1 John 4:17-21 - The Benefits Of Our Union With The LORD And A Perfected Love
I would like to read from Philippians 1. Paul writes to these believers about many of the same things that we will find in our text this morning. Let’s begin in Philippians 1:6 where Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Paul says that he is sure of one thing. He is sure that God will began this work and complete it at the day of Jesus Christ. The plan of salvation that has been started in a believer always looks to the finish line, the end game, the day of Jesus Christ. This understanding concerning the day of Jesus Christ is placed into God’s people by the Spirit of God.
Let me give you an example of how the LORD begins to make men and women aware of the day of judgment that is coming. Howell Harris, a good friend of George Whitfield, was a passionate evangelist who played a part in the revivals of the Great Awakening. Before his conversion Howell was prideful, arrogant, angry, loved the approval of others, he was a lover of sin in all of its varieties. However, one day he sat in a church where the minister got up and said a few words that the Holy Spirit would use to begin an eternal work in Howell’s heart. The minister stood before the congregation and said, “If you are not fit to come to the Lord’s table, you are not fit to live, and you are not fit to die!” These words shocked Harris. God used those jarring words to begin a process that would bring Harris to saving faith in Christ.
After Harris had come to Christ he writes in his journal about some of the things that God was doing deep in his heart at this time. Notice how God made him aware of eternal matters like the day of Jesus Christ that was approaching. He wrote, “All thoughts of human applause were quite vanished from my sight; the spiritual world and eternity began to appear; now I began to have other views and motives; I felt some insatiable desires after the salvation of poor sinners; my heart longed for their being convince of their sin and misery. I also found myself a stranger here; all my heart was drawn from the world and visible things, and was in pursuit of more valuable riches.”
This same work that we see in Howell is also seen in the lives of other believers throughout the scriptures. In Philippians 1:7, Paul speaks of his ministry and how the Philippians joined with him in it. He writes, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” In their own way the Philippians supported missions because of the grace of God that was working in their hearts.
In Philippians 1:8-11 Paul says, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory of and praise of God.”
Let’s take a moment to notice a couple things. First, don’t neglect to appreciate what Paul is saying when he says, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul says that God will testify that Paul loves them not of himself, but with the same affection that Christ Jesus has for them. Wow! What a display of supernatural love. May we grow in this grace too.
Paul prays for them. He has to pray for them to have this love more and more because it is from God. The love that Paul speaks of here is the same word that has showed up over and over again in the epistle of 1 John. Both John and Paul are speaking of the ‘agape’ love of God. This is a supernatural love. It is a love that only believers can possess because God is love and only those who are saved have been given this love as a result of their union with the LORD.
Paul prays that this love would abound more and more and that they would also abound in knowledge and all discernment. These words probably seem strange to us. Our culture often rejects the need to apply knowledge and to be discerning when applying love. As a result, we are often misapplying and misunderstanding these things.
The knowledge and this ability to discern that Paul prays for will result in the Philippians approving of what is ‘excellent’. The word ‘excellent ’that Paul uses means that as a believer grows in the love of God and in their ability to carry out God’s will in all places and in all types of conditions. A believer who is growing in the love of God will need to be able to test between things that differ. They will need to be able to distinguish between good and bad. They will need to distinguish between things that are righteous and things that are unrighteous. They will need to prove what is true and what is almost true. When this is done they love and approve of what is excellent.
Paul ends by saying that a believer who is abounding in love, who is growing in knowledge and discernment, who is able to approve of what is excellent, will be pure and blameless for the day of Christ and filled with the fruit of righteousness to the praise and glory of God. He says in Philippians 1:10-11, “...so that you may approve of what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
Philippians 1 is a remarkable passage. Our text today expresses many of the same concepts and is just as remarkable. Let’s read 1 John 4:17-21,
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.
Here is a summary of our text, ‘Those who abide in God, and God abides in them, will experience a love with God that is perfected. This frees them from fear concerning the day of judgment (17-18) and they will display this love in the world. (19-21).
We will focus upon three topics in this sermon.
First, we will look at how this love is perfected in a believer.
Secondly, how this love frees a believer from the dread of the day of judgment.
Thirdly, how this love must be expressed towards others.
How This Love Is Perfected In A Believer
Our text begins with the words ‘By this is love perfected with us…’. Every week after I complete the rough draft of my sermon I begin to read it over and make changes. One of the most frequent changes that I make is replacing the word ‘this’ with something more specific. As I write the draft I use the word ‘this’ a lot. Then when I reread it I find myself asking, “What did I mean when I used the word ‘this’?” Therefore, I replace the word ‘this’ with whatever it was that I was really trying to say.
John begins our text by using the word ‘this’. He says, ‘By this is love perfected with us…’. It is important to discover what John means here because whatever it is, it perfects love. As a result, a believer is freed from fear and they can love others with an amazing love that brings glory to God.
We can either find the answer to this by looking forward into the text or by looking back at what was written before. For example, last weeks text began with these same words, “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us…”. There we kept reading and found the answer. A believer knows that they abide in God:
because of the indwelling of the Spirit,
because the Spirit of truth made them see the truth of the apostolic teachings concerning Christ,
because a believer will confess what the bible confesses,
and because they have come to know and to believe the love that God has for them.
Today, we do not find the answer by looking forward, but by looking back. John has just stressed that a believer has been united to the LORD. We see this in the following ways:
In verse 13 we read, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us…”
In verse 15 we read, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and he in God.”
In verse 16 we read, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him.”
So, when John says, “By this is love perfected with us…”, he is saying, “By abiding in God, and God abiding in us, we will enjoy and express the love of God completely.” Because God is love, and He is abiding in us, we will grow more and more in this love and we will not fear the day of judgment and we will express this love to others in a way that brings glory and honor to God.
