Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love, because he first loved us. If a man say, “I love God,” and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen. And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:17-21).
Perhaps one of the most popular and justly famous passages of Scripture is 1 John 4:7-21, the Apostle John’s grand treatise on love. We have previously considered 1 John 4:7-16 and have seen how God is love and has manifested love through the sacrifice of His Son, and those who love are the ones who confess Jesus as the Christ, abide in God, and God in them. Even though we have not seen God, when we love, God is present with us and has given us of His Spirit.
John continues his discussion in verses 17-18 by establishing that love is made perfect, or complete, within us, so that we have boldness on the day of Judgment, for as God is, we are in the world, and that there can be no fear in love, for this completed love casts out fear. Fear leads to punishment, and those who fear cannot be perfected in love.
John touches upon a significant theme in the Bible– man’s need to not fear. Indeed, God commands people to not fear 365 times in the Bible, making it the most often given command in Scripture. It is evident that fear is a major difficulty for people– fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear of isolation, fear of censure, and so on and so forth. Our failure to do right is most often due to some fear, and much of what is deemed sin stems from some kind of fear. Whereas fear compels people to build barriers, love leads to compassion and understanding (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Ephesians 2:11-18). Fear leads to trepidation, but love allows one to live and act with boldness (cf. 1 John 4:17).
The Christian, therefore, is encouraged to live in confidence before God– not arrogance or smugness, nor with a sense of entitlement, but because they are seeking to serve God and are in association with Him (Galatians 6:1-3, 1 John 1:5-9). Christians can approach the throne of God with boldness (Hebrews 4:16), and if we are active in our service to God, there is no reason to fear the day of Judgment (cf. Matthew 25:1-13). This does not mean that we should not revere or “fear” God in that way, for we must always show God proper respect (cf. 1 Peter 2:17). Instead, if we love as God is love, we indicate that we are like God in that respect, and fear will not dominate our existence!
John concludes his treatise on love by indicating the source of love– we love because God loved us (1 John 4:19). Those who say that they love God but do not love their brother are liars, for those who cannot love their brother whom they see cannot love God whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20). Therefore, whoever loves God must also love his or her brother (1 John 4:21).
In verse 10 John indicated that love is not that we have loved God but that He loves us, and verse 19 confirms this thought. God is love, and if God did not want to associate with us, we would not be able to love, for we could not be of God (cf. 1 John 4:7). John says this, at least to an extent, to preface the final thought, addressing those who are confident in their love of God but yet do not reflect that love to their fellow man. As God is the Source of life and all the blessings thereof, we should seek to reflect God and thus to show love!
In 1 John 4:12, John says that no man has ever seen God. He returns to this idea as he concludes the treatise on love to make a most compelling point regarding love. Loving God seems to be an easy thing– after all, God is love (v. 8), God loves us (v. 10), and has given us most precious gifts (v. 9; cf. Ephesians 1:3). As Jesus says, even terrible sinners love those who love them– therefore, for man to love God for all that God has done for him is easy (cf. Matthew 5:46).
But the love that God shows is for everyone, for those who love Him as well as those who reject Him and despise His name (cf. Matthew 5:44-48). He shows His love in that He loved us while we were sinners (Romans 5:5-11). He loves all the people of the world– our neighbors (cf. Luke 10:25-37)– and desires for them all to come to repentance (1 Timothy 2:4). Therefore, we must love our neighbor if we really love God, and that is far more difficult, since our neighbor may not like us and may attempt to harm us.
Yet we can see our neighbor. We live with him on a daily basis. If we cannot have love in our hearts for him, how can we love the God we cannot see with our eyes? It is good for us to love our neighbor, for in the end, God is love, has demonstrated His love to the righteous and the sinful through His Son, and calls upon us to reflect His love. Let us love one another!