason, and so get rid of the angst. Being scared in such a connection implies some ground for worry and suffering punishment (not “torment”) by being uncertain,[5] the presence of which are grounds for alarm. It would imply some corresponding imperfection of love.[6] [7]

Albert Barnes (1872-19d51) notes that love is not an affection that produces dread. There is no fear in our love for a parent, child, or friend. If a person had perfect love for God, they would have no uneasiness over anything – for what would they have to dread? They would have no terror of death, for they would have nothing to be afraid of beyond the grave. It is guilt that makes people afraid of what is to come, but those whose sins are pardoned and whose hearts are filled with God’s agápē have nothing to panic over in this world or the world to come. The angels in heaven, who have always loved God and one another, have no distress, for they have nothing to worry about in the future. Likewise, the redeemed awaiting the resurrection, rescued from all danger, and filled with God’s agápē, have nothing to be frightened of; knowing this love operates on earth to deliver the soul from all apprehension of what is to come.

This means, says Barnes, love that is complete or allowed to exert its proper influence on the soul. As far as it exists, it tends to deliver the mind from alarms. If it existed in any soul in a perfect state, that soul would be entirely free from all apprehension regarding the future. It is true; that people suffer from concern about poverty, grief, bereavement, sickness, death, and future woes. God’s agápē furnishes evidence of true devotion’s deliverance from all these distressing apprehensions. However, anyone whose mind lingers on the uncertainty of coming wrath shows that love has not accomplished its complete work in their hearts. Perhaps it never will feel complete until we reach the heavenly world, although there are many whose minds are so full of love for God that they feel entirely delivered from fear.[8]

Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951) says we should notice that perfect love is not something we find. No Christian has ever manifested perfect love, no matter how devoted or mature. There is some selfishness, jealousy, envy, and self-seeking in the heart of every child of God. Sometimes people imagine that they have gotten beyond all this, but circumstances soon reveal that they have not. When we look for perfect love, we find it in our blessed Lord Jesus the Anointed One, and we see that it was manifested when He, in infinite grace, gave Himself on the cross for guilty sinners such as we.

You see, says Ironside, there should be no forboding in love. That could not be displayed if it were a question of our love. Every honest Christian would continually panic if they thought their final acceptance depended upon their inward perfection in love. He would say to himself, “Well, I have trusted the Lord Jesus the Anointed One, and I hope everything is turning out all right at last, but my love is sometimes so cold, it is sometimes so low, that I really fear when the Lord makes an examination, He will find so much in me contrary to His mind that I will not be accepted at all.” But, thank God, we are turned away from ourselves and our experiences and directed to the full manifestation of perfect love on the cross. God says, as it were, “There you see love triumphant.” Love manifested in its fullness, reached the deepest depths, and lifted the poorest of sinners, utterly lost and ruined and undeserving. So, you can depend on it; He will never give you up. Remember, Jesus loved His disciples during His ministry on earth and will love them to the very end.[9] [10]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) notes that “the fear of the Lord” is prominent in the First Covenant, but this represents an elementary stage in religious experience. Jesus told His disciples to only reverence God since He held their destiny in His hands, but they were then in the kindergarten of discipleship;[11] the Apostle John admits that dread is a response to God’s “punishment.” At the earliest stage in one’s spiritual life, the sinner is halted in their career of sin by the realization that they are rebelling against an almighty and holy God and that if they continue to do so, they must suffer the consequences. But the mature Christian’s perfected love has helped them outlive any distrust of God.

John does not say we should “love God” out of concern for what He will do with us, says Lewis. Instead, love God to your fullest, and you will never again shrink from Him in fright, for “there is no fear in love.” Being alarmed is essentially self-centered. It asks, “What is going to happen to me?” and trembles at the thought of the answer. But when our love for God is perfected, self is forgotten, and only devotion and admiration remain. So we are often justified in panicking over any undiscovered and, therefore, an unsanctified impulse that might lead to action which would add another wound to the Anointed One of the Cross and grieve the heart of our Father.[12]


[1] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XXXVI, p. 364-365

[2] 2 Timothy 1:7, Romans 8:15; John 14:27

[3] Matthew 10:28; Philippians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:17; Proverbs 3:7

[4] Clarke, James Freeman: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 144-145

[5] See Luke 16:24

[6] Cf. 1 John 3:19-21

[7] Sinclair, William: A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, op. cit., p. 489

[8] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4869

[9] John 13:1

[10] Ironside, Harry A., The Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 171-172

[11] Luke 12:4-6

[12] Lewis, Greville P., The Epworth Commentary, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 110

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s