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1 John 4:17-21: The Boldness of  Perfected Love

John knows that on the subject of loving others, it’s easy to be a hypocrite. It’s easy to sing, “Oh, how I love Jesus,” while at the same time our homes and lives are a battle zone. We put on our spiritual masks at church, but in our hearts we harbor bitterness toward a fellow Christian who has wronged us. So John once more hits this vital matter of love for one another.

Verse 17a: “Love has been perfected…” Amplified Bible, “In this [union and communion with Him] love is brought to completion and attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment (with assurance and boldness to face Him), because as He is, so are we in this world.”

“Perfected” in Greek is teleioo, it means to be complete, mature, fully developed, full grown, wanting nothing, and includes the idea of being made whole. “It is in the perfect tense…has been made perfect or complete, and exists in its finished results.” –Wuest

It is in the fact that God lives in us, and our abiding in Him that our love grows to perfection. Perfect love will be our ability to perfectly receive and give love to God and all others around us.

Verse 17b: “that we may have boldness…”

“Boldness” in Greek is parrhesia. The Greeks used parrhesia of those with the right to speak openly in the assembly. Speaking with plainness, openness and confidence, “Brethren, I may confidently say…” (Acts 2:29). Speaking publicly or in the open. “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world…’ (John 18:20) and something done in public. “But look! He speaks boldly…” (John 7:26).

In the perfecting of our love, John says we have “confidence in the day of judgment.” This reiterates his earlier statement, “And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28) Our confidence comes from our trusting in His love and His work, receiving from Him and abiding in Him and not counting on ourselves to love perfectly by our will.

Verse 17c: “…in the day of judgment.”

This is written to believers (“dear children, beloved”), so this verse refers to the “Judgment seat of Christ” which is specific to individual believers standing before God in the last day to receive their reward.

The “judgment seat of Christ” does not determine our salvation; that was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf and our faith in Him. All of our sins are forgiven, (past, present, future) and we will never be condemned for them. “There is therefore now no condemnation (judgment) to those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). We should not look at the “judgment seat of Christ” as God judging our sins, but rather as God rewarding us for our lives. The Bible says, we will have to give an account of ourselves. Part of this is surely answering for the sins we committed. However, that is not going to be the primary focus of the judgment seat of Christ. –Adapted from,

Romans 14:10-12, “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

What John is saying is,

“Not to be concerned about loving the brethren, not to be concerned as to whether I am dwelling in love or not, is to misunderstand the whole purpose of my salvation, and therefore it is to flout God’s love. If this is not the greatest concern of my life, then I am a mere beginner in the Christian life.” –Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“The saint who in the future Rapture of the Church will approach the Judgment Seat of Christ with boldness (parrhesia–freedom of speech). [This] is the saint who in his earthly life has had the love that God is in His nature brought to its full capacity of operation by the Holy Spirit in his life. That fullness of love results in a life devoted entirely to the Lord Jesus.” –Wuest

Verse 17d: “because as He is, so are we in this world.”

The fact that Christians love one another is evidence that they know God and have love from God. Their experience with God is not simply a once-for-all crisis; it is a daily experience of getting to know Him better and better. True theology (the study of God) is not a dry, impractical course in doctrine—it is an exciting day-by-day experience that makes us Christlike!...Positionally, we are right now “as He is.” We are so closely identified with Christ, as members of His body, that our position in this world is like His exalted position in heaven. This means that the Father deals with us as He deals with His own beloved Son. How, then, can we ever be afraid? –Adapted from Wiersbe

Verse 18a: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear...”

“John is not saying that we should not fear God in the sense of regarding Him with respect and reverence. There is a proper sense of fearing God as the Judge. Speaking in the context of the final judgment, Jesus said Luke 12:4-5, ‘My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him…!’ But in our text, John means that you cannot draw near to God in love and run from Him out of fear of judgment at the same time. God wants His children to know that ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).” –Steven J. Cole

“A wise man once wrote, ‘When love comes, fear goes.’ I know so many Christians who are tormented by feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness, and sinfulness. They think they must do something to make God love them more. Yet the apostle John said that ‘as [Jesus] is, so are we in this world’ (1 John 4:17). In other words, we share the same confidence that Jesus has in knowing that the Father loves us with perfect love. Because Jesus accomplished our redemption on the cross, all judgment for sin is behind Him and us, and the sin question is forever settled. We now face no condemnation. This removes fear…” –David Roper, Our Daily Bread, February 2004

Verse 18b: “because fear involves torment.”

