1 John 4:16-19. 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.
What is the inspiration for all Christian love? What motivates our love? Is it not that we were first loved?
John pushes back hard against the default motivation for love that most (all) of us have – loving in order to preserve God’s love for us. There is no fear in love he says. No fear of punishment. Why might we be punished on the day of judgment? For not loving of course. If we believe that we will one day face punishment from God for our failure to love in this life, then what will become our natural motivation for loving? To avoid that punishment. We will love from fear rather than from faith. Faith in God’s initiating and active love for us.
Notice how John describes the abiding love of God. Not in stagnant terms, but in dynamic, energetic terms. The love of God in us grows as it is expressed by us, and among us. It is perfected in and among us. What an amazing truth! Too often we see God’s love in us as an on-off switch – we’re either loving or we’re not. But God’s love is not simply a setting on the dial. It’s alive. It’s growing. It’s “being made complete.” The love that flows from God into us gains force and momentum as it is shared with others.
John is not saying that God is loving you more and more as you love. But John is definitely saying that you experience God’s love more and more as you love. Fear is being driven out of your heart as you love. Confidence before God is building as you love. You are becoming more and more as Jesus is in the world. Christ in us is expressed in and through our love for one another. Just like Jesus was we too are being perfected in love.
But how did the man Jesus learn to love? How was his love perfected?
Hebrews 2:10. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.
Jesus’ experience on Earth is to be our same experience. His path to spiritual transformation is the same as ours. His progression from suffering, to death, to resurrection, to glory is our same progression. Our same perfection process.
So where did Jesus’ journey begin?
It began with Jesus BEING loved. Just as we love because God first loved us, so too Jesus was first loved by the Father. Jesus is eternally begotten of the Father’s love. He was eternally in the Father’s bosom (John 1:18). And his earthly ministry models this too. Jesus began his ministry of suffering after he heard the declaration of his Father’s love at his baptism. He did not go to the cross, where all love would be perfected, until he experienced the Father’s glorifying love from the mountain of transfiguration – “This is my beloved son.”
From perfect love Jesus perfected love on Earth. How? Through his suffering. Through his self-sacrifice. Through the cross – the perfection of love. This emptying of the self is what perfects love in us as well. As we live the cruciform life, God’s love is alive and growing in its power in us – together. Now as he is so also are we in this world.
From God’s perfect love may we see love perfected in us. May we love sacrificially without fear. May we love humbly yet boldly. May we love because we are loved. May we “to live is Christ.”
What motivates you to love? Fear or love?
You in Christ
How do you know that God loves you?
Christ in you
Where can you see God’s love being perfected in your sacrificial love?
Playlist: We Love.
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