1 John Chapter 4: Test the Doctrines, False Prophets, Jesus’ Mission, Love

Feb 8th, 2010 | By | Category: 1st & 2nd & 3rd John, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1 John Chapter 4: Test the Doctrines, False Prophets, Jesus’ Mission, Love

1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

“Beloved, believe not every spirit [doctrine, teaching].” Every doctrine or message content that purports to be the truth is to be tested. What was John suggesting?

Comment: We are not to be blown about “with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).

Comment: We should not hastily accept a doctrine without first testing it with the Word of God. For example, the Bereans “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, [to see] whether those things were so” (Acts 17:10,11).

Reply: Yes, we should not be too naive with regard to what we hear that purports to be the truth and to explain about Jesus. The Bereans were good hearers, but then they chewed over what they had heard to sort it out and see if it squared with Scripture. To be a listener is a good quality. As the Apostle James said, “Be swift to hear, [and] slow to speak” (James 1:19). In other words, we should analyze what we hear.

Q: Although the context pertains to doctrine, does the word “spirits” refer to personalities too, especially since John said that “many false prophets are gone out into the world”?

A: Basically the word “spirits” pertains to doctrine, but it is like the word “conversation” in the King James, which we change to “conduct.” Therefore, it is helpful to think of “spirits” as being both the doctrine and the disposition, or character, of the one who is pronouncing the message. The false element professed to be prophets, taking the position that they were speaking the truth. However, the listener had to be cautious. Since John spoke so much about “love” in this epistle, we can add the thought of “conduct” as well. Thus the listener was to test the doctrine of the speaker and observe his character, conversation, and conduct to see if they squared with Scripture and the qualifications of a bona fide Christian. Both the doctrine and the spirit that accompanied the doctrine were to be tested. In fact, testing and careful consideration were essential “because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” We are not to be too trustful of what we hear and of what one professes to be.

Comment: Confirmation that the word “spirits” can mean “doctrines” is Revelation 16:13,14, “And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”

Reply: That application makes sense. Of course John saw the dramatization of three froglike creatures coming out of the mouth of the beast, the dragon, and the false prophet as an unholy spirit. (In contrast, a gentle dove came down and lighted on Jesus as a holy symbol.) The unclean froglike spirits will be boastful doctrines.

1 John 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

Now John gave the clue as to how to be discerning: “Hereby [we] know … the Spirit of God”; namely, “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” Those with John knew the meaning of the term “is come,” that is, that Jesus had a preexistence, that he is the Son of God. Formerly he was with God, but he came down here and was made flesh,real humanity. John was not saying merely that Jesus “is come” from the womb of Mary but that he “is come” from God. Jesus’ preexistence is a key feature to help us know the fallacy of the other doctrines that Jesus was just a man. Such a belief vitiates the true meaning of his coming.

John was so familiar with Jesus that he actually used Jesus’ vocabulary. Reading John’s epistles is almost like reading some of Jesus’ sermons in the Gospels. However, John purposely used the term “Son of God,” not “Son of man,” meaning “[the] Son of [the] man [Adam].”

Comment: When Jesus used the term “Son of man,” he was laying the groundwork for the doctrine of the Ransom. He came to earth in the flesh so that he could be the “propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:2). The only way he could be a corresponding price for Adam was to come as a perfect human man—as Adam was before he sinned.

Reply: The Gospels bring out the ransom aspect with the term “Son of man.” However, John intentionally used “Son of God” in this epistle because a new doctrine had come in that taught Jesus was the “Son of man” but omitted the preexistent “Son of God” aspect. Therefore, one way of determining whether a doctrine was true or false was to ask, “Do you believe in Jesus’ preexistence?” Of course those who believe that Jesus is half God and half man would say they believe in a preexistence, so the error of the Trinity would be treated another way.

Comment: To Peter’s response “Thou art the Christ,” Jesus said, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed it [this truth] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:16,17).

Reply: The Holy Spirit teaches us such miraculous knowledge, as implied by John when he said, “No one else need teach you that the Lord has been dealing with you, for you know from personal experience the miracle that was involved with your consecration and the change that occurred in your life” (1 John 2:20,21 paraphrase). Afterward, however, we realize there are both true and false teachers.

