Saturday, July 3, 2010

Understanding How Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

When I was young I always rushed through John's letters. To me it seemed John was stuck on this idea of love and it was boring. I figured I knew what love was all about and I wanted to get on to the more exciting stuff. Today I realize that I am only seeing through a cloudy glass, that I do not know as I aught to know. The older I get the more I realize that I do not understand half as much as I thought I did when I was young. The subject of love seems like it is an easy thing to grasp but the working out of the Father's love in us seems to be taking a life time to put into practice. The first step is admitting that we don't understand as much as we should.

For those who think that John dwelt too long on this subject, allow me to warn you, this is far more important than we have emphasized in the past. God has given us time to work this out, but do not mistake this age of grace as a free ride; we have to work this out. Let us revisit part of yesterday's passage in 1 John 4:

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (John 4:16)

Pretty fundamental stuff as we have been expressing all week. The secret of living in God is found in being immersed, changed, transformed in this love. Where there is hate and anger there is no love. Where there is no compassion, no mercy, no grace, there is no love. Where there are walls, barriers and lack of selflessness, there is no love. I do not need to keep listing these things, we know already in ourselves if there is a lack of love. As you reflect, remember that this love we have for people is not selective but includes everyone, whether they love us, hate us, or are indifferent toward us. Oh yes, let us not forget indifference. Indifference is a good indicator that we are not living our lives in God and God in us.

We should be very concerned when we read that living in love is the indicator that we are living in God and God in us. Really, consider your living yesterday. Is there any part of your day that you feel ashamed of because it revealed an attitude other than that provoked by love? All of us are longing for completeness in Jesus and if we have stopped longing for this then we have stopped moving toward it. John tells us in no uncertain terms that this completeness is only found in living in love:

In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. (1 John 4:17)

A couple of things here that come out of this love being made complete in us. First, it results in us being like Jesus. In this world we are like him when we allow his love to be perfected or made complete in us. Then our motivation becomes like his and our life is filled with acts of compassion, forgiveness, mercy and grace. This leads to a confidence that there will be nothing to fear on the day of judgment. We have nothing to fear when we live a life of love; not our type of love but his perfect love. In fact, this confidence should be the source of our peace as well:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

I grew up hearing this verse misused and misrepresented and thus I applied it in an incorrect manner in my life. It is not simply a matter of knowing Jesus loves me that drives out fear. It is not a matter of remembering his love in bad circumstances of life. It is clear in the context of this passage that it is his love perfected in me that drives out fear. Love is only perfected as I live it, as I live his love in the lives of everyone in my life and the strangers I encounter. A life of fear means that we have not allowed this love to be made complete in us.

What does fear produce in our lives? Anger, hatred, cruelty, bullying, lashing out, terrible words among other things are the fruits of insecurity. Fear prevents us from stepping out, from taking risks, from opening up to people who could hurt us. If we examine the life of Jesus we find a man who had no fear to love anyone. He was open and available to everyone he encountered and those he resisted at first was a means to draw them in closer. It is as we see his life from this perspective that everything begins to fall into place and we begin to see the depth of what he did and why he did it. There was no fear there to love as there should be no fear in us.

We cannot horde away God's love as if it is a precious treasure to be locked away. Doing that has the same result of plucking a beautiful flower; it will eventually wilt and die. God's love can only grow in us as we love our brother, as we exercise it, as we do what Jesus did with it. As we put this love, his love, into action it transforms us and is perfected in us. As we show mercy and grace, forgiveness and compassion with everyone in our lives, including those who harm us, we can be confident that we are living in his love. We cannot qualify this love with things like , "I forgive you but it will take a while to forget". It is not what Jesus said to us because that is not his great love; that is our weak love. We are not to love with our love but with his great love. Without it we will have much to fear on that day of judgment. Re-read the parables Jesus told and see for yourself if John has spoken the truth plainly to us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.