I have been preaching out of Galatians for the last few months. Sharing out of chapter 5, we discovered that living a life of love fulfils the law. I started to think about love and I was drawn to 1 John. Here, John calls us to love God and one another in what he calls perfected love. The text has two words in it that make up all there is of religion: love and fear.
Pagan religions are founded on the fear of their gods. Christianity’s substance, however, is love. There are four possibilities of the love and fear spoken of by John. First, there are those who have neither fear nor love. They are hardened sinners. They do not love the Lord or fear Him. The second are those who fear without love. This fear can be used to lead a person to the Lord. He is looking for a way out of the state of fear he is in. These people are “scared” into heaven. The third are those who have both love and fear. A majority of professing Christians are in this mixed state. Their motivation to serve the Lord is mostly out of fear and not love. The fourth are those who love without fear, which John calls perfect love. It is perfect in the sense of being whole. This kind of love is not static and ﬁnished but developing and alive with virtue. Perfect love is ﬁlled with joy.
We discover that perfected love is God’s gift to us. In verses 13-14, we read, “By this we know that we abide in him and he is us, because he has given us of his Spirit… the Father has sent his Son…” We do not know love, or how to love, except which God has shown us. You might sum up the whole testimony of God around this truth and not leave much out!
What are the most startling fact of this present age and the most profound hope of the future? Here it is: God is love, and God loves us. Forty-ﬁve times in these brief ﬁve chapters of 1 John, the love God has for His people is described. In 3:1, “See what love the Father has for us, that we should be called the children of God.” In 4:7, “Love is of God . . . for God is love.” In 4:10, we love God but not ﬁrst, instead, “he ﬁrst loved us and gave his Son as a sacriﬁce for our sins.” Of all the beneﬁts God provided through the act of creation, here is the most excellent of all. God is love and He loves us.
I knew a young man who over thirty years ago had a great and wonderful thought. It was a thought he kept secret from those around him. But then one day to a beautiful young woman, he put the thought into words and said, “I love you.” The thought, at one time concealed, kept secret, became a far more elevated thought, once it took on the ﬂesh of spoken words. It changed everything.
God had forever had a great thought and then, at the fullness of time, He spoke it through Jesus to the entire world. God is love and God loves us!
And this love that was expressed had power. We know today that perfected love overcomes fear. In 1 John 4:17-18, we read, “We have boldness on the day of judgment… for perfect love casts out fear”. This is why believers have conﬁdence on the Day of Judgment. However, apart from God’s love, when that day comes, death will come. There is no escaping it. The greater question is, What then?
I understand that death is a fearful thing to discuss, but like birth, it is a natural part of the journey we call life. The question we all need to ask is, “What are the images you hold of life beyond death?” Are they pleasant, hopeful, and happy? Or are they foreboding, dark, and gloomy, and ﬁlled with fear? Here is a place our faith makes a difference.
The ancient cartographers did their best to chart the courses of the earth’s continents and seas based on their limited travels. In those places where no one had travelled, they drew on their maps fearful images: beasts, sea monsters, and dragons. Uncertainty led them to conclude that a present and awful danger lied ahead.
Thankfully, for Christians, the hope of faith helps us strive towards this uncharted place, death and beyond, with anticipation and joy. Instead of dismal images, we see the beautiful face of Jesus Christ, who has gone before us and the countless loved ones who have gone before!
When the days of earthly life end, we could go like the atheists of any age with “no fear of punishment; no promise of reward… and no real care.” I think this is a fearful leap into the darkness without hope. Or we may go like many of the saints before us and say, “Death holds no fear for me. There lies ahead of the greatest adventure yet. I am going home.”
Lastly, this perfected love builds community. 1 John 4:21 says, “The command we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also”. If you love God, you will love one another. Here is the basic image of the Christian home and the Christian Church.
In Genesis 2, we read of it. There, we find a man and the woman together in a garden. God called to them, brought them together and declared, “for this cause you shall leave parents and cleave to one another… and the two shall become one”. The two become one and a shared relationship is created. It is the same today. We enter a marriage from different backgrounds, varied family traditions and practices. We carry into marriage all the baggage of life. It is a journey of learning love, grace, forgiveness mixed in with respect and appreciation for one another.
What God intends for Christian marriage God also intends for the Christian Church. We are a community before we are anything else. And if we are not community, then we really cannot be much else. It all begins here. In John’s gospel, he records Jesus’ prayer in chapter 17. In this prayer, Jesus calls on God for the development of this kind of community among His followers. He prays, “Father, make them one even as you and I are one.” But notice the reason. Not so that we can get along better, as important as that may be. The purpose is even higher: “That the world may believe.” Our sense of community may well be our ﬁnest evangelism!
The foundation of the Christian life is the Golden Rule – to love God and love our neighbours. This means putting your interest ahead of my own. In a sense then, perfected love can be summed up like this: “What happens to you matters to me.” May God, through His Spirit, perfect the love He has planted in our hearts so when people see us, they see the power and love of God at work.