If we think of Jesus’ preexistence, then the love involved in his coming here to earth and dying on the Cross is more evident than if we think of him as just a man. If Jesus was previously the “Son of God,” then he left a glory level, humbled himself, and came down here to teach some of humanity about his Father. Thus the phrase “is come” ties in with the love theme of John.

Both the love of Jesus in coming to earth and the love of the Father in sending him are seen. John’s contribution was to emphasize the “Son of God” standpoint. Matthew wrote his Gospel first, particularly for the benefit of the Jews. Then Mark came along and abbreviated Matthew’s Gospel to appeal to a Roman audience. Subsequently, Luke, who was more interested in the Greeks, wrote his Gospel. Finally, John wrote his Gospel, feeling there was more to add.

“Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” It does not make sense to say that Jesus is half God and half man and then to also say that he came from God and was made flesh. The reasoning simply does not jibe. Thus a litmus test for a true teaching was the confession that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” The test seems simple enough, but flesh and blood does not reveal that Jesus is the Christ. That understanding is supernatural, for Satan will put any other teaching ahead of Jesus’ being the only way, the Head. Satan distracts from this truth with antichrist teachings. Incidentally, this simple test was sufficient in John’s day. Now, with the development of the doctrine of the Trinity by the Adversary, more knowledge is needed.

1 John 4:3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Verse 3 makes the same statement as verse 2, but from a negative standpoint. A worldly spirit is of Satan. The teaching of “antichrist,” which led to Papacy, is that Jesus did not come in the flesh. The seed, or “mystery of iniquity,” was already working, but it did not develop until later.

John continued to point to some who were erroneously teaching that Jesus did not have a preexistence. They also taught that he was half God and half man, the expression being “God incarnate,” “God in the flesh.” However, Jesus is not God in the flesh but the Son in the flesh.

Once Jesus is recognized as a separate individual, it can be seen that when he was down here, he was to be considered a perfect man. He left a spirit condition and became a human condition.

Those who do not acknowledge this truth are off base right away. Jesus came to this planet as a human being. A wrong teaching in John’s day was that Jesus only seemed to appear and die but did not actually do so. Today’s erroneous version is that Jesus was God incarnate.

John was giving a little clue here in verse 3, among a number of clues both before and after, as to how to identify the distinction between a false and a true prophet. Earlier he zeroed in from the standpoint of Jesus’ statement that we know whether a “tree,” a person, is true or false by the fruit, which is either good or evil (Matt. 7:15-19). The Apostle James added that a spring is either bitter or sweet, for it cannot be both (James 3:11). Therefore, if a person is professing to be pure and sweet but is actually impure in conduct, we know it is not safe to drink from that well or to partake of the fruit of that tree. Consistency in the vessel is important—a mixture is wrong. The mystical aspect seems to have great appeal to humanity, who like teachings to be mysterious and nebulous so that they can manipulate the thoughts to their own liking. The human mind likes to be inventive, whereas truth is truth.

“Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist.” John added, “Ye have heard that it [the spirit of antichrist] should come; and even now already is it in the world.” Where did early Christians hear this warning?

Comment: The Apostle Paul said, “The mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thess. 2:7).

Reply: While John is the only apostle to use the term “antichrist,” Paul referred to it with other expressions or synonyms. “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is [a] God” (2 Thess. 2:3,4). The “Antichrist” is not God, but he presumes to be and thus is like a pseudo-Christ. The very title of the pope, the head of the Papacy, is “Vicegerent of Christ,” with the Latin Vicarius Filii Dei being on the papal crown. The word “vicar” means “substitute.” Hence the pope is thought to be in place of Christ as his representative.

John’s followers knew that he was referring back to what they had historically learned through Paul’s ministry. John was saying that the doctrine, or “spirit,” of antichrist was already in the world. (The man-child had not been born yet or ascended to the throne in the false millennium, but the “spirit of antichrist” existed.)

There are several things to notice about John and James. For one thing, the plan of God is not seen in their epistles. John wrote on love, hate, antichrist, false brethren, and dangerous situations but not on God’s plan of the ages. Only in his Gospel is there a hint along that line.

