NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXI) 07/28/22
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.
A gifted young lady named Charlotte was a portrait artist and writer of humorous verse. Then, in her early thirties, she suddenly became ill with a debilitating disease that left her an invalid. It not only affected her physically but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Being confined to a nursing home at the early age of forty-five, her ill health often brought the horror of having a useless life while the circle of friends around her was full of untiring service for God.
During her illness, a well-known preacher, Cesar Malan of Switzerland, came to visit her. He asked her if she had peace with God. She faced many inner struggles because she felt worthless and resented the question. She refused to talk about it because she was convinced it was of little value. But a few days later, she called Dr. Malan and apologized. She said she wanted to clean up her life before becoming a Christian. Malan answered, “Come just as you are.” That day she gave her life to the Anointed One and penned these stirring words:
Just as I am – without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
– O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am – though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
– O Lamb of God, I come!
Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
-O Lamb of God, I come!
That’s how God viewed lost humanity. But His agápē drove Him to send His son to tell us it was alright. We did not need to clean up our lives for Him to love us. Instead, we could come to Him, just as we are.
Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) notes that the Apostle John goes on in verse eighteen to explain more fully what happens when the experience of mutual love is completed by the fact that we “can have confidence on judgment day.” John does so by negatively stating the truth that we can share the Anointed One’s confidence before God, here and hereafter. Real love, he claims, results in spiritual boldness that “flings fear out of the door.” The train of thought which began in verse sixteen is thus achieved. God is love; the person who lives in love remains in God, and God in them; in this mutual indwelling, love finds its complete expression; and, as the believer imitates Jesus more closely, their angst, at last, is banished.
Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) points out that verses seventeen and eighteen describe two characteristics that accompany perfect love in believers: (1) confidence on Judgment Day and (2) freedom from anxiety. The last two lines of each verse give the reasons for the respective affirmations. That is, “to be like Jesus completed in love” and “fear of punishment makes that impossible.” The only remedy is that when love is perfected in us, it evicts apprehension.
John Painter (1935) points us to what the prophet Zephaniah had to say about the great and terrible day of the LORD.
“That terrible day of the Lord is near.
Swiftly it comes—
A day of bitter tears,
A day when even strong men will cry out.
It will be a day when the Lord’s anger is poured out—
A day of terrible distress and anguish,
A day of ruin and desolation,
A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and blackness
A day the trumpet calls and battle cries.
Down go the walled cities
A day of trumpet calls and battle cries.
Down go the walled cities
And the strongest battlements!
“Because you have sinned against the Lord,
I will make you grope around like the blind.
Your blood will be poured into the dust,
And your bodies will lie rotting on the ground.”
Your silver and gold will not save you
On that day of the Lord’s anger.
For the whole land will be devoured
By the fire of his jealousy.
He will make a terrifying end
Of all the people on earth.
 Zephaniah 1:14-18
The fact that the Apostle John should deal with despair in the face of judgment day is natural, given the tradition in the First Covenant and beyond in Judaism and the Hellenistic world. However, the issues have become somewhat weightier with the mention of the day of judgment. The dismay mentioned here seems to be more than dread of being shamed. The noun and the verb used can express awesome reverence or raw terror. The imagery of the day of judgment suggests the latter.
William Loader (1944) says that while the Apostle John focuses on our relationship with God, his observations about uneasiness and love invite application to all human relationships. Love builds trust. Where trust grows, terror diminishes. Where worry diminishes, there is more room for love and life. Love gives life. Distress brings death. Trepidation has its place in the face of danger. It alerts us. But for John, the ultimate human misgivings of not being loved, not being of value, not belonging, and being lost, both in this life and beyond, are met with a gospel of hope. We are loved and valued; we belong; we are not lost. We need no longer choose faintheartedness and the rigidities and depression that flow from it. Instead, we may choose to believe that God is love and begin a process of letting go of fearfulness and allowing love to reach its fulfillment in us.
Colin G. Kruse (1950) says that when people are anxious about God’s punishment, it signifies they are not yet perfected in love. Perfection in love here involves a love for God, which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship with Him and other believers is what removes our anxiety as we face the day of judgment. The author has already underlined the greatness of God’s love for believers in several places in this letter. In 1 John 3:1, he wrote: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are;” in 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus the Anointed One laid down His life for us;” and in 4:16: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.” When the realization of God’s love for us in the Anointed One penetrates our minds and spirits, then we are perfected in love so that apprehension of God’s judgment is removed.
Since perfected love means our love has gone through the process of yielding to God’s agápē so that we can love others as He loved us, why are so many of our songs and sermons focused on loving God instead of loving others with God’s love for us? Believe it or not, there are some 160 such hymns. However, few, if any, are well-known to regular churchgoers. For example, one such song has lyrics like this:
Father, make us loving, gentle, thoughtful, kind;
Fill us with Thy Spirit, make us of Thy mind.
Help us love each other more and more each day,
Help us follow Jesus in the narrow way.
We would learn of Jesus,
Help us here below,
Follow in His footsteps,
Who hath loved us so.
Father, we would ever, live as in Thy sight;
Thou dost know our longings after what is right.
Fill our hearts with kindness as we onward go,
Teach us to be loving; Thou hast loved us so.
Help us to remember, Thou art ever near;
Teach us lovingkindness, tenderness, and cheer.
There is much sorrow in this world below;
Father, make us loving; Thou hast loved us so.
 “Just as I Am” written by Charlotte Elliott in 1835, with music by William B. Bradbury (1816-1868), first appearing in the Christian Remembrancer, of which Elliott she became the editor in 1836. The final verse is from Elliott’s Hours of Sorrow Cheered and Comforted (1836).
 Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., pp. 259-260
 Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op cit., p. 296
 Zephaniah 1:14-18
 See Isaiah 2:12-22
 Cf., 1 John 2:28
 Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol. 18, loc., cit.
 Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 57
 Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition
 “Father, Make Us Loving,” Words by Flora Kirkland (1901); Music by Isaac H. Meredith (1872-1962)