By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXX) 07/27/22

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.

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993): The elder Apostle John presents one after another all levels of Christian attainment: the secure conviction that God is Love and the only Love; unshaken confidence in the hora novissima[1] when “people will run into the caves in the mountainside, and into the tunnels in the earth, from before the terror of Yahweh, and from the glory of His presence.”[2] Now perfect love drives out fear. And yet these ideals do not seem unreal or fanatical since they are firmly grounded in faith and the victorious life of the church. This epistle describes the moral character and human greatness that the perennial foes of mankind, in particular anxiety, are dwarfed or banished. Since apprehension shrinks away while love unites, there can be no despair in love; at least perfect love gets rid of it. Since it is the love and reverence for God which are chiefly in view, despair has to do with a person’s punishment as an aspect of His discipline. But as the preceding verse made clear, the uneasy one is the person who is not perfected in love and, therefore, the dread in them drives them away from God.[3]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) feels that since the Apostle John has just finished talking about having confidence when contemplating the coming day of judgment, he decided to expand on the cause for fear in that day. He shares an interesting story as an illustration to provide more clarity. He tells of a believer who was influential in his local church. But he and some other elders had a heated argument, and he felt uncomfortable worshipping with them. So, he decided to move and join a church elsewhere. After a good number of years, he became ill and was about to die. The members who quarreled with him back at his old church heard the sad news. So, they agreed that most of the trouble that started the argument years ago was their fault. They made plans to see him, offer their apologies, and ask forgiveness. They hoped it would cheer him up and make him feel better. But when his wife went to the bedroom and told him those men were there, he refused to see them. He said to his wife, “I could not do that! How could I go out and face God in eternity and refuse to forgive people who came to me with outstretched hands?” In other words, he settled the matter long ago, so there was no need to open the wounds again. Therefore, he would let himself off the hook by refusing to meet with them, accepting their apology, and offering forgiveness.

This is the irresponsible type of thinking that some people have of removing the fear of judgment day. Such reasoning does not pass the test of Scripture. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that someone has something against you? Leave your gift there and make peace with that person. Then come and offer your gift.”[4] Even worse, while he thought he was letting himself off the hook, he left fellow believers on the hook to answer why they did not apologize and receive forgiveness? But our Lord has an answer for that too. He taught, “If your brother or sister in God’s family does something wrong, go and tell them what they did wrong. Do this when you are alone with them. If they listen to you, you have helped them be your brother or sister again. But if they refuse to listen, go to them again and take one or two people with you. Then there will be two or three people who can tell what happened. If they refuse to listen to them, tell the church. And if they refuse to listen to the church, treat them as you would someone who does not know God.”[5] [6]

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) says that the day of judgment need not frighten anyone who has appropriated the assurance of Jesus’ words, “Anyone who hears what I say and believes in the One who sent Me has eternal life. They will not be judged guilty. They have already left death and have entered into spiritual life.”[7] Also, “He has given Him authority to judge everyone because He is the Son of Man.”[8] All such terror is rejected by “perfect love” in which the members of God’s family live. “Fear has to do with punishment,”[9] But “punishment” is the portion of those who, through disobedience, is “condemned already,” not of those who, believing in the Son of God, are “not condemned.”[10] [11]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) believes we should do all we can to banish angst. But that is not because love has a higher value in religion than uncertainty. The Apostle John is not thinking about religious psychology; as Swiss Lutheran minister and psychoanalyst Oskar Pfister (1873-1956) said, what the Apostle John says here in verse eighteen is “worthy of the highest admiration.” He then declares: “So the gate to Christian belief is shut to tormenting fear for all time.”[12] Those, at last, are clear words, free of any misunderstanding, worthy of being quoted and repeated.[13]

Instead, according to Schnackenburg, for John, fear is the product of observing that Christians have not yet realized all the potential of their fellowship with God. There is still much of the unredeemed state about them. They show too little joy over being children of God[14] and too little confidence in the power that comes from God.[15] Anxiety is alien to the children of God and must be dismissed. But this does not mean the Gnostic’s theory of liberation from the material world and its hindrances. Nor is it a rationalistic desire for peace of mind. Rather, they should remove every impediment that hinders them from the perfect response of love and the fellowship God has given them.[16]

Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) states that here such dismay exists, there can be no love, and vice versa, for “perfect love drives out fear.” This is true because of what being scared is and what love is. “Being afraid,” the most self-centered of all emotions, can be analyzed as a heightened awareness of self occasioned by what is deemed to be “a threat” to oneself. Love is quite the opposite. It is instead a diminishing of self-concern and a heightened awareness of others. Thus, the two emotions work contrary to each other. The more uneasiness there is, the less love there is; the more one is occupied with love, the smaller the panic.[17] So when you call on God to help relieve your terror, ask Him for more love.