He was looking for Christians, not for people who would entertain the hope of restitution.

However, Paul, unlike the other apostles, discussed the whole counsel of God. He talked about the Kingdom, restitution, the ransom price, the covenants, how the Christian should live, etc.

When we read the Gospels, we think of the individual, his background, and what he was trying to emphasize. For example, John was a “son of thunder.” In this first epistle, his type of ministry was quite different, for he taught that God’s children are products of love; that is, they manifest love versus hate. Now, in verse 3, he was saying that the doctrine of antichrist, which did not square with the teaching of Scripture, was already in the world.

Q: Does John’s teaching mean that those who believe in the Trinity, even though they are good Christians otherwise, cannot have the Holy Spirit?

A: No. Bro. Norby once gave a talk about the survival of the Christian in the Dark Ages when barley proliferated instead of wheat (Rev. 6:6). As an illustration, he said that sometimes it isn’t how much a person knows but how much the individual makes of what little he knows. He then gave an analytical report of earth’s atmosphere with the percentages of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, etc., and he showed that oxygen was only a relatively small portion of the atmosphere, yet oxygen gives life. Moreover, if the other elements are separated out, they are death-dealing.

Spiritually speaking, the little amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is what the Christian absorbed and survived on during the Dark Ages. Therefore, in the period of the teaching of erroneous doctrines like the Trinity and hellfire, the Lord miraculously developed those who were in the church systems. Also, since they were not called to come out of mystic Babylon at that time, Jesus did not separate the wheat from the tares but let both grow together until the Harvest at the end of the age (Matt. 13:30). Thus true Christians were in the confused bundle, but just because they were members of the nominal Church does not mean they believed in every doctrine that was promulgated. By extracting those teachings which they considered helpful in trying to please God, they survived on a minimal amount of truth.

The nominal system committed many atrocities but could not quench the spirit and joy of the truth. The crumbs of truth in the Dark Ages brought such joy to Christians who hungered for God that they survived.

1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them [the false prophets and their wrong teachings].” A separation had already taken place. These disciples, the “little children,” had made the right choice in this decision not to follow Satan and his proponents. The reason for the overcoming is that God is greater than the Adversary, the “god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4). Only with God’s help do we understand and overcome.

In the Ephesus stage of the Church, Peter and Paul pointed out false teachers by name. In the Smyrna period, John pointed out Diotrephes (3 John 9). The Greek word for “little children” is teknion, indicating that John was referring to all whom he was addressing—from old-timers in Christ to babes.

1 John 4:5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

Similar situations exist today. Congregations numbering in the thousands listen to ministers preach messages of no content, yet the people are happy to be members of those churches.

Obviously, Satan, the god of this world, has blinded the people. Bro. Krebbs used to say, “The miracle is not how little truth others have; the miracle is that we know the truth.” We have been taken out of darkness into sharp light.

False prophets are popular because they have the vocabulary, character, thinking, and manner of the world. They cater to the flesh, preaching what the world wants to hear. Those who have the spirit of the world have the spirit of the Adversary. Such individuals either never consecrated or consecrated and lost their Spirit begettal through worldliness. Teachers of error are more popular than proponents of truth.

Comment: Some religious leaders speak habitually on political and social issues—worldly subjects.

Reply: That is true, yet they take the title “Reverend.” Very little Scripture is preached.

1 John 4:6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

Knowing God and the “spirit of truth” is difficult to define. We sing the words of the hymn “I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true.” John’s reasoning made sense to those on his wavelength who were famished for the Word of God and truth. They knew that the doctrine they had was of God; they could distinguish between truth and error and between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Comment: Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Comment: A corresponding Scripture is 1 Corinthians 2:11, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”

Reply: The “things of God” are spiritually discerned; i.e., they are discerned by the Holy Spirit. Basic principles of truth are stated here. Incidentally, axioms are statements of truth that are of practical reality.

1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God.” Yes, God is love, and love is of God.

