Studies in the
First Epistle of John
1 John 4. 17—21
"Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world." (v.17)
This is not the great Day of Judgment, the Millennial Age, here in John's epistle. The aged Apostle was not thinking about that far-off event. He was thinking about something much closer and more directly affecting the lives of his brethren. In every Christian life there comes a day of judgment, a time of testing when the faith structure that has been erected over perhaps many years of quiet and uneventful living, must be proved and tried. It was the destiny of many of those early Christians to endure that day of judgment in the guise of persecution and martyrdom at the hands of the civil power of the day. But whether the testing time be a physically crucial one such as that, or the slower but perhaps more penetrating one of hopes unfulfilled and expectations disappointed, disillusionment and apathy such as is by no means an uncommon thing today, it still remains that the day of judgment comes to each one of us in the course of our consecrated life. Jesus illustrated it in His story of the two men who built themselves houses, one on the rock and the other on the sand, whilst Paul used the metaphor of workers building alternatively with gold, silver and precious stones, or wood, hay and stubble. In both cases the testing time came and in both cases the handiwork of the one who had built well stood the strain and emerged triumphantly, whilst that of the other suffered loss and destruction. Now the completion of our growth in love, the " making perfect" of that love, ensures that we will be able to stand in that day. It was because Jesus Himself was the supreme example of selfless love ‑ love for His Father, love for His brethren, love for the world ‑ that He was able to go to die on the cross and rise again triumphant on the third day. It was because He was the supreme example of selfless love that He went about during his lifetime doing good to all men, pouring out His life unto death. The incense of His offering ascended up to God a "sweet-smelling savour" and it was all love. Now, says John "as he is, so are we in this world ". Just as He was made perfect in love and in that perfection was completely acceptable to the Father and altogether triumphant over all that He suffered, so must we be if we are truly to "follow in his steps". We too are pouring out our lives unto death, we too are buried with Him by baptism into His death and are risen to walk with Him in newness of life that in due time we might triumphantly share in the glory of the First Resurrection. His love was made perfect and he had boldness in his day of judgment. We, if we would be like him, must follow the same path.
v.18 "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love."
'Torment' here is kolasin, to restrain, check, cut off, cut short. Are we not all witnesses to the truth of this word ? Fear does have a restraining effect; so many have refrained from entering the race for the prize of the High Calling on account of their fear of its implications, and they have been restrained thereby from ever entering in. The children of Israel in the wilderness feared the gigantic inhabitants of the land and their high-walled cities, and that fear caused them to forget or to ignore the promise of God that He would go before them and drive out their enemies. Their fear had torment; it restrained them from going forward and entering into the land of promise.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Rom. 8 that those who " walk after the Spirit" have been delivered from the spirit of bondage, which is fear, and have received instead the spirit of adoption which makes us aware of our sonship to God. We can cry to Him "Father" and know that it is no empty cry; we are indeed His sons. That consciousness of Divine sonship must therefore be synonymous with our being made perfect in love, for we are told here by John that he that feareth is not being made perfect in love. There is no room for fear in the Christian character; we can and must face all things in life with quiet confidence and absolute assurance that He who has called us and guided us hitherto will be our Leader and Guardian all the way until the end. "I am persuaded" cries Paul triumphantly "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." No room for fear there ! In these latter days when affairs in the world have come to a pass that strikes fear into the hearts of men, "men's hearts failing them for fear and for looking to the things that are coming upon the earth", it is good to realise that we who are being made perfect in love are thereby being freed from fear. We can with perfect confidence pursue our appointed way in life knowing that God is good and God is great, and that all things are working together for good to us, we who love God and are called according to His purpose.
Once more, as we thus ponder John's words, we are impressed with the fact that he perceives a veritable power in love. Love is no matter of sentiment to John, more than a comfortable and easy virtue whose only use is to act as a lubricant in human relations, smoothing and making easy the rough places of our contact with fellow-men. It is not just a pious adjunct to our worship, preparing for us our approach to God. Love is a dynamic that is capable of overthrowing every evil thing.
"Perfect love casteth out fear".
The word for 'casteth out' is exo balli; and that latter word gave its name in those early days to what was, in military circles, the then equivalent to our modern heavy artillery. The "ballista" was an engine of war designed something like a giant catapult, capable of hurling heavy stones and boulders long distances against enemy fortifications and city walls. (The 'engines', mentioned in 2 Chron. 26.15 as set by Uzziah on the wall of Jerusalem, were ballista.) Just as those ballista cast heavy rocks many hundreds of yards in a wide trajectory through the air to a great distance away, so, says John, does perfect love cast out fear, not removing it gently as it were to just one side, where its presence might still harass and obtrude, but far away whence it can never return. It is just at this point, where another facet of the many-sided jewel we are examining has been fully displayed to our gaze, that John, as is his wont, abruptly returns to the centre of his subject. " We love him" he remarks, " because he first loved us." (v.19). Each time that he has concluded one of his exhortations and one little section of Christian instruction he reminds us that all we have and the whole position in which we stand is in consequence of the love of God. We are naught of ourselves; we owe all to Him. "He first loved us." ! Let us never forget that sublime truth. It explains everything. It explains the entire plan of salvation, the mystery of the coming and death of Christ, the interval between that coming when He died, and the advent of the Kingdom to ensure, an interval devoted to our own calling and perfection, and it explains the Kingdom itself.
"He first loved us ! " Those four words stand as irrefutable evidence that God is working and will work to bring fallen man back to Himself, and will not cease working until the time has come that further effort is manifestly useless.
"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, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also." (vv.20-21.)
This is the end of John's dissertation on love. In chapter 5 he is going to talk about faith ‑ the faith that saves. In this chapter he has talked about the love that saves, love that commenced in God and is continued in us. In the perfecting of this love we are truly made in the image and likeness of God and as such can be received, at the end, into the very presence of God. But this very thought of being made in His image and likeness instantly brings to mind another question, intimately associated; what of our fellows, also destined to be perfected in that same image and likeness. Do we love them ?
If not, says John in effect, we are doing despite to the expressed purpose and intention of God and demonstrating that we have not as yet entered into an understanding of Divine love. If we claim to have this true, deep love for God and yet do not ourselves manifest the same feeling toward our brethren we are not speaking the truth; we are liars. It is quite impossible to hold and cherish true love for God without at the same time possessing and realising love for all that God has made. That does not involve any kind of sympathy with sin or endorsement of evil-doing, even as God's own love for man does not imply that. It does involve the same yearning desire that fills God's own heart for the reconciliation of all mankind and the perfecting of this earth to be their home. And it does also involve co-operation with God and willing service for Him to the extent He indicates is His will, in the work He is doing towards this end.
So the whole argument ends on this lofty note, a law which defines and limits the principles which should regulate our entire outward Christian life and activity. "That he who loveth God love his brother also." There is hardly need to elaborate that briefly eloquent word. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Each one of us is able to interpret those instructions in our individual cases and according to our individual circumstances. The manner in which they will be put into practice will of necessity differ with each one of us, but the underlying principle will always be the same. We shall be doing God's work in the world at this present time and we shall be progressing by sure stages to that mark of perfect love which will render us fitted in every respect for the still greater work of God in the coming Age.
(To be continued)