1 John 4:16-21 – How is Love Perfected?

The simple statement “God is love” is very complex. What does John mean by this? (4:16b). Love is a “defining characteristic of God” (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 190). If the father is love, then so too is the son. Those who have been born of God ought to have this same characteristic as their heavenly father.

Hanging JudgeRaymond Brown points out saying “God is love” is not the same as saying “God loves” (Brown, Epistles of John, 515). Since God is love, everything he does is an expression of his love. In this context, John mentions the coming Day of Judgment. Even rendering judgment and punishing those who remain in their sin is an act of love because God can only act in accordance to his loving character.

By abiding him God, his love has been perfected (4:17a). This is another example of John’s subtle use of grammar. He chooses the perfect passive form of τελειόω to emphasize God’s love has already been made perfect in the past and it remains perfect at the time he is writing.

By perfected (ESV), John means something like “brought to completion” or “reaches the intended goal.” This is not at all like the human emotion of love, which ebbs and wanes over the years. God’s love is not an emotional response; it is a real and concrete action based on his loving character to sacrifice everything on behalf of those who do not even recognize his existence or authority.

Because God’s love has been perfected in us, we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment (4:17b-19). The Day of Judgment is eschatological, looking forward to a time when the believer will stand before Jesus as a judge. This sounds as if one is judged on whether they are going to “go to heaven” or now, but that is not what John says. All he says here is when the one who has really grown mature in love or their brother and sister, they can have nothing to be ashamed about standing before the judge. They are “right with God” because God has provided his son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 4:7-10) and they know that they have this relationship with God because they (in fact) love their brother and sister.

There is no fear of punishment on that day: perfect love casts out fear. This verse is usually taken out of context. Unfortunately there are many people who do have genuine fear because of they have experienced terrible things at the hands of people who claimed to be Christians. This may be judgement because of sin, but too many people have been abused by people claiming to have spiritual authority.

If the church was really doing the love of God as demonstrated in the gracious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as an atoning sacrifice, then the church would be far more attractive to those who remain in the world. As John says in 4:20-21, one cannot claim to be a Christian if they hate their fellow Christian; how much more if they hate the unsaved?

The only reason we can love others are demonstrate that we abide in God is that God has loved us first and sent his some as savior.

One cannot claim to love God and hate a brother or sister in Christ (4:20-21). Once again John demands concrete action in the real world as evidence for one’s claim to love God. The person who claims to be a Christian and expresses hatred toward others is an impossibility for John.

12 thoughts on “1 John 4:16-21 – How is Love Perfected?

    • Egads…the i and the on keys on my PC laptop and completely worn clean, I am typing by faith most of the time anyway. Thanks for the afternoon embarrassment.

  1. “One cannot claim to love God and hate a brother or sister in Christ (4:20-21). Once again John demands concrete action in the real world as evidence for one’s claim to love God. The person who claims to be a Christian and expresses hatred toward others is an impossibility for John.”

    I’ve wondered about this before. And some way we all ‘hate” and today we do or back in the day when you had Christians fighting for slavery.
    Or none of those people saved or will they somehow repent of their sin of hate therefore not being a hater.

    Kind of like 1st Corinthians chapter 6 verses 9through 11. I know I’ve committed sins on that list I’m sure we all have. And will commit them again before we die. (I suppose if I die right now I probably won’t commit one of them again,) we know that if you repent then you don’t have to fear not inheriting the kingdom of heaven and that in the kingdom of heaven you will no longer do those things.
    Does hate work the same way.
    At the same time there does seem to be a line the famous example of few years ago was westboro Baptist Church it’s hard to see them as Christians.

    • Thanks for the comment, Eric. John is so black and white it is sometimes hard to apply this to real life. Defining hate is the real problem here, since it is obvious there are legit reasons to hate some people (we can go right to Hitler if you like). It is hatred for a brother or sister John has in mind, expressed in real actions that are not loving and hospitable. Just as you cannot love someone in word only, you have to make some kind of concrete action demonstrating love, John’s opponents were doing some concrete action that demostrated “unlove” towards brothers in Christ.

  2. “Since God is love, we as God’s children should love one another and live in love. If we do this, we are living as God expects us to live, harmony with nature and others will result, and all will be well as God intended” (1048). God is perfect love. God’s love is not an emotional response – it is based on his character that is willing to sacrifice everything for even those who do not acknowledge his existence. We are called to love in a way like him willing to sacrifice everything for what we believe in and claim to hold to as our beliefs. “Perfect love casts out fear.” An example of this would be if the church really acted in a way that they were supposed to, it would be much more appealing to join and become a part of than it is today. People often are claiming to be Christians and acting in ways that are not Godly at all. We can see this in every facet of life. Wherever you go there will be people claiming to be believers that are outwardly acting against this claim. We as believers can love people only because He loved us first. However, this is not the case most of the time because despite how God loves us, we choose to not love Him back and show the love to others.

  3. Humans are unable to extend this perfect level of love, for only God is capable of such an action. However, humans can be more like Christ each day, causing them to love more like God each day. For “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Thus, God continues to help us become more like Christ and be full of his love each day. However, God is love is not the same as God loves, for God loves everyone, always, unconditionally, and without fault. God’s love is not an emotional response but an action. “Consequently, God is love, but love is not God” (Jobes 428). For many ‘Christians” have abused other believers under the umbrella of God’s love. 1 John 4:7-10 claims that one can be seen as in a relationship with God through the love they extend to their brothers and sisters. Furthermore, If the father is love, so is the Son, for they are two persons of the same trinity.
    It is important to always be intentional about the way a believer treats others because it is very easy to mis-represent God, causing the entire aspect of Christianity to look hypocritical to the non-believer, causing the non-believer to distance themselves even further. A believer can always draw hope from their relationship with God. For “assurance of salvation, while never an arrogant presumption, can become a settled state of mind and heart” (ESVSB 2435).