“Every one that loveth is born [or begotten] of God, and knoweth God.” In John’s day, the Christian religion was only a small fragment of the whole. A comparable situation today is Turkey, where only 2 percent of the population is supposedly Christian, and 98 percent is Muslim. The same situation existed in the second stage of the Church. While the Church was growing in numbers to a certain extent, it was pitifully small compared to the population as a whole. Asian doctrines, Greek philosophies, and the Roman religion of the state predominated, so just to be a Christian right away marked one as a distinct minority. With the vast majority being adherents of pagan religions, it was easy to see the difference, but what concerned John were those who professed to believe in Jesus yet did not accept everything he said and did.

Instead they skewed Jesus’ teachings to suit their own ends. Thus John and his disciples were a minority of a minority. Fear, vengeance, and justice were the primary teachings of the Asian religions at that time. The doctrine of love was something new that had come into the world with the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Today conditions are different, for “love” is taught everywhere, and it is popular to be a Christian. John said, “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God,” and many in our day who are not begotten of God would agree with this statement. They have never made a formal contract to be a follower of Jesus or denied self and laid their little all on the altar to do God’s will. Many casually say, “I am a Christian,” but when John wrote this epistle, his words were very meaningful. Conditions will change when the world enters the Time of Trouble. At that time, the veneer of Christianity will wear off, and hatred, selfishness, and fighting will be so severe that only those who are truly begotten of God will have love. The point is that we cannot use John’s expression today and say that everyone who loveth is begotten of God— unless that statement is qualified as follows. “Every one that loveth [as God loveth] is born [begotten] of God, and knoweth God.” In our day, John’s simple slogan cannot mark the difference between a false prophet and a true prophet, between those who are begotten of God and those who are not. In John’s day, the ones who taught error did not have a loving attitude. They manifested hate and a bitterness, and pride was very evident.

The veneer of today’s society is very deceptive. It is thought that if one says grace at the table and does good, he is a Christian. However, those characteristics may or may not be an indication of godliness. A manner of self-righteousness can deceive. God is not interested in perfunctory worship. Although John’s slogan is not applicable at present, it may be pertinent again as world conditions change.

1 John 4:8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Verse 8, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love,” is the same as verse 7 except that it is stated negatively. Here again is a litmus test; namely, those who possess love are of God. Since the opposite of love is hatred, those who manifest a hateful attitude are of the Adversary. The spirits of hatred, error, and worldliness are all of the Adversary. Bitterness, malice, and hatred manifested constantly are bad indications. However, there are occasions when anger should be manifested—but not as a general, prevailing attitude.

1 John 4:9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

“God sent his only begotten Son into the world.” John was talking about “the Son of God.” “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (1 John 4:2).

“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” John was not speaking about restitution. The aged John, who was more than 100 years old, was saying, “My beloved brethren and dear children, God has favored us that we might get life through the Son. Jesus is the manifestation of the Father’s love toward us.”

The thrust of John’s teaching was Jesus’ coming in the flesh and the doctrine of love. These are understood by knowing about and believing in Jesus’ preexistent state. John was saying, “He who had a preexistence—the only begotten Son of God—has come down here. Everyone knows he was crucified, and his dying for us is the evidence of his love. God foreknew Jesus would be faithful to the ignominious death on the Cross that we might have life through him.”

Comment: John’s speaking of the “love of God toward us” helps us to identify what agape love is. Seeing what God did for us in sending Jesus out of agape love helps us to understand how we can have agape love for others. If God first loved us, then we ought to have that same kind of love for one another.

These verses show how to discern between truth and error, between love and hatred. God was concerned for us and for the world while all were yet in sin, and He made preparations accordingly. We, too, should be concerned with the eternal destiny of individuals. We should think of their long-term salvation, which will be life or death. Hopefully, we (and others) will live through Jesus.

1 John 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” In other words, Jesus died; he laid down his life for us. Who were his companions? They were those who loved God and wanted to know Him better. Accordingly, they sacrificed; they forgot home and background and followed Jesus. That is the kind of love God is looking for and has manifested through the Son. The best example of a Godlike person and having God’s love is Jesus.

The ability to discern between right and wrong is based on our receiving help from God. We need His help because Satan would be superior to us without the Heavenly Father’s help. We should beware that we do not love more than God. The false element said they knew God and did not sin, but John said they did not know God. It is important to feel the need to be forgiven. Hence we should always remember our need to depend on Jesus for forgiveness and on God as the Author of salvation.

