WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXVIX) 08/09/22

4:19We love because God first loved us.

John Phillips (1927-2010) feels that the Apostle John could not say it enough; “We love because He loved us first.” He loved us with a causeless and ceaseless love. Moses reminded the children of Israel that God loved them simply because He loved them.[1] There was no other explanation. Centuries later, Jeremiah reminded the Israelites that God loved them with a timeless love.[2] When it comes to love and to “the love that drew salvation’s plan.”[3] All the initiative was and is with God. God is love! That is the driving force behind the divine plan to provide redemption for the fallen ones of Adam’s ruined race. John could not have said it any better than he did in his Gospel.[4] [5]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) believes that the opening line to verse nineteen could still be in line with the original if translated as: “Let us be loving because He loved us first.” It reveals the remarkable fact that God’s agápē in the Anointed One is the basis of inspiration for all the love that stirs believers’ hearts. The words “because He loved us first” explain the operation of love in Christians. The adverb “first” stresses that God took the initiative to start this agápē affair. He revealed His agápē for humanity to awaken love in them.[6]

Warren W. Wiersbe (1929-2019) notes that two new words came into John’s vocabulary here: fear and torment. And this is written to believers! So, is it possible that Christians can live with distress and terror? Unfortunately, many professed believers experience apprehension and impending danger daily. And the reason is that they are not growing in God’s agápē.

Wiersbe notes that we have adopted the Greek word for angst into our English vocabulary: phobia. Phobias of all sorts are found in psychology books; for instance, is fear of Acrophobia – “heights;” Belonephobia – “pins and needles;” Catagelophobia – “being ridiculed;” Dystychiphobia – “accidents;” and one that many parents suffer from, Ephebiphobia – “their children becoming teenagers,” etc. But there is no Greek phobia for what the Apostle John was writing about – “anxiety over being judged,” so Wiersbe calls it “Krisisphobia.” John already mentioned this solemn truth,[7] and now he deals with it again. If people are afraid, it is because of something in the past that haunts them, something in the present that upsets them, or something in the future that threatens them. Or it may be a combination of all three. A believer in Jesus the Anointed One does not have to be afraid of the past, present, or future,[8] for he has experienced God’s agápē, and this agápē is being perfected in him day by day.[9]

Stephen Sl. Smalley (1931-2018) says that the opening of this verse that “we love” is fortified because “He loved us first.” Not only can we love because of God’s prior and primary love, but also, we must love Him and others in return. God’s agápē for His children and in them may result in the exercise of love “even towards those who do not seem to invite it.”[10] Love then starts with God, goes through us to others, and returns to God. That is what the Apostle John was talking about when he said the “perfected love” removes all doubt so that we have confidence on judgment day.[11] [12]

William Loader (1944) says that verse nineteen reasserts this principle: We love because He loved us first. The one action follows the other not only as an obligation. God’s agápē in the first place also enables us to love others. Following this stream of God’s agápē along its line of fulfillment from God through to human loving, John reasserts that claims to love God by people who harbor hate towards their fellow Christians are an exercise in fraudulence. At best, such a response may be sincere and devout religion, but it has not grasped that the God to be loved is the one whose existence and energy is to love all people. It is worshipping, in effect, another god, even if it calls it the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One. At worst, it may even justify hate and discrimination based on its wrong understanding of God.[13]

David Jackman (1947) says that theological knowledge and convictions are proven and deepened by experience. Our experience of God’s love is very much the same. Because it is grounded in His unchanging character (God is love), as we are in a daily relationship of trust and obedience with Him, we are constantly in touch with that divine love and learn to rely on it more and more. The bottom line is that the God who is Love wants His children to have confidence.[14] We can have complete faith in Jesus, God’s Son, because He shed His blood for our forgiveness. Now we can call God “Father” and know that He accepts us without question for the sake of His beloved Son.

Meanwhile, says Jackman, punishment is entirely foreign to someone who is forgiven and loved. So, as the Amplified New Testament beautifully expresses it, “The perfect love of God in the Anointed One throws fear out the door and expels every kind of terror.” When we are in union with the Anointed One, we are as He is. Does the Lord Jesus cringe in terror before the Father? Of course not. Then, we may share His boldness, confidence, and freedom of speech. He has loved us with an everlasting love that will never let us down or go. If we are always afraid of what Father may do to us, we do not love Him, and if we do not love Him, it is because we do not believe He loves us.[15]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) says that the gloom of judgment is now dispersed by the light of love, which “is fully perfected with us.” Love is perfected not at some remote distance but by the impact of the God who in His Son lives “up close and personal” with His people. Love “is Jesus’ image in us.” If God, the consummate manifestation of love, is with people in such an intimate and ongoing way, then that perfecting activity may be termed “full.” God’s direct and transformative presence is the active agent in the voice of the verb “perfected.”

Since fear of death, hinted at regarding “the day of judgment” in verse seventeen, is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that the Apostle John now addresses it in greater detail in verse eighteen. The first clause, “there is no fear in love” (“perfect love drives out fear”), speaks of that fear as a phobia. These cautions against leaping to the conclusion that “fear [of God]” is something that John rejects categorically when other biblical writers regard it positively. John is more likely to have in mind the fear of the coming judgment (so most commentators). In verse seventeen, John has just ruled that out based on the love that God perfects among His people. The biblical commendation of a healthy fear of God is therefore not mitigated here in verse eighteen. Also, we should not interpret John’s statement as suggesting that fearlessness is a sure sign of confidence before God. He would hardly be making a virtue of shameless arrogance.

Now, in verse nineteen, the Apostle John concludes his affirmation of the triumph of divine love. Any lack of assurance caused by fear of judgment is thereby overcome. John restates a point he expressed slightly differently in verse ten (and that the Apostle Paul states in Romans.[16] The “we” here in verse nineteen contrasts with the “the one who fears” in verse eighteen. That person lacks the full assurance of God’s love, while “we” possess that assurance based on God’s initiative; they have discovered that “God made the first move in expressing love.” This detection has made a difference in how they regard one another: they love.[17]

Gary M. Burge (1952) advises that in verse seventeen, John makes the remarkable statement that a life inspired by God, a life shaped by this quality of Christian discipleship, exhibits a love that is made complete.[18] However, the NIV misses an important connective with the preceding verses: “This is how love is made complete among us.[19] That is, by everything said thus far, by the principles outlined above, God’s agápē is perfected among us. Now a different emphasis is apparent. God’s agápē is perfected not through our perception of it or our experience but our expression of it.[20] God’s agápē reaches completion by the degree to which it is shared among us.

[1] Deuteronomy 7:7-8

[2] Jeremiah 31:3

[3] From the hymn “At Calvary,” by William R. Newell 1895, Stanza 4

[4] John 3:16

[5] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 154

[6] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p. 86

[7] 1 John 2:28

[8] Hebrews 13:8

[9] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real: Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), op. cit., pp. 154-155

[10] Cf. Romans 5:6-8

[11] 1 John 4:17

[12] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 262

[13] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 57

[14] Cf. 1 John 3:1-2

[15] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., pp. 128-130

[16] Romans 5:8

[17] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 258-262

[18] Cf. 1 John 4:12, 18

[19] Ibid. 4:17

[20] Ibid. 4:12

[21] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 189-190


About drbob76

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