17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:17-21
John begins verse 17 with that familiar phrase he uses so often, “by this.” By this is love perfected with us… So of course we must ask, what is the “this” in the “by this?” John is here pulling into the present verses what he has just explained before this. By confessing the truth about Jesus Christ, by abiding in love, and by God abiding in us, is love perfected with us. The most immediate thing preceding verse 17 that John is referring to, and that is the most relevant to our current “by this” statement, is verse 16, that God abides in him who abides in love. So John is saying, it is by God’s abiding in us that love is perfected with us.
As we’ve seen before and as we see here and see several times in our passage today, the word perfect used here is not meant to convey the idea of sinless-ness. Rather it conveys the idea of a maturing of love. He is saying that God’s abiding in love works to bring love to maturation in us. It is going to progress, and accomplish its intended purpose in us.
With that prefacing in mind, we have three thoughts that will guide us through the rest of our passage here today. 1) Love casts out fear, 2) love casts out pride, and 3) love casts out hate.
Love Casts Out Fear (v17-18)
One of of the themes of 1 John that we’ve seen throughout it, is that of assurance. God wants us to know that we know him. The most happy Christians are the most assured Christians. John stated in the opening chapter that he is writing that our joy may be complete. Here in verse 17, one of the benefits that assurance includes is a confidence for the day of judgment. John is saying, “By God abiding in us, love is perfected, or matured in us, SO THAT – there’s a purpose statement – we may have confidence for the day of judgment…”
One of the reasons we are sanctified is so that we will have confidence for the day of judgment. God does not want his children to be terrified in the sense that they aren’t sure where they stand with God, and they aren’t sure if their sins are forgiven. He wants His children to be confident that Christ’s blood is sufficient for their sins and that they rest in His righteousness imputed to them, so that they can stand before God with confidence, not in their flesh or in their own works, but confident in Christ and his work for them. It is not a way to live the Christian life, going through life not knowing and being afraid. A Christian who fears the judgment in this way, will not be a happy Christian, he will not be a Christian who is busy in service to the Lord, and he will not be one who spends time in adoration of Christ. God does not want this to be so, so He brings his love to maturity in us so that we may have confidence for the judgment. This is one reason why we are sanctified in love. How can we go out and warn others to prepare themselves for the day of judgment when we have no rest in our own hearts over the issue? Perfect love casts out fear.
Verse 17 continues, “By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.” “as he is so also are we in this world.” I had puzzled over this phrase for some time. How is he that we are also in this world? There are really two ways that we could understand this phrase.
One is what some commentators say that the “as he is” refers to Christ. So they say that Christians, though they are in the world, are perfectly righteous, holy, and justified before God in Christ through imputation. Believers are united to Christ so much so that as Christ is, so also are we right now in this world. We are as secure as Christ is. It is as if we are with Christ in heaven now, justified before God. Therefore that gives us a great confidence for the day of judgment.
The other way to understand this phrase, which I believe fits more within the passage, is this: What is it that John says that “he is” that he now says, we are also in the world? In verse 16, John has just said, that “God is love.” So if we understand that to be what John is saying God is, then we understand this to be saying that God is love, so Christians are love in this world. As God is love, so also are we in this world. That is what gives us confidence for the day of judgment, knowing and seeing that we are, here and now, in this fallen and broken world, being filled with love divine and it is having its work in us, that gives us confidence that we are his, and that we have no need wonder where we stand with God on the day of judgment. That is what I believe John is getting at here. Perfect love casts out fear.
In verse 18, John further explains the point he laid out in verse 17, that the love of God that works itself in the life of the believer gives us confidence and casts out fear of judgment and punishment.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Love casts out fear as a mother has no fear in nursing her diseased infant. Where love is strong, there is no fear to act on behalf of the beloved. Where love is matured, there is nothing it will not do for its beloved. There is nothing quite as powerful as that of love. A man will fight and die for the woman he loves, where before he may have been timid and shy. If you fear punishment from God it is because you do not know the love that he manifested in his Son that made him the propitiation for our sins. It may be that you are entirely unconverted and need to come to know the saving love of Christ. Or may be that you are genuinely born again, but are young in your understanding of the gospel, love has not been perfected, or matured in you.
