Convinced and Confident (I John 4:16-19)
Passage: 1 John 4:16–4:19
I. Intro: Confidence, Fear, and Love
What comes to mind when you think of these three words: confidence, fear, and love. The first thing that came to my mind is the difference between a romantic Casanova and a romantic klutz. (Carey Grant vs. Jerry Lewis or Antonio Banderas vs. Urkel)
When it comes to love, when it comes to the ladies, the Casanova is confident, seemingly unafraid of rejection and assured that he is the best thing to come along since sliced bread.
On the other hand, the klutz is much less successful in the area of romance, maybe because his diminished sense of self-worth leads to a fear of rejection. And maybe because all of this is usually so obvious in how he acts and speaks, he usually scares away any prospects for love.
Now notice: for both of these guys, the source of either their confidence or their fear is how they view themselves. “Am I desirable?” they both ask. And their different answers to this question lead to very different attitudes. Confidence and fear...and love.
This morning, as we continue our journey with the Apostle John, we encounter these same three words: confidence, fear, and love. But as John teaches us, when it comes to God’s love to us and through us, we are called to a very different perspective.
II. Passage: I John 4:16-19
Let’s look at our passage together (pg 1023):
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 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.
Do you see our three key words here? Confidence, fear, and love.
As you can probably tell, we’re kind of coming in here in the middle of this passage, so it would be good to talk a little bit about the context if these verses. Last week we looked at verses 11-15, but this section really begins in verse 7.
A. Review: The Love God Has for Us (16)
And starting in verse 7 of this chapter, John has been pointing us to the love of God and specifically how that love should be showcased in the church.
What’s helpful here is that verse 16 is a great transition for us, since it touches on some of our key themes from the previous verses.
John writes, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.” Who’s the “we” here? Well, two verses earlier he used “we” in reference to himself and his fellow apostles who were eyewitness of God’s work through Jesus Christ. They walked and talked with Jesus. They saw Him die. They saw Him rise again from the dead, victorious and exalted.
They witnessed God’s perfect picture of love painted on the canvas of the cross.
Now, if we take into consideration that John, in verse 15, is calling anyone and everyone to faith in the reality of Jesus as the Son of God, the “we” here in verse 16 is probably referring to all those, who along with the apostles, have accepted the reality of God’s love through Jesus Christ.
Then in the second half of verse 16 we read, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Just as he did in verse 8, John reminds us that God is love. This doesn’t mean that the reverse is true, that love is God. It means that God’s very nature defines love for us. And as John continues, he makes a logical deduction from this truth. If God is love, then anyone who loves as God loves reveals that God is working in him or her, that he or she is connected to God .
So let’s make three points in terms of the context here:
First, “the love that God has for us” in verse 16 is the love that God demonstrated by sacrificially giving that which was dearest to Him, His only Son. And He gave His Son over to death on a cross in order to meet our deepest need: the forgiveness of our sins and reconnection with our Creator.
Second, this love is known and believed through confession of Jesus as the Son of God. This is what we see in verse 15. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of God means acknowledging that Jesus alone deserves the fullness of our lives since Jesus alone, because of His unique identity and unique relationship with the Father, Jesus alone is able to connect us with the fullness of God.
Third, the fact that we have truly believed in God’s love for us is confirmed by God’s love in us. As John put it, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him”, that is, “anyone who loves as God loves demonstrates that God is working in them through faith.”
Now these ideas are crucial if we are to understand where John wants to take us next. Look again at verse 17.
B. Love Leading to Confidence (17, 18)
In this verse, John shows us how this love, the love of God for us and in us, should lead us to confidence. He writes:
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence on the day of judgment.
Now to help us understand what he means here in regard to the relationship between love and confidence, we need to look at the two ideas that John highlights in these verses.
1. Perfect Love
The first idea we need to understand is found in both the phrase “perfect love” and the other combinations of these words. In verse 17 we read, by this is “love perfected”. In verse 18 we read about “perfect love” and “being perfected in love”. John already mentioned God’s love being perfected in us back in 4:12, and also earlier in 2:5.
So obviously , this is an important idea to John. But what is this “perfect love” or love that is being “perfected”?
At first we might say that this perfect love is the love of God, right, since only God is perfect and only God’s love is perfect love. Now while there is no doubt that the love John is talking here about is the love of God, I think there’s more to this.
The word “perfect” here does not simply mean, without fault. The word in the original Greek language in which John penned this letter has to do with something being completed or fulfilled, something that has achieved its intended goal.
We might also call it “fulfilled love” or “completed love”. So if this is the case, how does it affect our reading of these verses?
Well I think our verse in question, verse 17 is very helpful in this. John writes, “By this is love perfected or completed or fulfilled with us…” OK, full stop. By what is love completed? What does the “this” in verse 17 refer to?