“Torment,” kolasis in Greek means correction, punishment, penalty, torment, retribution (everlasting punishment). Most scholars use the word, “punishment” here. Wuest sees this as related more not to loss of life but loss of reward - Thus, the saint who has experienced the fullness of this divine love in his earthly life, will have no fear of correction or penalty (loss of reward) at the Judgment Seat of Christ. The saint who approaches that tribunal (Judgment Seat of Christ) in a spirit of fear is the saint who has not experienced the fullness of this love, and for the reason that he did not maintain a Spirit-filled life during his earthly sojourn.

Verse 18c: “But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”

“Once we accept Christ’s sacrifice we are assured that we are ‘like him’ “because as He is, so are we in this world” (Verse 17). When we become God’s beloved children we cease to be afraid of him. It is evident, therefore, that the one who fears is not made perfect in love.” –Adapted from John Stott

Verse 19: “We love Him because He first loved us.”

These are very simple words! but they go down into the depths of God! Love has its origin in God “love is of God “ (1 John 4:7), and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It is from the God who is love that all love has its source. “We love” It doesn’t say whom we love, whether it is God, mankind, our family or fellow followers of Christ. It just says, “We love.” This verse is not concerned about the object of one’s love but the exercise of love toward anyone. John MacArthur says, “We love Him is not in the best original manuscripts. Because it is characteristic of Christians to love because God has shed His love abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). We love because He first loved us. That's the key word, eternal, sovereign love was granted to us.” –adapted from John MacArthur

God loved us first, (John 3:16) and “I have loved you with an everlasting love…” (Jeremiah 31:3), that’s why we love him! Think about parents love. My mom loved with an unconditional love. If not for her love, I wouldn't be here, and the love that she showed me taught me what love is, and how to show love for others. But parental love no matter how perfect it may seem to be, fails in comparison to God’s love for us! On a much larger, and far less imperfect scale, this is also true of God. Everything we are is because of him. Our ability to love, to feel love, to be lovable, all these come from him.

Romans 8:38,39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 2:4,5, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

Verse 20: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

1 John 3:14,15, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother[a] abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

The perfect love that drives out fear, drives out hatred also. John does not mince his words. If how a person behaves contradicts what he says, he is a liar. To claim to know God and have fellowship with God while we walk in the darkness of disobedience is to lie. And one who claims to know God and have fellowship with God and hates his brother is a liar. If what a man is contradicts what he says, he is a liar. Consequently, that’s precisely why people say, “There are too many hypocrites in the church.”

“God's love for us reaches its designed goal when it is reproduced in us, i.e., when we love one another with the love with which God loves us; consequently, an absence of love for the brethren precludes the possibility of love for God.” –Sam Storms

“Hates” in Greek is miseo, it means to dislike strongly, to have a strong aversion to or to detest, or resent. All of these representing expressions of hostility of one person (or group) toward another. Miseo originally denoted the resentment which arises when someone feels himself injured by the behavior of another.

Miseo is the opposite of agapao (to love). To love is to care more about others than about yourself, caring even to the point of sacrifice of one's life. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). To hate is to care little or nothing about the other person and even wish them harm and or death.

Is there someone in your church that you just do not like? I had a deacon once whose favorite words were, “I just don’t like that man or woman.” Now I may like some people more than others, I may be closer to some than others. And there are some people I try to avoid, but my Christian love for them does not waver. I worked with a man on a church staff years ago, with whom I had a problem. He was kind of a big jerk! He was always going to the pastor and finking (tattling) on the other staff members. I did not know how to approach him to try to understand him or to try to fix his problems. So one day I said to him, “(name withheld), I can’t stand you! Every time I look at you I want to hit you in the face.” Now I do not advise that you follow my example, but I was a bit bombastic in those days and I have not done that since nor will I ever do that again. BTW: after that unscriptural encounter, I got to where I almost liked that guy!

If you are going to talk the talk then you must walk the walk!

John Piper sums it up: “If you don't love your visible brother, then you can't be loving the invisible God.”

Verse 21: “And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.”

It is so easy to make up excuses for our lack of love: “I’ve tried, but this person is impossible to love.” “If you knew how difficult this person is, you’d understand why I don’t love him.” God will not accept excuses for not loving our brethren. The principle is straightforward, love of God is validated by love of our brethren and this love is not a nice suggestion but a serious commandment. And remember God never asks us to do anything that He does not empower us to do. He is commanding supernatural agape love which is only possible as we rely on the Spirit Whom He has given every believer. The fact that love for God and love for our brother form one single command we have no choice but to love our brothers and sisters in Christ! “And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

Perhaps we are sometimes just too arrogant, and take ourselves too seriously. I often say, “I do not take myself seriously, but I take God and His sword very seriously.” Do we begin to imagine that our part in the play is bigger than it is. In fact, “We love” not because we're good at it…but because we've been loved. “We love because he first loved us.” We are the undeserving recipients of God's love. If we think ourselves important enough that we can put down other people, make fun of the weak, or engage in prejudice against the needy; if we imagine ourselves to be such impressive versions of the human species that we permit ourselves to be arrogant, cold, and unloving of others, then we're liars and fools. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (Verse 20). God remains invisible. But if we have been loved by him, the inevitable result is that we'll love those whom we can see, as recipients of the love of God.

