Perfect Love is Powerful Love
What is the perfect way of showing love? Months ago I was watching videos on Youtube. And there was a whole series of videos of wedding proposals gone bad. In one, there was a young man who proposed to his girlfriend in McDonalds. And, I suppose it’s not too surprising to learn, that she did not say, “yes.” If there was an image of perfect love in her eyes, that was not what it looked like. What then is perfect love in God’s eyes?’ That’s where God’s word begins here this evening. In 1 John 4, we read: “And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.” (1 John 4:16 CSB17)
Perfect love in God’s eyes means remaining in him. Now, when John says that simple phrase, “remain in love” he means so much more than the bare meaning of the words on the page. Remaining in God is knowing perfectly and completely who God is: his absolute fairness and his absolute forgiveness. And it means holding that complete understanding in our hearts and minds continually. But there’s a problem with that, isn’t there? John tells us what that is: “In this, love is made complete with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as he is, so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17 CSB17)
God asks us to have perfect love. The enemy of and opposite of perfect love is fear. And the huge source of fear for us all is what John speaks about here: Judgment Day. How am I supposed to love the God who knows that I sin and how much I sin? Fear is the opposite of and enemy of love. But this isn’t just true when it comes to God. It’s also true when it comes to others. How can I show true Christian love towards others when there is real fear in my heart? I am afraid that I’ll mess it up. I’m afraid that, if I reach out and give some caring correction to that person, he or she will hate me. I’m afraid that when I show this perfect love towards another person, if that person knows me at all, he or she will say, “You stop sinning, then you can speak to me about sin.” God calls on us to have a perfect and complete love. But fear drives that out. Fear leads us to conclude that we are doomed on Judgment Day when we face our God and demoralized here as we face those in our every day lives. But look, my friends in Christ at what God says next: “18 There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears is not complete in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:18–19 CSB17)
Fear drives out love. But notice what God’s word tells us here: Perfect love drives out fear. And then John makes is clear the sort of love that he is speaking about. God’s love for us is the first love. Here, the word, “first” isn’t just first in time, it’s also first in priority. It’s first and foremost. When we start talking about perfect love, where do we need to start? We cannot start here in our hearts. Instead we need to start there in that child placed in a manger. We cannot start here on earth, we need to start with our Father’s love for us in heaven. That’s the priority: first look at God’s love for us in Christ. That love that he has for us drives out our fear toward him. For, if Jesus was born as true God and true man, and if he lived a perfect life in my place and died in my place, then all my sins are payed for and forgiven. And we can look forward to the Day of Judgment with peace and joy in hearts. the first place we go to; the foundation we build on is God’s love for us. And that love is a powerful love. Because of that love we are able to worship our God and lift our eyes above to him with a clean and clear conscience. One of the things we forget is to put ourselves in God’s shoes. That is risky sometimes. But here it is useful and even necessary. God loves us and proves it at Christmas. And because of that he does not want us to be afraid of him. I remember when I was a child there were two things my dad got angry at: fixing the car in the garage and when we children messed up. And I remember him walking into the living from from the garage with that determined look of pain and anger on his face. So I did what every child who wants to survive would do. I cried out in fear and ran into the corner, remembering that I had done something wrong and that Dad had, no doubt, found out. And when he saw me run to the corner, he stopped and stared at me. And the face full of anger became the face full of pain. For no one wants to be the father that is feared and people are terrified of. It’s true of our earthly fathers. It’s also true of our God above. His love for us drives out all fear. We are forgiven. So we can look up to him boldly with love towards him in our hearts. But John also directs our love in another direction. We read: “20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.” (1 John 4:20–21 CSB17)
Perfect love is powerful love. It’s powerful as I show that love to God. But it’s also powerful love as I show love to others. How terrifying it is to want to reach out in love toward someone in our lives, but yet realize the problem is me. In the book of James it says, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:10 NIV11-GKE) What happens when, out of love for that person in our life, we say, “you need to stop lying” and then that person says, “you need to stop cussing”? What do we do? How do we show love toward that person? Notice where John directs our focus. We love because he first loved us. Again, not just first in time, but first in priority. Knowing God’s perfect love for us gives to us a powerful love toward others. For we are able to say, “I apologize for my sin for Jesus has forgiven that sin.” And those words are powerful. They are powerful because the person we are speaking to realizes that we are not speaking down to them. Those words are powerful because they show that, if God can forgive a sinner like me, he can reach out and stretch out with his perfect love and forgive that person too. And that sort of love frees us with its power. Instead of being afraid of showing love towards others, we are free because we know that God has forgiven us and God has forgiven the person we are speaking to.
And so, my brothers and sisters in Christ, love others just as Christ has loved you. But don’t start out there at home or at school or work. Don’t start with your love for others. First and foremost, start with God’s love for you proved to you in God taking on human flesh. Amen.