Well the “this” very naturally points us back to the previous verse. And in verse 16 we see two sides to the “this” we’re trying to figure out:
First, the “this” in verse 17 is the love of God known and believed from verse 16.
And the second side of this “this” also comes from verse 16, from the second half of the verse. John says the “this”, in verse 17, is the reality of the one who is abiding in love.
So here’s what John is saying: by this is love perfected with us, that is, when God’s love is received by us and then given away by us, love is completed or fulfilled.
Now if we stop and reflect on this, there is an amazing truth here that we talked a bit about last week. If love is fulfilled in this way, then that means that the goal of God’s love in us is to make us more like Himself by making us people who love like He loves.
Is that amazing!?! For His own glory, for His own honor, God is working to restore those who have come to Him through Jesus by making us reflections of himself.
This truth is confirmed at the end of this same verse when he writes in this somewhat puzzling phrase, “as He is, so also are we in this world.” Now people have scratched their heads over this phrase for centuries, but in the context here, it does make sense.
“As He is…” What has John stated about God twice in this section, God is…? God is love! And if God is love, then those who are His children, who have been born of Him as it says in verse 7, those who have His Spirit as it states in verse 13, they are love in this world; they reflect His nature to the world as they give this love they have received.
And as John puts it in the middle of verse 17, this completed love, this love given to us and then given through us, should inspire confidence in us on the day of judgment. What does that mean though?
Well, John believes, along with Jesus and the other writers of Sacred Scripture, that there is a day coming at the end of time when every person will have to stand before God and give an account for their thoughts, words, and actions in this life.
Now for anyone who is even the least bit honest with themselves, the idea of such a day is kind of a scary thought. Standing before a perfect God, a God of justice, and being confronted with all of our failings, with all the ways we’ve hurt others, with all of the ways we’ve neglected God and His desires for our lives; this is not a comforting thought.
But John says that we can have confidence on that day. We can have confidence by love fulfilled in us. But how? Remember, the love given through us is evidence that we have received the love given to us.
And if we have come to know and believe God’s love personally, and are loving as God loves, then we can have confidence that God is truly in us. And if God is truly in us, then our sins are forgiven; our wrongs, our failings, have been covered and dealt with by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (v. 10: “propitiation”)
We will not need to fear on the day of judgment because Jesus has accepted our judgment; He took our place so that we can have confidence before God.
B. Paralyzing Fear
Now the second idea that helps us to understand this passage better is introduced in verse 18. John writes…
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
Fear? What does John mean here by fear? “There is no fear in love.” Does this mean that we should not fear God? Well, yes and no.
Some say that fearing God is only an Old Testament kind of thing. Through Christ, we are now God’s friends and we do not need to fear Him like they did in the Old Testament.
The problem with this is that both Testaments call us to love and fear God. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Acts 9 tells us that the church was being built up as they lived in the fear of the Lord. Paul talks about the fear of Christ in Ephesians 5. Peter encourages his readers to “fear God” in I Peter 2.
So clearly, the fear we’re talking about here in I John 4 is not reverence for God; it is not that lowliness we should before as we respect His great power. So what is this “fear” that is cast out by perfect love?
Well as our context makes clear, it is a fear that we cannot stand before God. It is a fear that our sins are not forgiven. It is a fear that somehow, something we’ve believed is wrong, or that we’re confused about it enough to be in jeopardy in terms of our eternal destiny.
As verse 18 goes on to confirm, this kind of fear has to do with punishment.
It seems that some in this church were being misled about who God is and the place of love in the Christian life. As they rejected a life of love and the truth about God’s work in Jesus, they were feeling the 'slipperiness' of their doubts.
When we are not grounded in the love of God, there is no firm foundation. We are left to wonder about how we will fare on the day of judgment. This is like a sailor who has rejected a compass. As the storms come in and the sky is covered, he begins to fear. Where will He end up? How will he make it?
But here, John is calling such people back. “Don’t worry,” declares John, “there is no fear like this when it comes to God’s love. But when we receive God’s love and then love one another, God’s love is perfected in us; and this fulfilled love, this perfect love then drives out paralyzing fear.”
I like the term “paralyzing fear”’ in contrast with perfect love, because that’s what John seems to say at the end of verse 18, “whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
When we fear, we doubt God’s love to us, and then fail to demonstrate God’s love through us.
If you are afraid that God might reject you in the end, you cannot love with God’s love. Why? Very simple. Because you cannot give what you do not possess.
C. Confidence Leading to Love (v. 19)
I think this brings us to a very important point. Though we might not be in same position as John’s readers, all of us need to understand the difference between perfect love and paralyzing fear. John seems to say…
Confidence that we are in a right relationship with God comes from seeing evidence of God’s love working out through us.
On the other hand…
Fearfulness about our relationship with God leads to a lack of God’s love through us, because we have failed first to receive God’s love to us
Confidence, fear, and love.