In thinking about these themes of fear, punishment, and judgment, it is true on the one hand that the more you know of something, the more you ought to fear it – if there is a danger to it. For example, small children may not know the danger of a hot stove and the injury that it can cause, and so it is that you must constantly be keeping them away from the stove, because they have no fear of the stove. Yet this lack of fear is not out of love, but out of ignorance. We ought to have a healthy fear of a burning stove.
So one might think that Christians, who know, or ought to know, the most about the day of judgment, about God’s righteousness, about man’s sin, and about hell, ought to fear it the most. That’s what one might think – because Christian’s know the most about this danger, we ought to be the most fearful of judgment. Yet that is not what John is saying. Instead he is saying that the more the love of God is perfected in you, the less room fear will have in your heart. Not because the threat of judgment and punishment isn’t real, but because the love of God manifested in the gospel is just as real! It is not that hell is not as serious as we thought, but it is that the substitutionary-sin-atoning-blood-shedding-death of Christ on behalf of his people is just as serious and real! The more that the love of God is perfected in us, the more we come to know and believe the love that God has for us, and thus the more fear is banished from our hearts. So it is, the more we see the gracious work of the Spirit abiding in us, producing love in our lives, the more we can be confident we are Christ’s. Perfect love casts out fear.
At the end of verse 18 it says, “whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” While love casts out fear in the children of God, those who have no love manifest in their lives, no fruit of the Spirit present, ought to have great fear of punishment, for there is no evidence of salvation in their lives. If a person who has no love in their life, has no fear of judgment, it is not because divine love has cast it out, but it is because they are ignorant to the judgment.
There are two kinds of unbelievers here. You have the one who thinks nothing of eternity or judgment day, or anything of the sort. They are just consumed with the things of the world, living life without a care or fear. Maybe it is because they have never been confronted with this reality. This is a dangerous ignorance to live in. Then you have the unbeliever who thinks about eternity and judgment, yet they have not heard, or have rejected the gospel message of salvation through Christ and so they live their lives trying to do anything and everything to ease their conscience, whether it is attending to religious duties, or being charitable, or attempting some from of spirituality or moral reform in their lives. But none of those things can perfect divine love in their lives and thus fear will not be cast out. Fear will always be present somewhere in their minds no matter what they may do. It is the love of God that casts out fear! Religious works will not cast out fear, morality will not cast out fear, good deeds and good behavior will not cast out fear, but only the perfecting of divine love casts out fear. And cast out fear it does.
Love Casts Out Pride (v19)
Here is perhaps one of my favorite verses in the Bible. We love because he first loved us. Here is a verse that is so lovely toward sinners like us and yet entirely man-humbling and God-glorifying. In many ways this is a reiteration of verse 10. This verse ought to be the banner of Calvinism, “We love because he first loved us.” Indeed it ought to be the banner of over every Christian there is, “we love because he first loved us!” This is nothing more than biblical Christianity. Christians are Christians because God made them so, not because they made themselves what they are. We are what we are, not because we have loved God, but because he has loved us and has given us his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Let us never be ashamed of saying, it was not I who loved God, but it was that he loved me, lest we be ashamed of the gospel. This is simply a summation of the gospel and its fruit.
But what I believe John’s point in bringing this up here is, is that this one way love of God, casts out pride. When the doctrines of grace take true root in a man’s heart, it does not produce pride in that man, but humbles him to the dust. John has spent a lot of time talking about the necessity of living a certain type of lifestyle. And he will continue to talk about the necessity that we love our brothers. These are important things and he wants to include continual humility checks to be sure that we are getting the order and the cause of things right.
As you grow in moral holiness and reform of life, it can be a temptation, a tool of Satan, to tempt you with pride. “Look at your life, look how upright you are. Look, you are way more reformed than those other people. Look at how biblical you live your life, etc.” And all of those things may be true! But it is from God, not from us by which our chests should fill with self-righteousness. Of all people, a Calvinist should understand this! Of all people, Calvinists should be the ones not looking down their noses at others – but not for the grace of God, go I!