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

In John’s day, it was very obvious who the loving brethren were. If God “so loved” us, we should “so love” the consecrated—but on God’s terms. We should try to copy God on every matter. It is often helpful to ask, What would the Heavenly Father do in such and such a situation? We should look for scriptural precedents to determine a course of action.

1 John 4:12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

Q: Why did John introduce into this context the thought that “no man hath seen God at any time”?

Comment: John seemed to be emphasizing, “Do not expect to literally see God at any time. The closest you will come to seeing Him is a manifestation of Godlike love—first in Jesus and then among one another.”

Reply: Yes, the Father was personified in the Son, and the Son had been seen by John and others. By perceiving Jesus’ walk in life at the First Advent, as well as his teachings, the Christian knows what God must be like without having to see Him. In his Gospel, the same apostle said, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). A manifestation of what God is like is only perceived through the Son and his manner of life.

Comment: Paul said that “no man hath seen, nor can see” God (1 Tim. 6:16).

Comment: God said to Moses at the time of the Exodus, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exod. 33:20).

Reply: Yes, God spoke to Moses “face to face” in a modified sense (Exod. 33:11). Moses did not literally behold God but was a “friend.”

John said that a manifestation of our love for God is to obey His commandments (1 John 5:3).

Many people use words loosely and emotionally, but true love for God is shown by obedience.

Comment: God’s agape “love is perfected in us.”

Reply: Agape is the Greek word used for “love” most of the time. When brotherly love is intended, even the English usually reflects that sense.

1 John 4:13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

“Hereby know we that we dwell in him [God] … because he hath given us of his Spirit.” What is the thought of “Spirit” here? Earlier John said we are to “try the spirits,” meaning we are to analyze doctrine and teachings. Now he seemed to be including the thought of love as well as doctrine. In other words, we know that we are dwelling in God, and He in us, because He has given us of His disposition of love and the ability to test doctrine. If we have Godlike love for the brethren in the sense that the Scriptures teach, that is an evidence we love God. In addition, to have correct doctrinal understanding is miraculous. For example, John was not talking about disposition in verse 15, which reads, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God,” but was referring to a miraculous revealment of who Jesus really is, what he stands for, what his background is, etc.—all of which pertain to knowledge.

Thus John used the word “Spirit” to embrace both thoughts. The loving disposition of God is seen in Jesus, who is the propitiation for our sins. God is merciful toward the sinner who is in a repentant attitude and especially toward those who have already taken the step of consecration, desiring that they do not backslide.

Faith is a factor. We are to realize God’s interest in us by the spiritual rewards He gives us. As we overcome and obey Scripture, we should proportionately feel, by faith, that we are pleasing Him.

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

Calling Jesus the “Saviour of the world” reminds us of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Nevertheless, John’s thrust was not on restitution in this first epistle. His theme was more that God is calling a Bride class and that the present age is the time of opportunity. He emphasized the here-and-now opportunity of God’s manifestation of love to whoever has a hearing ear. Based on other Scriptures and Old Testament pictures, we see that God’s love for the world is not merely the current seeking of the Bride class but also the golden age of opportunity for all mankind in the Kingdom Age. Jesus gave his life for the “treasure hid in a field [the world],” but to get that treasure, he had to buy the field (Matt. 13:44).

Comment: The fact that the Father sent the Son shows they are separate entities, not part of a Triune God.

Again John seemed to contradict himself in saying, “We have seen … that the Father sent the Son.” (At the end of the age, many of John’s statements will be used against us to supposedly prove the Trinity.) One might ask, “If no man has seen God, why did John say that we have seen the Father?” We would reply, “We have not literally seen God, but we have experienced the next best thing by seeing Jesus, reading the Word, and receiving the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we have ‘seen’ God in fellowship and communion.” John expressed things in an Asian style; hence we cannot take an isolated statement but must compare many statements in order to extract the sense. With familiarity with Scripture, we should be able, as we mature, to see the distinction between the exception and the general rule. To blur that distinction distorts our spiritual vision.