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) says that the Apostle John now reveals that the love that spells confidence also banishes being afraid. There is no cowardness, that is, no submissive timidity in love. Consequently, as the New English Bible (NEB) puts it, “there is no room for fear in love.” The two are as incompatible as oil and water. We can love and reverence God simultaneously.[18] That is why we cannot instantaneously approach Him in love and hide from Him in angst.[19] Indeed, it is by love for God that a false cringing horror of God is overcome. The reason why perfect love cannot coexist with anxiety is now given: apprehension has to do with punishment. Interestingly, the Greek noun kolasis appears only twice in the Final Covenant, here by John in verse eighteen (“torment”) and by Jesus (“everlasting punishment”) in His parable of the Sheep and the Goats.[20]

That is to say, fear introduces the category of penalties, which is quite alien to God’s forgiven children who love Him. Or the phrase “brings bad with it;” may signify unfounded concern, sometimes the very punishment it is afraid of.[21] In other words, “despair has something of the nature of punishment;” to be scared is to begin to suffer chastisement already. Once assured, as we are in verse seventeen, that we are “like Him” as God’s beloved children, we cease to be afraid of Him. It is evident, therefore, that the one who has misgivings is not made perfect in love.[22]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) says that the words “and the one who be dismayed is not perfected in love” restate the Apostle John’s nonpersonal principle, “There is no fear in love,” in personal terms. The conjunction “and” implies that something further needs to be said about the believer whose life is harassed by terror. The phrase “the one who fears” pictures an individual whose life is habitually beset with uneasiness. Love “is not yet perfected” in them. So, they are unable to attain their intended goal in their life. Therefore, the believer is the sphere in which God’s agápē works. So, to remove all dread, the believer must be brought into an enduring fellowship with God.[23] This is so true! Sometimes we are our biggest obstacle in obtaining the level of spiritual living God is looking for in our lives. We may blame it on everything else, but as the Prophet, Nathan, told King David, “You are that person.”[24]

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) looks at verse seventeen for practical purposes. He notes that TV viewers can witness courtroom sessions almost daily. We have become accustomed to the judge, jury, defendant, plaintiff, and lawyers. We hear the verdict and the innocent acquitted and the guilty sentence. Often, we witness the expressions of uncontrolled emotions. These emotions depict, from time-to-time anxiety and fear. At other times joy and happiness. Every human will have to appear before the judgment throne of the Anointed One. Feelings of guilt and remorse will fill the hearts of all those who have refused to obey God’s commands, believe His Word, and accept the Anointed One as Savior. Their hearts will be filled with anguish,[25] for they realize that the Judge will sentence them to everlasting punishment because of their unforgiven sins. Those who have lived in fellowship with the Father and the Son have nothing to fear. Their hearts are filled with joy and love. And they will hear the word “acquitted” from the lips of Jesus. He will say to the Father, “I have paid it all.”[26]

[1] Hora novissima: Latin term for “last hour.”

[2] Isaiah 2:19 – Authorized Revised Version (ARV)

[3] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exposition, p. 286

[4] Matthew 5:23-24

[5] Ibid. 18:15-17

[6] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life in the Anointed One, op. cit., pp. 541-542

[7] John 5:24

[8] Ibid. 5:22, 27

[9] A verbal parallel to this clause is provided by Philo where, speaking of the effects of shame and fear in one who has broken the eighth commandment, he says, “for it is only disgraceful actions which cause shame, and the other is a sign of his thinking it deserving of punishment.” Philo, The Special Laws, IV. I. (6)

[10] John 3:18

[11] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books, Inc. Kindle Edition

[12] Pfister, Oskar: Das Christentum und die Angst. Eine religion psychologische, historishe und religion psychologische Untersuching, Published by Artemis Verlag, Zurich, 1944, 1,4888ff

[13] Hans-Josef Klauck (1948), Universitát Wurzburg, Deutschland

[14] Cf. 1 John 3:1

[15] See ibid. 2:13ff; 4:4; 5:4

[16] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 224-225

[17] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 79

[18] Cf. Hebrews 5:7

[19] Cf. Romans 8:14-15; See 2 Timothy 1:7

[20] See Matthew 25:46

[21] Cf. Job 3:25

[22] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., pp. 169-170

[23] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, pp. 85-86

[24] 2 Samuel 12:7

[25] Revelation 6:15-17

[26] Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 341

About drbob76

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