Notice the word ‘perfected’. This is in the perfect passive tense. The perfect tense means that this is something that has happened in the past and its effects will continue on in the future. Paul said it this way in Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Often we fail to appreciate and rest in this truth. We might admit that God began a good work but we fear that He will soon abandon it. No, He began this work and He will perfect it. John emphasizes this in our text by talking about this love being perfected in a believer three times. We read in verses 17-18, “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. 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.”
The passive tense of the verb ‘perfected’ refers to the fact that we are passive recipients of this love of God. God acts decisively and we are only respond after the fact. Consider verse 19, “We love because He first loved us.”
This is why Paul prayed for the Philippians, ‘And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more”. In a way, the love of God is made complete when God gives this grace and we respond accordingly. God gives His love to us and we cease to fear the judgment day. God gives His love and we reflect that same love in every circumstance and situation. We saw this in 1 John 4:12, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”
How This Love Frees Us From Fear
Let’s speak now about how our union with the LORD frees us from the day of judgment. John says, “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. 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.” (17-18)
Few people today consider the day of judgment that is coming upon us all. When a person sins they often want time to pass so that their sins can be forgotten. They do not realize that the day of judgment is approaching with every passing moment. The sin that everyone else forgets is still on the mind of God.
Let me refer to Howell Harris again. He wrote in his journal after God began to awaken his conscience these words, “The more I searched into the nature of things, the more I saw myself and others to be on the broad road of destruction. I found myself to be void of spiritual life, ‘carnal, sold under sin’. I felt I could no more believe or mourn for my sins than ascend to heaven. As yet, I was ignorant of the blood of Christ, as the only ‘fountain opened for sin’ and a total stranger to the life of faith; and therefore I was all the while in a lost state, and in danger of final destruction.”
The Holy Spirit will awaken the conscience of a person concerning the day of judgment so that they will turn to Christ. And when that person turns to Christ the LORD will not allow that fear to abide in him permanently to condemn him, to make him afraid and to torment the believer. God’s love will cast out that fear as it is matured in a believer.
The same love that draws a man to Christ is the same love that will cast out this fear time and time again until His love has been perfected in the believer. As Christ is accepted and loved by the Father, so are we in this world (17). Having heard of the love of the Father who sent His only Son we believed. Then by their union with Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit we are made confident concerning the day of judgment. We believe 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake He made Him who knew no sin to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.”
One of those who heard Howell Harris preach once said, “He used to speak of hell as though he had been there himself...He could also set forth the riches of salvation in such a way as to cause sinners to earnestly desire an experience of its freedom and power.” Believer, there is no doubt that you have experienced the fear of hell, but are you growing in the love of God and able to speak of the riches of salvation with great confidence?
How The Perfected Love Of God Is Now Expressed By Believers
I am going to address this text in a specific way. Most of these things we have already spoken of in past sermons so let’s dig a little deeper about what it looks like to love the brothers.
By our union with God and the love that we receive from Him we are able to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. John says in 1 John 4:20-21, “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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
One of the things that I have learned as we have gone through the letter of 1 John is just how shallow and worldly my view of ‘love’ was. John, however, speaks of a supernatural love. It is the same love that Jesus displayed in His ministry. If we are honest, this love looks strange to us. This love is deep and complex. I have no doubt that if Jesus walked around with us all day we we would often ask Him,
Why did you say this or that?
Or why did you do this or that?”
To all of these things He would say, “Because my love is different than yours.”
In love Jesus confronted sin, pride, arrogance, apathy, and religious piety. While loving people He knew when not to entrust Himself to them. In love Jesus challenged those who came to Him with hard sermons and let them walk away. The love of God is complex.
In love Jesus sent the rich man away without salvation. In love Jesus watched the widow give her money to the temple and then let her walk away with nothing left to buy food with. In love Jesus cleansed the temple on two occasions. The love of Christ is complex.
In love Jesus never felt obligated to do what others thought He should do. And in love Jesus sometimes obligated Himself even when He was not going too (Wedding). It was His love for people that made Jesus notice the little details about people. For example, In Luke 14 Jesus noticed their pride when He saw they sat in the seats of honor. The love of Christ is complex.
In love Jesus showed mercy, compassion, healed on the Sabbath. In love Jesus placed His mother, Mary, into John’s care. In love Jesus granted the man on the cross next to Him eternal life. In love He talked to the Samaritan woman and gave her eternal life. He forgave the woman caught in adulatory and charged her to sin no more. He loved His disciples to the very end. The love of Christ is complex.
The complexity of this love is why Paul prayed for the Philippians by saying, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory of and praise of God.”
John knows that it is easy for anyone to say that they love their brother; but only a believer who has God abiding in him can really display this love in all situations and circumstances. We love our brother and sister in Christ when we address a sin that we see. There are times when we love our brother when we hand them over to Satan because of a sin that they will not repent of. Sometimes we love our brother when we peach a hard sermon and let them walk away. The love of Christ is complex.
The love of God is complex. Because of these complexities we are forced to pray for knowledge and discernment as we confront different things. As we grow in love and in knowledge and discernment we will honor God in approving what is excellent. And in so doing we remain pure and blameless for the day of Christ. (Philippians 1:8-11)
We live in a complex world. Fear not! The love of God is greater! The wisdom of God is greater!
Because of our union with the LORD a believer will be perfect in the love of God. The LORD will also give us knowledge and discernment so that we are able to discern His will in any and all situations. If you want to grow in your ability to love in every situation and circumstance in a way that brings honor and glory to the LORD, then start by drawing close to the LORD. Determine today that you will fellowship with Him, pray to Him, confess your sins to Him, read His Word, praise Him with a heart of thankfulness.. As our fellowship with Him grows, all these other things will naturally be produced.