If we ever begin to say, “look at my life, look at my love for God, look at how much I love him, and the great spirituality and commitment to religion I have, how great it is,” the Scripture is here to level us back to the ground. Who are you O man!? You love because of God, your love comes from God – it is all him, would you dare steal glory and praise from God?
Calvinists ought to be the most humble people in all the world. Our lives are a result of God loving us. Not a byproduct of our cooperation with God, or our free will, or our own love, but a result of God alone.
John’s point is this, if God had not loved us first, manifested that love in His Son, and shed abroad his love in our hearts, then there is no way we could love the brethren, or truly love others, let alone love God. We don’t have the ability to love with true divine love apart from God loving us first. If God hadn’t loved us first then we would never even know what love is. So it is that John is reminding us, we do not love in order to be made right with God. We do not love so that we may earn God’s love; but the only reason we love at all, is because God has first loved us. I believe what John is also getting at is that we love, because he first loved us. He doesn’t say that we might love, or we will be more prone to love; but that we love! That has been one of John’s running points, a Christian is someone who loves, and he cannot help but love, because God is love and God has loved us and this God of love lives inside of us, so the obvious result is that we will love! Let it be so in our lives! Love casts out pride.
Love Casts Out Hate (v20-21)
John says, if you say you love God, yet hate your brother, you are a liar. He doesn’t say you are mistaken, or misinformed, or confused, but a liar. It may seem like harsh words, but if we understand the logic that I just described above, we see how blatant it is. If you say you love God, yet hate your brother, you are a liar, because love is what loved people do!
Why? Because loving God is not something that just anybody can do. It is a result of being loved by God – and someone who knows that God loves them, can’t help but love the brethren.
Children, let me ask you. Do you love God? How will I know if you are telling me the truth? Because if you truly love God, you will also love your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, and your parents. If you say you love God, yet you hate one of your precious siblings or parents, you are a liar and I cannot believe you, and God knows it. Of course there will be times, children, where you get in fights, and you get upset with your siblings or parents, there are times where you will sin. But when that happens, there ought to be true repentance and love in your heart for those you have sinned against. Not simply an outward show of being sorry because your parents make you apologize, but are you sorry because you truly love them in your heart?
This is what John is saying, how do we know if your profession is credible? Not by some mystical gnostic form of Spirituality, but it will show itself in practical love for your brother. Parents, I ask you, do you love? Your spouse, and your children are your most immediate “one anothers.” Do you love them? You may be able to act like you love in front of the church family, but when you are at home with just your family, is it a house of love for one another, because the love of God abides in your hearts? I cannot believe that you truly love God, if you do not love those in your own home.
If you do not love the image of God right in front of you, you cannot credibly say that you love the triune God you have not seen. That is what John is saying. If you love God, you will love the image of God, represented in that person right in front of you. If there is no evidence of leaves blowing, flags blowing, or your hair blowing, then we cannot say there is wind. How do we know the wind is there? Because we see its effects. No effects, no wind. How do we know the love of God is in your heart? Because we will see the effects.
Church, I do not want us to miss this lesson God is teaching to us in 1 John. Loving one another is not optional. Loving one another is not something we are to be passive in. It is commanded. If we have not love for one another, then we have failed, we have disobeyed God, and ruined our witness to the world. Let us not forget these things when we finish with 1 John and then move on to other things. Let it be in the forefront of our intentions, that we love one another.
Church, here is the good news. The good news is that in the Gospel, God provides what he demands. He demands love? He gives love. He gives us his beloved Son, regenerates our hearts, gives us his Spirit who indwells us and gives us love that we did not have. He gives us his own love, manifested in his son. He gives us divine love in our hearts that we are to love others with. You might hear this command that we must love one another and feel like it is an impossible command! “I don’t have enough love in my heart to give. That person is so hard to love. There is no way I can love that person, they annoy me so much, they are so inconsiderate to me.” But you must understand that God is not asking you to love with your flesh or love according to your own abilities. God demands that you repent of your sin and hatred, and go unto Christ, who loved beyond measure, to the point of suffering and death. And there at his bloody cross of love, there is love enough to fill your heart from above, that you will be able to love by the grace of God in ways you didn’t think were possible, for they were not possible apart from the love of God.