NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXIII) 08/01/22
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.
Congregational minister and author John Ossian Davies (1851-1916) says the greater of the two is love out of fear and love. We all agreed that love is the mightiest lever in the universe, but there is the possibility that we are not all of one mind as to the use of uneasiness in religion. And has it any legitimate use? Our answer is decidedly in the affirmative.
The Bible speaks of two kinds of fear, says Davies – the brotherly and obligatory. First, we reverence God and dismiss the devil. Practicing loving others may seem like a Christian’s duty, but it is mandatory in escaping punishment. The one attracts us to God, but the other drives us away from Him. So, terror thunders, unless followed by love’s enrapturing melodies, and has a devastating influence upon the human soul. Here are some points to consider:
For one, panic tends to produce a Moral Obligation Policy unless accompanied by Love. The terrified soul strives to be virtuous, not from any love for virtue per se, but fear of sin’s punishment. We must strive to hate sin as sin, and love virtue as virtue, regardless of any discipline or reward.
Another is Incessant Appeals. Fear has an exhausting influence on a person’s moral nature. Anxiety paralyzes the soul, deprives it of its moral vigor, and positively hinders effort. Despair weakens the physical frame and paves the way for any disease hovering around. And is not this true of the intellect? Dismay may drive the soul out of Egypt, but we need a more gracious power to lead it into the promised land.
Then we have Continuous Pleas for Mercy. Fear tends to promote unbelief. A dreaded God will eventually become a God despised, hated, and denied.
Now comes Ceaseless Petitions for Patience. Lack of confidence tends to make spiritual worship impossible. Love delights to commune with its object, but a scary thing will end all pleasurable communion. We cannot be heartily and devoutly worshipped a God we fear. You can no more love Him than you can caress a volcano!
And finally, we have Endless Calls for Understanding. Insecurity may lead to forced Obedience, which is practically worthless. An old poetic saying goes this way: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Pharaoh forgot all his promises as soon as God removed the plagues. Forced obedience, generated by uneasiness, is little better than disobedience. Someone may still be tempted to ask, “What role does fear have in religion? Has it any use at all?” We reply that apprehensiveness must be used to pave the way for something better than itself; in itself, it must be the herald and forerunner of love. Sinai must be the precursor of Calvary. It is so in the Bible, it is so in God’s Providence, and it must be so in the spiritual history of every believer.
4:19 We learned to love because God loved us first.
John wants his readers to know that agápē between God and man did not start with humanity. When we read the ancient documents of other civilizations and the First Covenant, we find that for a long-time, people did not love those they could see, let alone love someone they could not see. Jesus told His disciples, “You didn’t choose me! I chose you!”
That’s because Jesus told them earlier that they did not choose Him because only those the Father could choose who to send Him so He could reject or accept them. So that means every true believer has been twice chosen. But John is not finished. He has more to say just in case some think that all they must do is love God and everything will be okay.
Now we see that love has accomplished something. Christians do not look to the Judgment Seat of the Anointed One with nervousness because they understand God’s agápē. Not only does love look forward to meeting the Lord, but it presently gets rid of alarm so that love is free from angst. Anxiety and love are as contrary to each other as oil and water. Apprehension and love can coexist, but perfect love and despair cannot coexist. Dismay, in varying degrees, exists in every believer’s life. This will not be the case if God’s perfect love has gripped their soul. There is no room for dread in God’s economy of love. We cannot simultaneously approach God in love and hide from Him in horror. We overcome having to tremble before God with terror by understanding His perfect love for us. Love is the most important manifestation of fellowship with the Lord.
The love that erects confidence also expels uneasiness. 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, his life is not marked by the perfected God’s 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.” Love conquers fear.
God’s initiative in love for us stamped love in our spirits. Our ability to love with divine love comes from God, not us. We love because God taught us how to love with divine love. The source of the believer’s love is prior love. We do not love with our feeble love. The word “Him” does not occur in the oldest manuscripts, so the emphasis is on love generically, “We love because He first loved us.” Thus, this speaks of loving any object, whether God or human beings.
The word “first” bears the emphasis of this phrase. This word allows us to see the connection to the preceding verses. Distress finds no place in the Christian who matures in God’s agápē. Fear of God is incompatible with understanding God as the source and initiator of love. Our exercise of love is a product of God’s agápē. John emphasizes the continued pattern of love rather than isolated acts of love. Since God loved us once [aorist tense] at the cross, we can go on loving Christians (present tense). No exercise of love on our part is possible without God loving us first.
Some commentators point out that “him” is an insertion and is not to be included. So, the rendering of verse nineteen reads: “We love because He first loved us [or “loved us first.]” To take the Greek hēmeis agapaō, “we love,” as subjunctive, “let us love” is less forcible. John states as a fact what ought to be. We Christians do not fear; we love. Yet this is no credit to us. On the contrary, after God’s love in giving His Son for us, it would be monstrous not to love.
So let us review what John has said. First, God’s initiative in loving us stamped His agápē in our spirits. Our ability to love with divine love comes from God, not us. We love because God taught us how to love. The source of the believer’s love is prior love. We do not agápē with our lackluster love. That’s why the word “him” does not occur in the oldest Greek manuscripts, so the emphasis is on generic love. Thus, this speaks of loving any object, whether God or human beings.
Secondly, the word “first” bears the emphasis of this phrase. The Greek adjective protos allows us to see the connection to verse eighteen. Faintheartedness finds no place in the Christian who matures in God’s love. Fear of God is incompatible with understanding God as the source and initiator of love. Our exercise of love is a product of God’s love. John emphasizes the continued pattern of love rather than isolated acts. Since God loved us once [aorist tense] at the cross, we can go on loving Christians (present tense). Therefore, no exercise of love on our part is possible without God loving us first.
So, how do we apply this to everyday life? Our love for God and others originates in His agápē for us. God’s agápē is the incentive for our passion. God loved us at the high cost of sacrificing His Son for us. God loved us first; we loved Him second. He took the initiative. His initiative enabled us to love because He put His agápē within us. He provided the loving apparatus. So don’t think you can love as God loved without God’s agápē in you.
The omission of love on the human level indicates the absence of agápē on the divine level. God’s agápē makes divine love on the mortal plane possible. All true love is a response to God’s initiative. Our love is not self-originated, for it has a divine origin. God gives us the desire to love others. God calls out our love in response to what God has given. Our capacity to love spiritually rests on something more significant than our power to love. It is the response to God’s agápē. That is why this kind of love always finds an object.
Thus, our love for fellow Christians validates our love for God. Response to God’s agápē produces love for others. Think of how irritable and stubborn some Christians are. They will do almost anything to upset us. Yet God loves them as much as He loves us. When our hearts are occupied with His wonderful agápē, we do not become perturbed with obnoxious Christians. God loved us when we were unlovable, so we should love the unlovely.
 Davies, John Ossian, Old Yet Ever New, 1904, p. 179
 John 15:16
 From the New International Version
 2 Thessalonians 3:5