It's a holiday here in Canada, our nations 140th birthday, so I thought I might take things a bit easy this morning. Yet, there is one thing that has been kicking around in this old brain of mind all day yesterday and it was the first thing that greeted me this morning. From yesterday's devotions there is one thought, one concept, one truth that won't let me go. It is where John writes, "his love is made complete in us." (1 John 4:12) It is like a piece of popcorn stuck between your teeth and no matter how you work at it, it just won't let go. How is it possible that God's love is made complete in us?
It is never fair to look at a phrase or half a sentence out of the context of the passage. Although we looked at part of this passage yesterday I encourage you to take a few minutes now to read it again. The context of these words are found in this sentence:
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:12)
Now we may be able to understand it a bit better. Some translations use the word "perfected" instead of "made complete", this too may help with some clarity. So what is being said is that, although we have not seen God, he may be seen in us as a result of our fulfilling his command to love each other as he has loved us. This love, his love for us, reaches perfection or completeness in us when we are able to love others in the same manner in which he loves us. This is pretty amazing when you spend some energy in meditating on it. I already took you to 1 Corinthians 13 yesterday as a reminder of what his love is but I can also remind you here of John's explanation of that love:
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10)
Now this is the part that refuses to let go of me, "not that we loved God, but that he loved us". It is the selflessness of this love that keeps hammering away at me, and I know this may seem like a repeat of yesterday but I (we) seem to be missing something here. Too long have we spent our days in the circle of those who love us when it would appear that God's love is perfected in us when we are able to love others who cannot offer anything back. The most amazing thing about this act of God's love is:
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
I believe there was a time in my life when I understood this. I poured my life into other people, never looking for anything in return, filled with joy in knowing that I was doing what Jesus would want me to do. Yet, somewhere along the road of responsibility and expectation it became a harder thing to do. To love when no love is returned seems to be harder, not easier, as we get older. Are we less tolerant or do we have greater expectations? As we have gained wisdom have we lost the understanding of grace? Why do I expect more from people now then what I did when I was younger? I weep with the realization of just how far I am falling short of the perfection of God's love in me.
Love is not the absence of hate. Love is not the absence of comment. Love is not playing it neutral. Love is not playing it safe by keeping your distance. Love is not keeping people out, at arms distance. Love is full on commitment that, regardless of what happens, you will never walk away from that person. Love is never giving up even if that person rejects you every day for the rest of your life. Love is speaking kindness and encouragement into people even when they spit in your face. Love is that decision to always hope for the best for that person, to desire the best for that person, to expect the best from that person and to never allow your disappointment to discourage you. This is God's love perfected in you.
This is the love of the father sitting on his porch waiting, expecting his wayward son to return home any minute. This is the love of the father refusing to think less of this son when he does show up with hat in hand. This is the love of the cross. This is the love that has transformed millions of lives and desires to transform billions more. This is the love that never gives up on a violent, self-destroying, rebellious teenager. This is the love that forgives a wayward spouse. This is the love that covers even the worst of hurts in any relationship. This is the love that never allows us to give up on each other, to forgive and forget readily, and that stands firm no matter what.
Unfortunately it is too easy now to wash the pain away by washing the person away. Love can hurt and it can hurt deep, but God's love is perfected in us when we stand by that pain and decide to love regardless. The easiest thing to do is dispose of the relationship, start over, and hope for the best. Sure there is a little pain at first but slowly it goes away. The hard decision is to stay in that pain and love that person through it even if they never change, never come around. This is the Father's love perfected in us, never giving up. The trick is to never allow bitterness to take root but to permit love to cover such things like a smothering blanket. 1 Corinthians 13 may sound poetic but it describes God's love perfected in us as we learn to love others; and it is painful, it is tough and it is right:
All that matters in life is love. It gives purpose and meaning to everything. This is why there are so many songs about it. This is why it remains the main focus of poetry, novels, movies. It is what most people seek and long for in life; to find that one person who will love them despite everything, who they know without a doubt will never leave them, a person who will accept them for who they are, a person who will make them feel safe. Jesus' command turns that around. Instead of spending all our days longing to find such a person, spend all your days being that person for others. This is what I once understood, spent my days doing and received great joy from doing it. It is what my heart cry is today; perfect your love in me Lord. I challenge you to examine your own heart and attitude against these words again and ask yourself if this is still your number one desire:
Love is patient
Love is kind
It does not envy
It does not boast
It is not proud
It is not rude
It is not self-seeking
It is not easily angered
It keeps no record of wrongs
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth
It always protects
Love never fails