1 John 4 - Perfect Love Casts Out Fear

INTRODUCTION: In this chapter John for the first time in his letter writes about false prophets (pseudoprophetes) who very seriously pervert the Word of God. They were around even before the appearance of Christ in the flesh, and they always lead people away from Christ because their prophecies are not given to them by the Word of the LORD. John revisits the subject of Antichrist that he introduced in chapter two (antichristos in the Greek), and he gives an even more definitive means of identifying those who oppose the true message about the Lord. But John also comforts the Christian with the reassuring truth that "greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world." Love is a topic woven throughout John's letter, but chapter four has twelve of the twenty-six references to love. And there is a special phrase in this chapter that I chose as the title for this study because it provides blessed hope for Christians.

NOTE: All Bible passages are taken from the World English Bible [WEB].


A - TEST THE SPIRITS

1 John 4:1-3 "Beloved, don't believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit who doesn't confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God, and this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of whom you have heard that it comes. Now it is in the world already."

COMMENTS: John addresses Christians with the term beloved, and warns them not to believe everything they hear that is presented as spiritual truth. Those who belong to Christ must put to the test the motivating thoughts and purposes behind the message, of those who will try to influence beliefs about Christ. False prophets and Antichrists are present in the world and are distorting the truth of the gospel of salvation. There is no more dangerous threat, since a false gospel cannot provide eternal life to anyone.

John's statement that many false prophets are in the world is in agreement with the words of the Lord as he used a metaphor to emphasize the threat for loss of life. Matthew 7:15 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves."

The apostle Peter in his letter agrees with John about the false prophets, as he also clarifies that God's truth must first come by the power of the Holy Spirit as is the case with all scripture. 2 Peter 1:20-2:2 "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit. But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. Many will follow their immoral ways, and as a result, the way of the truth will be maligned."

John provides the key for testing the spirits as he says that the Antichrists (antichristos) will deny that Jesus has come in the flesh. We can then add this to the previous truth that John had provided in chapter two when he said, "22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the Antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son, the same doesn't have the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Therefore, as for you, let that remain in you which you heard from the beginning. If that which you heard from the beginning remains in you, you also will remain in the Son, and in the Father. 25 This is the promise which he promised us, the eternal life."

Eternal life is in the Father and the Son because Jesus is the Christ, and from Deuteronomy and Mark, we have this truth "the LORD our God is one Lord." Though it may puzzle human reasoning, Christians accept the truth of scripture that Jesus was made flesh as a man, but also one with God the Father. John 1:14 "The Word became flesh, and lived among us. We saw his glory, such glory as of the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth."

The activity of false prophets was in Israel before the final fall of the southern kingdom into Babylonian captivity, and before the Lord Jesus came into the world. John's letter shows that false prophets were present after the Lord's resurrection, and apparently they will continue to be present in the world until the Lord returns to establish the kingdom of God. Two Old Testament passages give evidence of such false prophets and the great loss they brought on themselves and any who followed them. Lamentations 2:14 "Your prophets have seen for you false and foolish visions; They have not uncovered your iniquity, to bring back your captivity, but have seen for you false oracles and causes of banishment."

In all generations We need to have the truth from God because his truth will set us free. No matter how convincing the statements of a false prophet may be, those people are only lost in their own delusions. Ezekiel 13:3 "Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Woe to the foolish prophets, who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!" John writes about the definitive end of the line of false prophets in Revelation 20:10 "The devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet are also. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever."


B - GREATER IS HE WHO IS IN YOU, THAN HE WHO IS IN THE WORLD

1 John 4:4-6 "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God listens to us. He who is not of God doesn't listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error."

COMMENTS: John gives further explanation of the spirit of motivation that drives those who are of Christ, and those who are still of the world. John made this statement in chapter three, "24 He who keeps his commandments remains in him, and he in him. By this we know that he remains in us, by the Spirit which he gave us." That spirit of Christ in the believer is greater than the opposing spirit that is in those who are still of the world. Those who will not hear and accept the words recorded in scripture from the apostles and prophets of Christ, and even those words of the Savior, are following the spirit of error. Do not be surprised if large numbers of people follow false teaching because John says the world will accept that which is of the world, and reject that which is of God. Conversely, those who are of God will desire to learn and share the Word of God.

Jesus said this in Matthew 11:25 "At that time, Jesus answered, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to infants." Peter makes contrast between the glory of man and the Word of the Lord, and points the believer to the source to begin spiritual growth. "For, "All flesh is like grass, and all of man's glory like the flower in the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls; but the Lord's word endures forever." This is the word of Good News which was preached to you. Putting away therefore all wickedness, all deceit, hypocrisies, envies, and all evil speaking, as newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious:" (1 Peter 1:24-2:3).

Paul writes that continued growth must be dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit active in the believer to develop the wisdom from God not the wisdom of men. "When I came to you, brothers, I didn't come with excellence of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith wouldn't stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. We speak wisdom, however, among those who are full grown; yet a wisdom not of this world, nor of the rulers of this world, who are coming to nothing. But we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory, which none of the rulers of this world has known. For had they known it, they wouldn't have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Corinthians 2:1-8).