1 John 4:15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

Verse 15 is a follow-up to the statement in verse 14 that the Father sent the Son, which is a proof of Jesus’ preexistence. The false element understood that a man called Jesus lived, but they questioned the thought that he had a preexistence. Of the many pagan doctrines back there, several of them taught that Jesus did not have a preexistence. Others felt that he had a preexistence but in a minor capacity. John’s reasoning gave meaning to the importance of the doctrine that Jesus partook of the human seed.

Verse 15 is another test: We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God. He is the only way to salvation. We must recognize Jesus to start with, but much more is needed for salvation. John gave this test to help us know we are in the right way, but we must progress.

Comment: Jesus said, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).

Reply: Yes, we can see the unseen Father through the Son and his instructions and counsel.

1 John 4:16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

There is no question that John was emphasizing the theme of love, but it is equated with Godlike love. It was as if John were teaching a class. He repeated and repeated to deepen impression. Not vain, this repetition was given for our edification and instruction.

1 John 4:17 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.

Verse 17 is somewhat of a summation. The Apostle Paul expressed this same thought another way; namely, he was striving to have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward man and to obtain love (Acts 24:16; 1 Tim. 1:5).

Q: Does verse 17 have an application to the individual day of judgment for each Christian rather than to the dispensational aspect? All Christians have severe trials, and we hope to develop sufficiently so that we will faithfully stand when a severe trial comes.

A: Yes, each Christian is before the judgment seat of Christ in the present life. From one standpoint, we are on trial for life throughout our consecration, but John was especially referring to an end trial (as well as to any severe experience along the way). The hope is to have boldness in such times based on past obedience. The book is closed in regard to a Christian when he finishes his earthly course. If we are faithful “unto death,” we will get a crown of life (Rev. 2:10). When death closes the door, we can do nothing more. Then comes the verdict.

Verse 17 is a very comforting statement, for in a trial, we need confidence and assurance that we can speak properly. If we obey God and please Him with relative consistency, we can trust that He will sustain us.

The following commentary was given in the 1982-1983 study:

“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” What “judgment”? The reference is to our individual day of judgment or day of special trial. This statement is a general rule, for some, for example, die suddenly of a heart attack and thus cannot offer last prayers and thoughts. John’s comforting statement was very much needed. For instance, suppose we are brought up for trial and probable execution. When we are under fire, we want to be humble but to have some assurance. Of course we need God’s grace at that time, but if we have obeyed God in the present life, we have a basis for assurance. If we do the things that please Him with relative consistency, we have relative assurance that we are pleasing Him. Consequently, when we come up against a severe situation where our very faith is being tested, we have a backlog that is helpful. In other words, following John’s advice in these matters will be helpful if a circumstance should arise where, as individuals, we are under special strain at the conclusion of our ministry.

In principle, we are before the judgment seat of Christ during our entire consecrated life. From one standpoint, we are under constant scrutiny from the time we consecrate until the moment of death, but we think that in this case, John was referring to the end of our career—to those who are in a final experience where their faith is being tested very severely. Nevertheless, that principle also applies throughout our consecrated life and through different experiences, for there are multiple periods in our Christian walk when we have severe tests. With any one of those crises, we could have “boldness in the day of judgment.” Thus the principle applies three ways: (1) from the time we consecrate, (2) in the final experience at our death, or (3) in crucial experiences and trials during our walk.

In summary, we think John was referring to the end, to such as have this experience and have a moment to contemplate. But that does not mean there will not be mixed experiences, for Jesus himself had ups and downs at the end of his life. Finally, however, when he went over the threshold of death, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He had some assurance from the Father in that very last moment, but previously, he went through a very severe trial.

“As he [Jesus] is, so are we in this world.” Since the Christian experience is progressive, we do not just say “love, love, love” but have to be as he was in the world. In other words, we have to look at our Master to see what and how he did things in order to properly copy him in our lifestyle.

1 John 4:18 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.

Verse 18 brings in the thought of “fear,” for the false prophets felt that reverence for God was based on the Christian’s cultivating an attitude of fear. All of the pagan religions taught fear.

