Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. – 1 John 4:18-21
Bruce is a Christian counselor. His manner of counseling is powerful and life-changing. He handles his clients’ hearts with care, tenderness, grace and truth. When I think of perfect love it is the combination of those four elements. To love perfectly we must care for the one we’re loving. We must care for his heart. We must care about her life, sensibilities, and needs. We must also be tender. Rough-shod steamrollers need not apply. Perfect love is not repulsed by even the gravest sins. Love covers a multitude of sins after all (1 Peter 4:8).
But perfect love is also truthful. It won’t let a sidestep go unchallenged. It won’t pretend that all is well when it is not. This is the great challenge for so many of us. We too easily hold back the “last 10”. The last 10% is the more challenging message that makes true and perfect love something other than sappy sugar-coated platitudes. It’s not just a matter of telling a friend that she has a sprig of broccoli in her teeth, or a pal that his fly is open. It’s a matter of wounding a friend for the sake of his good. It’s Jerry telling me, “Dave, you just can’t do that.”
That’s where the idea that perfect love casts out fear comes face to face with the reality that most of us deal with. It seems pretty fearful to tell someone his fault: to give him the last 10%. To get there, however, is a path of gentleness, humility, respect, and grace.
This is God’s love for us. He came to us in gentleness, grace, care and truth. Born a baby in a manger. Engaging fully in the lives of his disciples. Caring for a little girl, a widow whose only son had died, a woman with an issue of blood, and a father who struggled with his faith. This was Jesus’ way of caring and loving. Then in the ultimate expression of grace he offered himself for the sins of the world by dying on a cross between two criminals. All the while he embodied truth. “Truly I say to you…” was more than a heads-up that he was about to say something important. It was his mode of being.
God has this heart of love for all people, and our calling – his command – is that we have that same love for especially our brothers and sisters in faith. In fact we cannot claim to love God and not love one another.
Espousing pure doctrine is a very good thing, but it is not sufficient to express the fullness of God’s love. Being obedient to God’s commands to pray, honor him, and abstain from murder, adultery, false witness, and the like is good. But if we do not have love we dig a hole under our witness that will cave in at the first challenge to our righteousness.
If I am to love perfectly I must reflect on God’s love for me – his perfect love. Embracing that for all it’s worth will make more possible my love for others. It will also embolden me to love even the most difficult-to-love brother or sister in Christ.
Help me, O God, to embrace your perfect love, and let it flow from me to others!