  4. The Bible says that “love is of God and God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). Everything God does is impelled and influenced by his love. The key to overcoming fear is total and complete trust in God. To trust God is to refuse to give in to fear. This trust comes from knowing God and knowing that he is good. Once we have learned to put our trust in God, we will no longer be afraid of the things that come against us.

    The world is not impressed by what you don’t do. The world is impressed by what you do. And the positive action that impresses the world and makes our gospel attractive to the people out there is our love. That’s why John says a genuine Christian is love. John speaks love that is presented to us throughout New Testament is a special kind of love.

    This is a love that bases on will, not emotions. It is a love that based on a decision to seek the good of others, not on whether or not other people are lovable. Anyone can love someone who is lovable. But it need to takes the strength of God’s empowering Spirit, to love those who hate you, mistreat you, ignore you, and attach you. And it takes effort to love those who are wretched, suffering, smelly, dirty, poor, needy, unsightly, and unpleasant to be near.

    It’s not hard to love the beautiful people who invite you to make party. But it takes effort to love the toothless derelict, smelling of cheap wine, holding his paper plate in line at the downtown mission. That’s the kind of love God calls us to, the kind of love 1 john teaches.

    It’s the same kind of love Jesus demonstrated when He reached out to the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the poor, and when he forgave those who pounded the nails into his hands and feet, as well as the crowds who jeered him in his dying moments.

    This is why John write, “We love because he first loved us. If anyone say, “I love God,” yet hates his brothers, he is a liar, for anyone who doesn’t love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (John 4:19-21).

    The more we have fellowship with the Lord Jesus we will gradually experience an opening of our hearts. As his love shines on us, we will become more open to others, As the power of Jesus changes us we will grow in love toward our Christian brothers and sisters and in love toward those who are outside the faith.

  5. As children, we are taught by our parents to understand the basic concept of human love, through parental interactions, and interactions with other people, we form a sense of love through actions from other people. Yes we are born with a heart that is fruitful of love, but how does one understand the concept of Love through a Christian perspective? In 1 John 4:16-21 we can begin to understand how love is perfected. Love is a hard topic to understand and grasp if you have never been shown love, you have to understand love through certain situations, and sometimes we don’t know how to love as God showed us love, especially when someone does something to anger us. The main question I am getting at is how can we show love to a person that has stabbed our back? In this we have to look at multiple scripture verses to gain a better understanding of love and forgiveness. In P Long’s blog post a good point to bring up that is said by Raymond Brown is that God is love, but it is not the same is God loves. In this, everything God does is an act of Love for us, an example of Christs’ sacrifice. God showed us love through Jesus dying so that we can be saved. But also God loves because of our relationship with him allowing us to be loved. If we allow God to love us, we are allowing a part of God and the Holy Spirit to guide us on the right path, but first we must accept the fact that we need to be loved in order to be saved. ANd we know we are loved because if we accept God, we are loved because God is love.

  6. How is love perfected? That’s a good question. Something I thought of right off the bat is that perfect love cannot exist apart from God, this is because there is nothing good or perfect within mankind without God. When we think within ourselves, without God or morality we do all things for selfish gain, this taints any love because it is then motivated by fleshly and selfishness. And true love is absent of both these things. This aligns with professor Long’s biblical personification of God as love, because we cannot show genuine love apart from him.
    Moving along, I found myself very encouraged by the idea that love casts out all fear and that we do not have to fear judgement day because God’s love has become perfected in us when we choose to allow Christ in our lives. I think it can often be difficult to live out this truth with confidence and without doubt. But because it is in the word I know it true be true and can await Christ’s return in joyful anticipation rather than fear. When I processed all of these things I thought about how the next thing to do that is the most ling is to share Christ with others that they might be confident and prepared for Christ’s return as well. It is most loving to share the good news and not keep it to ourselves, this is love motivated by both sacrifice and by a love for God and all that he has done for us. Additionally, sharing this perfect love must be known as a command, that which was given as Jesus’ last words when he ascended in Matthew 25:18-22. If Jesus chose this to be His last words, we know that it is both important and loving. This idea is also congruent with professor Long’s claim that if the church were doing the love of God, we would be far more attractive to the secular world. Illustrating that although God’s love within us is perfect, we are not. So we should choose to love, choose to sacrifice, choose to share, and choose to embody perfect love by caring deeply about others and their salvation.
    I am so thankful for the opportunity in being chosen by God to enter the family of Christ. It is only by abiding in His love that I am able to show love to others. Showing that love is not only fulfilling to those on the receiving end but for the giving as well. Thus, it is a gift to be able to show the love of Christ.

  7. This concept of Love is a unique compared to the traditional worldy ways. Love is often perceived as such a strong emotional connection and oftentimes can even be weponized by those around us. With each of us being a reflection of God’s image anything we feel, say, think, or act unto others can be seen as a reflection of our views of God. This is a hard concept to wrap ones mind around. Because we are humans it is impossible for us to not sin, how do we love others unconditionally without the implications of sin? How do we claim to love God, if ultimately sin get in the way of unconditional love? I think this is an interesting way to look at love and a perfect wat to ask the question “how is love perfected?” Even in the sense of being “brought to completion” or “reaching the intended goal,” is it possible?

Leave a Reply