Their doctrines taught that if a person cut his flesh, denied himself food, slept on a cold floor, etc., he would appease God. From that standpoint, where one stood with God depended on how one mortified the flesh.

There were two erroneous schools of thought at this time: (1) mortification of the flesh and (2) revelry in the flesh. With the latter philosophy, it was felt that a person should experience all of the illicit pleasures of life so that he could speak with understanding. How absurd! On the other hand, the ascetics tried to please God through fear, believing that the more suffering they endured, the more likely God was to have some mercy on them when they died.

John was saying that worshipping through fear does not develop the fruits of the Spirit the Lord is looking for. Although fear can be a constructive watchdog for the Christian, it is one thing for a watchdog to warn us when we are in danger, and it is another thing when the watchdog barks all the time. We cannot develop under the latter condition, but a watchdog that barks when we are in danger is an asset. Continual barking would get on our nerves and keep us from growing. This theme of continual fear inhibits spiritual growth and development and our love for one another.

Some brethren have confidently quoted verse 18 in testimony meetings, saying they have “no fear in love,” but as far as serious development is concerned, it will be very embarrassing if they do not attain what they are so confident in. Some of us are extroverts by nature, and some are introverts. Both characteristics can be harmful if carried to the extreme. An extreme introvert is overwhelmed by despondency and discouragement, which are tools of the Adversary. An extreme extrovert exhibits such euphoria and overconfidence that he does not see things rationally and realistically.

Comment: A way to refute overconfidence about having no fear is to ask the person, “Didn’t Jesus experience fear in the Garden of Gethsemane?”

Reply: That is true, for Jesus had perfect love, yet he feared at that time.

Comment: Solomon wrote in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.”

Q: The word “perfect” means “complete,” so wouldn’t the ultimate goal be to have no fear? With complete, total, mature love, there would be no fear. We are reaching for that goal, even if we can never fully attain it in the present life. John was continuing his definition of love, covering different aspects of the subject. In verse 17, he said that a boldness comes with love.

Therefore, when we have difficult trials, fear should not be part of our love. Rather, the perfect goal would be to have enough confidence and faith.

A: The point is, What is “perfect love”? Some may think they have perfect love and no fear, yet they are not good examples. Those who are outgoing by nature are prone to have no fear, and those who are introverts are prone to have fear. Verse 18 does not say that the ones who have no fear are the only ones who will please God on the highest plane. There is a lot to life. Life is made up of millions of seconds of conduct, and Christians have mood swings, up and down, up and down, throughout their walk. Thus we cannot take verse 18 and say that when we get perfect love, we will have no mood swings. Some brethren have burned themselves out, but while they were in the way, they were very confident.

Comment: For any one of us to say we have no fear seems like a foolish statement because we have not experienced all things. Until we are in a certain situation, we do not know how we will react.

Reply: We do not see how those who worship God in constant fear could develop to be of the Little Flock class. The Great Company class remain faithful and get life, but they fear death and are in bondage all their lifetime (Heb. 2:15). Nevertheless, God has mercy on them.

The point is that verse 18 does not say that in no circumstance does a person with “perfect love” not have a moment of fear. Such a statement would be untrue. Incidentally, a person’s emotions on his deathbed are not a true indicator of his eternal destiny. The litmus test is a person’s overall life.

The following commentary was given in the 1982-1983 study:

The understanding of verse 18 is crucial. “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.” For John to say, “There is no fear in love,” the question would be, What kind of “fear” was John speaking of?

The Word of God teaches that fear is proper, so how do we harmonize the two thoughts?

Those who fear and tremble at God’s Word are His “jewels”; that is, they fear to displease God, but they also tremble at His Word, for it is meaningful to them (Mal. 3:16,17). We are also told to “fear God” and to honor the King (1 Pet. 2:17). “Perfect love” would not cast out this kind of fear in any sense. Therefore, we have to modify John’s statement here in verse 18.

A testimony was given some years ago in which the person said, “I have no fear of God—none whatsoever. He is our Father.” That was a scary testimony. Probably the person did not realize what was being said, for to have that kind of confidence would mean the individual was like the Apostle Paul. We believe the individual had the wrong concept because God teaches us to have fear along certain lines. This example shows why we have to be very careful with John’s writings, for he had specific conditions in mind in his day.