Christians need to continue to grow through the word of God because there will be challenges to the true faith. Paul is a little more verbose than John when he addresses a subject. "that we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love. This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts; who having become callous gave themselves up to lust, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you did not learn Christ that way; if indeed you heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus: that you put away, as concerning your former way of life, the old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit; and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, who in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." (Ephesians 4:14-24).


C - LOVE IS OF GOD AND WE SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER

1 John 4:8-13 "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who doesn't love doesn't know God, for God is love. By this God's love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we remain in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit."

COMMENTS: John urges Christians to actively show their love for each other as a response to the great love shown by God when he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. God took the initiative to love us before we loved him as he sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and surely this should be an example for us to take opportunities to initiate demonstrations of love to others. Though we have not seen God, we know that his love remains in us because he has given us of his Spirit. That Spirit should then produce characteristics within us that would reflect the manner of Christ's love even toward those who are least in the kingdom of God. We do that not by our own strength, and certainly not for credit to ourselves, but that all glory will go to the Lord.


D - THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD

1 John 4:14-16 "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him, and he in God. We know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and he who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him."

COMMENTS: John underscores the absolute necessity of confession of faith in Christ Jesus as the Son of God. Paul certainly was in agreement with John as he wrote to the church at Rome, "that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, "Whoever believes in him will not be disappointed."" (Romans 10:9-11). The scripture passage Paul makes reference to is in Isaiah 8:14. And Isaiah makes it very clear in another passage that God is the Savior, and there is none else! "Declare and present it. Yes, let them take counsel together. Who has shown this from ancient time? Who has declared it of old? Haven't I, Yahweh? There is no other God besides me, a just God and a Saviour; There is no one besides me. Look to me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by myself, the word has gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and will not return, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath." (Isaiah 45:21-23).

Mary knew that her Savior is God. "Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for he has looked at the humble state of his handmaid. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed. For he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. His mercy is for generations of generations on those who fear him." (Luke 1:46-50). Jude provides a very appropriate verse to close this section. Jude 1:25 "to God our Saviour, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."


E - IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT, PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT FEAR

1 John 4:17-21 "In this love has been made perfect among 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 casts out fear, because fear has punishment. He who fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who doesn't love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? This commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should also love his brother."

COMMENTS: The phrase "made perfect" above is the same in the Greek as the "perfected" in chapter two of this letter representing God's love being completed or fulfilled in the Christian, "5 But whoever keeps his word, God's love has most certainly been perfected in him. This is how we know that we are in him:" Therefore, our boldness as Christians is because we have Christ Jesus as our great high priest to represent us before the LORD God. Those who have this high priest also have a responsibility to encourage each other to love and good works. "Having therefore, brothers, boldness to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the way which he dedicated for us, a new and living way, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having a great priest over the house of God, let's draw near with a true heart in fulness of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and having our body washed with pure water, let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for he who promised is faithful. Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good works, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the custom of some is, but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:19-25).

We would do well to take note of those characteristics John has brought to our attention with the phrase "as he is," in this chapter and in previous chapters. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7). "Beloved, now we are children of God, and it is not yet revealed what we will be. But we know that, when he is revealed, we will be like him; for we will see him just as he is. Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3). "Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous." (1 John 3:7).

The foolish ones who reject Christ Jesus have not accepted the fact that the proper fear leads to humility before God, and it results in the Lord's perfect love that then casts out all fear. "The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction." (Proverbs 1:7 WEB). "The fear of Yahweh teaches wisdom. Before honour is humility." (Proverbs 15:33 WEB). The Lord Jesus gave this warning, "I tell you, my friends, don't be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom you should fear. Fear him, who after he has killed, has power to cast into Gehenna. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:4-5 WEB).

What a tremendous love we have from our Savior, that his love for us casts out the greatest fear that can be anticipated by anyone. If we have been made complete in God's love for us, then we should openly demonstrate our love for others as John presents the logic that loving those around us is the evidence that we can truly love God whom we have not seen. The apostle Paul reminds us of the great extent of God's love toward us, and those who have God's love should have the same love for one another. "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don't walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:1). The LORD God will preserve his own, and punish the ones who have not accepted that love that casts out all fear. "the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment;" (2 Peter 2:9).


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

I thank you Lord that John has given some very specific ways to test whether someone who claims to have the Christian message is truly under the love and authority of Christ. Even if many other things they may talk about seem to be from scripture, if they deny that Christ came in the flesh they are one of many Antichrists. I don't need to depend on my own abilities to withstand this error, because you have also given me your Holy Spirit to be with me always. Oh, what comfort is contained in the phrase "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world!"

I believe Lord that you are instructing me to display the gift of your Spirit that you have given to me because of your great love, by showing love to other Christians who have also received your Spirit. John's words are very convicting in this area because it may be easier to contend with those who deny Jesus, than it is to love others who have the Spirit, but are weak in the flesh as I am. I want to rejoice in God my Savior who has given me the gift of eternal life because there is no other Savior but the LORD. How foolish are those who continue to deny the Father and the Son. I thank you that I now realize that your perfect love for me has cast out all fear of the final judgment. Amen.

1 John, Chapter 1 - Fellowship with the Father and the Son
1 John, Chapter 2 - Our Counselor and Atoning Sacrifice
1 John, Chapter 3 - Children of God
1 John, Chapter 5 - Keep Yourselves From Idols
The Apostle John - A 4 part series.

Published 22 October 2011