Helen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” James Baldwin wrote, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” Seneca pondered, “Love in its essence is spiritual fire.”
The apostle John advised in his first epistle, “God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day — our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love.” (1 John 4:17-18 MESSAGE).
Over the last several weeks, our thoughts have centered upon how we can overcome fear and anxiety in a troubled, ever-changing world. The Bible suggests we should know our enemy. In circumstances that are constantly changing, our enemy is not a pandemic or a political party, but a spiritual foe. Next, we are to lament the circumstances. People of faith are moved from within when society wanders away from God, or when natural disasters take their toll on human life.
Last week, we wanted to know ourselves. As we approach the traditions of Valentine’s Day, it is appropriate that the conclusion of the series stresses perfect love casts out fear.
We spend so much time living in fear. We fear the unknown. There is fear that we will be unloved or unaccepted. This past year has shown us that we fear natural disaster and disease, we fear our freedoms are being taken away, and we fear that our voice will not be heard. Fear is crippling.
If perfect love casts out fear, is it possible to have that kind of love? In fact, what does perfect love even mean? The verses from 1 John provide direction and understanding. God is love. When we live in God and God lives in us, love becomes perfected in us. We understand that God loves us no matter what we do. We conclude that is the kind of love we should show to others.
There are times when we begin to practice this type of love. Some families begin to develop it, though it is a fragile thing, easily broken. Sometimes friendships begin to have that kind of confidence and trust. We can work through problems because we love each other.
Perfected love is the maturity to allow the love of God to be expressed in the way we love each other. If we love one another … His love is perfected in us. It is vital that we understand this, because it goes against what we think of when we hear the word “perfected.” Most of the time we think perfected means moving from a flawed imperfection to a flawless state of perfection. In the Greek, the word usually means a completed task or an assignment that was accomplished.
John used the same word in his gospel where Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34 ESV). Jesus did not take the flawed work of God and make it flawless. He took an assignment from God and turned it into action and thereby completed it.
James 2:22 is another important parallel. “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed (perfected) by his works.” Works do not make faith flawless, but makes it active, practiced in real life circumstances. The goal of faith is a journey, it is action.
How many times have circumstances or people convinced you to invite fear into your life? Our thoughts and behavior becomes tormented and insecure. We become convinced that something has driven a wedge between us that can never be overcome. Adam and Eve were convinced that their sin had created a problem so big that even God couldn’t fix it.
Let’s go back to the passage in 1 John. The first part of the verse says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Fear has to do with punishment.” In other words, the reason there is no fear in love is there is no threat of punishment for being a loving person. When you have done something wrong, you fear that you will be punished. Love is never threatened with punishment. So there is no fear in love.
Instead, when God’s love flows through the way that you love others, fear is cast aside. The direct path to boldness, to fearlessness, and to confidence is to not just talk about love, but to actually walk love. Love is perfected when it moves from talk to walk.
Confidence before God must include forgiveness. Christians perceive that forgiveness cannot be earned (“I deserve to be forgiven”) but that forgiveness is a gift from the one who has been wronged. Standing before God as a sinner, the forgiveness needed must come from Him. Forgiveness with stipulations is not forgiveness; it is compensation. We can never compensate for the wrongs we have done. Forgiveness takes grace — that’s the whole point.
Standing before my sister or my brother as one who sins, the forgiveness needed must come from him or her. I can never make compensation for the wrongs done. There is neither the time, nor the money. Forgiveness takes love from both sides.
“My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It is also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves” (1 John 3:18-20 MESSAGE).
Love has the run of the house.