When I meet someone who is not particularly lovable, I ask myself, “Does God love this person?” or “Is there anyone whom God does not love?” “God is love” (1 John 4:8), but God hates sin and punishes the sinner and all who do iniquity. God is not one sided. He is not simply an infinitely loving God. He is also infinitely just. He must deal with sin. He must punish the sinner.

“While visiting a Christian’s home, I saw these words displayed on a wall plaque: ‘You love Jesus only as much as you love the person you love the least.’ I squirmed at those revealing words. Later I found similar words in 1 John 4:20, ‘He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’

After that I often caught myself criticizing others while overlooking my own glaring faults. If I loved Jesus only as much as I loved the people I criticized, then I loved Jesus very little. This grieved and frustrated me, as I seemed unable to love Jesus and others as I should.

In 1 John 4:10, we learn that the key to knowing love isn’t found in our love for God, but rather in His love for us. He showed the depth of His love in Jesus’ sacrificial death for our sins. That’s our example. ‘If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (v.11).

Now when I fail to love others, I seek God’s forgiveness. I ask Him to help me show to others the kind of love He showed to me.

Do you long to love Jesus more? Start with loving the people around you. Remember, love for Jesus and love for others always go together.”

Unfailing is God's matchless love,

So kind, so pure, so true;

And those who draw upon that love

Show Christ in all they do.

–D. De Haan–

Love is God's will in action. –Joanie Yoder, Our Daily Bread, May, 2002

Much of the anger that erupts within the church under the banner of loving God and defending God's truth often seems to grow instead from love of self and of the power that comes from winning the argument, even at the expense of the church's unity in love. The gospel of God's love for us in the Son sets us free from such loveless (and fearful, verse 18) pursuits. Though the author, in talking about those who fail to love (verse 20), probably has in mind those who had left the community, the text also serves as a warning to the readers against excusing loveless practice in the name of theological rectitude. This author will not allow the sacrifice of love for the sake of truth (as though they could be separated), and continually brings us back to the only place where we can learn how to love faithfully: the prior love of God for us in the sending of the Son.

Is it possible to love a person you don’t like? I admit that I do not like everyone with whom I come in contact, and God doesn’t expect me to. “Like” is defined as, “to enjoy, to get pleasure, to regard in a favorable way, to feel affection for someone.” ( I can’t say you will enjoy, or get pleasure from everyone in your church, some personalities just seem to clash. But we have been learning from the Apostle John it is God’s will is for us to love other people with a godly love. When we begin to love someone with God’s love, our attitude toward that person (even not so pleasant people). changes. As true believers we are incapable of having attitudes and actions that are inconsistent. When we begin to show love by our actions, our attitudes will follow

We are called to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27) and even to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). Jesus told His disciples the night before His crucifixion, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34). In each of these examples, the Greek word for love is agapao which has self-sacrifice as its primary characteristic. This is not a love of brotherly affection or emotional connection, rather, this love seeks the best for its object. Sacrificial love is not based on a feeling, but a determined act of the will, a joyful resolve to put the welfare of others above our own. Clearly, this type of love is impossible in our own strength. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to obey God’s commands, including the commandment to love.

Porcupine People, by David C. Egner: “Deep in a Wyoming canyon I came across the biggest porcupine I’ve ever seen. As he lumbered toward me, I watched him closely and gave him plenty of room. I was not about to get near a guy whose quills looked like missiles. No wonder he was alone!But he’s not alone all the time. Every November and December, porcupines get close enough to produce offspring. During that time they choose to relax their quills, then they return to their prickly selves.In nearly every church, there will be a porcupine or two, with sharp quills of criticism or sarcasm or arrogance. We want to avoid them, but God places us in communities of believers for fellowship. He commands us to love one another—including the porcupine types. And in our honest moments, we have to admit that we have quills too.John wrote, ‘He who loves God must love his brother also’ (1John 4:21). To do this, we need to ask God to help us ‘relax our quills,’ even when other people are prickly. The Holy Spirit will help us stop being so defensive or critical or controlling, and enable us to love our Christian brothers and sisters. It’s the way we show the world that we love God (John 13:35).

Some people can be difficult to love,

And so we do not even try to care,

But God says, “Love them just as I've loved you—

You'll bring Me glory as My love you share.”

God loves you and me – Let's love each other.

**NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

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