Now here’s the point I want us to consider this morning. From one perspective, it seems as if we are being called to draw our confidence from the same place as our Casanova and klutz: from how we view ourselves.
John writes, when we see God working through us, we can have confidence on the day of judgment. In fact, if we are loving, we can have confidence right now that we are in a right relationship with the God who is love.
But is this really the source of our confidence? Should we really focus on ourselves to find confidence with God?
I think John has anticipated this very question, or the possibility that his readers might get too focused on their love as an end in itself. Look at what he writes in verse 19:
We love because He first loved us. With this simple little phrase John sets our perspective straight. We are not the initiators of love. The only reason we can love is because God first loved us.
If John is wanting them to look to the reality of love through them, his ultimate goal is that they would see in this love the reality of God’s love to them.
Unlike the Casanova and the klutz, our confidence or fear when it comes to love is not based on how we view ourselves; it’s based on how we view God. Do we see God as one whose love for us is firm and sure? Or do we see God as one who accepts us tentatively, with reservations? Is He a God who loves us as long as we live up to His expectations?
Different answers here will lead to very different attitudes when it comes to love.
Here’s what I’m saying: if we are not convinced that God has perfectly loved us in Jesus Christ, and forgiven our sins, and given us new life, then we will not be able to love as we should.
Those who know and believe the love that God has for us, they abide in love. They are freed to love others by God’s love for them and their love for God.
Genuine love, that passionate concern to selflessly act for another’s good requires the freedom that comes from forgiveness before God. Why? Well there are many reasons. Here are a few I was thinking about:
First, assurance of God’s love frees us from a crippling self-focus.
In the context here, the person John is addressing is one who is paralyzed by a fear of divine wrath. If we have no peace about the finality of Christ’s work on the cross and our genuine acceptance of that gift, then we will be absorbed first and foremost with ourselves. We will not be able to love others as we should because we will constantly be searching for personal assurance and crippled by a mindset of extreme introspection.
Hypochondriacs usually make poor doctors. Why? Because they are usually too concerned about their own real or imagined sicknesses to be adequately concerned about someone else’s health.
Secondly, assurance of God’s love frees us from a concern about love’s consequences.
Here’s what I mean: if we are not confident that God loves us perfectly and if we are not satisfied with His love, then we will see loving others in this selfless manner as far too risky. How can you stand the thought of rejection or heartache if you have nothing solid to stand on?
Oftentimes, when we love others, we are looking to be loved in return. So when the waters are rough, and someone hurts us, we typically retreat. We pull back our love in response to someone who is unloving.
But when you have been loved fully by God through Jesus, though rejection still hurts, you can continue to selflessly love someone, no matter their attitude toward you.
Third, assurance of God’s love frees us from a temptation to look for perfect love in a imperfect world.
We so often love others with the hope that we will be loved in such a way that our deepest needs and desires are met. The problem is that we were made to have our deepest needs met by God.
It’s been said that there is a God-shaped hole in each of our hearts. Only He can fill that space. When we try “looking for love in all the wrong places”, we will always end up disappointed.’
But when we are satisfied with God, we can view the love of others with the right perspective.
I think there is an element of this in raising teenagers. When kids begin to be romantically interested, Which teen will typically have the most sense when it comes to relationships, the one who is loved well by their parents, or the one who is not?
Why? Because those who have not been loved as they should by their parents, are usually looking to make up for this deficit through the love of a boyfriend or girlfriend. They invest way too much, they want more than another teenager can really give them, and usually end up being hurt.
The teenager who has been loved by his parents is grounded in that love. When we accept the perfect love of God, we are fully satisfied with His love; we are grounded in it. And this contentment helps us to love others as we should, with God’s love.
Conclusion: Receiving to Give
Very practically, if you want to give, you must receive. Genuine love, the kind of love that nurtures life, the kind of love that all of us desire, is the love that comes from God.
And we cannot give it, unless we receive it.
Are you living in fear? Do you doubt that God could really love you? Do you doubt that what Christ has accomplished is really enough?
There are very few spiritual paths in this world that claim to give genuine assurance that we are right with God. So many religions seem to always leave the worshiper wondering if they’ve done enough to enter paradise, or escape purgatory, or find nirvana.
This morning, John tells us, we can know and believe that love that God has for us, because first and foremost, it is not about we’ve done, it is about what Christ has done. We love because He first loved us. And when we truly believe that Jesus Christ is our only hope, our faith can be strengthened as we evidence of God working through us.
But if you are fearful, you will not love as you should. In fact, you will not live as you should, because real life, eternal life is about faith and not doubt.
I encourage you this morning, pray that you would come to know and believe, or be reminded again of the love that God has for you. When you really do believe it, you will find a new life through Jesus Christ, one in which you will have the freedom and faith to love others as you should.
I pray that fear would be cast out of your hearts as you accept God’s love to you, and then see God’s love flowing through you.
Let’s make that our prayer as we close. Let’s pray.