Back to the earlier question. What did John mean when he said, “There is no fear in love”?

Whatever kind of fear he was talking about, there could be none of it in love. Certainly he was not speaking of the reverential fear of God. Another kind of fear is a bondage that is slavish and paralyzing. It is the fear of man, the fear of an organization, and the fear of what friends or others might think. We want to obey God, so the fear of man has no place in our life. The fear (or reverence) of God, the fear of displeasing Him, should motivate us and be uppermost in our mind because the other—that which is of man—is very dangerous, for it is predicated upon pleasing the flesh. And that is what happened in John’s day. Those who left him were false prophets, who judged the brethren and made bold assertions that caused those of a humble disposition to question their stand. What John wrote gives some indication of what the others said, did, and thought.

“Fear hath torment.” If we know we are pleasing God by doing what He wants us to do, we have no fear of man or of what others might think. If we love God supremely and desire His fellowship and approval, then when we take a stand for principle, what others think should be immaterial to us. The ideal (or perfect) love, for which we all strive, is not to waver. The desire to grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ is the goal we are running for. To be Godlike, to have His love, and to have the love of Christ and his fellowship are our objective.

In running a race, we become distracted if we think of the next fellow, and we may lose the race. Many who excel in whatever they do—in mathematics, sports, etc.—need complete concentration on their objective. Paul said, “This one thing I do” (Phil. 3:13). He also said, “I therefore so run,” indicating he was running all out for the prize (1 Cor. 9:26).

1 John 4:19 We love him, because he first loved us.

1 John 4:20 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?

John mentioned love and hate frequently in this epistle, and “hate” truly meant hate, not “love less.” Back in John’s day, some in the brotherhood really hated other Christians and openly manifested the hatred in their deeds; that is, their works betrayed them.

We have to continually modify many of John’s statements and consider them contextually and from the standpoint of conditions in his day. The pendulum keeps swinging. Today in the minds of many, “gushy” love covers everything, whereas John was counteracting puritanical ideas and open hatred. This epistle has been important all down the Gospel Age in helping Christians to recognize a wrong spirit when circumstances arise that manifest a heart attitude of malice and bitterness.

1 John 4:21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Although verse 21 is true as a general statement, there are rare occasions when we have to make a discrimination. However, John was not using the exceptions because in the day in which he wrote, it was very apparent whom he was talking about.

Q: Can we say that as long as someone is still our brother, it would be wrong to hate him?

A: John also wrote, “There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it” (1 John 5:16). At that point, the individual is no longer our brother, although he may feel that he is and is still in our presence. For example, many years ago I unknowingly had private studies with some Universal Salvationists. When the fact was brought to my attention, I immediately said, “I can no longer call you ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ if you continue with that view.” Of course as Universal Salvationists, they were all for “love.” Then I formed questions that forced them to say they believed Satan would be saved. I pointed out that Satan is the enemy of God and said that if they held to that view, they were my enemy as well. Many brethren would not act with such strength, but that doctrine is being more loving than God. It was not a good atmosphere to meet in.

Comment: If the person really is a “brother,” there are no exceptions to the wording of verses 20 and 21 as stated. Some individuals may think they are brothers, but if in reality they are not because of serious error in doctrine or morals, we would not regard them as such (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9).

Comment: If there are some who, according to our understanding of Scripture, have violated the Word of God by their actions, then according to conscience, we would have to exercise some reserve.

Reply: Yes, that is true. We have a higher regard for those who we feel are walking closer to God. Thus there are degrees, or levels, of love, and even though we still recognize that they are brothers—as long as nothing questions the bottom line—we can have reservations. For example, the Scriptures say that if someone comes into our midst who does not work, we should not give him the hand of fellowship (2 Thess. 3:11-15). Our action does not mean we do not love him. Rather, we are thinking of his long-term salvation.

Comment: Stated another way, agape love does not have to be accompanied by phileo love. We can love a person in spite of his attitudes and behavior.

(1997 Study with Excerpts from 1982-1983 Study)

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